The Vegas Golden Knights returned to action Thursday night after over a week of inactivity. And not only did they beat the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the second round — they absolutely dominated them from the first minute to the very last. It still feels a little odd to think about, but the Golden Knights are now the only undefeated team remaining in this years’ Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There’s plenty to unpack here, so let’s jump right in.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury continues run of dominance
Fleury has been fantastic all postseason. In Round 1, he recorded a pair of shutouts and stopped 127 of the Los Angeles Kings’ 130 shots on goal through four games. It was fair to wonder if Fleury would be able to keep up the stellar play in Round 2, especially against a high-scoring team like the Sharks, but he managed to silence the doubters, as he’s done all season, and earn his third shutout through just five postseason contests.
And it didn’t come easy, either.
Despite the Knights dominating in possession, San Jose created plenty of quality scoring chances, but Fleury stepped up and turned every last one of them away.
At the end of the night, Fleury saved all 33 of San Jose’s shots and continued Vegas’ five-game postseason winning streak. A lot of stars shined for the Golden Knights in Game 1, but Fleury certainly shined the brightest.
2. Alex Tuch had a night to remember
Tuch is just 21 years old and still has a ways to go before reaching his full potential. But if his performance in Game 1 is any indication of what’s to come, George McPhee, Gerard Gallant and company must be salivating over the possibilities.
Tuch finished the night with a goal and an assist. His goal will be talked about for quite some time as one of the prettier tallies of the Knights’ season, and for good reason. He sliced through the San Jose defense like butter.
As gorgeous as the goal was, though, his helper on Erik Haula’s first period tally may be even more impressive.
Similar to the goal he scored later in the first period, Tuch raced into the attacking zone and, despite being outmanned, managed to split two San Jose defenders and set up Haula with a savvy drop pass while simultaneously serving as a screen in front of Martin Jones.
Plays like this are what make Tuch such an exciting young player. While he currently lacks consistency, it’s only a matter of time before we start to see things like this on a more frequent basis.
3. Discipline may be an issue for San Jose
A total of 15 penalties were assessed between the Golden Knights and Sharks in Game 1. Five of those penalties were given to Vegas, which, on a normal night, is unacceptable. However, San Jose was sent to the box 10 (ten) times and picked up a total of 31 penalty minutes.
Sharks forward Evander Kane appeared especially frustrated with the game’s result. In the third period, Kane was given the thumb after crosschecking Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face, which could very well cost him a game or two.
Kane wasn’t the only Sharks player to lose control, though. San Jose captain Joe Pavelski was visibly frustrated late in the game as well after taking a pair of penalties back-to-back, which only led to Vegas adding insult to injury on the scoreboard.
The Sharks were one of the least-penalized teams during the regular season, so it’s a bit surprising that they played such an undisciplined game. If their frustration continues on the ice, though, Vegas will take advantage on special teams.
Speaking of which...
4. Vegas’ penalty kill perfect yet again
In Round 1, the Golden Knights killed off 13 of the Kings’ 14 attempts on the man advantage. And it doesn’t appear Vegas’ penalty kill has lost its luster against San Jose.
The Knights killed off all five of San Jose’s power play attempts in Game 1 (including a 5-on-3 opportunity). And while Vegas did allow the Sharks to create some quality chances from time to time, their most important penalty killer (Fleury) stepped up when called upon.
The Sharks finished the regular season with a 20.6 conversion percentage on the man advantage, which ranked 16th in the league. However, with Joe Thornton inching closer to possible return, Vegas will need to prolong its shorthanded success for as long as possible. Even without Thornton, though, a power play consisting of elite playmakers like Pavelski, Kane and, of course, Brent Burns, cannot be underestimated.
5. Vegas continuously generated quality chances
Great things happen when you get to the front of the net, and Vegas managed to do that in Game 1. All throughout the night, the Golden Knights peppered Jones with shots from all over the rink, but made their presence evident in the slot (particularly at 5-on-5).
Jones was superb in San Jose’s first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, but it’s a pretty difficult to continuously stop shots coming from the high-danger areas. Vegas beat the Sharks in all phases, but their speed and San Jose’s inability to keep them on the perimeter ended up being the difference.