Here we go again. The Vegas Golden Knights opening the season with a home-and-home against the San Jose Sharks was probably planned as soon as the playoff series ended in April. Now, the Golden Knights complete the two-game stand after a dazzling performance in the Vegas home opener. This time, however, the Sharks should have Erik Karlsson back (the personal matter he missed with on Wednesday night turned out to be the birth of his first child) and now he has dad powers.
The Golden Knights will also start this game without Nate Schmidt, which will hurt, although the Golden Knights’ defense stepped up in his place on Wednesday. But...
Can the defense do it again
The Golden Knights owned the puck against the Sharks in the first game, and did not let go. They out scoring chance’d the Sharks by a grand total of 30-10, and a lot of that was the work put in by defensemen, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and not letting the Sharks get too many chances.
But as the adrenaline of losing one of the most vocal leaders on the team wears off, can the Golden Knights defense sustain that effort that led them to two scoreless periods to end the game? It remains to be seen. A key to this will be how Nicolas Hague plays in his NHL debut. He will be paired with Deryk Engelland, and whether the Shea Theodore-Brayden McNabb pairing that worked so well last season can repeat that performance against top-level competition.
But with what will be the Golden Knights’ top four (Theodore, McNabb, Jon Merrill and Nick Holden) playing like they did against the Sharks in the first game (none allowed more than eight shots against and the highest expected goals against was Merrill at .57), this could be a game where the Vegas defense proves that the criticism they received before the season was not deserved.
Will (Erik) Karlsson spark the Sharks
The San Jose Sharks had the opposite performance of the Golden Knights. Of their top four defensemen at even strength — Brent Burns, Brenden Dillon, Mario Ferraro, and Dalton Prout — none allowed fewer than .46 expected goals against. Each of them was shelled, allowing at least six shots against and no one, including Burns, particularly stood out.
Erik Karlsson has the potential to change that. He’ll alter the Sharks’ defensive depth and force one of Prout or Tim Heed back onto the bench, and he’ll likely be paired with one of Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Dillon and make them instantly better.
Especially now that Karlsson has dad powers, he could provide a spark for the Sharks to recover after a rough season opener. Watch out for the Karlsson with the worse hair,
The special teams
When Mark Stone led off the game with a power-play goal, you knew it was going to be a good game for the Golden Knights. After that, Vegas built on its lead, but the special teams, both the power play and the penalty kill, were showstopping.
But the game left a few questions. Nate Schmidt was the natural second unit power-play quarterback, but after he left with his injury, Theodore played almost all power-play minutes. Does Gerard Gallant intend to have that happen again, or if not, who gets the job? Brayden McNabb was the only other defenseman to get power-play minutes in the first game but it’s likely not him.
The penalty kill also looked excellent, and Reilly Smith and William Karlsson combined for a 2-on-0 goal while shorthanded. But can the Golden Knights keep that level of execution and effort up, especially as the Sharks go back to their actual power play, one backed by a combination of Burns and Karlsson? Or will the Sharks get some special teams revenge?
How to watch
Time: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN+, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM