SAN JOSE – After facing a pair of weak, watered down lineups in their previous two preseason tilts, the pace and energy picked up big time when the Sharks hosted the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday at SAP Center.
The Kings were able to maintain their energy for most of their 4-1 win. Conversely, the Sharks were not, leaving some of their players and head coach a little concerned with just eight days to go before the regular season opener on Oct. 8 at Staples Center.
“They played a lot better than we did,” Logan Couture said. “We had a lot of good players in our lineup, we expected our team to play better. I think maybe it’s kind of a wake up call before the season started that they’re ready over there. We’re going to have to open up our season against them in eight days, so we better get going.”
“That’s the pace and the game with limited space out there that we’re used to. We didn’t do the best job adapting to it,” Tommy Wingels said. “I think our game declined as it went on. It’s something we’ll have to improve on.”
Joe Thornton opened the scoring in just the game's second minute with his third preseason marker, but Los Angeles reeled off the next four to improve to 4-0-1. San Jose is 2-2-1.
Rightfully, though, no one was in full panic mode following the defeat. The Sharks are still giving some long looks to potential rookies in Mirco Mueller and Nikolay Goldobin, among others.
In fact, Mueller’s performance was perhaps the most encouraging development of the night from San Jose's perspective. Paired with Brent Burns, the 2013 first round pick looked calm and cool with and without the puck, and played on the power play and penalty kill during his 21 minutes and 19 seconds of ice time.
“I thought Mirco was fine. I thought he really played well,” Todd McLellan said. “He can skate. His legs got him out of trouble. He made good outlet passes.”
Goldobin, however, struggled. He started the night on Thornton’s line with Tomas Hertl, but appeared jittery with the puck against a Kings team that iced a mostly NHL-quality lineup. The slight 18-year-old had one shot on goal and was pegged with four giveaways, finishing the night on a line with fellow rookies Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow.
McLellan said: “I thought Goldy struggled a little bit tonight with the size, the speed, the pace. He’s a very dynamic player when he has the puck, and that 20 percent of his game where he’s creative and on offense is elite right now. The rest of the game has to get a little bit better. … But, he’s still capable of competing with this group.”
More roster cuts are expected by Friday, as McLellan and staff will review video and make some decisions. After each home game, the coach has had some lengthy meetings, likely discussing with his fellow coaches and management who to keep and who to jettison to Worcester (or elsewhere).
“We learned a little more about [the young players]. We also learned a little bit about some of the veterans, too. Some of them played very well, like we expected them to. A couple others fell off a little bit with the size and the pace that LA threw at us. It was a good test for them. Some passed, some didn’t.”
The Sharks will resume practice on Wednesday, leading up to their preseason games in Arizona on Friday and Anaheim on Saturday. After that, it’s Game On against the Kings again in what should be an emotional night for the home team, which will raise its second Stanley Cup banner in three seasons before puck drop.
In order to spoil their party, the Sharks will have to be much more energized than they were on Tuesday.
“It’s going to get cranked up a lot more than what we saw tonight,” McLellan said.