January 21, 2015 By Paul Gackle

Sharks And Kings Facing Similar Adversity

SAN JOSE — The margin between success and failure is razor thin in the NHL. Just ask the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.

By now, every hockey fan should know the story: the Sharks led the Kings 3-0 in last spring’s playoffs, they let it slip away and their rivals went on to win the Stanley Cup. As the Kings paraded Lord Stanley’s best dishware around Hollywood, the Sharks stripped letters from their leaders only to restore them into the team’s leadership hierarchy later in the fall.

The rivalry is oozing so much drama, it’s now the subject of a TV series, “Road To The Stadium Series”, which will start airing on Epix on Feb. 3.

“It’s kind of fun, like a little high school rivalry,” James Sheppard said, referring to the intensity of the Sharks-Kings matchup.

As Sharks and Kings meet up for the final game before the NHL All-Star break at SAP Center on Wednesday, the teams find themselves, once again, in similar positions. Both squads are facing adversity, battling injuries and fighting for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

“We understand where they are, where we are in the standings and we know what’s at stake,” Sheppard said. “I wouldn’t count any team down and out, especially a team like that. I don’t want to pump their tires too much, but I’m sure they’ll be fine.”

Just two points separate the Sharks and Kings in the Pacific Division standings, but right now that margin represents the difference between competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring or being on the golf course.

The Sharks (24-17-6) are currently holding on to third place in the Pacific Division standings with 54 points, while the Kings (24-14-12) are on the outside looking in, sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference.

“They know when it’s crunch time, obviously,” Sheppard said. “But we’re going to try to make it hard for them.”

Like the Sharks, the Kings are taking the ice without several key players. Two-thirds of “That 70s Line”, which was all the rage at the beginning of the season, is out of the lineup with injuries. Rookie Tanner Pearson will be sidelined for three months with a broken left leg and Tyler Toffoli has missed the Kings last five games with mononucleosis.

Meanwhile, the Kings are making do on the blue line without Slava Voynov, who’s missed all but six games this season after getting suspended indefinitely for a domestic violence incident in October. The Sharks will be taking the ice tonight without defenseman Justin Braun and forward Tommy Wingels as both players suffered injuries against the Devils on Monday.

After beating the Sharks 3-1 on Dec. 27, the Kings have managed to win just two games over the last three weeks. Still, head coach Darryl Sutter continues to praise his squad for its resilience.

“Just got to always bounce back, keep bouncing back,” he told reporters after the Kings 2-1 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on Monday. “That’s what you do. If we weren’t strong like that, then we wouldn’t have bounced back tonight. That’s a big point [for us] at the end of the day. That’s what you’ve got to look at.”

Head coach Todd McLellan also praised the Kings resilience.

“I think that happens when you win championship games, you just get to the point where you really believe that if you do it the right way and everybody pulls on the rope — you have a chance,” he said. “The teams that aren’t successful — the ones that I’ve been around — there’s doubt that creeps in at some point and you eventually start falling by the wayside, one player after another and pretty soon there’s not enough players anymore.”

McLellan is singing a different tune about his squad right now. After the Sharks 5-2 loss at home to the New Jersey Devils on Monday, he expressed concern about the team’s internal drive.

But while McLellan typically worries about let down games leading into breaks, he’s expecting a better effort on Wednesday.

“This one I don’t have that feeling as much because I got scared after watching the Jersey game again,” he said. “The group should be ready to play. It should respond and play hard.”

The Sharks coach said the team needs to get the job done against the Kings so it can relax over the break.

“I want them to leave and turn their minds off again,” McLellan said. “I want them to go relax. I don’t want them to sit and think about what’s right and what’s wrong and all that type of stuff. They need that mental and physical break, so let’s do that on a high note. But Mr. Sutter’s going to be telling his group the same thing, so bring it and let’s see what happens.”