The Sharks went into Staples Center on a tear, having won four straight and eight of their last nine games.
But they left Los Angeles on a sour note to conclude 2016, falling 3-2 to the Kings on Saturday in a game where they were dominated for a majority of the 60 minutes.
A Kings team with five losses in six games entering the night was hungrier and perhaps fresher than the Sharks (23-13-1), who seemed to coast into the New Year’s Eve affair after winning on Friday at home over the Flyers.
Head coach Pete DeBoer said:
“[The Kings] were desperate. They needed the win. There was no doubt they wanted it more tonight.”
But San Jose kept clawing back into a game in which it was outplayed by more than the final score. Kevin Labanc netted his seventh of the season at 13:57 of the third to make it a one-goal game again, wristing home a shot from the left circle after a shot from the point by Brenden Dillon popped back out.
DeBoer said just because the Sharks struggled early didn’t mean the game was over:
“We hadn’t played our best yet. At least throw a good period at them. I thought we did that in the third.”
Joe Pavelski, who said the team talked about the likelihood that the Kings would come out hard, believed the Sharks still had a chance to pull it out:
“As poorly as we played at times, it was a game at the end in the third period feeling like you could win.”
Late pressure by the Sharks with Jones pulled for the extra skater couldn’t yield the equalizer, though. Jones, who made 24 saves on 27 shots, kept the Sharks in the game. He said that though it was close, the Kings’ strong start gave them the edge:
“We knew they were going to be hungry and come out hard. That was probably the difference in the game.”
The Sharks got off to a sluggish start, falling behind 6-1 on the shot chart and 1-0 on the scoreboard early. Following plenty of zone time by the Kings, Tanner Pearson fired in a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circles to give Los Angeles the first goal four minutes in.
San Jose was fortunate to finish the first period down just a goal, as they were outshot 13-4. But Jones kept the Sharks in it, making save after save. His defense also stood tall, with the Sharks recording 10 blocks in the period — Michael Haley made the most impressive one, a gritty diving block on a slap shot by Nic Dowd on an empty cage. San Jose had few scoring chances in the period, save for Dylan DeMelo hitting a post.
Los Angeles soon doubled its lead early in the second after Burns took a tripping penalty. Drew Doughty made it 2-0 Kings on a slapshot from the right point that Jones didn’t see.
While Pavelski shot down the notion that fatigue of the second of a back-to-back on the road played a role, he acknowledged the Sharks’ forechecks and breakouts weren’t up-to-par with that of the Kings’ early on. Jones added:
“There’s not much difference in the game. It’s one shot here, one bounce there. They played well. We had a tough time with our forecheck tonight. Didn’t break the puck out well.”
Still, the Sharks will end 2016 winning eight of 10 games and in first in the Pacific Division. Their first opponent in 2017 will be the Kings again, and they will seek a more inspired performance at SAP Center next Tuesday.