It’s hard to watch the end of a game when the team getting blown out can’t help but take stupid penalties and allowing the victors to step on their proverbial throats even harder. It’s even harder when that game takes the team down 3-1 in the opening series of the playoffs. Despite moments of individual flare, it’s difficult to find a concerted team effort anywhere in these 60 minutes.
We would be remiss if we did not include the coach in all of this mess, however. Sharks’ bench boss Pete DeBoer only just inserted the skilled Joonas Donskoi — who was one of the Sharks’ visibly better players in Game 4 — in favor of fourth-line pit bull Micheal Haley. DeBoer had the team primed and ready to mitigate the impact of the Knights’ forecheck in Game 1, but somehow failed to send his team the same memo during the rest of the series. Only after Martin Jones allowed two goals on seven shots in the opening frame did DeBoer bench him for Dell, when there’s a reasonable argument Dell should have started the game all along.
No, this loss, and this series, is a top-to-bottom affair. It certainly doesn’t help that Erik Karlsson seems less than 100 percent, and it only hurts that the team’s major advantage — Joe Thornton centering the third line — had to watch the game from the press box. But, the team knew Karlsson might not be himself and the Thornton suspension was a self-inflicted wound. Rather than attempt to suture the break, the Sharks seemed content to sit, ladling salt into their own injury.
It’s difficult to take too much from the brutal 5-0 meltdown than the fact the series is over and tee times are likely appearing on calendars soon. Despite trailing for essentially the entire game, a scenario that often kicks the team’s shot and chance generation into an extra gear, the Sharks finished the evening nearly even with the Knights in 5-on-5 shots and behind their opponents yet again in expected goals.
When the ice isn’t tilted in your favor often and the goalies at either end are only exacerbating the results of the other 10 skaters, it’s difficult to win a game, let alone a series. San Jose has been out-coached and generally outplayed for three games in a row, and if the Sharks suddenly have an answer over the next three games, it would be a great surprise.
Don’t fear the reaper, folks. The cowbell will be plentiful, and the action packed regardless of tonight’s outcome. San Jose has been pretty badly outplayed on special teams and 5-on-5 during the past two games. It will take a a reprise of the team’s effort from Game 1 with a Joe Thornton-less lineup to even up the series. Let’s sit back, try to relax, and potentially enjoy.
20:00: Let’s try to keep things together for the first few minutes here, OK?
17:16: It’s unbelievable that Joonas Donskoi was a healthy scratch until two players were forced out of the lineup.
15:08: Postseason penalty minute leader Evander Kane slashes Mark Stone at the end of the Sharks’ power play.
12:24: Knights draw another penalty in the offensive zone. Their lights-out offense keeps the pressure on a reeling Sharks team.
12:24: That was a bad call, folks.
9:28: Steve Spott deserves credit for changing up the Sharks’ power play entry strategy after they struggled to gain the zone effectively earlier in the series.
6:00: The Sharks just have zero answer for the Knights’ forecheck. After a well-planned Game 1 in which the Sharks focused on supporting their teammates coming out of the zone, they seem to have forgotten what helped them succeed at home.
4:40: If nothing else, the Sharks look dangerous on the power play tonight.
0.46.7: Shea Theodore (yes, you read that correctly) just split the Sharks’ defenders and slid the puck in under Jones’ pad for the Knights’ second goal of the evening. At least it wasn’t in the first 30 seconds of the period?
END FIRST: Sharks 0, Knights 2
It’s surprising that the Sharks haven’t figured out how to counteract the Knights’ wild forecheck. The team spent the entirety of Game 1 adding meaningful support to their defensive-zone breakouts and it paid off. During the last two games and one period, the team seems to have gotten away from what worked so far during the first meeting this postseason. Despite the two goals and shaky breakouts, the Sharks took 62.4% of score- and venue-adjusted shots. However, in what has also become a pattern this series, San Jose generated just 31.8% of expected goals, showing that the Knights quality might simply trump their shot quantity this series (Natural Stat Trick).
20:00: In what is perhaps the first sign of adjustments being made this series, it looks like Aaron Dell will replace Martin Jones to begin the second period. Dell hasn’t been as strong as Martin Jones has on the penalty kill, but he’s been better at 5-on-5 this season.
17:46: Perhaps I’m imagining things, but watching the Knights give the Sharks fits both on the forecheck and in exiting their own zone reminds me of watching the Penguins so similarly back in 2016. Sharks don’t seem able to adjust to what the Knights are doing to keep transitions going in their favor.
13:15: It’s really unbelievable that Donskoi has been sitting in the press box this entire series.
12:07: The Sharks have really come alive in this second frame. Their 36% shot share disagrees with my eye test, though the near-even expected goal share is maybe the more important statistic, given how the Knights have cut their way through the Sharks team defense time and again.
8:09: A gallant Knight catches a stick up high and the Sharks will go back on the PK. The Knights’ power play has been dangerous all series, though the Sharks have done well tonight to stop them from getting set up in the zone.
7:27: Dell makes one save, but the Sharks can’t clear the rebound, and Vegas turns it into 3-0.
7:04: Gustav Nyquist does his best ... Shea Theodore impression? and dangles his way through Nate Schmidt before recording a couple shots on goal. What an effort from the silky Swede.
6:24: Donskoi draws a tripping call, and the Sharks’ power play, which has been performing well tonight, gets an opportunity to help close the gap on the scoreboard. It’s wild that Donskoi sat in the press box for the first three games of this series.
END SECOND: Sharks 0, Knights 3
It tells you something when the team losing 2-0 the entire period loses the 5-on-5 shot battle by one. To the Sharks’ credit, they created scoring chances in the period, and more so than their gracious hosts. The team still has no answer for Vegas’ transition game, and the power play, while still encroaching on Marc-Andre Fleury’s doorstep, is also settling for too many shots without preceding them with puck movement. Oh, and Erik Karlsson looks like he’s having trouble out there. No matter, next season there will be another attempt at glory. They will skate faster, stretch their shifts farther, and one fine evening ...
18:41: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Knights forecheck continues to make life very difficult for the Sharks on their way out of the defensive zone.
16:54: Pavelski takes an interference penalty for, um, hitting someone. Maybe the puck was farther away from the play than I realize, but that call seemed dubious.
13:23: After some bizarre bounces on a clearing attempt and a failure to recognize a clear and present danger, Alex Tuch takes the puck past Dell and continues to rub salt in the wound. Oh, and, after checking Twitter I realize I was incorrect with my Paveski take, and admit it was indeed a dumb penalty.
10:40: Now it’s Kane, E.’s turn to take a dumb penalty. He crosschecks Carrier in the back, then punches Colin Miller before getting the gates for the balance of the game. San Jose’s hanging on for pride here, but it’s unlikely the Knights loosen their grip on the game any.
8:06: Meier heads to the box for an unsportsmanlike penalty, just because this game (and series) isn’t infuriating enough.
4:30: Another Sharks penalty and this thing is academic, folks. (I still don’t really know what they mean when they say that.) Vegas manages four goals on 23 shots before this game goes haywire.
3:36: Make that 5 goals on 24 shots on goal. That’s good for 79 percent! To be fair, that last goal and the Theodore goal are hard to pin on either goalie.
GAME: Sharks 0, Knights 5
Well, that was stupid. San Jose comes completely unravelled late in the game after the Knights frustrate them at every turn. They were not without opposition, however. Had Fleury performed as an average goaltender might have tonight, the Sharks would have scored at least three goals (Corsica). Yet again, however, San Jose fails to make much of a game for themselves and head home in a serious hole with little hope of salvation.
Things aren’t looking so good for the San Jose Sharks. Their starting goaltender is fighting through changes to his game and the team in front of him has been letting the series slip away. We know the Vegas Golden Knights have had their way with the Sharks’ penalty kill. At 5-on-5, the picture isn’t any prettier. Natural Stat Trick’s game logs show the team’s performance in score- and venue-adjusted shot and expected goal (xG) share has dwindled as the series has worn.
- Game 1: 54.6% shot share // 43.9% expected goal share
- Game 2: 48.6% // 44.6%
- Game 3: 42.6% // 34.7%
The Knights have suffocated San Jose’s even-strength offense while creating scoring chances at a rate well above league average. To add insult to the Sharks injury, their third-line center, Joe Thornton will watch Game 4 from the rafters after being suspended for a hit to the head. Whether you believe he tried to avoid Tomas Nosek or that he should have been suspended longer for the offense is moot at this point. The team’s clear lineup advantage — a depth center playing well beyond his means — has evaporated, leaving Joe Pavelski as a pivot and the forward lines in a jumble.
If there’s anything positive to take from the revamped lineup heading into this game, it’s that the fourth line of Lukas Radil, Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson has contributed positively all year. During the regular season, those three helped the Sharks take 59.1 percent of score-and venue-adjusted shots and 51.6 percent of adjusted expected goals at 5-on-5 (Natural Stat Trick). That share of shots was 2.8 percent better than the rest of the team, which indicates this line is not only solid in its own right, but that it can help the team out of a jam.
The injury to Micheal Haley and suspension to Thornton also reunite the Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi line, a much-needed skill infusion. Those three were arguably the Sharks’ best line all season, and their ability to generate expected goals is second behind only the now-broken up Timo Meier, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski line. The suspension-mandated line of Couture with Meier and Kevin Labanc may cancel out any gains made by the reunited Hertl line, as they’ve been one of the poorest Sharks lines defensively. It would not be surprising to see Labanc switch places with another winger during tonight’s contest.
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant made it a point to hard match his bottom pair of Jon Merrill and Colin Miller against Thornton’s line in Game 3. The duo effectively erased Thornton and his younger linemates from the game and another effective outing by the pair would likely spell disaster if the top of the Knights’ lineup continues to silence the Sharks top two lines.
So far this series — a series between two teams with talent approximate to one another — Gallant has gotten more out of his lineup than his counterpart behind the other bench. Pete DeBoer likely should have made some changes after a Game 2 that saw their control of the series start to slip away. If Martin Jones sits between the pipes again, and the lineup reverts back to its same old self once injuries and suspensions subside, it should be a telling omen for the summer.
Expected scratches: Joe Thornton (suspension), Micheal Haley (lower-body injury), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (lower-body injury), Dylan Gambrell, Josef Korenar
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Jonathan Marchessault
Max Pacioretty — Paul Stastny — Mark Stone
Tomas Nosek — Cody Eakin — Alex Tuch
William Carrier — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Ryan Reaves
Nate Schmidt — Deryk Engelland
Shea Theodore — Brayden McNabb
Jon Merrill — Colin Miller
Expected scratches: Nikita Gusev, Ryan Carpenter, Brandon Pirri, Nick Holden, Valentin Zykov, Jimmy Schuldt
Where to watch
Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. Pacific/10:30 p.m. Eastern at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. You’ll find the television broadcast on NBC Sports Bay Area in San Jose, NBC Sports nationally (which means no NHL.tv in the US or Canada), SportsNet 360 in Canada and AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain in Vegas. The radio call will be on 98.5 KFOX in San Jose and through the Sharks app.