The Sharks returned from the two-day Christmas break with a quick day trip to Los Angeles for a contest with the Kings, but they could not pull out the victory in a 4-3 loss at Staples Center.
Team Teal added the defensive presence of Kyle McLaren, who made his return from arthroscopic knee surgery. San Jose was forced to play without Tom Preissing though who missed the game with the flu. Ryan Clowe did not play, but was called up for the game as Scott Parker was placed on the injured reserved list (head).
Evgeni Nabokov squared off against Mathieu Garon in the first Sharks-Kings battle since Jonathan Cheechoo scored the game-winner with less than a second left earlier in the season. Cheechoo would strike twice on the night, but it would not be enough.
San Jose had a couple of early chances, one an attempted redirect by Cheechoo out front and the other on a shot from Niko Dimitrakos after Milan Michalek set him up, but neither would cross the goal line.
Nabokov had the biggest test early when Pavol Dimitra took a pass and slipped behind the defense, however, San Jose’s number one netminder came out with the pad stack and made the save.
Joe Thornton gave Garon his best challenge early when he turned hard work along the boards into a partial breakaway, although by the time he was able to shoot, he was still dealing with the trailing defenseman and the opposite defenseman closing on the angle. Joe Thornton’s shot was blocked, but he gathered the rebound, set up shop behind the net and found Cheechoo for a backhand attempt, but Garon had the answer.
Patrick Marleau and Alyn McCauley looked to provide a first period Sharks goal, but McCauley’s shot was just off the mark and Marleau couldn’t quite stuff in the rebound. The line did draw a power play on the shift, but the Sharks could not convert.
Late in the period, Los Angeles would strike on the advantage. After Nabokov made a strong save on Craig Conroy, a questionable call was made against Hannan, putting L.A. up a man. A Mattias Norstrom point shot was tipped by Mike Cammalleri for the tally which would make it 1-0 at the intermission.
Early in the second, a hooking penalty to Kings veteran Luc Robitaille put San Jose on their first power play of the second. Once again Joe Thornton set up shop behind the Kings net. With Marleau and Cheechoo hunting in the crease, Scott Hannan joined the fray up front. The puck got behind Garon and as it sat their, Nathan Dempsey reached out to cover it and the power play would come away empty handed.
An incredible shift by Joe Thornton, Cheechoo and Milan Michalek kept San Jose in the Kings zone for almost more than a minute. When the Kings finally attempted to clear it, and it wasn’t a given that they would, a fight broke out between Joe Thornton and Tim Gleason with the Sharks center landing several blows before taking Gleason to the ice.
Joe Thornton was given an extra two minutes for elbowing and a subsequent penalty to Josh Langfeld gave the Kings 46 seconds of five-on-three time. Twice Nabokov robbed Robitaille and when things returned to even strength, it was the Sharks turn to strike.
Jim Fahey flipped a puck above the Kings defense toward the Los Angeles zone to create the Sharks first goal. Milan Michalek was behind the defense before they could turn and he found himself on a two-on-one with Marcel Goc. Somehow Michalek, with virtually no angle, found the top far corner on Garon and the game was tied at one.
Moments later while San Jose was attacking the Kings net with four players up, Nils Ekman was checked from behind into a Kings defender and the striped shirt called Ekman for interference. The debatable call gave Los Angeles a power play that they would use to take the lead. Again it was a deflected, this time by Joe Corvo, and Nabokov had no chance again.
The whistles would continue to go against the Sharks late in the third. First Hannan was given two minutes, and obviously the refs didn’t like something they heard, as a bench minor was also given, providing the Kings two full minutes of five-on-three time. San Jose would kill off more than a minute before the period ended, but Joe Thornton was called for slashing during the kill and the five-on-three would be extended in the third.
Unfortunately for Team Teal, the Kings drew up the perfect play at the intermission and extended their lead to 3-1. A perfect cross-ice pass to Craig Conroy let the former Calgary center unleash a one-timer that snuck across the goal line just before Nabokov could get his right pad across.
When even strength play resumed San Jose looked to pull within one, but it was the Kings who scored next. What looked like a simple three-on-three rush turned into a two-on-one and Sean Avery wristed a shot past Nabokov for the 4-1 lead.
San Jose would continue to fight and pulled within two off the stick of Cheechoo. Marleau controlled play at the point and fed Hannan who carried the puck down low. His pass was perfect to Cheechoo in the slot and the Sharks were back in it.
They would not wait long to make it 4-3. With 8:20 remaining and up a man, San Jose fought for the faceoff in the Kings zone and Joe Thornton found Cheechoo to the right of Garon and again Cheechoo found the back of the net.
San Jose pulled Nabokov for the final minute of action and came very close to the extra attacker goal when Cheechoo did his best with three attempts to knock home the tying tally late. However, the Sharks could not overcome the whistles and the three Kings power play goals as they fell to their division rival 4-3.
Several Sharks players took the opportunity to fly family members on the team plane. In attendance were the fathers of Niko Dimitrakos, Scott Thornton and Doug Murray, as well as the brothers of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
San Jose will return to HP Pavilion Wednesday night for a 7:30 faceoff with the Phoenix Coyotes and tickets are still available at www.ticketmaster.com or the HP Pavilion Box Office. The contest will be aired on FSN+, 98.5 KFOX and .