How Sharks can get back in NHL playoff series with Golden Knights

How Sharks can get back in NHL playoff series with Golden Knights

The Sharks lost a game 6-3 on Sunday night, but it felt worse. And they trail this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series 2-1, but it feels worse.

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.

Banged up

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.

[RELATED: Thornton faces hearing for illegal check in Game 3]

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.

Sharks' Aaron Dell likely to start at least once on current road trip

Sharks' Aaron Dell likely to start at least once on current road trip

Sharks bench boss Peter DeBoer said earlier this month that he'd like to play backup goalie Aaron Dell more this season.

And while Martin Jones will get the call Tuesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres, DeBoer told the media after morning skate he wants to give Dell more starts this season. San Jose's current five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference -- which includes a back-to-back later this week -- is the perfect opportunity for him to show he can take on a bigger role.

"We're going to split them in back-to-backs this year," said DeBoer, whose team plays the first of six regular-season back-to-backs later this week against the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. "We'll lock that in -- unless there are extenuating circumstances."

Sure, wanting to split up goaltending duties in a back-to-back situation is nothing new. And with two such cases popping up on San Jose's calendar over the next two weeks -- the Sharks play a back-to-back when they return from their current road trip -- it's the best option for the team as a whole. Plus, it keeps Jones fresh not having him start in net on zero day's rest, while also giving Dell a better idea of when he'll get to play.

But how Dell performs in these situations likely will also have a huge impact on how often DeBoer taps him to start over the course of the season. Granted, he has played the best hockey over his professional career when he's had fewer days of rest between starts, going 4-0-1 with a .938 save percentage on two days rest as opposed to 30-17-3 when he has rested for three or more days.

DeBoer told the media on Tuesday that a lot goes into deciding which goaltender starts a back-to-back. Jones' performance in Tuesday's game in Buffalo could be a factor. Dell's lone start in Montreal, in which he stopped 30 of 31 shots-on-goal and logged a .968 save percentage, could also play a role in the coach's decision. Whatever influences the situation, fans can be sure they'll see Dell start at least one game over the next week.

While Dell's record on the season doesn't indicate a stellar start, DeBoer has expressed that he likes what he's seen from his back-up's game so far. Having the option to play Dell more is exactly what San Jose's bench boss wants. 

[RELATED: Simek still a ways off, but Prout close to Sharks return]

"I wanted to play him more last year, but he didn't allow me that opportunity to," DeBoer admitted back on October 12. "So I told him over the summer that, 'I want to get you in more games than I did last year. I'm going to give you the opportunity early to play some more, but you have to help me and play well when you get in there.' And I think he did that."

The up-coming back-to-back will be yet another chance for Dell to show what he can do. 

Erik Karlsson, wife Melinda bring home daughter after two-week hospital stay


Erik Karlsson, wife Melinda bring home daughter after two-week hospital stay

Last Thursday was a day Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda never will forget.

After a two-week stay in the hospital, Erik and Melinda finally got to bring their daughter, Harlow Rain, home. It's been a big help to the Sharks defenseman, especially his sleep schedule.

"My wife's good with that. She's doing the heavy lifting," Karlsson said about his wife getting up to be with the Harlow, via Curtis Pashelka of The Mercury News. "I can get my sleep and be able to do what I need to do for my profession. It's nice to have the family home."

Harlow was born a five weeks earlier than expected, with Karlsson having to fly home before the Sharks' season-opener against the Vegas Golden Knights to be with Melinda as she prepared to give birth to their daughter at the 35-week mark of the pregnancy. 

Harlow spent two weeks in the hospital, so doctors could monitor her, but she finally got to come home Thursday. Bringing their little girl home without complications was a weight off both Erik and Melinda's shoulders. The Karlssons suffered a horrible tragedy in 2018, when Erik revealed the couple had lost their son, Axel, a month before he was supposed to be born.

Thankfully, all is well with the newest member of the Karlsson family.

“When something good happens, you want to be able to bring her home right away,” Karlsson said, via The Mercury News. “We wanted to make sure she was OK. We were fine with that. It’s not the most fun to be at the hospital all day long, but when I was home, I was there.

“But my wife was there way more than I was, obviously. It just takes a toll. Just nice that we can be at home now and we can figure our own stuff out.”

[RELATED: Simek improving but still a ways off]

Karlsson and the Sharks haven't gotten off to the best start on the ice, amassing a 3-5-0 record through the first eight games.

They'll look to right the ship starting Tuesday when they open a five-game East Coast road trip against the Buffalo Sabres. 

With Harlow and Melinda back at home, Karlsson feels better about focusing on the ice and is excited about the prospect of parenthood.

“It’s great, Anybody with kids knows it’s a lot of work, a lot of it obviously falls on my wife and she’s doing a great job with it,” Karlsson said. “We’re new parents, so we’re going to have to figure things out.

“We’ve getting lots of help from people around here that have that experience, people at home. But at the end of the day, we’re going to figure out our own things and what works for us. We’re excited about that.”