The Vegas Golden Knights kick off a two-game set against the San Jose Sharks tonight after returning home from a season-long six-game road trip. Despite a two-game blip in the middle, the Knights came away with four wins and eight of a possible 12 points.
The Knights have been able to hold on to their division lead, though the standings remain tight. Minnesota’s win yesterday brought the Wild within two points of Vegas, and Colorado is now within three, though the Knights have a game in hand over both. That does, however, add some short-term significance to tonight’s contest.
Vegas (18-6-1) is 3-0-0 against San Jose (11-11-3) so far this season.
The first of those matchups was back in mid-February when the Knights went 3-for-5 on the power play, while the other two took place 10 days ago; the first of those was the 5-4 overtime win with Oscar Dansk in net, and the second was a 4-0 shutout, which helped the Knights extend their winning streak to six games at the time.
That streak was snapped in Minnesota, but the Knights enter tonight’s game on the heels of back-to-back wins against St. Louis.
Not only that, but the Knights are coming off one of their best all-around efforts of the season.
All four lines had stellar possession numbers, particularly the top line, which held a healthy 16-5 edge in Corsi (76.19 percent), an 11-3 advantage in shots at 5-on-5 (78.57 percent) and was responsible for seven points on the scoresheet.
With Cody Glass scratched, Tomas Nosek remained on the third line and skated with Nicolas Roy and Alex Tuch, combining for three high-danger chances as well as a 71.43 percent scoring chance share and 76.18 percent expected goal share. Even the newly-constructed fourth line, which featured Patrick Brown in his season debut as well as Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Reaves, had excellent numbers in limited ice time, including an 11-1 edge in Corsi (91.67 percent), though they played just 6:55 at 5-on-5.
Shea Theodore snapped a 16-game goal drought; not surprisingly, he leads the Vegas blue line in scoring with four goals and 18 points, and he is second among all Knights skaters in assists with 14.
Mark Stone scored two goals to push his season point total to 31, tied for ninth overall in league scoring. The first of those goals set a franchise record, as he required the fewest games by a Golden Knights player to reach the 30-point threshold. He has points in eight straight, collecting five goals and 14 points in that stretch.
Max Pacioretty and Tuch also found twine in Saturday’s game, adding to their team-leading goal total of 13. All three forwards have four points in three games against the Sharks this season, as does Chandler Stephenson, who enters tonight’s game with points in three straight and in seven out of his last eight. In fact, the top line has been utterly dominant of late, scoring a collective 12 goals, 23 assists and 35 points over the last eight games.
They’ll have to bring the same energy to tonight’s game against a Sharks team that has won three in a row.
Tomas Hertl, who missed both contests against Vegas earlier this month, returned to the lineup in the team’s recent two-game series against Anaheim, picking up points in both.
Evander Kane leads the Sharks in scoring with 23 points, including a team-high 12 assists, while Logan Couture leads the way in goals with 13.
What to watch for
- There was a brief scare last week when Marc-Andre Fleury appeared on the COVID-19 protocol list, though he didn’t end up missing any time and started in both St. Louis games, giving him 15 starts in Vegas’ last 16 games. Robin Lehner has been practicing with the Henderson Silver Knights on a conditioning stint, so his return could be imminent, though one would expect Fleury to get the nod once again tonight. Goaltending has been critical for Vegas all year, and it’s one of the things that truly separates these teams. It’s not news at this point that Fleury is having a remarkable year; among goalies with at least five starts, he’s first in the NHL in goals-against average (1.81) and save percentage (.935) as well as in shutouts (4), and he is second in wins (14), trailing only Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (17), who has had two more starts.
For the Sharks, the numbers are not nearly as clean. Martin Jones has seen the majority of action this season, but Devan Dubnyk has better numbers, with a 3.03 goals-against average and .904 save percentage (compared to Jones’ 3.84 and .879, respectively). Dubnyk appeared in both games against Vegas earlier this month, including a relief appearance in the first contest after Jones got yanked for giving up three goals on eight shots. Dubnyk surrendered two goals on 19 shots the rest of the way, and he gave up four on 32 shots in the second half of the back-to-back. Jones also started the Feb. 13 meeting, where he gave up three goals on 26 shots. But regardless of who patrols the crease, the Knights need to take advantage of San Jose’s shaky goaltending. The Sharks give up 3.52 goals against per game (the second-worst average in the league) as well as 32 shots against per game, which is tied for third-worst in the league. Vegas’ goal is to play a complete game for 60 minutes, but no matter what, the Knights need to capitalize on their chances.
- The Golden Knights surrendered two power-play goals to St. Louis in Friday’s game, and the third period of Saturday’s follow-up was shaping up to feature similar results. However, the Knights’ penalty kill came out and killed a critical 5-on-3 for 53 seconds, which was the turning point in the game. St. Louis spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and generated plenty of chances in the third period, but the penalty kill came through in a big way. The kill has been excellent all year, and it currently ranks sixth in the NHL with an 85.3 percent effectiveness rate. That being said, it’s still an encouraging sign to see the penalty kill bounce back even after a rough outing. Vegas has gone a combined 8-for-9 while shorthanded in the three games against San Jose so far this season, but considering discipline often goes out the window when these teams meet, the penalty kill needs to keep the foot on the gas.
- Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson said this past weekend that he did not sign in San Jose to be part of a rebuild; it likely was a follow-up to comments made by general manager Doug Wilson about San Jose being in a “reset.” The Sharks find themselves 12 points behind Vegas and eight points out of a playoff spot. Semantics aside, Karlsson believes that the Sharks can compete for the playoffs this year and that anything can happen once they’re in. With all games being four-point swings, the next two games would be a great opportunity for San Jose to get back in the playoff race. Karlsson has just two goals and nine points in 21 games this season, so it’ll be interesting to see how he responds on the ice.
- This will be Vegas’ third home game in front of fans, and the crowd will be even bigger this time around as T-Mobile Arena is now allowed to reach 20-percent capacity. The Knights are 2-0-0 on home ice with the Vegas faithful in the building.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM