LOS ANGELES -- Joe Thornton turned to the alphabet Saturday night in trying to explain how the Sharks didn't present much of a challenge in a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
"If you don't have an A game," the Sharks captain said, "you have to have a B game. Tonight some guys had their D game, and at this level, it just can't happen against these elite teams."
Coach Todd McLellan called it easily the most disappointing loss of the season -- at least in part because San Jose had beaten the defending Stanley Cup champions 48 hours earlier at HP Pavilion.
"How frickin' disappointing is that?" McLellan began. "We play against the Stanley Cup champions back to back, we're lucky enough to win one in San Jose, and we come here and you've got to think they'd be champing at the bit and ready to go. What a great opportunity for our team to test themselves collectively, but also individually. Do I belong in the NHL? And we had a lot of passengers."
For the second time in five games, McLellan yanked starting goalie Antti Niemi, this time after he gave up four goals on 18 shots through little more than half the game. And McLellan didn't try to soft-peddle his goaltender's role in things going downhill.
"They scored on the first shot. When you need a save early in the game, they scored on the first shot," the coach said. "They got the momentum rolling from there. But there were a lot of other people involved in all 60 minutes, not just Nemo."
That first shot was one of two goals by Kings forward Kyle Clifford just 2:27 into the game, and it looked as if Niemi misplayed the angle. Los Angeles also got goals from Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll and Dwight King, while Patrick Marleau and Matt Irwin tallied for San Jose.
The Sharks were hoping to string together consecutive regulation wins for the first time in almost seven weeks but fell behind 2-0 after a shot by Williams caromed into the net off Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart's backside at 12:19 of the first period.
San Jose cut the margin in half 35 seconds into the second period on Marleau's goal, and the Sharks had a chance to tie the game on a penalty shot by Tommy Wingels after he was hacked by Kings rookie Tyler Toffoli on a breakaway. Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, however, got his glove on Wingels' shot.
Niemi's fate was sealed shortly after that on goals 2:30 apart by Stoll and Clifford, who followed up a shot by Kings forward Dustin Penner after he outraced Justin Braun to a loose puck.
"At first I felt I had to close the five-hole, and then it went to the post side," Niemi said. "I also was on the goal line, so it was hard to battle."
McLellan turned to backup Alex Stalock with 6:15 remaining in the middle period, but Stalock didn't make it to the intermission unscathed, as the King made it a 5-1 game at 18:56.
A late interference penalty to Clifford put the Sharks on a power play, and Irwin needed only four seconds to fire a shot from the blue line that eluded Bernier to make the final score 5-2 with 50 seconds remaining in the game.
McLellan said every team in the NHL has games they would like to forget. But that didn't seem to be any consolation.
"You'll have games where you just have to throw the tape away," he said. "I'm just really disappointed that this is one of those games."
"He's staying back, getting some therapy, getting some treatments," the coach said. "He'll see some doctors this week, and we'll get a better update as the week goes on."