SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks served notice that they still reign over the Pacific Division with a domineering 6-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at HP Pavilion Monday night.
With the win, the Sharks clinched their fourth consecutive division title and ensured a playoff seed no lower than third.
For a team all too accustomed to regular-season excellence and postseason disappointment, the focus was not on the accomplishment behind them but on what it meant for the possible reward ahead.
“That’s the benefit,” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McCllelan, “not the banner or anything else. The benefit is we know we’ll be in the two or three spot and as the playoffs roll around we’ll get the opportunity to start in front of our great fans. We worked hard to earn that right. Now we have to take advantage of it when it does arrive.”
For the Kings, it seemed every aperture zipped shut in an instant, from surrendering a goal 22 seconds after drawing within one to turning a breakaway chance into a goal for the opposition to allowing suspect goals in this critical divisional matchup.
“It’s just a poor performance by our whole team,” Kings Head Coach Terry Murray said.
“We weren’t in positions,” Murray elaborated. “Whether it was on the checking part of the game without possession or, if we had possession, we were not in the proper lanes. Our centerman was not there, our wingers were not in position, our defensemen were looking up and they were almost seeing the seats of pants.”
While the Sharks seized their opportunity to seal the deal on another Pacific crown, the Kings have left an ellipses on their season once more by their missing this opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a victory.
“I guess we’re trying to make it interesting, but we have a chance to do it on Wednesday,” right winger Dustin Brown said.
Despite a final shot-on-goal tally of 35-32 in San Jose’s favor and a mostly even total for much of the night, there seemed to be an enormous disparity in quality scoring chances and the overall level of play between the two clubs. Defenseman Matt Greene said he had never played in a game quite like it.
“No, I think that was weird,” he said. “It was one of those games where you feel like you have two or three shifts in a row where you get some good pressure going and then you give up two grade-A chances in a span of 30 seconds from each other. It’s frustrating. You think you’re going to build some momentum and it doesn’t happen that way.”
The opening minutes of the game saw a torrid pace with both teams skating hard and hitting the net repeatedly.
San Jose struck first when Torrey Mitchell’s long shot produced a titillating rebound that Joe Pavelski collected between the circles and wristed past a helpless Jonathan Quick.
“That puck, that should never be there to begin with. That’s a shot that comes from almost the boards out above the top of the circle and comes right back in the middle of the ice,” Murray said.
The Kings, who dominated the circle to the tune of 14-of-17 in the first, won a defensive zone draw but Alec Martinez’s clearing attempt was intercepted by Mitchell to set up the goal.
“We were atrocious in the faceoff circle and they had the puck for most of the first period. We turned that around in the second and third and it worked in our favor,” McLellan said.
The Sharks built on that lead as they forced the Kings defense deep to set up Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Vlasic crept down from his point position to a spot just inside of the left faceoff dot where he sent home a smooth centering pass from Kyle Wellwood.
Kyle Clifford upended Jamal Mayers near the boards, which created a terse scrap that sent both men to the box for five minutes.
Wellwood would test Quick with a lively backhand that the goalie narrowly turned aside with his paddle.
The Sharks were without their wrecking-ball forward Ryane Clowe for most of the frame. He played two shifts and left the bench. He did not return from a lower-body injury, which McLellan described as a “tweak.” He said the injury would be reevaluated Tuesday and that Clowe was considered day-to-day.
Los Angeles halved their deficit when Michal Handzus cleaned up a Greene rebound. Twenty-two seconds later, Vlasic’s skittering point shot was redirected by the supple hands of Wellwood to regain the two-goal advantage.
“We got a big goal early in the second, right after a power play, and they come right back and score a goal. That’s happened a lot to us this year, giving up a goal right after we score,” said the Los Angeles captain Brown. “Those are momentum goals and we didn’t really ever recover from that goal.”
Wellwood registered two points, generated scoring chances and was strong on the forecheck for the Sharks, which all made him a big part of their strong secondary attack.
“Kyle Wellwood, in my opinion, is a tough player. He plays in traffic, he plays along the boards, he’s always engaged and, for his size and his strength, he’s a tough player,” McLellan said.
Dan Boyle received a pass at the red line and, without hesitation, activated to challenge a pair of Los Angeles defenders. His deke on Willie Mitchell allowed him to get off a quick shot that beat Quick on a tough goal to surrender. Boyle’s tally chased the Los Angeles netminder from the game.
“There’s a couple that I’m sure their goaltenders would like to have back,” said coach McLellan. “But we held onto the puck long enough to create some real good opportunities. You’re not going to beat Quick or Bernier or even the L.A. Kings on that initial shot very many times so you better be prepared to play on the inside and find some of the garbage.”
Oscar Moller collected a turnover and broke in with speed but his fake slap shot and snap shot combo produced a very wide miss that sent San Jose to the transition game.
“Our puck management made it very difficult on, especially, the D. They had a lot of three-on-twos,” Brown said.
On that rush, San Jose piled it on further whan Patrick Marleau’s shot found the stick of Joe Thornton at the side of the net for a cinch of a goal. The Kings turned in an uncharacteristically poor effort clearing rebounds, allowing a pair of rebound goals and a handful of chances.
“I don’t think we were good anywhere, let alone clearing rebounds,” said the alternate captain Greene. “Our gaps were bad, our breakouts were off, our play in front of our net, our gaps, our rush, everything was a little bit off.”
With an assist on Boyle’s goal and his own tally, Thornton moved to 999 points on his career, which had San Jose’s media relations crew readying their cameras for the photo op. His next shot at 1000 will come Wednesday at Honda Center against the Anaheim Ducks.
Brown and Mitchell each had strong bids for a response but goalie Antti Niemi’s pad and glove, respectively, shut them down.
The quick tempo persisted with both goalies making strong saves, including a sterling post-to-post left pad save by the L.A. backup Jonathan Bernier on Wellwood.
Briefly sustained pressure culminated in a Drew Doughty turnover, but the Kings mitigated the disaster momentarily when the San Jose rush ended harmlessly. On the next Sharks possession, however, it was Devin Setoguchi driving the net for a wrist shot goal to stretch the Sharks’ to an insurmountable 6-1.
Early in the third Setoguchi had a strong opportunity for a redirection but he was wiped out by Trevor Lewis with a powerful body check that sent Setoguchi careening into the corner.
Bernier glided across his crease again to deny Dany Heatley’s one-time bid, only to have the rebound narrowly cleared and yet another shot hit the post seconds later. He later made the most spectacular save of the evening on yet another one-timer off the stick of Pavelski. The Kings found little consolation in Bernier’s play during these largely academic moments, however.
An old-fashioned, four-man scrum broke out as Brad Richardson took on and took down Boyle while the more experienced pugilists Douglas Murray and Clifford danced to a draw. It was the offensive-minded Boyle who initially hopped in to protect the bruising, stay-at-home rearguard Murray.
For Boyle, who assisted on Setoguchi’s goal in addition to scoring one of his own, it completed an unlikely the Gordie Howe hat trick.
“It’s a Catch-22 situation, you’re excited because he’s sticking up for his partner,” McLellan said. “You like that, you like the camaraderie but you also understand that there’s injuries that happen and you get a little apprehensive as far as that goes, but he came out of it healthy and we’re fine.”