SAN JOSE -– It was a preview of the Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium in one month, but Wednesday’s Sharks-Kings game at SAP Center was also a matchup of two teams desperately trying to win their final game before the All-Star break after weeks of inconsistency.
The Sharks came out on top, outplaying Los Angeles for the majority of the game and winning 4-2.
Logan Couture led the attack with two goals and one assist, while two of San Jose’s three goals came on the power play, including Joe Pavelski’s team-leading 24th. The Sharks won at home for just the second time in the last seven games (2-4-1), and improved to 2-1-1 on their seven-game homestand that will resume after this weekend’s festivities in Columbus.
The Sharks jumped ahead of idle Vancouver for second place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of the Canucks, who have three games in hand.
Los Angeles continues to scuffle, has won just one of its last eight (1-3-4), and remains in fifth place in the division and out of a playoff spot.
The Sharks led 1-0 on Couture’s goal midway through the first, and had an abundance of chances to increase that advantage.
On a 3-on-1 late in the first, Joe Thornton tried feeding a charging Pavelski, rather than giving it to an open Melker Karlsson in the high slot.
The Sharks kept up the offensive pressure in the second, but Patrick Marleau and Tyler Kennedy didn’t get a shot off on a 2-on-1 about four minutes into the frame. Couture was denied on a breakaway with 11:06 to go, and then Tomas Hertl and James Sheppard squandered a 2-on-1 themselves, again without getting the puck towards the net.
Los Angeles inevitably tied it. Dustin Brown got to a loose puck and managed to wrap it around and tuck it inside the post at 11:39.
Rather than get discouraged, though, the Sharks regained the lead on a power play. Marleau got in front of the net between Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene, and redirected in a low liner from Couture past Jonathan Quick at 16:39.
Couture’s first period goal came when he blazed up the wall, turning around defenseman Alec Martinez, who couldn’t recover in time to prevent Couture’s 17th goal at 10:44.
The Sharks managed to snap a string of allowing at least one first period goal in nine straight games.
Like most Sharks-Kings games, emotions boiled over at times. In the third period, Drew Doughty gave James Sheppard a cross-check well after the whistle and got away with it. Brent Burns and Trevor Lewis got into it in the Sharks’ goal crease with 4:42 to go, with Burns driving a couple of right fists into Lewis’ face.
Pavelski’s power play goal at 8:27 gave San Jose a two-goal cushion, that was cut to one as Jeff Carter scored on the power play at 19:37.
Couture was awarded his second goal of the night with less than a second left on the clock, though, as he skated towards an empty net but was hooked on the play by Drew Doughty to make it a 4-2 final.
San Jose has won nine of the last 10 games against the Kings at SAP Center, and improved to 2-1-0 overall against the Kings this season. After the outdoor game on Feb. 21, the teams meet for the final game of the regular season on April 11 at Staples Center.
Pavelski’s power play goal was his 12th of the year, moving into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.
San Jose finished 2-for-3 with a man advantage, scoring twice for the first time since Dec. 4 vs. Boston.
The Kings were 1-for-5.
Niemi made his 14th start in the last 17 games, and improved to 8-1-0 in his career against Los Angeles at SAP Center. He made 26 saves.
Quick made his fourth straight start, backed up by rookie Jean-Francois Berube, who was recalled after regular backup Martin Jones hurt his back on Jan. 14. He took the loss, allowing three goals on 24 shots.
Tommy Wingels (left hand) and Justin Braun (upper body) both missed their first games of the season and are expected to be out for at least the next several weeks.
Barclay Goodrow drew back into the lineup after he was scratched on Monday against New Jersey, while Matt Tennyson did the same on defense.
The Sharks recalled 21-year-old Dylan DeMelo on Tuesday, but he was a healthy scratch.
Los Angeles was without key forwards Tyler Toffoli (illness) and Tanner Pearson (leg), while defenseman Slava Voynov remains suspended.
The Sharks will have the next five days off for the All-Star break, and resume practice next Tuesday, Jan. 27. They host the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, Jan. 29, and wrap up the homestand with the Blackhawks on Jan. 31 and Oilers on Feb. 2.
The NHL All-Star Game is on Sunday at 2 p.m. on NBCSN. Burns is the Sharks’ lone representative.