To lose your top goal scorer midway through the season can be a devastating blow.
But the Sharks have seemingly managed without Logan Couture — at least, well enough to beat the Western Conference-leading Kings.
With “Beat LA” chants ringing through the crowd all game long, the Sharks defeated the Kings 2-0 Saturday night in a game that featured plenty of scoring chances, but strong defense and plenty of hits on both sides.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Sharks dressing room at SAP Center.
For a team that prides itself on defense — and is now without its top goal scorer — Saturday’s win was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was a stalwart night of defense. It was timely goals from the top line and the fourth line. And it was a much-needed shutout for Martin Jones, who been winless in five of his last six starts.
Assistant coach Rob Zettler said:
“I thought that was one of our best games of the year so far. Defensively, we’ve been good all year. We’re starting to put the puck in the back of the net the last few weeks, so it’s a good feeling.”
Jones made 28 saves in his third career shutout to record his 100th career win, against his former team no less. He said the main difference on Saturday was just getting the win:
“Obviously, getting the result is nice. I thought I played some good hockey over the last 4-5 games. You get some good bounces tonight, some pucks that our [defense] clears out. That could’ve been the difference.”
Ahead 1-0 entering the third period, the Sharks doubled their lead at 7:35 of the third period. Just seconds into a power play, Brent Burns ripped a shot from the point that Joe Pavelski deflected into the net for his eighth goal of the season.
Prior to the goal, San Jose had four power plays through two periods, including a 4-on-3 opportunity they failed to capitalize on. Pavelski said it was nice to finally score on the man advantage, and to see the entire team ramp up the energy in Couture’s absence:
“Guys have stepped up. Tonight, the intensity was there from everybody. If Cooch is in the lineup, and we get that same intensity, we’re a dangerous team.
The Sharks struck first midway through the second period on a great individual effort by Marcus Sorensen. After Mikkel Boedker’s pass into the offensive zone was broken up, the puck landed on the stick of Sorensen, who had a clear path to the net from the slot. Sorensen dangled, and, quickly moving his hands, deked and slid the puck past Quick to put the Sharks ahead 1-0.
Sorensen said on his goal:
“I saw two [Kings] skating into each other. First, I thought I was going to pass to [Joel Ward] on the back door, then I decided to take it to the net.”
It was a big goal for the fourth line, which had seen its playing time reduced in the third period the last two games, as head coach Pete DeBoer has only rolled his top three lines.
“I thought we got some quality minutes from our fourth line, being able to put those guys out at keys times, key moments and bring out big guys’ minutes down a bit.”
In between the goals, as it usually is when the Sharks and Kings square off, there was physicality, chippy play and a lot of tugging, pulling and extra-curricular activity. Even Pavelski, the captain, got into the act in the third period, taking down Tyler Toffoli after Toffoli slashed him. And the crowd rained down boos on both Toffoli and Drew Doughty, who had also committed a slashing penalty earlier in the game.
Timo Meier, who went after Doughty following the slash, said it was the team’s mission to be physical against a hard-checking Kings team:
“Playing against L.A. – a lot of big guys, a lot of physical guys. It’s a man’s game out there. Everybody had to show up today and work hard. We did a good job being physical on them and not giving them time and space.”
The first period featured nine shots apiece for each team, but no scoring. Both teams though had several power plays and good looks at the net, and the Sharks looked strong on 5-on-5 play without Couture.
The Sharks are now 2-1-0 without Couture in the lineup and have maintained the third slot in the Pacific Division playoff picture. They are starting to find their flow, players say — their defense returning to form and their offense starting to kick into gear. Zettler said playing the Kings was a “great test,” a test that they passed on Saturday.
“[The Kings are] a big strong team. They’re going to be in your face. If you’re not committed, if you take the easy way out, it turns into a tough night. Tonight, nobody really stepped back.”
The Sharks play the Calgary Flames at home next Thursday following a break for Christmas.
Before the game, Couture, who sustained a concussion last week, told reporters that he was a “long ways away” from rejoining the Sharks … Jones is now 8-3-2 in 14 starts against his former team … Sorensen scored his third goal of the season, and all of them have come in the last four games.