Winning Play: Knights on the rise?
LAS VEGAS — From the drop of the puck — literally — the San Jose Sharks were a step behind the Vegas Golden Knights.
We’re not talking just about William Karlsson’s (71) goal, 14 seconds in. It’s hard to blame Aaron Dell for kneeing a Brayden McNabb (3) point shot right off Karlsson’s leg, back into the net. That’s a fluke.
What wasn’t a fluke, however, was Dell (30) torpedoing what appeared to be a simple hand-off to Justin Braun (61) past the receiver, into Jonathan Marchessault’s (81) clutches.
Maybe Braun didn’t communicate his location well? Maybe Dell was too amped up to begin the game?
By and large though, San Jose’s 4-0 first period deficit was the product of strange circumstances. Just four minutes after Karlsson’s game-opening goal, Colin Miller (6) took advantage of a debilitated Logan Couture (39) to walk down the slot, turning a 5-on-5 into a 5-on-4:
Couture blocks Miller's initial shot, struggles to keep up as Miller walks down slot. This was Couture's last shift before going into room #SJSharks pic.twitter.com/eVIMzo5HDY— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 25, 2018
About five minutes later, penalty killer Evander Kane (9) appeared to break his stick while chopping at an entering Alex Tuch (89). Kane gambled on leaving the ice to get another Shark on, turning a 5-on-4 power play into a 5-on-3:
Down 3-0, from San Jose’s perspective, you could probably forgive most of this. There’s a missed, routine goaltender to defenseman hand-off, but besides that, there’s a lot of rotten luck. At this point, there was still plenty of game left.
”There’s no excuse for getting run out of the building,” acknowledged Kane.
That’s what happened with about three minutes remaining in the first period.
Tuch beat Erik Karlsson (65) to the Golden Knights dump-in. Gamely, Karlsson battled Tuch, but the 6-foot-4 winger shrugged the blueliner off with ease.
Max Pacioretty (67) pointed out, “I think Tuchie beat out the icing. Guys come back a little lackadaisical, thinking it’s going to be an icing.”
Tuch found a creeping Pacioretty, but Brenden Dillon (4) managed to help force the chance wide. But Pacioretty didn’t give up, rubbing out an exiting Marcus Sorensen (20), forcing a loose puck.
”[Sorensen] was flat-footed,” noted Pacioretty. “I was able to take him out.”
Cody Eakin (21) helped keep the puck alive along the wall. Deftly, Pacioretty served the puck forward into a surging Tuch’s path.
”Tuch made a great power move to the net,” said Pacioretty.
Both caught flat-footed, Dillon and Karlsson were swinging doors to the Tuch freight train. That was bad. But more inexcusably, Joe Thornton (19) and Sorensen forgot about the five-time 30-goal scorer hanging around the slot. Dell fended off the initial Tuch assault, but had no chance on the Pacioretty follow-up.
This all started with a hellacious Vegas forecheck that resembled Golden Knights hockey from last year.
”Two big guys who can skate and forecheck like that, they’re creating their chances with a lot of good forecheck,” said Gerard Gallant.
Meanwhile, Pete DeBoer took the long view, “We had a bad night. It happens. [Vegas] got beat the other night by Calgary 7-2. Let’s not make this bigger than this is.”
DeBoer’s not wrong. The Golden Knights promptly got off the mat and shut out the same Flames squad four nights after getting blown out.
Perhaps more intriguing than one poor Sharks effort are the resurgent Knights. Much like the Sharks, the Golden Knights have had an up-and-down start to the year, but the Vegas press box was buzzing with how this contest was the closest that the team has looked to last season’s juggernaut.
Also like San Jose, Vegas’s underlying stats suggest that better days are ahead for them, too. In fact, with last night’s victory, the Golden Knights (55.05) moved ahead of the Sharks (54.82) for second place in the NHL in Adjusted Expected Goals For Percent (per Corsica).
When the Sharks acquired Erik Karlsson, they were more or less anointed this year's Pacific champions. Last night, the defending champs had something to say about that.