Looking ahead to the Golden Knights’ second-round series against the Sharks
Two teams riding first-round sweeps and stellar goalie play are set to square off.
Have you ever had that thing happen where you are having a great dream, perhaps the best dream you can ever remember having, and your alarm goes off? So, you hit snooze and try desperately to get back to sleep to continue where you left off.
The Vegas Golden Knights are in the middle of such a dream. That once-in-a-lifetime dream they have no desire to be removed from. And the San Jose Sharks want to be the alarm clock.
But as anyone who has ever worked a day in their life will tell you, waking up is overrated.
The Sharks, like the Golden Knights, are coming off a series sweep in the first round as they bested the Anaheim Ducks in four straight, outscoring their opponent 16-4 in the process.
Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski led the way with five points while trade deadline acquisition Evander Kane chipped in four, including three goals.
Well, at least someone’s trade deadline acquisitions are panning out as hoped!
Meanwhile, Martin Jones was nearly unbeatable, making 128 saves on 132 shots, or a .970 save percentage, should you prefer.
Yeah, another ridiculously hot goalie for Vegas to play against. Only this time, their opponent has supreme firepower to back it up.
To their credit, the Golden Knights won the season series by going 3-0-1 against the Sharks, though it’s the final two games on the schedule that are important in this case as both came after the aforementioned deadline.
You may remember these two games as one of the few games where Tomas Tatar scored (March 22) and the game William Karlsson pulled off this ridiculousness (March 31).
The last time the Golden Knights faced the Sharks, William Karlsson did this. pic.twitter.com/0dDKUW25f4— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) April 19, 2018
The Knights were 1-0-1 in those games despite having remarkable performances by their goaltending (Malcolm Subban stopped 42 of 44 in the OTL; Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 of 31 in the win).
How do the Knights stack up?
When breaking down the success of the Golden Knights this season the obvious place to start tends to be with the top line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, and against the Sharks is no different.
The line combined for six goals and 14 points in four games, led by Marchessault’s two goals and four assists. Karlsson added four goals and an assist himself while Smith managed to tally three assists in just two games.
James Neal and David Perron added some depth scoring from the second line with Neal scoring two goals and adding an assist, while Perron had two assists in three games for the Golden Knights.
Meanwhile, from the blueline Shea Theodore was a key contributor to the Golden Knights offensive attack. He had two goals and three assists against the Sharks, tied for his most points against any team (he also had five points against the Tampa Bay Lightning).
Between the pipes for Vegas in the series will be Marc-Andre Fleury, as he posted a 2.50 goals against average, and .928 save percentage in his two starts against the men in teal.
How do the Sharks stack up?
The Sharks struggled a bit this season with offensive production, though injuries had a lot to do with that. Joe Thornton played just 47 games for the Sharks this season including only one against the Golden Knights, a 5-4 overtime loss where he had two assists.
Had Thornton been healthy it’s impossible to know how the season series would have gone. The Golden Knights outscored the Sharks by just three goals, 14-11. With Thornton... who knows?
Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski led the way for the Sharks with five points a piece. Burns scored two and added three helpers, while Pavelski added three goals and two assists.
Logan Couture, the leading goal scorer for the Sharks in the regular season and usually among their leading point producers, was held to just a single goal and assist. He was also a minus-four in those four games for whatever that is worth.
Evander Kane joined the team later in the season as a trade deadline acquisition but had some success against the Knights, scoring a goal and adding two assists in three games. The issue here is that all three points came in his first game against the Knights when he was still a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
On the blueline Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the way... well, aside Burns who, if we’re being a bit honest, might be more of a rover in terms of what it is he does within the Sharks offensive system. Vlasic scored a goal and added two helpers from the back end for the Sharks.
Martin Jones struggled mightily in his four games against the Golden Knights. I mean, many goalies did, but for Jones it was particularly rough as he finished with a 3.32 GAA, and a .899 SV%.
This series is one that, on paper, appears to be leaning heavily in the Golden Knights favor, but it’s not that simple. With just a three-goal differential between the two, the return of Joe Thornton to the lineup and the general unpredictability of playoff hockey, it’s not a matchup that should be taken lightly.
The Knights might have a slight edge if you buy into the whole ‘battle tested’ idea. The Knights played four straight one-goal games against a rival that they played an intensely physical series with while the Sharks had a slightly easier series, outscoring the Ducks by 12 goals and only playing in two one-goal games.
I don’t tend to believe in narratives, myself.
What I see are two teams playing their best hockey. Teams who allowed just three and four goals, respectively, in the previous round. But, neither team can reasonably expect their goalie to post a save percentage north of .970 and, unfortunately for the Golden Knights, it was the Sharks that found their offensive rhythm in the first-round, not them. The Golden Knights are still struggling to find goals.
Someone will have to step up for the Golden Knights for them to take this series. Seven goals will not cut it.