LOS ANGELES — The Pacific Division rival San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings meet for the fifth and final time this regular season at Staples Center Wednesday.
The Kings trail the Sharks by six points for second place in the division entering the contest, with both teams winning two games against the other this season.
San Jose won the first two contests of the series, a 2-1 decision in the season debut in San Jose and a 4-1 victory on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. Los Angeles rallied with back-to-back wins, 3-2 on Dec. 31 in Los Angeles and followed with a 2-1 overtime win three nights later.
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The Sharks (26-16-2) will have several lineup changes as general manager Doug Wilson announced Tuesday that right wing Jonas Donskoi was placed on injured reserve and recalled forwards Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow and defenseman Tim Heed from their San Jose Barracuda affiliate in the American Hockey League.
San Jose defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 on Monday to break a two-game losing streak, receiving a goal and an assist from wingers Joel Ward and Timo Meier. Coach Peter DeBoer knows he will need another performance to win the season series from Los Angeles.
“I thought we had a four-line, six-defensemen game tonight,” DeBoer said. “Nice effort after the last game. I don’t think anyone in our room was happy with how last game went. It was a good bounce-back game.”
Center Logan Couture is the leading scorer against Los Angeles, registering four goals – including a game-winning tally – and two assists. The expected starting goaltender Martin Jones has posted a 1.76 goals against average and a .937 save percentage against his former team.
“The Winnipeg game was a really good effort and we have to make sure we stay that hungry and compete like that every night,” Jones said after the win.
The Kings’ inconsistent play all season is responsible for them being outside their accustomed top three standing in the Pacific Division that automatically qualifies teams for postseason play. They enter the match in fifth place in the Pacific after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday.
Due to injury and illness, Los Angeles has not capitalized on gaining ground on a seven-game homestand that ends Wednesday. Winger Tyler Toffoli, the teams’ leading goal scorer last season will miss his 13th straight game with a knee injury but it is expected that captain Anze Kopitar will return after missing the Lightning loss with a virus.
Team leading-scorer Jeff Carter (23 goals, 14 assists) and Tanner Pearson have led the way against San Jose, each tallying two goals and an assist. The linemates have accounted for Los Angeles’ game winning goals in the season series.
Peter Budaj, playing well as the starter with the season-long absence of No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Quick is likely to start his 37th game in 45 contests. Budaj is 2-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .914 save percentage versus San Jose.
With the Kings about to depart on a stretch of nine road games in the 10 contests, they realize the importance of closing the homestand on a positive note.
“It’s going to be big game and we have to win it,” defenseman Drew Doughty told NHL Network Tuesday.
Kopitar concurs with the need for Los Angeles to leave town with a win given its lack of success on the road this season (8-11-3).
“It’s always important, after the All-Star break the picture gets clearer on playoffs,” Kopitar said. “We have five games before the All-star break and want to win them all. You want to put in the work and make sure you get the most points you can.”