On Saturday night in San Jose, the Sharks totally dominated the youthful Kings in a 3-1 win that was not nearly as close as the score would seem to indicate.
And on Sunday night at Staples Center, the Sharks were playing their third game in four nights and their fatigue was noticeable. Nevertheless, they had plenty left in the tank to hand the inexperienced Kings a 1-0 defeat, spoiling their home opener in front of a sell-out crowd of 18,118 fans.
Left wing Lukas Kaspar scored the first goal of his National Hockey League career at 9:56 of the second period to give the Sharks their margin of victory, while backup goaltender Brian Boucher stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn his fifteenth NHL shutout.
Sunday’s game began the way Saturday’s game ended, with the Sharks taking advantage of a sloppy Kings team that turned the puck over in their own zone at almost every opportunity and that was consistently outworked along the boards and in the corners for loose pucks.
The Kings regained their composure and turned things around in the second period, taking the play to the Sharks as their fatigue began to take its toll. The Kings were finally able to generate sustained pressure in the San Jose zone and they outshot the Sharks in the period, 12-8.
But the Kings shot themselves in the foot, or at least, their goaltender did, when Kaspar scored on a wrist shot off the rush from high in the right circle. The puck rang off the left (far) goal post, beating a surprised Jason LaBarbera.
“I just wanted to put it on his far side and then it went post and in,” Kaspar explained. “I didn’t even see it to tell you the truth. I was looking around and I didn’t see the puck then I see the referees pointing at the net so I was happy.”
The shot was a gift-wrapped goal for the Sharks, one that LaBarbera should have been able to make an easy save on.
“He kind of surprised me a little bit,” LaBarbera explained. “He put it in one of those spots over your right pad on the blocker side. It’s a tough play, I just didn’t react to it quick enough.”
“I felt like I was out far enough, but he just put it in one of those spots,” added LaBarbera, who also allowed a bad goal to Sharks center Tomas Plihal on Saturday. “I think he shot it off his front foot—he threw me off a little bit. I wouldn’t mind having that one back.”
The Kings came as close as you get to scoring without actually doing so in the period.
At the 10:41 mark Kings center Jarret Stoll “scored” on the power play, but Kings right wing Dustin Brown was standing in the crease and the goal was immediately and emphatically disallowed.
“It’s funny because maybe five minutes before that, I told Mike Hasenfratz the referee to watch the crease because there was a play earlier when the guy was right on top of me,” said Boucher. “He said, ‘I got you’ and sure enough he had me.”
Later in the period, Kings left wing Matt Moulson also “scored,” but he re-directed the puck into the net by turning his right foot while he was moving towards the net and into the goal crease.
Video replay confirmed that Moulson turned his foot to re-direct the puck into the net and the goal was disallowed near the 16:30 mark.
“I think I got it with my skate,” Moulson explained. “I thought maybe I got a piece of it with my stick after but I guess not. It clearly went off my foot. I was trying to kick it to my stick and jam away at it. I was hoping that maybe they’d say it went off my stick afterwards, but I don’t think it did.”
Kings head coach Terry Murray had no complaints about the disallowed goals.
“The two taken off the board, that’s just the way it is,” he said. “Goals that are scored when you’re in the crease are not allowed and you’re not allowed to kick the puck into the net. It’s thoroughly reviewed by the league so I don’t have any problem with that. Those things have a tendency to work out in the long run.”
In the third period, the Sharks sat back, clogging up the neutral zone and collapsing to the front of their net, keeping the Kings on the perimeter. Both teams had just three shots on goal in the third.
Despite the loss, the Kings found reasons to be encouraged.
“It’s not fun to lose, obviously,” said LaBarbera. “I felt pretty good in both games, so that’s something I can personally build off that. I think the biggest thing was that we played better as a group tonight.”
“Last night, we were standing around, we were flat-footed,” added LaBarbera. “It seemed like we were watching them skate around us all night. Tonight was kind of the opposite. We moved our feet, skated and moved the puck a lot better. That was a big difference.”
“I think we just got caught on our heels a couple of times, especially when they started getting momentum on the power play,” LaBarbera elaborated. “Last night, we weren’t skating. We just stood around and they just blew by us the whole night. Tonight was a bit different. We moved our feet better. We have speed, we just have to utilize it better and I thought we did that tonight.”
Kings skaters saw the game much the same way.
“Today was a lot better effort than yesterday,” said Moulson. “We got outworked yesterday and out-competed. Today, I thought we did a lot better job. We just have to keep putting pucks on net, driving to the net and try to find some goals.”
“We had a lot of pressure on,” added Moulson. “We were playing well. We had a solid team effort. We have to keep bringing that determination and compete level to our next game against Anaheim.”
“We had two goals called back—they were against the rules, so at the end of the day that doesn’t matter,” said Kings left wing Patrick O’Sullivan. “But we had some good chances. We have to continue to get traffic at the net. They’re going to start going in the net. We have players who are too good for that not to happen.”
“We were much improved defensively tonight,” added O’Sullivan. “I’m not going to say that we weren’t thinking about offense as much, but we definitely needed to clean up some stuff from last night. Goals are going to come. We need a little bit more urgency around the net, but we’re not worried about that I don’t think.”
Murray said that his team showed him something he had not yet seen from them in his brief tenure at the Kings helm.
“I really liked the way we played, especially in the second half of the game,” said Murray. “The third period was tremendous. We started to see something that I haven’t seen yet. That was that compete for each other, playing hard for your teammates. There was a lot of blocking shots and playing real hard and heavy on pucks along the boards and in front of the net area. It was great to see that.”
“That’s kind of a bar that’s set and I’m going to try very hard to keep them to that level now,” added Murray. “It was something to build on.”
Murray stressed that his team has to take better care of the puck.
“I think just going back to the game last night at San Jose, we addressed it today in our pre-game talk and that’s management of the puck,” he said. “We need to continue to work on that. There has to be five guys working together to manage the puck because of the way they forecheck.”
“They’re big, they’re strong, they’re aggressive, they come at you very hard and you have to have close [puck] support,” he elaborated. “You have to be able to take a hit to make a play. We did a better job with that tonight. We seemed to be able to get to the red line and get the puck behind their defensemen more consistently tonight and it reflected in the shots against. We cut that in half tonight from last night’s game.”
“Good improvement and there was a lot of good things that we can build on.”
For the Stanley Cup-contender Sharks, it was an ugly win.
“Sometimes you have to find different ways to win,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “By no means was it pretty. There were a lot of things we could have done much better. But the test for us tonight was the fatigue factor playing three in four [days] early in the season. I’m not sure we passed with flying colors, but we found a way to win.”
McLellan went with his backup goaltender, giving number one goaltender Evgeni Nabokov the night off, and the move paid off.
“I’m really, really happy for Boucher,” said McLellan. “He probably didn’t have the pre-season that he’d like, he’d probably admit that. Coming in behind Nabokov, you never know when you’re going to get your starts. Boucher stepped up and he was probably our best player tonight and you need that when you’re playing ugly so we’re real proud of him.”
“It’s nice to get that first one out of the way,” said Boucher. “It’s nice to get that first win and it just happened to be a shutout. That’s always nice, too.”
Back to the Kings…O’Sullivan, who missed training camp due to his contract stand-off with the Kings, returning to the team just days ago, made his 2008-09 debut on Sunday and was one of the Kings’ best players in the game.
“It felt like I hadn’t played a game in four or five months, which is the situation,” O’Sullivan explained. “But I felt better as the game went on. I made a few plays. I started to get my legs more as the game went on.”
“I felt good physically,” O’Sullivan added. “The timing is something that will come. Every day, I’ve felt better on the ice. I’m glad to get that first game out of the way, trying to move past the fact that I missed training camp and all that stuff. Definitely some positives. There’s a lot of room to improve, but it’s something I can build off of.”
O’Sullivan’s coach still has not seen enough of him to formulate a solid opinion of his newly-re-signed left winger, but so far, he is impressed.
“O’Sullivan is a very skilled player,” said Murray. “I haven’t really gotten a good read on him yet, but he handles the puck in traffic with high speed, he sees the ice and makes plays. He took it to the net that one time off the goal line and threw it off the goaltender’s right pad and had a little rebound. He just about got to it. I’m hoping in the next game he does get to that kind of a play.”
“He’s a special kind of player, there’s no question,” added Murray. “Some of the things he attempts to do, you can see there’s a lot more in there and it’s going to start to happen for him real quick.”
On the down side for the Kings, defenseman Jack Johnson suffered what is being called an “upper extremity injury” late in the first period. He played one shift early in the second period, but could not continue.
“It happened on that play when the puck was flipped into the air and he was trying to knock it down just inside our blue line,” Murray explained. “Hopefully, there’s nothing serious.”
“The word that I got was that it was an upper extremity injury,” Murray continued. “He’s going to the doctor and will get evaluated tomorrow. We’ll have more information then.”
Johnson was seen leaving the Kings dressing room after the game and he told reporters he was “fine.” But his left arm was positioned tight against his body in a bent position that seems to hint at some kind of injury to that arm.
NOTES: Over the two games, the Kings have not allowed a power play goal on nine times shorthanded; Despite allowing a soft goal in each of the games, LaBarbera has stopped 56 out of 60 shots for a .933 save percentage; the Kings are now 43-46-11 all-time against the Sharks.
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