There’s just something about Vegas.
New captain Logan Couture, whose breakaway goal in overtime silenced a rowdy T-Mobile Arena, continues to haunt the San Jose Sharks' newest arch-rival, seemingly elevating his game every time they meet. His tally last night, which sealed a 2-1 victory for San Jose, was only the third regular season overtime goal of his career, and his second against the Golden Knights. It was a sequence familiar to fans of both clubs, further emphasized by Couture’s emulation of a previous celebration, commemorating yet another occasion in which he ended Vegas’ night in extra time — this one from 2018’s double-overtime playoff thriller.
Of course, Couture’s overtime heroics were only ten seconds or so of a game that couldn’t find an ending in regulation time, and as a team, the Sharks had to do a lot right to get out of a very hostile T-Mobile Arena with two points in hand.
Aaron Dell Bounces Back
Aaron Dell was incredible for the Sharks, putting his disappointing 2019-20 campaign behind him for the night, making 37 saves on 38 shots, and outplaying a terrific goaltender on the other end of the ice, three time Stanley Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury. His save percentage of .974 was his highest of the season — in fact, it was the highest of any San Jose netminder this year. From the drop of the puck to the lighting of the lamp in overtime, Dell was one of the best players in teal, and without his phenomenal effort, the Sharks not only don’t go home winners, it’s a safe bet they don’t even escape regulation with a consolation point.
Dell’s insane two-save sequence in overtime was just as important as Couture’s beautiful game-winner, and it’s far from his only highlight in this game.
No Shenanigans for the Sharks
Any game between the Sharks and the Golden Knights is bound to have a palpable undercurrent of emotion surrounding it. That’s just to be expected at this point, as the two continue to forge one of the NHL’s nastiest rivalries. However, Vegas’ roster is better suited to playing a heavy, agitating game, and historically, when the Sharks get drawn into trying to play that style, the Golden Knights have taken advantage. In short, resisting the urge to retaliate when Vegas players engage in extracurriculars, however difficult, is the way to beat them.
Last night, the Sharks did just that.
Whether it was Ryan Reaves putting a late, dangerous hit on Melker Karlsson, Cody Eakin spearing Timo Meier in the groin or Evander Kane getting shamelessly taken down away from the puck, there were plenty of opportunities for the Sharks to lose their cool, particularly when these plays went unnoticed by the referees.
When they were faced with emotionally deflating situations, such as thinking that they’d taken an early lead on the road only to have their goal overturned, or losing sneakily-important defensive catalyst Radim Simek to injury?
They didn’t let up.
The Sharks displayed impressive mental toughness against a team that they absolutely need it to beat — a reason for optimism moving forward.
Starting Off Strong (or Strong Enough)
The only thing as consistent as nastiness in games between these two teams? The Sharks starting the first period flat, and being forced to play from behind early. In front of the stellar play of Aaron Dell, who bailed his team out several times in the opening frame, the Sharks established their game early, setting a tone for the rest of the night. Timo Meier was involved physically, something that seems to help him get into a rhythm (he went on to open the scoring with a goal on a perfectly executed power-move in the second period), Antti Suomela, playing in his first game of the season, had a terrific few shifts, which culminated in him scoring a goal (which was, unfortunately, overturned on a challenge by Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant), and San Jose killed an early penalty against a formidable (sixth best in the league) Vegas power play.
This somehow resulted in a save by Aaron Dell. Great passing by VGK. pic.twitter.com/NOwZcP0Qhf— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) November 22, 2019
Was it a perfect period? No. The Sharks were outshot 14-6, and Vegas controlled play the majority of the time. But it didn’t need to be. Simply put, perfection isn’t necessary to win most nights in the NHL.
Unless of course you’re Marc-Andre Fleury, staring at an oncoming Logan Couture streaking down the ice on a breakaway in overtime, in which case ... you’d better be perfect.