First Meeting Since Opener
Saturday night the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings will meet up for just the first time since the opening game of the season. Can anybody remember that far back? The Sharks won 4-0 on the night the Kings rose their second Stanley Cup banner.
With the return of a more balanced schedule, hockey fans don’t get to see as many games between division rivals. While there is something to be said for fans of each team getting to watch all 29 other teams live every season, there is also something to be said about more games between rivals. There are pros and cons to each. The current schedule pros for Sharks fans are less games against the Coyotes and getting to watch all Eastern Conference star players in person. The cons however are less games against the Kings and Ducks which are the most fun to watch.
Now even though the Sharks and Ducks are more known for fisticuffs, the Kings and Sharks rivalry is clearly the best one going right now, at least in the Western Conference. It would be cliché for me to use the line “these two teams just plain hate each other” because that’s the case with all rivalries. However, given the fact these teams have faced each other in the postseason in three out of the past four years, it’s definitely one of the most intense rivalries in hockey. Of course the majority of rivalries these days are built in the stands, there is more than just the northern vs southern fan animosity driving this rivalry. The Sharks players have qualms with a number of their Kings opponents. Dustin Brown took out Tomas Hertl last season with the 999th “accidental” knee-on-knee collision of his career. Jarret Stoll has twice elbowed Sharks defensemen in the back of the head in the playoffs, and Jonathan Quick loves to grab onto Sharks skaters when they aren’t looking. Conversely, the Kings seem to have a big issue with the way Mike Brown likes to crash the net. Quick is probably the most agitated from the Kings perspective whenever these two teams come together.
No Love Lost
Outside of the Logan Couture and Drew Doughty friendship, to use another cliché, there is no love lost between these two teams nor their fan bases. Kings fans like to chide Sharks fans that Thornton and Marleau will never win a cup, and Sharks fans like to dish back that Kings fans have only existed since June 2012. How can you not love the fan banter? This is what hockey is all about, rivalries make this game great. Many have mentioned that rivalries on the ice and in other pro sports have died down because of free agency and what not, but this rivalry is certainly alive and well on the ice. As Tomas Hertl famously stated last season, “I don’t much like LA.”
There is certainly a case to be made for Blues-Blackhawks, Kings-Ducks, and Sharks-Ducks, as some other good rivalries, but it is hard to match the drama of Sharks Kings. With the way last year’s series unfolded and the Sharks becoming just the fourth team ever to blow a 3-0 series lead, there is the utmost revenge factor possible. San Jose has now lost to the Kings two years in a row in seven games, and have had everything about their team questioned and criticized. From leadership questions, to whatever “coworkers not teammates” means, to coaching questions (yours truly guilty there), and on ice performances of various players, everything has been looked at. On the flip side, there are some question marks with the Kings. A number of players aren’t producing at their normal levels and the Slava Yoynov domestic violence case has the Kings missing a top-four defenseman who still counts against the cap (correction: that since has changed, Kings have gotten salary cap relief for Voynov). The Kings imfamously had to play with only five defenseman earlier this year not because of injury but because of the salary cap. So not only do these teams have a top notch rivalry but there are tons of question marks on both sides.
Going into their second matchup of the season, the Kings are just two points back of the Sharks. It will be a big four point swing if either team wins in regulation. If the Sharks win again on the road as they did in the opener, a four point lead with the next two head-to-heads coming in San Jose puts them in a strong position. Considering their current hot streak, the Sharks could start separating themselves from the Kings and Canucks if they continue at their current pace. If Los Angeles has any aspirations of catching San Jose and making a run at Anaheim, they would be wise to start getting hot very, very soon. The Sharks have once again made SAP Center a tough place to play in the regular season, Kings would be wise to take care of home ice this Saturday night to pull even with the white-hot Sharks.