Quick Bites: Golden Knights’ top line powers Vegas past San Jose

Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault collect four points each in 7-3 rout over Sharks.

The Sharks and Golden Knights look like they are on a collision course to face each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row, and last night was a great opportunity for both teams to feel each other out. Unfortunately, with both Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski out of the lineup, Vegas’ big guns proved to be too much for San Jose’s depth.

After giving up early first period goals to Vegas in their previous two meetings, it was finally San Jose’s turn to break the ice early. The Sharks put the pressure on straightaway and had a couple of close chances before Logan Couture put away his own rebound right in front of Malcolm Subban’s crease to make it 1-0 Sharks after only 30 seconds. The goal was Logan Couture’s 500th NHL point and Gustav Nyquist’s helper gave him his 300th NHL point.

Ryan Reaves tried to ignite the Vegas lineup a few moments later by pushing and shoving Micheal Haley in front of the benches, but no gloves were dropped. Just two minutes later, Jonathan Marchessault was able to spring William Karlsson for a breakaway opportunity with a great neutral zone pass. Couture appeared to get a stick on the puck on his backcheck attempt, but Karlsson was able to recover the puck and put a backhander past Martin Jones’ glove side to tie the game. It was the third time this season the Knights had scored against the Sharks in the first five minutes of the game.

Right after an unnecessary interference penalty taken by Micheal Haley, the Knights’ first power play unit entered the San Jose zone with clean possession and speed. Marc-Edouard Vlasic appeared to recover the puck after an errant pass, but William Karlsson was able to take the puck away and slide it across the slot to a wide-open Mark Stone, who put away the easy tap-in to make it 2-1, Knights.

After some more nonsense in front of the benches, both teams saw two minutes of 4-on-4 action halfway through the period. Vegas dominated most of open ice scramble, generating a couple very close scoring chances. But it was Joe Thornton who picked up the puck in his own zone, skated the length of the ice and fired a no-look wrister past Subban from above the circles to tie the game. There was some traffic in front of the goaltender, but for a noted playmaker to score from that area of the ice must have been a blow to the young goaltender’s morale.

In the middle of what was becoming a whirlwind first period, Jonathan Marchessault’s line was able to score for the third time in just the first 13 minutes of the game. Marchessault put the puck through Justin Braun’s tripod and slid the puck flat on the ice off the far post and in from a very bad angle. At this point, Peter DeBoer decided to pull his starting goaltender and give Aaron Dell a shot to recover this still-winnable game for the Sharks after Vegas scored three times on their first eleven shots.

In an unsurprising turn of events, Micheal Haley tried to grab Ryan Reaves near (or maybe in) the bench for a meeting of the minds. This time Haley was given a penalty, and the Sharks went a man down. Just as the final seconds of the Haley minor were ticking away, Brent Burns jumped on the ice a bit early for Justin Braun, and the Sharks were caught with too many men. San Jose was able to kill off the short two-man disadvantage and then drew a hooking penalty of their own. The Sharks finished the period with some good possession on the man-advantage, but went to the dressing room still down by a goal. Though they had given up three tough goals in the first frame, San Jose only trailed Vegas 18-16 in even-strength shot attempts. It was a frustrating start for the Sharks, but the game was not out of hand by any means.

San Jose started the second period with another chance on the power play, but even with some good pressure by both units, couldn’t tie the game. Shortly after, the Sharks killed off an Evander Kane high sticking minor, and then received their third power play opportunity of the game after a Nick Holden high stick on Melker Karlsson. Both units were able to generate some chances, but the Sharks still were unable to convert.

With less than ten minutes left in the second, Joe Thornton took an interference call that put the Knights on their fifth power play of the game. After a minute and a half on the man-advantage, Vegas’ second unit was finally able to beat Aaron Dell when Paul Stastny put away a close-range rebound to make it 4-2, Knights.

San Jose finished the second period at a torrid pace, controlling the play for nearly the entire final four minutes. Though the Sharks were leading the Knights in 5-on-5 and even-strength shot attempts after two periods, nearly half of the game had been played with men in the box. Vegas also led in actual shots on goal by a total of 30 to 22 and had 52 percent of the adjusted even-strength high danger chances. San Jose would have to take advantage of opportunities on special teams if they were to come back and win this game.

The Sharks were dealt another huge blow less than a minute into the third period when a giveaway by Justin Braun in the San Jose zone led to a brilliant passing play between Reilly Smith and William Karlsson that ended with the Knights’ fifth goal of the evening. After three helpers earlier in the game, Smith’s goal was his fourth point of the evening. Over the past two seasons, the Sharks have been unable to slow down the top line of Smith, Marchessault and Karlsson, and Monday night was no different.

With less than ten minutes left in the game, San Jose’s first power play unit finally broke through on their fourth man advantage of the evening. Logan Couture scored his 26th goal of the year with a helper from Brent Burns, who notched his 62nd(!) assist of the season.

The Sharks added immense pressure in the third to try to make it a one-goal game, leading Vegas 23-14 in even strength shot attempts during the third period. San Jose pulled Dell with less than three minutes left and gave up an empty-net goal to Marchessault (his fourth point of the game), followed by a late power play garbage time goal by Cody Eakin to make it 7-3, Knights.

San Jose will have to wait a couple more days to clinch their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They can clinch today if the Minnesota Wild lose to the Colorado Avalanche in any fashion. Otherwise, the Sharks will face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday evening with another chance to seal the franchise’s 15th playoff berth in the last 16 seasons. The Calgary Flames remain in first place in the Pacific Division, just one point ahead of San Jose with one game in hand.