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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is doing a good job limiting Vegas’ top forward line

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Perhaps I didn’t have to tell you that.

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 26: William Karlsson #71 of the Vegas Golden Knights shoots the puck past Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on
Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks as been playing well against the Las Vegas Golden Knights top line.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Through the first three games of this second round series, Jonathan Marchessault has six points, William Karlsson has seven, and Reilly Smith has six. The Golden Knights trio has been a menace to opposing defenses all season, and they have not slowed down against the Sharks. One man in teal, however, has done his part to keep those three off the scoreboard, and he likely needs no introduction.

Below is a diagram charting the unblocked shots Vegas takes at 5v5 with Jonathan Marchessault on the ice. The pattern is similar, if not identical, with Reilly Smith and William Karlsson. To look at this chart and to watch the Knights play, it is clear their top line (and the team’s offense) thrives off of cross-ice passing that spreads out the defense and makes the goalie move. That butterfly-looking pattern of red shots (a high concentration compared to league average) shows you that they don’t need the typical low slot, in close-type of shots that have driven goal scoring in recent NHL history.

Jonathan Marchessault vs Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Las Vegas Golden Knights
Jon and the boys are having some fun
hockeyviz.com

While the Knights’ big-three forwards have pocketed their fair share of goals during this three-game contest, they’ve yet to overwhelm San Jose’s version of an immovable force at 5v5.

This season, 415 forwards have played at least 300 minutes of 5v5 hockey, per Natural Stat Trick’s count. That’s just more than 13 forwards per team. The average rate of 5v5 unblocked shots those forwards’ teams take with those players on the ice is around 42 shots per 60 minutes (adjusted for score and venue).

Over the course of the season, with Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and Wild Bill William Karlsson on the ice, the Knights have taken, on average, about 46 unblocked shots per hour. That number is still within one standard deviation of the mean of all 415 forwards, but it is just shy of the first deviation above average.

When matched up with Marc-Edouard Vlasic at 5v5 this series, that number falls to 34.4 unblocked shots per hour with Marchessault, around 33 unblocked shots per hour with Karlsson, and just 30 unblocked shots per hour with Smith on the ice. All of those rates are below one standard deviation less than league-average 42 unblocked shots per hour. Part of that is because San Jose blocks a lot of shots as a team, but it would appear that Vlasic is helping his the Sharks limit the ability of Vegas’ top line to get shots through to the net.

Of those same 415 forwards, teams average around 27.5 scoring chances for per hour at 5v5 (also score- and venue-adjusted figures) with those players on the ice. The big-three forward group of Vegas all hover around 30.5 scoring chances for per hour, which is within one standard deviation of the mean of all those 415 forwards, but very close to that first deviation mark.

With Vlasic on the ice this series, Vegas’ rate of scoring chances for with Marchessault falls to 25.6 chances per hour. With Karlsson, about 24 scoring chances per hour. Finally, with Reilly Smith, that number falls to 28 chances per hour. Reilly Smith’s number is just above average, while Marchessault and Karlsson’s rates are between average and one deviation less than the average rate of scoring chances among all those 415 forwards.

Finally — and this may be the most important number — Vegas’ main offensive trio has scored two even strength goals with Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the ice this series. However, the Sharks’ 5v5 save percentage with Vlasic and those three on the ice at the same time is a paltry 85%, suggesting the Sharks’ best shutdown defenseman may not be at fault.

It would be worrying for San Jose if Marchessault, Smith and Karlsson were taking more unblocked shots than usual or generating scoring chances way above league average or what they had done all season. It would suggest that those three have yet to peak this post-season. However, thanks to Vlasic’s excellence and what is likely poor goaltending, we know that if those three are going to regress during the next three games, it should be to fewer goals at 5v5.