For the NHL's 2015 Stadium Series game, we head to Northern California where the San Jose Sharks will host the Los Angeles Kings in a showdown at Levi's Stadium. Considering the Kings bounced the Sharks from the playoffs in dramatic fashion last spring, there is no shortage of enmity between these clubs. And though the Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup last June, it's been a bumpy ride for both teams this season as they jockey for position in the wildly competitive Western Conference standings. Make no mistake, this game is not just novelty. There are clear implications and bragging rights on the line when the Sharks and Kings meet Saturday at 10 p.m. ET. Here are five things to consider entering this weekend's marquee matchup:
1. Sharks slumping -- Suffice it to say, this is not the way the Sharks envisioned the lead-up to their outdoor hosting duties. Prior to Thursday's 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars, San Jose had dropped five of its previous six games, giving up a glut of 26 goals during that span. And though the Sharks knocked off the Stars thanks to Andrew Desjardins' two-goal performance, the morale-boosting win doesn't camouflage the fact that there have been some glaring deficiencies for the team this season. The Sharks goaltending duo of Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock has left a lot to be desired, and the Sharks have to tighten up defensively. As it stands, the Sharks are 23rd in the league in goals against, surrendering 2.78 goals per game -- the most among any of the current playoff teams out West.
2. Kings surging -- By contrast, the Kings are finally looking like the dominant squad we saw last spring when they defeated the New York Rangers in five games to secure their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons. Though Los Angeles got off to a sluggish start, it has been cruising through the month of February. Coming off a 4-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, the Kings take a six-game winning streak into Saturday's contest. In knocking off the Avs, the Kings muscled the Sharks out of the last wild-card spot, if only for a day, but San Jose reclaimed its position with Thursday's win. These two teams are neck and neck with less than two months to play.
3. Bad blood -- One of the best plot lines in this heated rivalry is remembering what transpired last spring. It was an absolute nightmare for the Sharks after the club coughed up a 3-0 series lead to their Southern California foes. The Kings pulled off the stunning upset and seemed to gain confidence from there. Meanwhile, the Sharks were forced to stew all summer over the utter implosion -- one that led to significant change in the team's leadership structure and an overhauled organizational outlook. General manager Doug Wilson went so far as to call his club a "tomorrow team," a comment that could not have sat well with players and fans alike.
4. The C-word -- Don't let the semantics fool you, veteran Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy this summer. And though the controversial move -- which brought about a media firestorm -- happened months ago, the effects are still lingering. Just this week, the issue became a hot topic again as Sharks coach Todd McLellan told a Canadian radio station that he felt the team was "better led" than last season now that they have embraced the idea of "leadership by committee." Can't imagine that Thornton is crazy about that comment. And furthermore, McLellan's endorsement of the team's current leadership structure is interesting in that his club has been wildly inconsistent this season; the Sharks seem to fare well against the elite teams and falter against weaker competition. A head-scratcher, for sure.
5. Rising star -- A huge factor behind the Kings' recent surge is the stellar play of 22-year-old Tyler Toffoli, who was recently named the NHL's second star of the week. Toffoli, who is having a breakout season for the Kings, has six goals and nine points in his past six games. The pending restricted free agent is pacing the Kings with 19 goals through 51 games, and he ranks third on the team in scoring with 38 points. He's a plus-20 on the season with a 57 percent Corsi rating, according to hockeyanalysis.com. Considering he's producing at a torrid pace, he'll be one to watch when the puck is dropped on Saturday.