Antti Niemi has allowed eight goals in San Jose’s four-game win streak.
The suddenly hot San Jose Sharks look for their fifth win in a row when they visit the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night. This Pacific Division battle is the last game for both teams before the All-Star break.
The Sharks (25-19-5) have 55 points and are in fourth place in the Pacific and ninth in the Western Conference standings. Their descent has been shocking after 113 points last year and making the conference finals (swept by Chicago).
Scoring has been an issue, with a 2.73 goals per game average (ranked 16th) after 3.13 last year (ranked fourth). Marquee players Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau are all significantly down from last year’s production. Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi have failed to make a big jump.
The Sharks hit rock bottom during a six-game losing streak ending Jan. 13. They scored eight total goals and finished by losing at home to bottom dwellers Toronto (4-2) and Edmonton (5-2).
Thornton was named team captain this year after veteran defenseman Rob Blake retired. The 31-year-old center has been criticized over the years for a lack of passion and failure to perform in the playoffs. However, he’s stepped up lately with nine points the last six games.
Thornton’s production didn’t pay dividends the first two, but the Sharks have ripped off four-straight victories, including road wins at Phoenix (4-2) and Vancouver (2-1 in a shootout). Their last game was a 4-3 home win over Minnesota on Saturday.
The seven combined goals scored against Minnesota went ‘over’ the 5 ½-goal total. The ‘over’ is 5-1 in San Jose’s last six games and 27-22 overall.
Antti Niemi (13-13-2, 2.72 GAA) has been in net the last four games and should again on Wednesday. Fellow goalie Antero Niittymaki (12-6-3, 2.54 GAA) is on injured reserve with a groin injury.
The Kings (26-22-1, 53 points) have also worn the underachiever tag after 101 points last season. They lost to Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs (4-2).
L.A. has some of the best young talent in hockey. Center Anze Kopitar is the leading scorer (49 points) at just 23, while right winger Dustin Brown (37 points) is 26. The defensemen duo of Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are 21 and 24 respectively and goalie Jonathan Quick (2.16 GAA, ranked fourth) is just 25.
Youth has not always been served despite 2.78 goals scored per game (ranked 13th) and 2.49 goals allowed (ranked eighth). That .29 differential is in the top third of the league, but the team has squandered points with many close losses.
The Kings have been extremely streaky, starting 12-3 and then having runs of 1-7, 9-2-1 and 2-10. They did win their last two games, 4-3 at Phoenix on Saturday and 2-0 at home against Boston on Monday. They hope Wednesday’s game continues another winning streak.
The ‘under’ is 4-1 in L.A.’s last five games and 30-18-1 on the season.
Los Angeles is much more successful at home (16-9-1) than away (10-13). San Jose has a slightly better road record (13-9-2) than at home (12-10-3).
L.A. is 1-2 against San Jose this year, splitting the road games and most recently losing at home (1-0) on New Year’s Day. The road team is 6-1 in the last seven meetings overall. San Jose is 16-5 in the last 21 games in Los Angeles.
San Jose forward Ryane Clowe (leg) has missed the last four games and is questionable Wednesday. He’s third on the team in scoring with 37 points.
The puck will drop at 7:30 p.m. (PT) and will be broadcast locally.