The NHL has always been driven by rivalries. Fans flock to the Madhouse on Madison to watch their beloved Chicago Blackhawks battle the St. Louis Blues to the tune of sixty plus hits. Line brawls at the opening faceoff let tempers flare and get everyone from coaches to the casual fan previously dozing off in front of the television excited. Although the hatred between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks might lack such fisticuffs, their rivalry is the most overlooked in the league. With an outdoor game at the new Levi Field scheduled for February 21st, the stage is set for a terrific game. NHL.com’s Pete Jensen is certainly excited, and many around the league feel the same. Let’s break down why the rivalry doesn’t attract more attention, and why the battle on the ice is so polarizing.
History is Not On Their Side
While California might lack the snow that trickles down on the Bobby Orr statue at the door of the TD Garden in Boston, the Kings and Sharks are also in need of more history between the two teams. Despite playing just a drive up I-5, the two perennial playoff contenders have only played 83 times in their history, with the northern team winning 50. Granted they are in the same division, but the two teams have not played enough meaningful games against each other for fans outside of California to focus in on their games. The Sharks have yet to reach the Stanley Cup finals, and the Kings have recently won two championships, but neither team has a rich tradition of winning before the past few years. When thinking of historical rivalries, the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have competed in so many memorable affairs that it can be mind boggling at times. Both were Original Six teams who have had a great amount of success, both recently and historically. Until both the teams from the Golden State can prove to the rest of the NHL that they can hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, they will be overlooked in terms of their rivalry.
Television Ratings Do Not Match the Attendance
The Kings rank third in home attendance percentage, at a staggering 107.6%. The Sharks are in the middle of the league, at a comfortable 97.6%. As solid as their attendance is, the two teams struggle on television. The Kings rank 27th in the NHL in terms of average rating, checking in with a disappointing 0.37. Although ratings increased by 8.8%, the result is shocking considering the Kings skate in the second biggest market in the United States and just captured their second title in three years. Take it easy Kings fans: at least you almost doubled the rating of your crosstown rivals. The Ducks ranked 29th with a putrid 0.23 rating, over 23% down from the 2012-2013 campaign.
The Sharks didn’t enjoy too much more success. Between the 2011-2012 season, the Sharks have lost 8,000 viewers. Their audience size change sits at 28th in the league, only better than two members of the Metropolitan division, the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. With fans not watching these Pacific division foes, the cannot prove their hatred for each other. Fans vibe off the players energy, and if more fans were tuned in, they would be able to watch the magic of these tightly contested games.
Who Doesn’t Love Playoff Hockey?
Three of the last four postseasons, the Sharks and Kings have collided. In 2010-2011, Joe Thornton slapped in a rebound in Game 6 to send the Sharks onto the Western Conference Semifinals. That was the third game of the series that required more than 60 minutes, in all of which the Sharks emerged victorious. Flash forward two years, and the Kings got their revenge. Going into the seventh game of the series, the Sharks had won all three of their games by a score of two to one. Mr. Game Seven, aka Justin Williams, struck twice to lead Los Angeles onto the Western Conference Finals. Fast forward to this year, where the Kings blinked and quickly found themselves in a three games to none hole. Only three other teams have ever come back from such a deficit, the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, the New York Islanders in 1975, and the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. After allowing 13 goals in the first two games, Los Angeles rallied the troops to outscore San Jose 18-4 over the last four games. In those games, the Kings notched at least one power play goal per game and went a perfect 15-15 on the penalty kill beyond Game 5. Expect many great games between the two sides next season, as Game 7 will live in Sharks history and stick with the players forever.
Two Great Teams, Many Skillful Players
In the 2013-2014 regular season, the Sharks and Kings met five times. The results? One overtime game, one shootout, four total games decided by one goal, with the Sharks winning the regular season series three to two. The rivals have both been regulars in the Western Conference Playoffs, and for good reason: there is loads of talent on both benches. The Kings, are lead by the backbone of Jonathan Quick. Defensively, they are experienced and play smart. The Kings lead the league in goals against average, allowing a measly 2.0 goals per game. Drew Doughty is the best defenseman in the game, and paired with Anze Kopitar, Dean Lombardi has equipped himself with three legitimate stars. Offensively, the Kings are no slouches, with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and playoff hero Marian Gaborik. The Kings are a team built for the playoffs, and have an outstanding chance of making another run at the Cup this coming season.
The Sharks ranked sixth in goals per game and fifth in goals against average. Offensive weapons practically ooze out of the Shark Tank. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and company have the ability to make opposing goaltenders quiver. Marc Edward-Vlasic leads a solid defensive group, and former Vezina trophy winner Antti Niemi presents a stern challenge for shooters. The key to success for San Jose? Rebuilding on the fly. The Sharks are constantly turning over their top six, allowing opportunities for younger players to step up. As long as Doug Wilson continues this philosophy, we could see a lot more hatred between the Kings and Sharks.