SAN JOSE – Ever so slightly, the Kings have gotten better in each game throughout their first round series with the Sharks.
Ever so slightly, the Sharks game has dipped.
Coach Pete DeBoer has chosen to dress the same 20 players for each of the first three games; an easy decision after the Sharks won the first two. Judging by his comments on Tuesday, though, it may be time to shuffle up the deck with the bottom three lines, or in the case of the fourth line, make some changes in personnel.
The Sharks’ top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl has been outstanding, and has scored three of the team’s five even strength goals. Another one of those goals came just one second after a Sharks power play had expired, by Hertl, as part of the second power play unit.
Thornton’s score early in Game 3 was the club’s only marker. DeBoer would have liked to see more from the rest of the group on Monday.
“I think that’s probably a little bit of an understatement,” he said. “I think that’s been consistent here over the years. The big guys are here, and I think the one thing that we’ve tried to create here is the depth underneath to be able to support that.
“For most nights this year we’ve got it. I didn’t think we got enough of it [Monday] night.”
Logan Couture was asked if the onus was on his line – which has included Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi – to do more.
“I think so. Jumbo’s line has carried us so far,” he said. “I think if you’re playing on my line, the third line, the fourth line, you want to step up and do something. We can’t sit on the bench and watch Jumbo’s line go out there and carry the play. Everyone else has got to step up and do their part as well.”
The fourth line in particular hurt the Sharks on Monday.
After harnessing the early energy from their crowd and getting ahead just 30 seconds into the game, a hooking penalty by Tommy Wingels at 7:50 left the Sharks shorthanded. Anze Kopitar tied the game with his first goal of the series, and his first in 11 total games this season against the Sharks.
A tripping minor by Nick Spaling four minutes later helped the Kings keep the momentum through the rest of the opening frame. In all, the fourth line, which also includes Chris Tierney, has taken six minor penalties in the last two games.
That can’t happen, and DeBoer benched that line for most of the third period and overtime.
“We need all four lines,” DeBoer said. “You don’t go anywhere nowadays without four lines. We’ll need four lines.”
Wingels knows as much.
“The fourth line can't put you in those kind of situations,” he said. “I think the key for us so far in this series, the reason we've had success, is our five-on-five play. As a team, we feel like that's an area we can exploit.
“When you're taking penalties, especially the depth guys, that's not what you want. We've talked about it as a line and we've talked about it as a team. We're not, as players, going to put our team in that situation again."
DeBoer said that everyone is available for Game 4. Forwards Dainius Zubrus and Michael Haley have yet to play in the series.