Kings come home after long trip to face Sharks (Dec 31, 2016)

BY AP • December 31, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings finally return home to Staples Center to face a familiar foe with the hope of breaking a three-game losing streak.

After spending more than two weeks on the road during a nine-game trip that was split up by the holiday break, the San Jose Sharks come to Los Angeles to open a home-and-home series that concludes Tuesday at HP Pavilion.

The Kings (17-15-4) are in an unaccustomed position as they start a stretch of eight home games in their next nine, outside the top eight playoff qualifiers in the Western Conference.

Despite losing starting goaltender Jonathan Quick to injury during the season opener in San Jose, they have played well defensively, ranking third in the West in goals against (89) but are near the bottom of the league offensively.

Only Jeff Carter (19 goals) has registered double digits in goals through 36 games and Los Angeles' floundering power play (ranked 22nd with a 15.4 percent conversion rate) has not produced in key situations.

Though the Kings started their trip well (3-2-1 in the first six games), they scored only four goals in losses to Dallas, Vancouver and Edmonton, picking up just one point in an overtime loss to the Stars.

Though the end of the trip did not end well, the Kings refused to use the length of the trip as the reason for their recent losing streak.

"I think that every team has a tough schedule," goalie Peter Budaj said. "We've had a tough schedule in December, but that's the way it goes. No pointing fingers, everybody has to expect more from each other and just keep battling and keep getting better and better."

Getting back on track is a daunting task given their recent lack of success against the divisional rival Sharks. The Kings have dropped the first two games of the series and going back to last season they have lost eight of 10, including last season's five-game first-round playoff elimination.

The Sharks (23-12-1) lead the Pacific Division and show little evidence that last season's long playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final has fatigued them.

Team leading scorer Brent Burns (14 goals, 20 assists) continues to be a dominant force from the blue. Joe Pavelski (12 goals) and Logan Couture (11 goals) are consistent offensive threats.

San Jose is playing its best hockey of the season. Thursday's victory over Philadelphia was its fourth straight and eight in their last nine games.

"There's no secret to beating the Kings," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after the last victory against Los Angeles. "No speeches are necessary. Martin Jones has been great in net every time."

Jones is showing that last season's debut in San Jose was not fashioned because of having a Cup finalist in front of him. He is tied for second in wins (19) and his 2.08 goals-against average is sixth best for goalies starting at least 20 games.

Jones is likely to be the starter after backup Aaron Dell faced the Flyers on Thursday. He has a sterling 9-2-1 record against his former team.

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