The San Jose Sharks scored early and often, beating Jonathan Quick three times in the first period on the way to a 6-3 win in their series opener against the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night.
Joe Thornton got the hosts on the board just 3:06 in with a deft deflection of a Joe Pavelski backhander, but it was a pair of goals from Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau in the final 52 seconds of the frame that set the stage for a rout.
The Sharks built the lead up to 5-0 in the second, sending Quick to the showers after 40 minutes. And while the Kings rallied with three goals to make the score interesting in the third, the end result was never really in doubt.
Here are some observations after tonight’s contest and a look ahead to Sunday’s Game 2.
• It took barely five minutes for hostilities to break out in this one, with Mike Brown putting a match to the powder with a heavy hit that sent Slava Voynov barreling into Quick. The collision and ensuing scrum set the tone for an punishing game that saw the Kings dish out 69 hits to San Jose’s 52. Everyone was standing after this one, but you have to think that attrition will come into play if they maintain that punishing pace.
• The Sharks got a boost from icing a complete lineup for the first time this year. Raffi Torres dressed after missing all but five games in the regular season and Hertl played for just the third time since he was sidelined by a Dustin Brown cheap shot back on Dec. 19.
You can’t overstate the value of their presence. Compare this year’s club to the one that fell in seven games to the Kings last spring. The two key differences? Torres and Hertl.
Both players made their presence felt. Torres played a team-low 8:42 but still paced the Sharks with seven hits to go along with his game-winning goal midway through the second. He could use a couple more games to get his legs under him, but he looks primed to make his mark in this series with his trademark snarl and energy.
Hertl was fine, although he didn’t seem to have the same jump as he did earlier in the season. The hands looked pretty good though, and his presence makes this a tougher team to defend.
• Hard not to be impressed by San Jose’s ability to control the puck, at least through the first 40 minutes when they still had their foot on the pedal. Six of their forwards and two defenders finished with a Corsi rating of at least 60 percent. Thornton was dominant at 65.5, with Pavelski right behind him at 65.4.
• Nothing advanced about this stat, but it paints a pretty vivid picture just the same. The Sharks scored 10 goals against Quick over the entire seven-game series against the Kings in 2013. They lit him up for half that many in just 40 minutes tonight. Some nightmarish coverage by Los Angeles’ defenders created a few breaks that probably won’t be there Sunday, but you have to believe a goal like Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s softie–right through the wickets from 35 feet out–that made it 5-0 reminds them that Quick is anything but invincible.
Still, the keeper had his moments. His best came with the Kings down two men late in the second as he robbed both Thornton and Dan Boyle on close-range chances. The battle he showed on those two stops is what he needs to build on for a rebound performance on Sunday.
• Nice night for former Los Angeles Junior King Matt Nieto. The rookie created a lot with his speed and was relentless under pressure on the play that led to Marleau’s goal. He could be a real match-up problem for the slower right side of L.A.’s defense as this series wears on.
• The Kings came into the game as the lowest scoring team in the postseason (just 206 goals) and for the first 40 minutes they looked the part. They made life too easy for Niemi, who was tested maybe two or three times through the first two periods and only one of those–created by a Doughty pinch late in the second–required him to be at his best. That changed in the third when they took advantage of a lull in San Jose’s puck pressure to get pucks, and more importantly, bodies, to the front of the net. On Jake Muzzin’s goal 2:01 into the frame there were three players directly in line between the defender and Niemi, giving the keeper no chance on the point blast. Slava Voynov’s goal at 6:55 was a direct result of a Jarret Stoll screen (and some soft coverage by Jason Demers). Jeff Carter’s shot from the right circle at 13:59 bounced off the skate of Trevor Lewis, who was parked in front along with Dustin Brown. L.A.’s formula for evening up the series seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?
• Robin Regehr played just 15:04, by far the fewest minutes of any L.A. defender, but even that load might have been a little weighty for him. The veteran was directly at fault for the first and third goals scored by the Sharks, losing playmaker Brent Burns twice on Thornton’s opening tally and then failing to keep up with Marleau on the dagger goal with just 3.2 seconds left in the first. He was minus-3 after 20 minutes, digging a hole the Kings couldn’t climb out of.
• No surprise that Drew Doughty, who missed the final four games of the regular season with a shoulder injury, was a target for San Jose’s forecheckers. He struggled as he was hammered seven times through the first and second, but really found his legs in the third. He was involved in a couple of premier scoring chances, including a spectacular, swooping one-man effort that saw him dance through the San Jose zone and drive through the crease before being thwarted by a sprawling Niemi. That guy needs to show up for the opening faceoff on Sunday.