Sharks host Kings looking to continue upswing

STATS/TSX

With two games in two days, the surging San Jose Sharks are looking for a strong finish heading into the NHL's Christmas break.

They start on Saturday afternoon with a matchup against the league-worst Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center.

San Jose opened a four-game homestand with a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, a blip on what's been a pretty strong stretch of hockey in recent weeks.

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"This might have been our best game in the last six games and it was the one we lost," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We had a good effort. Some unfortunate bounces."

After losing a season-high four in row between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, the Sharks have won seven of nine. DeBoer told the San Jose Mercury News on Friday that the team talked about what they wanted to accomplish before the league goes on hiatus for three days.

"We had a goal 10 days to two weeks ago and we talked about our last seven games heading into the break," he said. "We've won four out of the five since we started talking about it, so we want to finish this off."

Following this game, San Jose (19-12-5) faces another Pacific Division opponent when the Arizona Coyotes visit on Sunday. The Sharks are 5-2-1 against division foes this season.

Erik Karlsson said following the win over the Jets that San Jose expects to be among the league's elite, but there needs to be a full-time effort in each game.

"Today, we showed it in bits and pieces. ... You can't make small mistakes early in the game, it's going to come back and cost you," said the Sharks defenseman, who's riding an eight-game assists streak.

After putting up 98 points last season, Los Angeles (12-20-3) is at the bottom of the league and has the fewest goals scored with 78. Coming up on the halfway point, no player on the club has cracked double digits in goals. Dustin Brown has a team-high nine after scoring 28 last season, while Anze Kopitar has eight after a career-best 35 in 2017-18.

The key to any sort of success this season, according to Drew Doughty, is shutting down the opposition.

"The defensive style we play, that's how we've got to win hockey games. That's the bottom line. The only way this team is going to win hockey games is if we're giving up max two goals a night," the defenseman said after the Kings snapped a four-game winning streak with a 4-1 stunner over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

That means better play from Jonathan Quick. He's three wins shy of 300, but 0-4-1 with a 3.63 goals-against average on the road this season.

Los Angeles has won four straight on the road and is 11-3-0 overall when allowing two goals or less in 2018-19.

In the only previous meeting this season, Kevin Labanc scored in overtime to lift the Sharks to a 3-2 win over the Kings on Oct. 5 at Staples Center. San Jose and Los Angeles have split the last four meetings in Northern California and only one team in one game scored more than two goals.

The Kings are expected to have Ilya Kovalchuk back in the lineup, according to Fox Sports West. The No. 1 overall pick in 2001 missed 10 games after ankle surgery.

Kovalchuk returned to the league on a three-year deal in July, five years after leaving for the KHL. The 35-year-old winger has five goals and nine assists in 25 games this season.

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