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Sharks vs. Golden Knights: Game 7 keys

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San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) shoves Vegas Golden Knights center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) to the ice during the first period of game six of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena. Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Sharks Forwards Must Take Advantage of More Space

It’s been a running theme in this series, how the Vegas Golden Knights play the San Jose Sharks’ defensemen high. Naturally, Vegas is trying to take away San Jose’s go-to weapons, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, in their point shot-based offense.

As I’ve written before, the Sharks rely more on their defensemen to shoot than any other team in the league, save the New York Islanders. In the regular season, San Jose defensemen were responsible for 39.6 percent of the team’s shot attempts at 5-on-5.

Here’s a Game 1 example of how the Knights are playing Burns:

Peter DeBoer addressed Burns’s production after Game 4: “They’re obviously keying on him, standing besides him in the o-zone. He’s not going to put up the production.”

The underlying stats bear this out.

In this series, Sharks defensemen have taken just 29.8 percent of the team’s shot attempts at 5-on-5.

Perhaps unbelievably, Justin Braun (15) has more shot attempts at 5-on-5 than Burns (13). Per Natural Stat Trick, Burns has the lowest shot attempt rate among San Jose defensemen in this series, except for Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

This is a far cry from Burns’s 19.65 Individual Corsi For Per 60 clip in the regular season. This figure led all NHL defensemen; Karlsson came in second with 18.97.

The easy reaction is to criticize Burns for not asserting his game, but instead, credit should be given to him for playing within himself offensively. You have to take what the opponent gives you.

In this case, it’s incumbent on the San Jose forwards to take advantage of the extra room that they’re being afforded by the opposition’s emphasis on defending the point.

Improving Transition

After a strong Game 5 in terms of breaking out and pushing the Knights back with their transition game, the Sharks fell back in Game 6.

Both Joe Pavelski and Joakim Ryan addressed this at morning skate:

Here’s a Game 6 example of the Golden Knights reading the flip pass on the Sharks breakout:

Meanwhile, here are a couple Game 5 examples of San Jose wingers pushing back Vegas blueliners and opening up space for their own activating defensemen.

Evander Kane (9) forces Vegas back, leaving the middle for Tomas Hertl (48) and Karlsson (65).

Pavelski (8) and Logan Couture (39) fill left and right lanes, creating the center lane for Ryan (47), who’s got a step on Tomas Nosek (92).

Stopping the Vegas Rush

In perhaps the greatest resurrection since Jesus, Martin Jones has stopped 88 of 91 shots over the last two contests to lead the Sharks to Game 7.

It wasn’t all Jones though. Despite the barrage, San Jose has managed to slow the vaunted Vegas transition attack down.

Jones addressed this after Game 6: “When we eliminate that stuff off the rush, odd-man rushes, it makes life a lot easier. We did a good job keeping guys in front of us, in zone. They didn’t have a ton of point-blank looks. We did a good job around the net.”

For their part, Jon Merrill was pleased with the Golden Knights’ effort: “We did a better job of any game in this series of grinding in the offensive zone. We had more sustained offensive zone shifts, turning pucks over. Turned into 20-30 seconds of pressure.”

For sure, the Knights’ forecheck was in full effect in Game 6. The Jonathan Marchessault goal and their 59 shots were ample evidence.

Merrill continued, “Yeah, we like to play fast. Get out in transition, get chances off the rush. But we take the game as it comes to us.”

If the Vegas rush is as successful as their forecheck was in Game 6, watch out, San Jose.