Sharks vs. Golden Knights Preview: Sharks offense vs. Golden Knights defense

Sharks forwards are going to need to bring all the scoring they can for this series.

Yesterday, Erik took a look at how the San Jose Sharks’ defense with be tasked with containing the Vegas Golden Knights’ offense. But how will the Vegas blueline contend with a forward group where seemingly everyone is having a career year?

The Sharks’ offense

As a contributing factor to much of the team’s success, the Sharks will be relying on the high-scoring offensive to help their struggling goaltending and defense. The Sharks’ 289 goals and average 3.52 goals per game this regular season is second only to the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning. They are also the third best when it come to even-strength goals, tallying 223 in total, trailing both the Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Sharks scored most of their goals in the first period, outscoring their opponents 102 to 85 in the opening frame, and the fewest in the second period, only outscoring opponents 86 to 84. It will be important that the Sharks score first against the Vegas Golden Knights, as during the regular season the Sharks won 87.7 percent of the games in which they scored first. The Sharks are going to want to score first — breaking a trend from their recent stretch of games — if they want to have the best chance of winning.

This matchup makes that far from a guarantee, though, as the Golden Knights are sixth in win percentage after giving up the first goal.

Even though they excelled at even-strength, the power play was a big part of the Sharks offense. Despite going through ups and downs during the season, by the end of the year, the Sharks’ power play was ranked sixth in the league, with a 23.65 percent conversion in the regular season, scoring 57 goals. The Sharks will be playing against the Golden Knights’ penalty kill, which is middle of the pack at 14th overall, with a 80.9 percent success rate.

The Sharks’ offense is led by their top-nine forwards, where they have four players above the 30-goal mark. Joe Pavelski leads the team with 38 goals, and Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane and Timo Meier have all reached 30 goals. Logan Couture wasn’t far behind those four, with 27 goals on the season and Gustav Nyquist has 22 goals between his time with the Detroit Red Wings and the Sharks.

Though their scoring has come from all different parts of the lineup, the Sharks’ top line of Pavelski, Couture and Meier has been leading the way, with 95 goals combined. The Sharks’ third line of Marcus Sorensen, Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc that has been creating a mismatch for a lot of teams have a combined 50 goals, helping to add depth to an already potent offense.

In the Sharks’ season series against the Golden Knights, most of their scoring came from their top-nine forwards. In those big games, the Sharks relied on their big time players to come through and, pending no changes to their fourth line, that is what they will have to do again.

What they will be going up against

The Golden Knights’ defense has held the Sharks scoring to 10 goals over four games during their regular season series. The Golden Knights have been able to hold to the Sharks at an average of 2.50 goals per game, one goal fewer than their season average. The Knights have also been able to keep the Sharks from scoring first, often scoring on them early, in all but one game. During the season, the Golden Knights had 228 goals scored against them, for a goals against average of 2.78, both ranking 10th in the league with a team save percentage of .910.

The Sharks will most likely be facing Marc-Andre Fleury in the upcoming series, who is coming off a lower-body injury that held him out of the lineup for the second half of March and beginning of April. The Sharks played the Golden Knights twice in that time span and they faced Malcolm Subban; both goaltenders have a win and loss against the Sharks this season.

Fleury returned to the Golden Knights’ lineup for the final two games of the season. Both of those games were losses, to Arizona Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings with a save percentage of .902 and .871 respectively, both times with four goals against.

The Kinghts’ goaltending has been average overall. Fleury finished the season with .913 and Subban finished with .902. Fleury has had a decent playoff percentage over the past couple of years, with the last two seasons making it to the Stanley Cup Final and finishing with .924 and .927, in 15 and 20 games respectively.

Per Evolving-Hockey, Fleury’s goals saved above expectation of 4.53 ranks 14th in the league. Subban’s -10.01 is the seventh-worst in the league for back-up netminders.

The Sharks will be facing a difficult task against the Golden Knights’ defense and goaltending, but if they are able to stick to the game plan, the Sharks’ offense offers an edge that should be able to lead them to a series win.