After loading up in the offseason — and adding Gustav Nyquist at the trade deadline — the San Jose Sharks look primed for a long playoff run. The only problem for San Jose, however, is that the Vegas Golden Knights also look primed for another deep playoff run after they substantially improved their roster at the trade deadline by acquiring Mark Stone.
On paper, this should be one heck of a series that could very well go the full seven games. Both of these Pacific Division teams are loaded with talent and are also very familiar with each other.
At this point, both fan bases are likely familiar with each other, too. But in case you need a refresher course, here’s a look at 10 things Golden Knights fans should know about the Sharks before the puck drops on Wednesday night.
1. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish
If you’re a believer in the “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” cliche, then the Sharks might not be a team you believe in. To put it bluntly, San Jose has limped into the playoffs, posting a 9-9-1 record since the All-Star break. To make matters worse, the Sharks have gone 3-8-1 over their last 12 games to close out the regular season. Not exactly how you want to enter the postseason.
2. San Jose’s top nine is absolutely loaded
Talk about an assortment of forward talent. San Jose’s group of top-nine forwards is easily as good as any team’s in the NHL. Statistically speaking, the Sharks finished with 289 goals this year, which is the most in franchise history; they also had a league-high eight players reach 50 points, and they had four players reach the 30-goal mark.
Although the Sharks do not rely on one “game-breaking talent” (though you could argue Joe Pavelski is close to being “the” guy for San Jose), they have an ability to wear opponents down with their offensive attack that features three talented lines.
A big factor in what has made San Jose more lethal up front this year is the breakthroughs both Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl experienced. Both players registered 30 or more goals this season and made San Jose’s offensive attack more potent and harder to defend.
3. Kings of Corsi
If you have followed San Jose over the years, you already know they are perennially one of the best teams in the league when it comes to Corsi. This year is no different, as San Jose is once again the top Corsi team in the NHL, owning a 54.87 percent Corsi For percentage, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Their CF% dipped slightly with Erik Karlsson out of the lineup, but he is ready to go for Game 1, so that shouldn’t be an issue. The Sharks’ ability to control the puck allows them to dictate the pace of play, which is key in any series.
For what it’s worth, though, the Golden Knights are not too far behind with a 54.36 CF% (good for third in the NHL), so the gap between these two possession-oriented teams is not that large.
4. Erik Karlsson is still a difference-maker
Despite missing 29 games this season, Karlsson is still one of the league’s elite defensemen and overall difference-makers. He might not take on the tough assignments like he used to in Ottawa since that role is reserved for Marc-Edouard Vlasic in San Jose, but he is still a minute-muncher who matches up against his fair share of top lines.
The 28-year-old Swede is also still an elite driver of possession, as mentioned above, and he remains close to a point-per-game player; he managed 45 points in 53 games this year even though he missed over a third of the season. Needless to say, Karlsson is a very dangerous player and someone the Knights will be keeping a keen eye on all series.
5. Can the Sharks’ goalies still stop pucks?
Seriously, though. Can San Jose’s goalies still stop pucks? Or have they officially turned into pumpkins? Frankly, the Sharks goaltending has been atrocious this season, and that’s putting it mildly.
San Jose ranks dead last in team save percentage, posting a collective .889 save percentage this season. They also rank last in 5-on-5 save percentage. It has been a rough year in particular for Martin Jones, who owns a 2.94 goals-against average to go along with an abysmal .896 save percentage and -22.87 Goals Saved Above Average.
It’s no question that the Sharks’ weakest link is goaltending, and if things don’t go well for the Sharks this postseason, it’ll likely be the culprit.
6. There could be another side to Martin Jones
There are certain players who rise to the occasion in the second season, and Jones has been one of those players in recent years. In 42 career playoff games, Jones owns a 2.07 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage, which is a stark contrast to the horrific .896 save percentage he posted during the regular season.
That would indicate that it’s possible he’ll turn things around starting Wednesday night. However, he has struggled mightily against Vegas over the last two seasons, getting pulled in five out of 13 meetings.
7. The Sharks’ power play is as lethal as ever
San Jose’s power play had its issues two years ago, and even at times last season, but this year the Sharks’ power play is back to being its lethal self, converting on 23.7 percent of its opportunities.
Brent Burns leads the way for the Sharks with 28 power-play points this season, while Pavelski and Hertl have 12 and 11 power-play goals, respectively.
8. Jumbo Joe is rejuvenated
Joe Thornton finished the 2018-19 regular season with 16 goals and 51 points. From a points perspective, it might not be the type of season we are used to seeing him produce, but he enters the postseason with the hot hand. In fact, since March 1, the line of Thortnton, Marcus Sorenson and Kevin Labanc has been very productive, with Thornton posting 15 points during that span.
Although Jumbo Joe might not be the player he used to be, the 39-year-old veteran has been fantastic over the last five weeks of the regular season. Also, with this possibly being his last attempt at winning Lord Stanley’s Cup, you can bank on an extra-motivated Thornton this postseason.
9. Will health be a factor?
You really have to wonder how healthy this San Jose team is. Karlsson has missed a ton of games in the second half of the year with an ongoing groin injury, Pavelski was recently out with an upper-body injury and Meier recently left a game with what is suspected to be a wrist injury. Plus, other players on the roster missed time this season as well. Health is always a key factor in the postseason, so it will be interesting to see how the Sharks hold up in what is likely to be a physical battle.
10. Overs, overs and more overs
If you like to bet first periods, you’re likely very aware of how often the Sharks have gone over in the first period this year. Of course, the juice on these totals has increased exponentially throughout the season, but even with the rapid increase in price, the Sharks have continued to be money during the first 20 minutes of action.
Overall, San Jose has gone over the 1.5 first-period total 58 times, or in 70.7 percent of their games. The Sharks finished the year tied with Tampa Bay for the most first-period goals, scoring 102.