When the San Jose Sharks play host to the Los Angeles Kings from Levi’s stadium in Santa Clara on Saturday, it will be far more than just another game on the schedule. Not only will it be the first outdoor NHL game in Northern California and a showcase contest for the NHL, but it means a whole lot more than that.
With the way the Pacific division standings are shaking out, the two points at hand could end up being a huge four point swing in either direction. Players will want to enjoy the moment, particularly many Sharks who haven’t played in an outdoor game before but this is no exhibition game. The focus will have to remain sharp on the task at hand and that is picking up what will undoubtedly be a huge two points.
San Jose has struggled all season to find a consistency, having few extended winning streaks nor losing streaks but a lot of two wins here and two losses here, one win here, one loss there. As of Sunday afternoon the Sharks hold a slim one point lead over the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks for second place in the Pacific. What about those Kings you ask? They may be in fifth place in the division but are just four points behind San Jose with two games in hand. Right now San Jose and Los Angeles are headed in opposite directions. Before beating the Coyotes on Friday, the Sharks had lost five of six games. On the flip side the Kings are all of a sudden on a four game winning streak.
The Real Winter Classic?
The Sharks have three games this week before Saturday’s showdown and the Kings have two. Chances are the standings will remain as close, if not closer by the time the outdoor game begins. These two teams are desperate for points and for the exception of Logan Couture and Drew Doughty, they really, really don’t like each other. This should make for a terrific game.
Unfortunately, the NHL hasn’t marketed this game the way they should have. This truly is the type of game that should have been the one and only outdoor game of the season. These are the two teams that should of played in the Winter Classic. As colleague Andrew Forbes points out, rivalry and reduction are what makes the outdoor game great. Of course the game Saturday at Levi’s will be sold out and both Kings fans and Sharks fans will tune it at big numbers but a 7pm pacific start time? How many people in the eastern time zone (where a majority of NHL teams call home) are going to stay up to watch this game unfold between 10pm and 12:30 am on a Saturday night? Chances are those who are home are asleep, and those who are awake are out and about enjoying themselves socializing, not watching a hockey game between two teams that both play their home games thousands of miles away.
Again, this ought to be a terrific game, but not as many will watch it live as there could have been with better planning and marketing. The Sharks and Kings have a boiling rivalry going and it could have served as an epic Winter Classic. I mean Chicago and Washington? This year’s Winter Classic was like picking names out of a hat. San Jose on the other hand is facing the team in Saturday’s Stadium Series game that embarrassed them last postseason. The Sharks went up three games to none before the Kings won four straight to knock them out. Los Angeles became just the fourth team ever to complete this “reverse sweep” as many refer to it. The Sharks are hosting their first ever outdoor game, they certainly don’t want the Kings to spoil their party yet again after what happened last spring. Of course no revenge will be anywhere near complete for the Sharks unless they beat the Kings in a playoff series en route to winning the Stanley Cup, but losing the outdoor game at home would be just adding insult to their misery.