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Preview: Golden Knights look to take bite out of Sharks in March finale

The Vegas Golden Knights are coming off a difficult loss that saw them surrender seven goals, including four straight, but they will look to get back on track when they take on the San Jose Sharks tonight at SAP Center.

The Edmonton Oilers blew past the Golden Knights in a 7-4 decision Thursday night in Las Vegas, marking the second time Vegas gave up seven goals in less than two weeks.

Golden Knights fail to clinch playoff berth in 7-4 loss to Oilers, lose Theodore to injury

The bigger loss, however, was to defenseman Shea Theodore, who did not play in the third period and did not travel with the team. Theodore is considered day-to-day, according to Bruce Cassidy. Ben Hutton will draw into the lineup once again; the Golden Knights recalled Brayden Pachal, a right-shot defenseman, from Henderson.

The Sharks are coming off a 3-0 shutout win against the Winnipeg Jets; it was the team’s second win in March, as San Jose has gone 2-8-3 this month (and 1-6-3 in its last 10 games). The Sharks are just one point ahead of the last-place Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings, but Vegas’ rival would love to play spoiler tonight in a must-win game for the Golden Knights.

Vegas leads Los Angeles by just two points in the Pacific Division standings, and Edmonton is not far behind after capitalizing on Thursday’s four-point swing.

Considering tonight is the last time Vegas will face a team not in or fighting for a playoff spot, the two points — however they are obtained — are non-negotiable.

The Golden Knights will have another chance to solidify a spot in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. A win tonight means Vegas is in. A Nashville regulation loss to Pittsburgh also would seal the deal. If the Golden Knights come away tonight with one point and the Predators don’t beat the Penguins in regulation, that would clinch a spot as well.

Vegas has gone 2-1-0 through three games against San Jose this season and holds a record of 20-2-4 in the all-time matchup.

Michael Amadio and Hutton are the only two Golden Knights skaters who have participated in this all-time series without recording a point. Among players who will be in the lineup tonight, Jonathan Marchessault leads the way with 28 points in 26 games, followed by William Karlsson (24 in 26) and Chandler Stephenson (10 in 13).

Logan Couture (14 points in 25 games) and Tomas Hertl (13 in 23) are the only active Sharks players with double-digit point totals against Vegas.

The Sharks are in the midst of an aggressive rebuild after shipping Timo Meier to New Jersey at the deadline. The Connor Bedard sweepstakes are within reach for San Jose, though that hasn’t prevented Erik Karlsson from having an exceptional bounce-back and Norris-worthy campaign. The Swede has 91 points in 74 games; for context, the leading scorer for the Golden Knights (Jack Eichel) has 59.

Karlsson is tied for 10th in the entire NHL in scoring, and he leads all defensemen by nearly 20 points; Alex Pietrangelo, who has eight assists in his last five games, is 15th on that list with 49.

Despite the Sharks’ lowly position in the standings, a few other players have had solid seasons as well, including Couture, who has 61 points in 74 games, and Hertl, who has 58 in 71.

Laurent Brossoit is expected to get the nod tonight after replacing Jonathan Quick in Thursday’s game; Brossoit stopped four of five shots in the third period. He is 2-0-2 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in five appearances this season and is 0-1-0 against the Sharks in his career (though he stopped 49 of 51 shots in that loss).

James Reimer is 11-18-8 with a 3.31 goals-against average, and .895 save percentage and three shutouts, including his most recent start. Kaapo Kahkonen is 8-18-6 with a 3.89 goals-against average, an .878 save percentage and one shutout.

The Golden Knights went 0-for-3 on the power play and 0-for-3 on the penalty kill Thursday against Edmonton. To be fair, the Oilers have the best power play in the league, and Vegas did score shorthanded on the power kill. However, special teams play needs to improve if the Golden Knights want to contend for the Pacific title and have any success in the postseason.

The Golden Knights should have a more manageable matchup against a Sharks power play that is ranked 26th with a 17.6 percent conversion rate. The San Jose penalty kill, however, has been surprisingly effective this season; it currently ranks fourth overall at 83.3 percent. That’s unusual for a team ranked 30th in points and 30th in goals against (3.78 per game), but the Sharks trail only Boston, Carolina and Dallas.

While Thursday’s game marked the first time this month that Vegas opened the scoring and did not win, lighting the lamp first has otherwise been a consistent factor in Vegas’ success this month. The club is 11-1-0 when doing so, and playing with a lead is something the Golden Knights have enjoyed during their impressive 17-4-2 streak since the All-Star break.

The Golden Knights need to take advantage of opportunities, limit brutal turnovers like the ones that led directly to Edmonton goals the other night and return to a more structured defensive game.

But at the end of the day, the only thing the Golden Knights need to focus on is coming away two points richer.

Projected lineups

Golden Knights
Ivan Barbashev — Jack Eichel — Jonathan Marchessault
Michael Amadio — William Karlsson — Pavel Dorofeyev
Chandler Stephenson — Nicolas Roy — Phil Kessel
Brett Howden — Teddy Blueger — Keegan Kolesar

Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Nicolas Hague
Ben Hutton — Zach Whitecloud

Laurent Brossoit
Jonathan Quick

Andrew Agozzino — Logan Couture — Fabbian Zetterlund
Jacob Peterson — Tomas Hertl — Martin Kaut
Noah Gregor — Nico Sturm — Kevin Labanc
Oskar Lindblom — Steven Lorentz — Jeffrey Viel

Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Erik Karlsson
Mario Ferraro — Matt Benning
Radim Simek — Jacob MacDonald

James Reimer
Kaapo Kahkonen

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