SAN JOSE -- For the past couple weeks, the Kings have enjoyed life in the Pacific Division's penthouse suite, but on Monday, they got a reminder as to who still holds the deed to the place.
Clearly the Kings didn't believe that unseating the Sharks, the three-time defending division champions, would be easy this season, but on Monday night they got a first-hand look at how tough it might be, as the Sharks earned a 6-3 victory over the Kings before 17,562 at HP Pavilion.
The Kings, off to a record-breaking start to this season, had their six-game winning streak snapped, as they faced deficits of 3-1 and 4-2 and couldn't recover. The Kings allowed a season-high six goals, after having allowed a combined total of only six goals in their previous six games.
``That was not the best one we've shown so far, in the last few years,'' Kings center Anze Kopitar said. ``It was just our game through the neutral zone. It wasn't very sharp. We made a few too many turnovers, and they have the personnel to come right back and make you pay for it.
``We shot ourselves in the foot a few times tonight.''
The Kings got goals from Scott Parse, Ryan Smyth -- after a bizarre exchange in the second period -- and Jarret Stoll, but the Kings' sloppy neutral-zone play with the puck, plus a handful of defensive breakdowns in front of their net, gave the Sharks ample opportunities to put the Kings away.
``They just beat us here tonight,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``They beat us in the transition game. Our management of the puck, from the red line to the top of the circle in the offensive zone is what killed us. They rammed it right down our throats every time we tried to do something too much with the puck.''
San Jose stung the Kings with two goals late in the first period to take a 2-1 lead, but Patrick Marleau's power-play goal -- which broke the Kings' 22-for-22 penalty-kill streak -- early in the third period was the back-breaker, as it gave the Sharks a 4-2 lead.
Rightfully so, the Kings have received plenty of league-wide attention for their start to the season, but after a wobbly start, the Sharks are coming on -- they're 4-0-1 in their last five games -- and they proved to be the most offensively talented, and balanced, group the Kings have seen this season.
From the opening face-off, the Sharks looked quick and aggressive, putting consistent pressure on goalie Jonathan Bernier even when it didn't lead to scoring chances. Eventually, that pressure led to defensive breakdowns in front of Bernier that hurt the Kings on at least three Sharks goals.
Murray had a one-word answer when asked about the play of Bernier, who made 28 saves: ``Good.'' That left only one alternative, that the defense had often let Bernier down.
``We've got to be better in front of our net,'' Murray said. ``There were far too many opportunities. The first two goals they got, our defenseman is over in the corner. Both D are away from the net and we've got a forward in front of the net. That's not how you play the game.''
The Sharks were also particularly strong through the middle of the ice, and Murray expressed his dissatisfaction through ice time. Parse and Trevor Lewis did not leave the bench for a 10-minute stretch in the third period, when the game was still close, as Murray shook up the lines.
The Kings retain the best record in the conference, but they went home to prepare for Wednesday's home game against Columbus with a reminder that this season won't merely be a coronation.
``We're not oblivious to what our record is,'' Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. ``We know we've had a good start. But you certainly don't want to make a habit of these kind of games, with the poor decisions we made and things like that. Like I said, we've got a game Wednesday and we can bounce back right before we have a long road trip.''
Entering the game, the Kings had a 9-0-0 record when scoring the first goal this season, but an exchange in the latter part of the first period seemed to take some wind out of the Kings.
The Kings caught a break as they took the lead with 3:27 remaining in the first period. Dustin Brown came in alone from the left side, and goalie Antero Nittymaki made the save but the puck remained loose in front of the net. Marleau tried to clear it out, but the puck hit the left skate of Parse and went into the net for a 1-0 Kings lead. Kopitar also had an assist.
The Kings held the lead for only 1:35 before the Sharks tied the game at 1-1. Joe Pavelski held the puck behind the Kings' net and centered it to Ryan Clowe, who beat Bernier from close range with a one-timer with 1:55 remaining in the first period.
San Jose took the lead just over a minute later, after a Kings turnover. Torrey Mitchell shot from close range, and when Kings defensemen Matt Greene and Jack Johnson were unable to clear the front of the net, Mitchell jumped on his own rebound and scored at the 19:20 mark.
``The start of the game, I liked the start of our game,'' Murray said. ``There was good energy, there was good play. We had the territorial side of the game going. We scored the first goal. But we got casual and turned the puck over and they scored two goals, bang bang, with about one minute, 15 seconds, left in the first period. They never let up off of that.''
The Kings did a solid job, in the first period, against the Sharks' top line of Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, but the balanced, talented Sharks forwards eventually made the Kings pay.
The Sharks took a two-goal lead with 9:25 remaining in the second period. Derek Joslin sent the puck toward the net, and it ended up on the stick of Scott Nichol. Nichol quickly turned, fired and beat Bernier from close range to give the Sharks a 3-1 lead.
After a bizarre exchange in the second period, the Kings cut the Sharks' lead to 3-2.
Smyth jammed the puck into the San Jose net -- with the puck at least a foot over the goal line -- but officials allowed play to continue. Just over a minute later, Mitchell scored to give the Sharks an apparent 4-1 lead, but as the Sharks celebrated, the officials skated over for a review.
Replays clearly showed that Smyth's shot went across the line at the 13:35 mark, so Smyth's goal went on the scoreboard, Mitchell's goal came off, and it was a 3-2 game in favor of the Sharks with 6:25 remaining in the second period, and that's where it stayed for the rest of the period.
The Kings had killed 22 consecutive penalties until the Sharks scored on their first power play of the game, 2:39 into the third period. Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle took the initial shot, and the Kings were once again unable to clear the front of the net before Marleau jumped in and knocked a rebound past Bernier to make it 4-2 for the Sharks.
The Kings pulled back within one goal 7:06 into the third period. Stoll, in front, deflected Scuderi's shot from just inside the blue line to make it a game again and pull the Kings within 4-3.
San Jose regained its two-goal lead just 43 seconds later, though, as Heatley scored on a sharp wrist shot from the high slot with Marleau running some traffic in front of Bernier. The goal gave the Sharks a 5-3 lead at the 7:49 mark.
San Jose added a power-play goal with 3:52 remaining. Just seven seconds into the man advantage, Marleau shot and Pavelski fought off a couple Kings in front of the net to slip a backhand shot past Bernier from close range to make it a three-goal lead.
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