The Vegas Golden Knights roared back in Game 2 after a disappointing series premiere. Despite a garbage end to the first period that involved blowing a three-goal lead, Vegas controlled the second and third periods in a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks. That’s one down. A few more to go.
Building on the momentum that Vegas generated in Game 2 will be crucial moving forward. Game 3 will need to follow the blueprint those final 40 minutes established: take fewer penalties, take it to San Jose at even strength and make it difficult for the Sharks get in the offensive zone with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.
In what is now a best-of-five series, the Golden Knights need to gain an advantage. Winning Game 3 in front of home fans would be the first step in doing so, especially since both Sharks’ goaltenders, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, struggled in Game 2. Jones got chased in the first period, while Dell allowed two goals, including a short-handed tally.
San Jose is going to come back hard. Here’s what the Golden Knights must do in tonight’s contest.
Stay out of the box, redux
The Golden Knights sure think highly of their penalty kill. That’s the only explanation for how Vegas, who gave up five power-play opportunities in Game 1 and paid the price for it, gave up eight in Game 2. Eight!
Vegas took 22 penalty minutes against the Sharks in Game 2. In a 60-minute game. That’s more than a third of the entire game spent either killing penalties or not playing at 5-on-5, where Vegas has largely been the better team.
Did the penalty kill reward the Golden Knights? Of course; it killed off seven of the eight power plays and actually scored more goals than the Sharks’ man advantage did. But that’s still too many penalty minutes and a severe lack of discipline that will be costly to the Golden Knights should it continue.
The Sharks had the sixth-best power play in the regular season for a reason. San Jose is not likely going to go 1-for-8 or 1-for-5 again. While the Vegas penalty kill was tied for 12th in the league, with an 80.9 percent success rate, that’s still not awe-inspiring. The work the shorthanded units have done in this series, and especially in Game 2, has saved the Golden Knights.
Don’t make them do it again.
Pedal to the metal
In both Game 1 and Game 2, the Golden Knights’ 5-on-5 possession got progressively worse as the game wore on, as you can see in the Game 2 Corsi chart below.
The Golden Knights did grab two goals during those last two periods, but both came from the special teams. As the Golden Knights slowly start (hopefully) to gain more composure and take fewer penalties, their 5-on-5 game, which has been excellent in the first periods, will need to be better throughout the game.
The Golden Knights can’t win this series if they continue to allow the Sharks to control the flow of the game beyond the first 20 minutes. They’ll need to take a step forward with a more consistent effort in this game to show they’re more than just a good opener, but that they can convincingly close a game as well.
Reawaken the first line
One of the problems with the Knights’ 5-on-5 play so far this series has been the line of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault. While Smith sprung Karlsson for a short-handed breakaway goal in Game 2, the trio hasn’t done much else, especially at 5-on-5.
To this point, the line only has a 50 percent shot share and 51.43 percent Corsi. Even paired up against some of the best Sharks opposition, that line needs to be a better driver of play if the Golden Knights are going to win this game.
Vegas saw what happened when it got more from its first line in Game 2 — the Karlsson goal was crucial. A goal from either Smith, who has generated many chances for himself so far but hasn’t converted, or Marchessault, who’s been limited, could be just as crucial in Game 3.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: NBCSN, AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM