Sharks use power play to push Kings to the brink
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The Kings made a third-period charge, but couldn’t overcome three power-play goals from the Sharks on Wednesday night in San Jose.
The Sharks knocked off L.A., 3–2, in a controlled and impressive effort to take a 3–1 series lead to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Friday night.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
Sharks’ power play was the key
In Game 3, when Kings forward Tanner Pearson flipped the puck over the glass midway through the third period, the Sharks compiled a suffocating, exhausting power play, but couldn’t break a 1–1 score. Pearson would go on to score the game-winning goal, and the Sharks missed a chance at a 3–0 series lead. Despite structured and efficient power plays, San Jose finished 0–5 with the man advantage in that game.
On Wednesday night, the man advantage was the reason why the Sharks left the SAP Center one game closer to eliminating rival Los Angeles.
San Jose’s power play unit was just as structured as in the previous game, but this time around the Sharks finished their chances. It started with defenseman Brent Burns connecting with a low shot from inside the left circle at 2:09 of the second period, continued at 9:21 with winger Joe Pavelski lifting a point-blank look into the top shelf, and finished with center Patrick Marleau slotting a backhand at 1:40 of the third, just six seconds into the Sharks’ fourth man advantage of the night.
While the Kings’ penalty kill has made a host of gallant efforts during the series, it has remained under fire from a Sharks’ power play unit at its best. The NHL’s third-best PP over the course of the season at 22.5%, San Jose exhausted the L.A.’s penalty killers, helping drain an already lifeless offensive attack. In a game that was tightly monitored by the officials, the Sharks punished L.A. and grabbed control of the series.
Sharks leading the way
This has been one of the closest and most compelling series of the first round, but when the game isn’t tied, San Jose has typically been leading. Outside of a 30-second stretch in Game 1, the Kings haven’t led in gameplay during the first four games. If not for Pearson’s overtime goal and Jonathan Quick’s staunch effort in Game 3, L.A.'s season would be over, and deservedly so. The Sharks have coupled their strong power play with controlled play in the offensive zone from Thornton, Pavelski, Logan Couture and Burns. While Kings goalie Quick has recovered from his miserable Game 1, he’s remained under assault for three of the four contests. San Jose has been the better team and, except in Game 3, has survived the L.A. surges that strike terror into most teams.
The Kings avoided surrendering an early first-period goal for the first time in the series, but still spent most of the game playing from behind. If they want to climb back from theri 3-1 series deficit, they will help themselves by playing with a lead for more than 30 seconds.
Luke Schenn scoring? Not a great sign for the Kings
With the absence of shot-blocking extraordinaire Alec Martinez, the Kings’ defense is now relying heavily on veteran Rob Scuderi and Luke Schenn to take some pressure off of Drew Doughty, who logged a combined 93 minutes of ice time in Games 1 through 3. Both were supposed to be exhausted by this point. Instead, Schenn responded with a goal and assist (he appeared to score both, but the first was credited to Trevor Lewis). The blueliner, acquired at midseason from the Flyers, may not have been prepared to skate as he has during the opening games of the series. In Game 4, he was L.A.'s best source of offense.
While it was a nice game for Schenn, the fact that the Kings needed a goal and assist from a player who had scored four times all season is a stinging indictment of its offense. Vaunted forwards Anze Kopitar, Milan Lucic, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Tyler Toffoli have a combined two goals in the series, an output doubled by San Jose's Pavelski alone. The Sharks’ defense has thrived blocking shots and forcing a series of strong scoring chances wide of the net, and goalie Martin Jones has remained stable all series. The Kings’ chances have been few throughout, and they’ve had to rely on special teams goals and long-range efforts to get on the board during the first four games.
If the Sharks maintain their defensive effort and the Kings have to rely on Schenn for scoring, San Jose will coast into the next round of the playoffs.