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KINGS (18-10-3) at SHARKS (19-7-5)
Last 10 -- Los Angeles 6-3-1; San Jose 5-3-2
Season series -- The teams are meeting for the third time this season after splitting the first two. The Kings blew a 4-0 lead before rebounding for a 6-4 victory at home on Oct. 6. On Oct. 28, the Sharks won 2-1 in a shootout.
Big story -- That the Sharks are on top of the Pacific Division is no surprise. That the Kings are right on their heels is. The Kings are off to their best start in years, including a 2-1 win over Calgary on Monday that came two days after the Sharks lost 2-1 to the Flames.
Kings -- Erik Ersberg has been a forgotten man in L.A. With Jonathan Quick starting all but two games, Ersberg, the Kings' backup goaltender, has been the NHL's version of the Maytag repairman. But with the Kings also scheduled to host Phoenix on Thursday, Ersberg is in line to get his first start since Nov. 13.
So why start your backup goalie against the best of the West?
"Well, it's a road game," coach Terry Murray told the Kings' Web site. "I'm a big believer in playing my best players at home, and I know Quicker is my No. 1 guy. The home game, to me, is an important game, as this one is, but I always think that if you're going to have that kind of decision that you have to make, I will consistently go with the home game for the No. 1 goalie."
Sharks -- The Shark Tank has been one of the NHL's toughest stops for visiting teams over the past couple of seasons. But the Sharks have lost a bit of their touch at home in the past couple of weeks. Since opening 7-0-2 at home, the Sharks have gone 1-2-1 in San Jose. They've dropped back-to-back games, losing 3-2 in a shootout to St. Louis last Thursday before the loss at Calgary on Saturday. San Jose hasn't dropped three straight at home since going 0-3-2 from Dec. 15, 2007 to Jan. 3, 2008.
Who's hot -- San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, expected to be in net, has gone 15-5-1 with a 1.93 GAA in 21 home starts against Los Angeles, and Patrick Marleau is 5-5-10 in his last 12 games against the Kings.. Sharks forward Ryane Clowe is 5-5-10 during a nine-game points streak. … Quick has been in goal for all five games during the 4-0-1 streak that has moved the Kings within four points of the Sharks.
Injury report -- Kings forward Ryan Smyth (upper-body injury) is still out but could be back as early as next week. L.A. got defensive defenseman Rob Scuderi back on Monday. … San Jose's Jody Shelley has missed 13 games with what the team calls "general soreness," while Brad Staubitz has missed nine in a row with a facial injury.
Stat pack -- The Sharks were 4-for-4 on the power play in their first meeting with Los Angeles, the worst penalty-killing showing in Kings history. … San Jose is 5-0-0 against the Kings at HP Pavilion since a 3-2 shootout loss Nov. 28, 2007. I
Puck drop -- This figures to be a good measuring-stick game for the Kings, who've struggled to win in Northern California. A victory at the Shark Tank would be more than enough to show that they're more than just an early-season flash. The Sharks are still not playing with the kind of consistency coach Todd McLellan is looking for, so a visit from the Kings may be just the kind of wakeup call they need.