After having their 2014-15 seasons cut much shorter than usual, the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks spent the summer trying to figure out how to get back to the postseason.
While both clubs look to prove that they’ve moved on from recent adversity, the Kings will try to continue their recent dominance in this bitter Pacific Division rivalry Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Los Angeles had reached the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, raising the Stanley Cup in two of the previous three years before finishing two points shy of the Western Conference’s final postseason berth in 2014-15.
The extra-long offseason proved rocky as the Kings had to part ways with Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards after their alleged drug-related offenses, and Slava Voynov returned to Russia after his domestic violence conviction.
As the Voynov saga began to unfold, Los Angeles (40-27-15) brought in free agent Christian Ehrhoff as an insurance policy. Ehrhoff, however, can’t be asked to replace a top-four defenseman after he sustained two concussions and was limited to 49 games with Pittsburgh last season.
"I think guys are excited to get on the ice, because it gives us a chance to think about things other than everything the team has been going through,” captain Dustin Brown said.
Los Angeles hopes Brown can become more of a force after finishing with just 27 points last season, including a career-low 11 goals. The veteran left wing has seen his goal total go down in each of the past four seasons.
Jeff Carter (28 goals), Marian Gaborik (27), Anze Kopitar (16) and new addition Milan Lucic – who had 18 goals with Boston last season – also look to make up for the loss of Conn Smythe Trophy-winning forward Justin Williams.
Gaborik has recorded a point in each of his last four meetings with San Jose. Tyler Toffoli has five goals and three assists in his past nine, including the teams’ 2014 first-round playoff series.
”We feel confident that we can get back to the playoffs because that’s where we belong,” star defenseman Drew Doughty said. ”We know what quality of a team we have, and we feel like we’re still one of the best in the league.”
Goaltender Jonathan Quick has gone 7-2-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average in his last nine starts versus San Jose. That includes the four straight wins in the 2014 playoffs series after the Kings had lost the first three games.
The Sharks (40-33-9) reached the postseason in 10 consecutive seasons before finishing six points behind the Kings in 2014-15. The disappointing campaign resulted in a coaching change as the club brought in Peter DeBoer, who was fired in the middle of his fourth year with New Jersey last season.
”The bottom line is not everything here is broken,” DeBoer said. ”We’re going to concentrate on the areas that need fixing right away.”
DeBoer was counting on Raffi Torres to return after the forward had played just 12 games in the regular season and playoffs the past two years because of knee injuries. But Torres was slammed with a 41-game suspension – the longest in NHL history for a hit on another player – after a hit to the head of Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg in the final preseason game.
It’s the fifth and most significant suspension for Torres in his career.
Captain Joe Pavelski, who had 37 goals – 19 on the power play – will try to carry the load offensively after helping the Sharks rank second in the conference with a 21.7 power-play percentage. Joe Thornton returns after finishing with a team-high 49 assists, while Joel Ward was brought in from Washington.
San Jose also added defenseman Paul Martin and former Los Angeles backup goaltender Martin Jones in an effort to reload quickly. Jones posted a 1.99 GAA in 34 games playing behind Quick the past two seasons.