Shark Attack: Balanced offense, defense both encouraging in Game 1 win

San Jose takes care of Vegas in comfortable fashion. Can they keep it going?

Gabriel John Ostler
April 11, 2019 - 11:16 am

On a Stanley Cup Playoffs opening night when even the world-destroying Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t safe with a 3-0 lead, the San Jose Sharks were able to race out to a 3-0 advantage of their own and hang on for a 5-2 victory versus a keyed-up Vegas Golden Knights squad.

As we covered on this very station site, the Knights have held a certain advantage over the Sharks for quite literally their entire existence. San Jose also limped into the playoffs, leaving few confident about their ability to defend home ice in Round 1.

So how was San Jose able to come out so strong in the first game of this series and hearten both hockey pundits and Shark fans alike?

Playoff Martin

Of the non-injured Sharks, goalie Martin Jones was perhaps the biggest question mark coming in to the postseason. In past years, he’d elevated his play from solid to exceptional once the playoffs commenced. This season, though, was one of his very worst, leaving everyone wondering if he’d be able to find that extra echelon.

Related: Jonesing for a quality netminder: Will Playoff Martin make an appearance?

The early returns are quite encouraging. Jones made 24 saves, which ranged from routine to cheer-worthy. Most important, though, was that Jones followed the Zaza Pachulia doctrine of “NOTHING EASY!!”

Throughout the year, Jones had a nasty habit of allowing soft goals at inopportune times. In Game 1, he was only beaten by a couple of no-doubters from Vegas stallion Mark Stone.

Fundamental soundness is an excellent starting point for Jones in this playoff run. The heroics can come later.

Erik “Healthy Groin” Karlsson

On San Jose’s deep injured list, the man Sharks fans both missed and worried about the most was their prime preseason acquisition, two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson missed essentially the last third of the season nursing a lower-body ailment and though it seemed evident the team was being overly cautious with his recovery, it was still reasonable to wonder if he could hit the ice without a hitch.

Two assists and an overall night of sterling play later, and Karlsson has eliminated even the 2005 Will Smith romantic comedy from existence. Both of his goal-making finds were gorgeous — a backwards drop pass followed by a solid screen that sprung Brent Burns for a high-corner snapper, then a slap-pass that could have been magnet-sucked to Evander Kane’s tape for an easy redirect.

What was even more encouraging, though, was Karlsson’s skating ability. At one point early in the first period, he covered nearly the entire width of the ice in about half a second just keeping a puck in the Sharks’ offensive zone. It was so impressive Randy Hahn and Brett Hedican took time to marvel at Karlsson’s closing speed.

If Karlsson can keep moving like that from blueline to blueline, the Sharks may unlock their destructive mid-season level that catapulted them into Cup contention in so many people’s minds.

Chips, Please

Two seasons isn’t much time to develop a rivalry, but the Knights and Sharks have done just that, managing to foment a dislike between each other that already stacks up with some of the nastiest rivalries this side of Hamilton and Burr.

Game 1 often resembled a lumber-laying contest, with 83 total hits being recorded (41 SJS/42 VGK), including 40 in the first period alone. Neither team passed on a chance to get their licks in and the bad blood flowed freely — alongside the real blood of Timo Meier, who was lanced by an egregious high-stick from Vegas defender Jon Merrill.

Add in a Joe Pavelski face-goal and Evander Kane swinging at everyone but the hot dog vendor and you have all the ingredients for continued hostility. So far, the physical game has suited the Sharks. Let’s see if they can keep their heads about them while others continue to roll.

Run Back On?

The Sharks had been counted out by many, entering the playoffs with a banged-up cast of characters, a weak goalie, and a poor run of form, all stacking up against one of their most consistent enemies.

It’s too early to make any major declarations about their postseason suitability, but San Jose came out with purpose in the opener, defending home ice at the Shark Tank in emphatic fashion.

More emboldening is that many of the bothersome spots for the Sharks appeared to be immediately resolved. Jones stood tall, Karlsson skated fast, and the whole team did not let Vegas push them around.

Game 2 is Friday night. We’ll see if San Jose can build upon this foundation.

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