Winning Play: Vegas goes high, San Jose goes low
It’s no surprise that the Vegas Golden Knights would try to take away the fulcrum of the San Jose Sharks’ offense, the point shot.
"They play our defensemen high," Peter DeBoer acknowledged after San Jose toppled Vegas 4-3 in overtime.
With Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson leading the way, no other squad, save the New York Islanders, features defensemen taking a higher percentage of the team’s overall shot attempts at 5-on-5:
Meanwhile, in their four head-to-head contests this season, Sharks defensemen have been limited by the Golden Knights to just 30.4 percent of the team’s shot attempts at 5-on-5, well below their season-average. Last night, San Jose blueliners had just 12 of the squad’s 41 shot attempts at 5-on-5 (29.3 percent).
Of course, when one door closes, another opens.
"It ends up being a lot of low play there, where you have to take the puck to the net," DeBoer noted.
As we saw last night though, it wasn’t just about taking the puck to the net.
22-year-old Timo Meier (28) flexed on veteran Reilly Smith (19) before his wrap-around attempt. Just as importantly, Joonas Donskoi (27) attacked, diverting the attention of Nick Holden (22) and Shea Theodore (27). In the bedlam, Tomas Hertl (48) thrived.
Even the Sharks blueliners got in Malcolm Subban’s face. On Hertl’s drive, Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) crashed, preventing Subban from making any reasonable effort to get between Evander Kane (9) and an open net. While this wasn’t intentional on Vlasic’s part — he was knocked into Subban by Valentin Zykov (7) — this underscores the importance of crashing the net, with or without the puck. You never know what will happen, and the resulting chaos often places a heavy burden on the defense.
Masterfully, Kevin Labanc (62) was able to hold onto the puck, timing his shot for a rebound to coincide with Kane’s arrival at the net. This forced Colin Miller (6) to hook Kane down, giving San Jose a game-winning power play.
While there’s no doubt that the point shot, especially from Burns or Karlsson, is a key, if not the key component of the Sharks’ attack, San Jose can bang down low with the best of them.
The Sharks’ vaunted depth isn’t just about their volume of skilled players, but in the variety of ways that they can beat you.
It was Burns who snapped #SJSharks 6-game losing streak in March 2017 (in OT no less).— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 31, 2019
He credited Labanc's work, drawing Karlsson in: "Banker sucked that guy in, did a great job protecting the puck. Brought that guy to the wall. Made a great play to Cooch." pic.twitter.com/vUExTfa6YB
Burns ended the longest losing streak of DeBoer’s San Jose tenure. Previously, the Sharks had suffered six-game losing streaks in December 2015 and March 2017.
This was also the third seven-game losing streak of DeBoer’s NHL career: His first was in February 2010 with Florida, followed by October 2013 with New Jersey.
These three seven-game swoons were tied for the second-worst losing streak of DeBoer’s career. He’s actually dealt with a pair of 10-game losing streaks, in March/April 2011 with Florida and March/April 2013 with New Jersey.
(Stats as of 3/30/19, courtesy of Evolving-Hockey, Hockey Reference, HockeyViz, MoneyPuck, Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com.)