LOS ANGELES – Even a team with six Olympians in its starting lineup occasionally has to grind out unglamorous victories, and the San Jose Sharks showed they’re not above getting their gloves dirty.
Evgeni Nabokov made 33 saves, Dan Boyle had a goal and an assist, and the Sharks ended the Los Angeles Kings’ recent mastery over them with a 2-1 victory Monday night.
Dany Heatley scored his 26th goal for the Pacific Division-leading Sharks, who had lost two of three, including an embarrassing 6-2 loss to Los Angeles at the Shark Tank seven days earlier. With excellent penalty-killing and a strong bounce-back effort by Nabokov, San Jose beat the Kings in regulation for the first time in five meetings this season.
“They’ve dominated us so far this year,” said Boyle, who scored on a shot through traffic early in the first period. “The first two periods, I thought we were in their zone, and we got a lot of shots on net and a lot of traffic. They fought back, but it was a better effort on our part.”
San Jose still is struggling for offence, managing just seven goals in its past four games. Sharks coach Todd McLellan had a rare week of disappointment with his club’s physical effort in losses to the Kings and Detroit, and he let his players know about it with a physical practice Sunday in San Jose.
“We were a little more detailed,” McLellan said. “It still wasn’t easy. They came at us very hard in the third period, but I thought we were better along the boards. We won more battles.”
Randy Jones scored and Erik Ersberg stopped 34 shots for the slumping Kings, who have lost three straight – all by one goal apiece – to open a seven-game homestand. Los Angeles went 0-for-5 on its power play, including a fruitless two-man advantage in the third period.
After briefly leading the Western Conference just a month ago, Los Angeles is back on the fringe of the playoff picture after losing seven games during its worst 10-game stretch of the season. Los Angeles coach Terry Murray also had concerns about his team’s condition, holding lengthy meetings with his players during Sunday’s practice.
The effort was better, but not good enough to avoid another one-goal loss to an opponent with years of experience in overcoming slumps.
“We were scoring a lot in the beginning of the year, but as of late, it’s been really tough for us to find goals, even if we’re getting the chances,” Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown said. “We’ve got to try to stay positive, though. It does no good to be negative at this point in the year.”
The Kings’ woes couldn’t be blamed on Ersberg, who recovered from a shaky beginning to just his second start since Dec. 9 while filling in for U.S. Olympic team goalie Jonathan Quick, who was pulled from the Kings’ 4-3 loss to St. Louis on Saturday night. Murray said he saw “flatness” in Quick’s game, while Ersberg had beaten the Sharks on Dec. 9.
Los Angeles could have struggled defensively without defencemen Matt Greene, who missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury, and Davis Drewiske, who’s on injured reserve.
“We played a lot better tonight than we played against St. Louis,” Ersberg said. “But it’s still a loss, so we’ve got some stuff to work on. It’s tough to lose one-goal games, but I think we’ve got a lot of one-goal wins, too, so that probably evens out.”
San Jose began the game with six of its NHL-high eight Olympians on the ice, showcasing the defending Pacific Division champions’ enviable top-shelf talent.
Less than four minutes in, Boyle’s shot from the point slipped between several players and through Ersberg’s legs for the Canadian Olympian’s ninth goal of another strong season. Boyle thought his shot ricocheted off Kings defenceman Sean O’Donnell, but wasn’t sure.
Heatley then scored during a lengthy man-advantage early in the second period, batting his own rebound out of mid-air for the 26th goal of his debut season with San Jose. The star forward connected with the puck at about Ersberg’s mask level, just low enough to avoid a high-sticking call.
Jones answered for Los Angeles 37 seconds later, scoring his first goal since Dec. 3 on a weak-side rebound. Alexander Frolov got the primary assist in his 500th NHL game, all with the Kings.
NOTES: Greene is expected to be out for at least 10 days. … D Alec Martinez played a regular shift for the Kings in just his fourth game. He’s been up and down from Los Angeles’ AHL affiliate in Manchester, most recently getting sent down Saturday and recalled Sunday. … Ersberg hadn’t started at Staples Center since March 16, 2009. … Sharks LW John McCarthy played his second game of the season. … Joe Thornton picked up his 48th assist on Heatley’s goal.