SAN JOSE – It’s exactly one month until the Sharks and Kings meet outdoors at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21. It’s safe to assume that both clubs hope to be playing much better hockey than they are currently, as the division rivals prepare to meet at SAP Center in the final game before the All-Star break on Wednesday night.
San Jose will be attempting to put one of its worst efforts of the season in the rearview mirror, allowing five goals to the NHL’s 28th-ranked offense at the time in a 5-2 home loss to the Devils on Monday.
In that game, the Sharks struggled with maintaining a hard, physical presence around their own net. Todd McLellan suggested afterwards that his team wasn’t playing with enough passion, which was plainly evident to the home crowd or anyone else who watched the lackluster defeat.
Scott Hannan said on Wednesday morning that a better net presence is a combination of passion, as well as tactical adjustments.
“You’ve got to be mentally focused before a game. You’ve got to be prepared to battle,” Hannan said. “Teams know where they’ve got to go to score goals nowadays. You’ve got to muck it up in there and get the dirty goals.”
McLellan said: “The passion part has to come first, and then tactically and positionally and that type of stuff we can help the players. But, we’ve talked about that for a long time. Many nights we’re very good in that area. It’s actually become a strength of ours in protecting goaltenders and rebounds and that type of stuff. We’ve gotten away from it a little bit, and it’s an area that we’ve got to improve on.”
The Sharks have lost five of their last six home games (1-4-1), and are 5-6-2 overall in their last 13.
The Kings are struggling even more. Los Angeles just completed a 1-2-4 homestand, including three straight losses.
A glance the standings shows the Kings (20-14-12, 52 points) are just two points behind the Sharks (24-17-6, 54 points) in the Pacific Division, with one game in hand. A regulation win by Los Angeles combined with a Calgary win over Anaheim could push the Sharks down to fifth place in the division, on the outside looking in to a playoff spot.
On the other hand, the Sharks could overtake idle Vancouver in points for second place in the division if they are able to get by Los Angeles.
"It's a huge game standings-wise,” Logan Couture said. “We're getting to the last push here of the season where every point is huge. We've given away a couple points in our last couple games. We've got some injuries; they've got some injuries. We're going to have to battle for a point or for two tonight. I expect us to bring our best. We need to be a lot better than we were the other night."
San Jose will be without key forward Tommy Wingels and defenseman Justin Braun for the foreseeable future with upper body injuries. The Kings remain without forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, as well as suspended defenseman Slava Voynov.
Prior to the Christmas break, McLellan said that the final games before any sort of break typically scare him as coach. Not so much before this one, though.
“I don’t have that feeling as much because I got scared after watching the New Jersey game again. That was enough of being scared,” he said.
“The group should be ready to play. It should respond and play hard. LA is going to play the same way. You want to leave and you want to be on that break feeling good about yourself individually and then you want to look at your line, your partner if you’re a defenseman, the whole group, and feel good about where you’re at, so coming back you feel confident.”
Catch Insider Kevin Kurz as he looks ahead to tonight’s big Kings-Sharks matchup on Yahoo! SportsTalk Live at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area