The Golden Knights Rise: San Jose's playoff outlook officially upsetting​

Sharks are guaranteed a stiff test in the opening round, courtesy of an already-familiar foe

Gabriel John Ostler
April 04, 2019 - 9:25 am

The San Jose Sharks have two more regular-season games left to play, but their lack of impact on the team’s overall standing and performance is only matched by the fans’ lack of desire to see the teal gang take the ice at this particular moment.

Limping in to the playoffs with an abysmal record of 1-8-1 in their last 10 outings, the Sharks long ago eschewed any chance of home-ice advantage throughout the postseason or a of cushy first-round matchup. They’re mathematically locked in to face one of their biggest franchise stumbling blocks: the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here’s why Vegas presents such a daunting challenge for San Jose and what the Sharks can do to try and eke by the Knights to progress further in the Stanley Cup Playoff.

Lit Up

Though it’s continually stated, it continues to be so anomalous amongst American professional sports leagues that it bears repeating: the Knights are only in their second year of existence. Pointing to trends and labeling them as a traditional sticking point feels fundamentally odd. And yet, when you look at the numbers, the patterns emerge.

Vegas absolutely puts it up on San Jose. In eight regular-season matchups (in which the Knights are overall victorious, with five wins to the Sharks’ three), the Knights have scored 32 goals.

While that’s of course an absurdly low number of meetings from which to judge, it still makes for an astronomical average of four goals a game being pumped in on the Sharks. The next highest average is almost half a goal less — 3.59, owned by the New York Rangers, who have just 41 contests versus San Jose under their belts.

When you reach the playoffs, those astronomical tallies go straight through to Alpha Centauri. In the second-round series last year in which Vegas emerged victorious, they scored 27 goals in just 6 games. The Knights are a naturally high-octane outfit, but they seem to kick it into another offensive gear when facing San Jose.

Strategy

Part of the genius in Vegas’ expansion roster-building and why they’ve become so immediately competitive and dangerous is that they are tailor-made to play in the modern NHL. They forecheck you to death and monopolize zone time by barraging you with shots on net (second in the league in attempts per game), then rely on transcendent goalie play to bat away the few chances that do snake through to their own end.

This is borne out in a common theme amongst Sharks/Knights scorelines. When the Knights win, they win big. When the Sharks win, they squeak by.

The Knights are built to capitalize on weakness and cram the net while scarcely allowing their opponents a breath. One of the biggest mistakes San Jose often makes is trying to get in a track meet with Vegas. When that happens, the Knights run out 7-0 winners like they did in Game 1 last year, or William Karlsson turns a short-handed chance into the highlight of the season.

(You can never not look at this. It’s unspeakably perfect.)

What Can San Jose Do?

It’s tough to assess anything of the Sharks’ playoff chances right now because they’re so depleted and hopeless on their skates it seems that any team would be liable to pick up a win if given the opportunity. Vancouver proved as much on Tuesday night.

That being said, San Jose knows how Vegas likes to play, and how well-constructed they are for a long postseason run with their forward depth and with Marc-Andre Fleury entrenched between the pipes.

Their biggest focus will be taking care of the puck in their own defensive zone and building smart, patient attacks that force Vegas’ relatively thin blueliners to do more work than they’re accustomed to and to try and find a couple of soft spots in Fleury’s armor.

If the Sharks can keep the Knights’ vulture-like forecheck at bay and obtain a couple of fortunate bounces on the offensive end, then they have a shot at tangling with the Calgary Flames in Round 2.

But expecting change from San Jose now would be like having supreme confidence that the next roulette spin will be black just because the past eight have been red. You shouldn’t bet on it.

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