It’s how the Golden Knights have been winning which stings.
That being established, everything gets erased in the series should the Sharks come out and win Game 4 in Las Vegas. Granted, they’ll need to make some major adjustments to address trends of the last 120 minutes we've witnessed. However — it would reset the matchup back to square one, where home ice advantage would be regained at SAP Center in a best-of-three.
Early goals are killer
The early goals are more than a small sample.
Las Vegas and San Jose have now met seventeen times in regular and postseason games since October 2017. In those 17 matchups, the Golden Knights have potted a goal in the first five minutes of the contest an incredible nine times. In Game 3, the Golden Knights started periods by scoring 16 seconds, 21 seconds, and 36 seconds into each stanza, respectively. Sure early (and late) goals still count as one on the scoreboard, but the early goals kill momentum. In Game 2, the Sharks allowed two shorthanded goals, and ended up losing by two. In Game 3, the Sharks allowed three first-minute of period goals and ended up losing by three. Catchy, but unfortunate.
Defense must step up
This series is still winnable, but only with defense.
That old #TwoOrFewer routine would have the Sharks up 3-0 in this series if their defense allowed only a pair or less in every game. It worked in the opener, but since then Las Vegas has scored five and six goals in Games 2 and 3, respectively. The offense has been there for the Sharks, but the faults have been paid for without the puck. The never-fruitful debate of “goalie vs team defense” struggles has reared its ugly head once again, as folks are looking for somewhere to point the finger. I know many are looking for those “key saves," and clearly the Sharks aren’t getting the amount they need. But the root problem could easily be allowing far too many “key opportunities” in the first place.
Call to the bullpen?
How close are we to a goalie change? Sticking with Martin Jones to begin Game 4 is the prudent thing to do. If you disagree, hear this out first. Jones did the heavy lifting in the regular season, and he deserves the opportunity to turn the series around — until the point of no return approaches.
In other words, Aaron Dell should be on the shortest of calls entering Game 4. The hope would be that Jones (and teammates) are able to shore up defensive issues, but if not, the change of scenery in the crease is a trick in Pete DeBoer’s bag. Should the need arise early, or quickly, use Dell in an effective manner. Then reassess the matter, whether it was a goalie problem or not.
No need for pleasantries
Let’s stop calling them Las Vegas’ second line.
Tonight was the first home playoff game in Las Vegas for Max Pacioretty, Paul Stasny and Mark Stone. Also known as the “second line” for the Golden Knights. Also known as the “best line” for the Golden Knights.
Which is not to take away from the contributions of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith dating back to the team’s inaugural season. They were the “top line” back then, and even this past regular season. It’s just that the three big acquisitions of the past twelve months have widely been their most impactful in the first few playoff games. Stone’s hat trick in Game 4, was the first ever of his NHL career, putting him at six goals through three games against San Jose.
The ailments are mounting for San Jose.
Worst fears were realized when Marc-Edouard Vlasic did not play Game 3 due to an upper-body injury. And at deeper points, it’s clear to see Erik Karlsson’s legs are not allowing him to do everything we are accustomed to, despite the fact that he had four assists in the first two games. Added to the list is Michael Haley who took a shot to the ankle on Sunday night and did not return. The instinct is that Haley’s injury could be very bad for one of the Sharks’ most specialized players.
Even if San Jose is able to reverse the course of this series, they can’t change health issues in the same fashion. This will be the bigger picture aspect to monitor the rest of the Round 1 series, and hopefully beyond.