SAN JOSE — Greetings from San Jose, the Kings’ first visit this season to what’s now known as the SAP Center and first since their second-round playoff series against the Sharks last spring. The Kings won that series by winning Game 7 at Staples Center.
It’s only November and too early to call the Kings’ game against the Sharks on Wednesday night a must-win or use a similar cliché, but it’s more than just one of 82 because the winner will take the lead in the Pacific Division based on winning percentage.
The Kings and Sharks each have 35 points and the Ducks have 37. However, the Ducks have played 27 games, while the Kings will have played 26 and the Sharks will have played 24 after tonight. It’s a testimony to the Kings’ depth and perseverance that they’re in position to take the division lead despite long-term injuries to key players such as goaltender Jonathan Quick, defenseman Matt Greene and forward Jeff Carter.
The Kings will take a 7-0-3 points streak into the game and an 8-3-1 road record. The Sharks are 7-1-2 at home.
Carter will play his second game back from the foot inury that kept him out of the lineup for 10 games, but Quick, Greene, Trevor Lewis and Matt Frattin remain out.
“When we had that flood of injuries I think a lot of people were probably thinking it’s going to be a tough couple of weeks,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “That’s the interesting thing. I think this team, not only this year but in years past, has always dealt with adversity like that really well. And that’s the strength of our team.”
He also said that while Quick, center Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty are “the guys,” the rest of the team has learned to play without them when someone from that trio has been injured.
“That shows our mentality as a team,” Brown said. “It’s not just ever about one individual or a couple of players. It’s always been a team mentality here. That’s what makes it strong. When a top guy goes out — our goal scorer [Carter] went out the last three weeks — and we didn’t score as many goals as we would have with him in the lineup, but we found ways to win. It’s about being 20 strong.”
Goaltender Ben Scrivens, who’s expected to make his seventh straight start, has seamlessly stepped in for Quick. Scrivens is 5-0-2 in those starts, with a 1.27 goals-against average and .954 save percentage after stopping 187 of 196 shots over 425 minutes 50 seconds. Alec Martinez has played 10 consecutive games in place of Greene, young right wing Tyler Toffoli has brought energy and production and young center Linden Vey has done well enough to earn
“Tyler came up and was really good and then he had a real drop and then I think he was better last game,” Coach Darryl Sutter said, referring to the Kings’ 3-2 overtime victory at Vancouver on Monday.
“I think Linden has some trouble against certain players. He’s a guy that’s used to having the puck at whatever level he’s at. I’d see him in juniors and he was dominant he was and he’d get away with stuff you can’t get away with in the NHL. He has to maximize his skill set but at the same time not do it in a way that he’s losing ground or losing zone.”
Judging by the morning skate, the lines and defense pairs figure to be the same as they were at Vancouver. That would be Brown-Kopitar-Justin Williams; Dwight King-Mike Richards-Carter; Daniel Carcillo-Jarret Stoll-Jordan Nolan, and Kyle Clifford-Vey-Toffoli up front. On defense, the pairs were Robyn Regehr-Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell-Martinez and Jake Muzzin-Doughty.