LOS ANGELES –- One year ago the Sharks and Kings were among the best teams in the NHL. They were on a collision course with each another in a playoff series that lived up to its billing as two talented, heavy teams that didn’t like one another.
Now, they’re both planning early vacations.
The Sharks knew after Monday's home loss to Dallas that they were going to miss the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons, but the defending champion Kings weren’t eliminated until Thursday night, when they lost 3-1 in Calgary. They are the first Stanley Cup winners to miss the playoffs the following season since the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes.
It adds up to an insignificant game, in terms of the standings, on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center when the teams take the ice for one final time in 2014-15. The Sharks (40-32-9, 89 points) are locked in to fifth place in the Pacific Division, four points behind Los Angeles (39-27-15, 93 points).
Speaking on Wednesday, Todd McLellan laid out the expectations for the final two games. The Sharks won in Edmonton on Thursday, 3-1.
“I think we’re a proud group. We want to hold our heads high,” said the coach. “That means playing hard for six more periods. Playing hard for each other. That’s what the expectations are.”
Speaking with reporters after the Edmonton game, Logan Couture indicated that Saturday’s game in Los Angeles still had some meaning.
“Both teams still have something to play for – they’re our rival,” Couture said. “I’m sure the building will have some Sharks fans in it. We’re going to want to go out strong, and they’re going to want to go out strong, too.”
The Sharks opted for an off-ice workout on Friday in Los Angeles rather than a previously scheduled practice, after arriving direct from Alberta in the early morning hours.
As is standard practice for an afternoon game, McLellan will meet with the local media a few hours before puck drop. It’s uncertain who will start in net against the Kings, but there is a strong possibility Antti Niemi will be making his last appearance in a Sharks sweater. The pending unrestricted free agent is unlikely to be retained in the offseason.
Other pending unrestricted free agents for the Sharks include John Scott, Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin. Pending restricted free agents include Melker Karlsson, Brenden Dillon, Taylor Fedun and Karl Stollery, with Karlsson and Dillon highly likely to be re-signed to extensions.
McLellan’s future, of course, is also cloudy. The head coach has one year remaining on his contract.