LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings are not tricky or clever. They want to grind you down and wear you out. They want to keep you away from their goalie and not give you second chances. They want to make it as hard as possible for you to score a goal, even when you outshoot them.
Basically, the Kings are the I-405 freeway at rush hour. They clog the lanes and make every mile of the journey torture. You might get home on time or you might not. The Sharks did not get home Tuesday night. It is why they lost, 2-0, in Game 1 of a playoff series that is going to be full of shoulders leaning on shoulders and space being sparse.
"I thought we had some good looks," said Shark defenseman Dan Boyle, trying to explain why the Sharks could get 35 shots to the Kings' 20 shots and still lose. "But at the end of the night, we couldn't get the puck in the net. We've got to get a little hungrier and dirtier at the net. We can sit here and discuss it for the next 20 minutes if you want. But you've just got to get it in the net."
For most of the first period, it appeared the Sharks might get one there. They carried the play and kept Kings goalie Jonathan Quick very busy. But then the Sharks gave up a goal in the final 13 seconds of the first on a strange play that involved miscommunication on a faceoff and then an assignment breakdown. And it turned out to be the only goal the Kings needed.
Here's why: None of those 35 Sharks shots -- which were as many or more as they had in every game of their first-round sweep of Vancouver -- gave Quick enough of a problem. Very few were second chances, which might catch him out of position.
Most critically, none of the three Shark power plays were effective enough to make a dent on the scoreboard. And of all the things that occurred Tuesday, the power-play shutout should be the most concerning to the Sharks.
It's not totally true that the beloved Los Tiburones live and die by the power play. But it is definitely their oxygen tank. In their first-round victory over the Canucks, the Sharks converted seven of 24 extra-man opportunities. They were among the NHL's best power-play teams in the season's last month.
The problem Tuesday: Los Angeles owned one of the best penalty killing units in the NHL this season and played like it. The Kings position themselves well and mess up passing lanes with terrific stickwork. They allow almost no rebound shots. The Sharks will be sunk unless they figure out how to de-congest that machinery. They had three power plays Tuesday and didn't get it done.
"We were in position a couple of times but we didn't quite finish off a pass," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We've got to be crisper."
"We have to find that way to get the rebound," said Sharks centerman Joe Pavelski. "We have to find a way to score. It has to be better -- we have to produce and create more movement. We feel we can play with them. After tonight, everyone in this room feels they are beatable. It's not going to be easy, obviously. They are the Stanley Cup champs, a team that has learned how to win."
Five on five, that will be difficult. Take a snapshot of any moment Tuesday night when a Kings defenseman had a Sharks player pinned against the boards so that he couldn't get to the front of the net. The power plays are going to be the Sharks' best chances -- and because the Kings don't give up many, those chances must be converted.
During the regular season, it happened enough. The Sharks were 2-2 against Los Angeles. Quick is world class in goal, the Sharks have found ways in the past to make him less global. They beat Quick four times in the 2011 playoffs and drove him from one game this season after he allowed three goals in a period and a half. That was back in March, though.
"I'm not sure what the video is going to show," said Sharks winger Patrick Marleau. "but maybe we didn't get enough people to the front of the net, working to get to the front of the net. They like to smother you over by the boards. You've got to give it that little extra."
Thursday is the next extra opportunity, in Game 2. The Sharks know the problem. They have two days to get on the freeway and solve it.