Programming note: Sharks-Kings coverage begins at 7pm on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live
LOS ANGELES – The Sharks were just a short walk away from the center of the sports world on Wednesday night, as their team hotel in Los Angeles is essentially next to Staples Center, where the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant closed out his incredible career with a 60-point performance.
“In our hotel it was just so loud. It was great. It was something pretty cool to be a part of,” Joe Thornton said. “We were hoping he’d get 60, and he just kept coming and coming. It was just incredible.”
On Thursday, they’ll begin their latest attempt to make their own history in the form of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, against their old rival, the Kings.
Throughout the week, several San Jose players and head coach Pete DeBoer have mentioned how this year’s version of the Sharks is much different from 2014, when they infamously blew that three-games-to-none lead in the first round.
Although many of the key players remain, there were 15 players on their Game 1 roster from 2014 that are no longer around, while 10 new players are expected to suit up on Thursday.
DeBoer said in his morning press conference that he hasn’t brought up that 2014 series, which has to be considered the lowest point in Sharks franchise history.
“Everybody’s motivation is personal. The guys that were here I’m sure remember part of that, but for me, this is a new experience,” DeBoer said. “It’s a different team. We’ve got 10 different players from that team, a whole new coaching staff. I haven’t spent any time at all on that. I don’t see the benefit of it.”
The Kings, of course, have also made some changes since that 2014 club that went on to capture the Stanley Cup. Milan Lucic and Vincent Lecavalier are the most notable additions, while subtractions include Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards and Justin Williams up front, and Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell on the back end.
“Obviously, them not making the playoffs last year they felt like they needed to make a change,” Thornton said. “Bringing in Lucic, a couple guys. They’re always strong. We know what their strengths are with [Jonathan] Quick in net, and [Drew] Doughty, and [Anze] Kopitar up front. They’re a very good team. They’ve changed a little bit, but they’re still very dynamic.”
Joe Pavelski said: “Their game hasn’t changed a whole lot. They’ve got some different personnel. At the end of the day, you get that same type of Kings identity – that forechecking team, that defensive game. They’re just a solid team.”
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Doughty and Brent Burns figure to be in the spotlight throughout the series. A perennial Norris Trophy candidate, Doughty is arguably the Kings’ most valuable player on what is a thin blue line group, while Burns has been outstanding on both ends of the ice for the past three months.
As an offensive defenseman, Doughty was asked how the addition of a guy like Burns – who was still a forward the last time these two teams met in the playoffs – can aid the Sharks’ attack.
“He’s a great attacker. I think he’s one of the top three defensemen in the league for being on for goals-for, but at the same time he’s the same for goals-against,” Doughty said. “We can take advantage of it both ways.”
Checking Doughty’s stats through war-on-ice.com shows that Burns was on the ice for 126 goals in all situations, third among NHL defensemen. He was on for 101 goals-against, tied for sixth-most in the league for blueliners, although that includes 16 goals-against with the Sharks’ goalie pulled (as opposed to just one for with the extra attacker).
Doughy was hazy on the Sharks' 2014 roster, but sees former teammate Martin Jones as one of the keys to the series.
“I don’t even know who’s different on their team, to be honest. I can’t really think back to who was on the team. But for the most part, their core was there, their top guys they lean on today are still there. We know what we have to do to get rid of them, but obviously they didn’t have Jones in net, and he’s going to be a key for us to winning, is getting to Jones.”
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It appears defenseman Alec Martinez will return for Los Angeles after missing the final four games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury, although Darryl Sutter would not confirm it. Marian Gaborik (knee) looks to be out, although he doesn’t appear far away based on his skating.
Sutter, incidentally, offered some praise for Thornton when asked about the Sharks leading scorer’s 82-point campaign.
“He’s had a great season,” Sutter said. “In our conference obviously we see a lot of great forwards, but the two best that I’ve seen this year other than our own have been [Jamie] Benn and Thornton.”