Way back on November 15, the San Jose Sharks played the Los Angeles Kings in a battle for Pacific Division supremacy. Pardon me for waxing nostalgic, but it feels like a long time ago. With the Stars, Ducks and Coyotes languishing in the depths of the Western Conference, we were fairly certain that the Sharks and Kings were playing the first of their six games that would help decide the eventual division champion. Incredibly, like Bush claiming victory on the deck on an aircraft carrier, we couldn’t have been more wrong.
More than two months later, the Kings and Sharks have been leapfrogged by each of their division rivals, and tonight’s game will be a battle of the Pacific basement, rather than helping determine whether a division championship banner hangs in HP Pavilion or the Staples Center. I know California is a crazy place. Walking outside my front door, the threat of wild turkeys, mudslides, wildfires, earthquakes and the CHP looms large at all times, but how could the Sharks and Kings have suddenly fallen on such hard times?
The simple (and somewhat grammatically clunky) answer is that both teams got old. More than ever, the NHL is a young man’s game. Just look at the core in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Vancouver. Detroit is the exception, but no other team has the infrastructure of the Red Wings. You won’t find much youth or vigor in either Los Angeles or San Jose. Instead, you notice a lot of wrinkles and sagging skin that, in true California fashion, have been pulled taut and tight in an effort to keep up appearances.
The Kings, despite whatever deficiencies exist in their current roster, simply rely on too many players who are past their prime and on the decline. Ryan Smyth and Michal Handzus are well past their prime, while Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams have to be the two oldest 20-somethings on the planet. In all honesty, while the desire might still be there, they just can’t bring it every night like they used to. And that trickles down through the entire roster over an 82-game schedule when these players are seeing 16-22 minutes a night.
The Sharks are in the same sinking boat, proving on a nightly basis that their best days are behind them. Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton are each on the wrong side of 30, and Dan Boyle is six months away from turning 35. It doesn’t help that he’s averaging 27 minutes every time he straps on the blades, leading all NHL players. In today’s NHL, that’s not a recipe for success, and the Sharks are seeing themselves fall further from Cup contention with every tick of the clock and flip of the calendar.
Tonight the Sharks and Kings will attempt to hold off father time and improve their positioning in the Western Conference playoff race. It might not carry the same grandeur or breathless anticipation it did back in November, but the California rivals appear to have aged quite a bit since then.
Once the final buzzer sounds, lend an ear to the SharksBuzz Postgame Show. We’ll break down the game, Nabokov, the All-Star Game, the playoff race and the trade deadline and, as always, we’ll take your toll-free calls at (724) 444-7444, talkcast ID# 74909. Thanks for reading and enjoy the game everybody.