Round 1, Game 5 Preview: Golden Knights look to close out series in San Jose
The Knights are one win away from their second divisional round appearance in franchise history.
The Vegas Golden Knights have gotten clutch offensive performances from four key players in the lineup so far in the playoffs.
The second line of Mark Stone, Paul Stastny, and Max Pacioretty has led the way and continued to cement their dominance in Game 4, with Pacioretty collecting two goals and four points and Stone adding two helpers.
Still, the surprise of the night was another strong performance by Shea Theodore, who now leads all defensemen in the series with six points.
His goal in Game 4 was the highlight of the night, but leading all rearguards in scoring in this series, which also includes Norris winners Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, is a huge step forward for the young Theodore.
The San Jose Sharks’ problems remained the same in Game 4. The goaltending is non-existent — almost literally, with Martin Jones disappearing after the game. The Golden Knights were also on the receiving end of nine power plays in Game 4, converting on two of them. Vegas took just eight penalty minutes to the Sharks’ 38.
The formula for Game 4 worked, so why not repeat it? Vegas should force the Sharks to defend and, once again, focus on staying out of the box. If the Golden Knights can do that, this might be a quick series. Here are several other keys to tonight’s Game 5 matchup.
The third pairing
Two of the five best Corsi For percentages on the Knights’ roster over the past three games belong to the third defensive pairing of Colin Miller and Jon Merrill. The other three will be addressed later.
It’s probably not a surprise that once Miller drew back into the lineup, the Golden Knights played much better. He scored a goal in his first game despite taking four penalty minutes. That’s been the pairing’s only production thus far, but that’s not why they’ve been so good.
With Nick Holden, Merrill had a .69 expected goals against metric at 5-on-5 and a 45.45 percent Corsi. With Miller, he has had just .51 expected goals against and a 56.6 Corsi in three games.
Miller, for reference, has a 58.82 percent Corsi and .50 expected goals against to Holden’s 52.17 Corsi and .44 expected goals against.
The Merrill-Miller pairing has allowed fewer chances against and has been a strong point of the Golden Knights’ defense.
With one game standing between the Golden Knights and the second round, another strong game from the third pairing could help propel Vegas into the next stage of the playoffs.
Flowers for Marc-Andre
Marc-Andre Fleury was second in the league this season in shutouts, adding eight to his career total. Against the Sharks in Game 4, he added one more.
Since the five-goal bashing from the Sharks in Game 1, the Golden Knights’ face-of-the-franchise netminder has maintained a .935 save percentage, and while the Sharks have had 9.2 expected goals in those three games, Fleury has given up just six.
Fleury is starting to play the same form of hockey he was during last year’s postseason, at least until the Stanley Cup Final. Fleury also had more time off in the past two months than he did last year, playing just seven games in March and April compared to 15 last season. While that was due to injury, it could mean a more rested Fleury, which is certainly not a bad thing.
In Game 5, the Sharks should throw everything they have at the Golden Knights’ net. If Fleury can weather that storm, he’ll be right back in the conversation for best playoff goalie so far in 2019.
The quiet dominance of the Karlsson line
The three best Corsi percentages from the Golden Knights’ forwards don’t belong to the second line, as shocking as that is. It’s not the third or fourth, which have been trapped in their own zone at times. No, the best line in terms of possession for Vegas has been the trio of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and William Karlsson.
While that success hasn’t translated into production — Karlsson hasn’t had a point since Game 2 and Marchessault entered Game 4 with just one point — the “first” line is starting to wake up. Smith had two assists in Game 4, and Marchessault scored his first goal of the playoffs.
If that line can get going, with their impressive possession stats and ability to move the puck, they could add much-needed scoring depth to the Stastny trio’s production. That would be a danger not only for San Jose, but potentially for teams beyond this round.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: NBCSN, AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM