Jeff Carter

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks, Kings renew hostilities

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NBCSN will kick off its post-holiday schedule with back-to-back rivalry games tonight. The second will feature the Kings and Sharks in Los Angeles and start at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

When the Sharks faced the Kings in their season opener, they had something to prove after San Jose was embarrassed by Los Angeles in the first round “reverse sweep.”. The fact that the Sharks went on to earn a 4-0 victory in that contest was a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t make up for the playoff collapse. Nothing they do in the regular season can.

Even still, the situation is far different for Game 2 of the season series between San Jose and Los Angeles. The Sharks entered the holiday break on a 9-1-1 run to improve to 19-11-5 this season. Even their 3-2 overtime loss against Anaheim to close their pre-Christmas schedule seemed to do little to dampen their enthusiasm.

“If we play that way, we’ll win more than we lose,” said Joe Pavelski, per CSN Bay Area.

“It answered some questions that I had going in,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the loss. “Are we going to be prepared and focused and could we compete in this type of game right before Christmas? We did that. We had some good leadership in the locker room and everybody found a way to scramble to get a point on the road.”

Los Angeles hasn’t been nearly as effective lately, winning just three of its last nine games. That 70s line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson, which dazzled audiences earlier this season, has fizzled out and been broken up. Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik are finally clicking, but lately it often hasn’t been enough.

These last few years Los Angeles has been a team that’s at its best during the playoffs, but the Kings need to make it to the postseason for that to matter. Coming out of the holiday break last season, the Kings had a nine-point cushion in the battle for a playoffs spot, but going into this game, Los Angeles only has a two-point edge in the Wild Card race.

With that in mind this isn’t just a rivalry game for the Kings. It’s also a key opportunity to put some distance on their pre-holiday slump and start providing themselves with some breathing room.

PHT’s top 14 of ’14: Kings stage historic comeback vs. San Jose

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It’s likely that a good chunk of the teams who have been down 0-3 in playoff series have put on brave faces.

Still, hindsight has a way of making seemingly throwaway comments seem like much more. At the time, many probably rolled their eyes when Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said his team would not “go away quietly” against the San Jose Sharks after falling behind 0-3. With the Kings’ stunning “reverse sweep” and subsequent championship run in mind, Sutter looks more like a soothsayer.

That’s not to say that the Kings were going into Game 4 with a ton of swagger.

Captain Dustin Brown described that hole as “the most dire situation” the Kings had been in.

Let’s look back at the four games the Kings ended up winning and some of the fallout:

Game 4

Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik and Justin Williams helped Los Angeles win 6-3.

Even early on, it seemed like the Kings were planting seeds that they might be able to overcome the deficit, as 3-0 leads were deemed a little less foreboding than they once were.

Game 5

The Kings “went into the cage” and forced Antti Niemi out of the Sharks’ net for a second consecutive game. Bitter San Jose fans will note that this was the game in which key defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was injured. Los Angeles ended up winning 3-0.

Dan Boyle wondered if the Sharks were taking their series lead for granted.

Game 6

Los Angeles became the ninth team to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0, an accomplishment in its own right. The Kings once again won decisively, taking this one 4-1. There was some nastiness in this one:

There were plenty of negative reactions to the Sharks’ sudden slump.

Game 7

Once again, the Kings survived. Once again, the final score wasn’t particularly close, as Los Angeles beat San Jose 5-1 to become the fourth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a playoff series. Incredibly, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were on the Philadelphia Flyers team that accomplished such a feat against the Boston Bruins during the 2010 playoffs.

Fallout

Williams remarked that the Kings should not “do that again,” yet it seemed like they used that big-game experience to become serious survivors in elimination situations.

Los Angeles ended up moving on and winning their second Stanley Cup, although not without remarking that they saw fear in the Sharks’ eyes during their comeback. To some extent, the Sharks are still dealing with the reverberations of that loss as the organization waffled on the subject of rebuilding, awkwardly stripped Joe Thornton of the captaincy and generally seemed to send mixed messages about how it would deal with that crushing defeat.

While the Kings’ 0-3 story ended with the Stanley Cup hoisted in the air, it appears that there are still a few chapters remaining in San Jose’s version of the story.

Report: Contract talks underway between Kings, Williams

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From ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun:

Williams, 33, is in the last of a four-year, $14.6 million deal that carries a $3.65M annual cap hit. For that money, Williams has been a very productive player for the Kings — two 20-goal seasons, one Conn Smythe and the “Mr. Game 7” moniker — but he’s not getting any younger, and the Kings don’t have a ton of cap space moving forward.

The team’s financial issues this season have been well-documented, especially after playing shorthanded on a couple of occasions following the Slava Voynov suspension. What’s more, GM Dean Lombardi has gone heavy on the lengthy, big-money contracts — Voynov, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick are all signed through 2019 — and still has some key RFA negotiations on the horizon this summer in Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli.

Per CapGeek, the Kings have only 14 players under contract at approximately $60 million for next season. If the ceiling is to rise to the projected $73M, that’d give L.A. around $13 million to fill out its active roster.

What that means for Williams remains to be seen.

Sens owner: We’re the ‘smart ones’ for avoiding free-agent busts

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According to Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, all this talk about his team having the lowest cap payroll in the NHL is pointless, since GM Bryan Murray has said that “there’s nothing out there that he could actually spend money on” anyway.

Besides, the Senators will need financial flexibility in the future, when their young players need new contracts. The club’s spending will “skyrocket” once that happens, promised Melnyk.

And at any rate, it’s not like free agency is how all the great teams are built.

“You know, look, everybody keeps talking about money, money, money, and we just keep telling everybody, ‘Take a look at all these big signings that happened in the last couple of years,”‘ said Melnyk.

“I mean, we’re looking like the smart ones. Some of those [unrestricted free agents] that were out there just didn’t pan out. I’m not gonna name the names. You know. Take a look at the players that got those big contracts and what they’re doing now, after they got their big contracts.

“I’m not in the least embarrassed about us spending at the bottom. I’m happy, because we’ll be able to spend more in the future.”

Melnyk is certainly right that a number of the big, recent free-agent signings have turned out poorly. Think David Clarkson in Toronto and Vincent Lecavalier in Philadelphia.

At the same time, there’s a decided relationship between winning and spending money, so it will be interesting to see how the Sens’ budget looks in a few years, should the team find itself in a go-for-it position.

After all, while the foundations of championship teams like the Blackhawks and Kings were laid in the draft, they did add big contracts like Marian Hossa’s and Jeff Carter’s to help put them over the top.

So, what if Sens management went to ownership and asked for more money?

“We’ve got it,” said Melnyk. “Not a problem.”

Related: ‘Any idiot’ can spend to the cap, says Sens owner

Slumping Kopitar might get Gaborik back soon

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The Los Angeles Kings have left something to be desired with their mediocre 14-8-5 record and part of their shortcomings can be tied to Anze Kopitar.

He’s one of their biggest offensive weapons, but he has just five goals and 12 points in 24 games this season. He’s also been limited to two assists over his last eight contests.

Kopitar might get a boost on Tuesday though if Marian Gaborik (upper body) returns after a four-game absence. The two skated together on the top line Sunday and Gaborik was able to fully participate in the practice, per LA Kings Insider.

The duo had chemistry during the Kings’ 2014 Stanley Cup-winning playoff run, but they weren’t able to carry that forward early this season because Gaborik was sidelined for most of October. He got off to a slow start when he returned, but Gaborik had four goals and seven points in his last nine games before he was injured again.

Justin Williams rounded out the Kings’ first line during Sunday’s practice. Kings coach Darryl Sutter also reunited That 70s Line, which consists of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson.

Sutter talked about the possibility of calling up 23-year-old forward Andy Andreoff as a fallback option if Gaborik isn’t ready.