The Vegas Golden Knights were riding high after besting the San Jose Sharks in Game 3, but San Jose wasted no time tying the series back up again.
Vegas was thoroughly outplayed Wednesday night, losing 4-0 in what may be its least inspiring game of the playoffs. San Jose appeared to be the faster, more opportunistic team and Vegas simply couldn’t keep up or convert on any of its chances. The Knights will return to Vegas for Game 5, though, so they have a golden opportunity to turn things around in their home arena Friday night.
As always, let’s jump right in and go over some observations.
1. Martin Jones outduels Fleury
Much of the talk regarding the Golden Knights this postseason has revolved around the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. And for good reason. The 33-year-old has recorded three shutouts in Vegas’ eight playoff games and continues to be one of the very best players, let alone goalies, of the playoffs thus far.
Wednesday night, though, Sharks goaltender Martin Jones was undeniably better. The 28-year-old backstop saved all 34 of the Golden Knights’ shots on net, logging his second shutout of the postseason.
Jones made a plethora of key stops Wednesday night, but a pair of saves that particularly stood out came on a sequence late in the second period. With the Golden Knights on the power play and desperate to get on the board, they threw just about everything at San Jose as time slowly drained, but Jones was up to the task. First he padded away a William Karlsson wrister from the high slot. Seconds later, Jonathan Marchessault was given a nearly identical opportunity from the same area, but Jones turned his shot aside as well.
Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to beat a hot goaltender without the help of a redirection. Wednesday night, Jones was completely locked in and simply refused to let anything past him.
2. Vegas powerless on the man advantage
For the most part, Vegas has been solid on the power play through the first three games of this series. Despite the Sharks finishing the regular season with one of the best penalty killing units in the NHL, the Knights had gone 5-for-18 on the man advantage prior to Game 4, but they hit a wall Wednesday night and simply failed to take advantage on any of San Jose’s five penalties.
The Golden Knights did manage to generate some shots on the power play (10), but on multiple occasions it took a minute or so of disjointed zone entries before they finally got set up. Once that happened, though, the chances were there.
3. Quality shots few and far between for Vegas at 5v5
Vegas had an incredibly difficult time getting to the high-danger areas in Game 4, and much of that can be attributed to the stellar play of defensemen Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, who have all been fantastic this series (aside from Game 1, of course).
In terms of shot volume, Vegas finished the night even with San Jose — both teams fired 34 shots on goal. However, the majority of Vegas’ shots came from the point while San Jose terrorized Fleury from the low slot.
It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Fleury has stood on his head throughout this series, and San Jose was bound to find a chink in the armor eventually. That, paired with Vegas’ inability to get in close on Jones, ended up being the difference, as San Jose more than doubled the Knights’ HDCF (11-5 in favor of San Jose). Not great!
4. Missed opportunities for Reilly Smith
Vegas did get a few good cracks at Jones, but they just failed to bury them. Reilly Smith in particular had a couple of solid scoring chances that fell just short of getting Vegas on the board.
About midway through the first third, Marchessault found Smith wide open between the dots, but Jones turned his shot away with ease. With a slightly quicker release on the shot, it’s possible Smith could have given Vegas the early lead.
A little later, a mad scramble for the loose puck in front of Jones gave Smith another good chance. Once again, though, Jones turned Smith’s shot away.
These are chances that Vegas usually takes advantage of, but they just couldn’t convert when the opportunities were there. Against a team like San Jose, you need to take whatever is given to you, and Vegas failed to do so Wednesday night.
5. Shea Theodore shows off his defensive prowess
Many peg Theodore as an offensive defenseman or a power play specialist, but he continues to prove that he’s far more than that. Game 4, while certainly not a perfect game for Theodore, gave us a glimpse at what makes him such an exciting young player.
A little after the game’s midway point, Theodore made a spectacular defensive play that likely saved a goal. Tomas Hertl and Mikkel Boedker entered the Vegas zone with what looked to be a 2-on-0 breakaway, but Theodore hustled back into the play and made a diving effort that knocked Hertl’s pass out of the reach of Boedker. Granted, the play was created partially due to Theodore being out of position, but he did a fantastic job turning a negative play into a positive one.
Later on, Theodore was left all alone in the defensive zone covering a 2-on-1 opportunity. He positioned himself between the two San Jose attackers, closed in on the puck carrier (Timo Meier in this case) and took away his only passing lane. Meier opted to attempt the pass anyway, but Theodore got his stick on the puck and redirected it out of harm’s way.
It’s encouraging to see how far Theodore has come since the start of the season. His offensive skills have always been evident, but now he’s beginning to show the defensive instincts you love to see out of a young defender.