LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings weren’t happy about the way they played at San Jose in their previous meeting with the Sharks so they focused on improving their defensive effort in the rematch.
Kyle Clifford recorded his first two-goal game in the NHL, and Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Dwight King also scored as the Kings beat their Pacific Division rivals 5-2 on Saturday night.
San Jose went more than 11 minutes before getting its first shot on net and fell behind 2-0 in the second half of a home-and-home series after beating the defending Stanley Cup champions 4-3 on Thursday.
“We kind of have that New England Patriots mindset, where we don’t want to lose two in a row to them,” Clifford said. “We definitely wanted to tighten up defensively—especially after what happened two nights ago. We knew what our game plan was, and defensive-zone play was right up there.
“We came out with a strong first period, and that kind of put them on their heels a little bit. Then we got it going and took it to them.”
Jonathan Bernier stopped 21 shots in the opener of a five-game homestand, including a penalty shot by Tommy Wingels at 7:58 of the second period. Bernier has won six of his seven starts, not counting a 6-4 win over St. Louis that Jonathan Quick got credit for in relief.
Antti Niemi stopped 14 of 18 shots and was pulled by coach Todd McLellan after Clifford scored his second of the game and fourth of the season during a goal-mouth scramble at 13:45 of the second period for a 4-1 lead.
“I’ve said that about Kyle a lot in the last couple years—about doing a really good job at certain points of games whether it’s a hit, fight, score, backcheck,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
Patrick Marleau and Matt Irwin scored for San Jose. Niemi allowed more than three goals for only the third time in 23 starts this season. The other two were against the Chicago Blackhawks, who have the league’s best record.
“We had a lot of passengers. So disappointing,” McLellan said. “We play against the Stanley Cup champions back-to-back, and we’re lucky enough to win one in San Jose. Then we come here, and you’ve got to think they’ll be chomping at the bit and ready to go, and they’re going to push you.
“What a great opportunity for our team to test themselves collectively, but also individually.”
Clifford scored on the first shot of the game, beating Niemi through the pads from a sharp angle at 2:27 of the penalty-free first period after Slava Voynov faked a slap shot from the high slot and found Clifford in the right circle.
Williams was credited with his fourth goal at 12:19 when he got the rebound of his shot and inadvertently banked the puck into the net off defenceman Brad Stewart while trying to pass it to Dustin Brown.
“If you don’t have an ‘A’ game, you have to have a ‘B’ game. Some guys had their D game,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “At this level, that just can’t happen against elite teams. You are finally feeling pretty good about your game and pretty good about the team, and then you take a step back like this.”
Marleau got San Jose on the board 35 seconds into the second period with his fifth goal in 22 games, following a season-opening, five-game streak in which he scored nine times.
Brent Burns, who has four points in three games since coming off the injured list and shifting from defenceman to right wing on the Sharks’ top line, circled the net with the puck and fed it in front to Thornton, who fanned on the shot. The puck glanced off the skate of Kings forward Anze Kopitar, and Marleau whipped it past Bernier.
“There are going to be rebounds in front of the net, but we have to be able to get there,” Niemi said. “I have to be able to try my best to get those to the corners. We have to be able to get back to the net and clear those.”
The game marked the NHL debut of Tyler Toffoli, a second-round pick by the Kings in 2010. The 20-year-old centre, playing on a line with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, tried to disrupt a second-period breakaway by Wingels and slashed the blade of his stick while diving for the puck. Wingels was awarded a penalty shot, but Bernier gloved it.
“It would have been nice if Tommy scored. Who knows what would have happened?” Thornton said. “It probably would have been a different scenario.”
Stoll made it 3-1 at 11:15 of the second on a short backhand through Niemi’s legs. King scored against backup goalie Alex Stalock on a snap shot from the slot at 18:56 of the second for a 5-1 advantage.
NOTES: The Sharks are 28-26-5 with three ties in regular-season games against clubs that were trying to defend a Stanley Cup championship, and 4-8 in the post-season. … Clifford has 16 goals in 184 career games. … Clifford’s fight with Douglas Murray at 1:27 of the second produced the game’s only penalties during the first two periods. Clifford also received an interference penalty with 54 seconds to play, leading to Irwin’s power-play goal 4 seconds later. … The Sharks have scored no more than three goals in 21 of their last 22 games. Thornton has only two during that stretch, after scoring in three consecutive games in late January. Michal Handzus has one goal in 27 games this season, and only three in his last 46 games. … San Jose began a five-game road trip that goes through Edmonton and Minnesota and includes two games against Anaheim. … Marleau hasn’t scored in his last nine games against Anaheim.