Sharks vs. Golden Knights: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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The Golden Knights used the 2018-19 NHL season to prove that their inaugural year, where they reached the Stanley Cup Final, wasn’t a fluke. The regular season wasn’t as successful at 2017-18 (a 16-point decrease), but they still finished third in the Pacific Division and strengthened their roster with the additions of Paul Stastny in free agency and Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone in separate trades.

It was a bumpier road to the playoffs this season, however. Vegas had five losing streaks of three games or more and saw an expected step back in offense, especially from William Karlsson, who went from 43 goals to 24. But the Stone acquisition gives the Golden Knights not only a formidable second line, but also a strong two-way presence.

Acquiring Erik Karlsson before the season was Sharks general manager Doug Wilson’s way of finding that “difference-maker” he sought for so long. Unfortunately for San Jose, injuries limited the blue liner to only 52 games, but he returned in the season finale and the hope is he’ll be 100% going forward.

Finishing second in the Pacific Division, the Sharks were led by four 30-goal scorers — Joe Pavelski (38), Tomas Hertl (35), Evander Kane (30) and Timo Meier (30)  — and Brent Burns, who was first in points in the team with 83. Their special teams were strong, as were their possession numbers. But the biggest flaw was the play of Martin Jones, who posted an .896 even strength save percentage and just hasn’t been the same netminder who helped lead them to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s a rematch of Round 2 from 2018 where the Golden Knights advanced in six games. Can the Sharks exact a measure of revenge in 2019?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

SCHEDULE
Wednesday, April 10, 10:30 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
Friday, April 12, 10:30 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 14, 10 p.m.: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 16, 10:30 p.m.: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 18, TBD: Golden Knights @ Sharks | TBD
*Sunday, April 21, TBD: Sharks @ Golden Knights | TBD
*Tuesday, April 23, TBD: Golden Knights @ Sharks | TBD

FORWARDS

VEGAS: Once again, Vegas’ top line led the way as Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith were top-three on the team in scoring. But what’s made the Golden Knights even stronger was the creation of their second line, which features three players acquired since last season. Pacioretty, Stastny and Stone now gives head coach Gerard Gallant another line to roll out and cause havoc for opponents.

So two strong lines is worrisome enough for the Sharks, but the bottom six can also provide a challenge for San Jose. Cody Eakin (22 goals) and Alex Tuch (20 goals) lead a strong set of depth forwards that have the experience of last year’s Cup Final run and ability to chip in a timely goal when needed. Throw in Ryan Reaves, who scored two big goals for Vegas last postseason, after a career year offensively with nine goals and 20 points, and Peter DeBoer and his staff will have their work cut out for them.

SAN JOSE: The Sharks were tied for the second-highest scoring team in the NHL with 289 goals. Four players hit the 30-goal mark, four others reached at least 16. The addition of Gustav Nyquist (six goals in 19 games) at the trade deadline bolsters an already dangerous arsenal and strengthens a very good power play.

Like Vegas, San Jose can roll a dangerous top two lines and a third line featuring a now healthy Joe Thornton is still a creative genius on the ice. Beyond their biggest names, the Sharks have also been buyoed by the likes of Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, who don’t get a lot of headlines, but have make impactful contributions this season. Joonas Donskoi, who hasn’t scored since Jan. 10 and finished with 14 this season, could really use a goal if he’s in the lineup.

ADVANTAGE: San Jose, but it’s pretty close. When clicking, the Sharks can attack you in waves and keep the pressure on. Vegas upped their goals per game average after acquiring Stone, jumping from 3.0 goals/game to 3.32 goals/game.

DEFENSE

VEGAS: Unlike the Sharks, where Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns ate a ton of minutes, Gallant spread out the ice time among his defense pretty evenly. Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt were the only two to finish with at least 20 minutes a night, while Deryk Engelland, Colin Miller, Brayden McNabb, and Nick Holden played between 18-19 minutes per game. Jon Merrill was right there with 17:53 per game.

Theodore emerged this season as a viable top-pairing defenseman, finishing with 12 goals and 37 points along with a fantastic 56.28% Corsi rating.

SAN JOSE: A healthy Erik Karlsson will pose plenty of problems for the Golden Knights. But if he’s well less than 100%, plus Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s inconsistent play lingers in the postseason, that will put plenty of pressure on goaltender Martin Jones. The Sharks were the second-best shot suppression team in the NHL (28.3 shots allowed per game) but allowed 3.16 goals per game.

ADVANTAGE Even*. The asterisk here is if Karlsson plays at 100% he could give the Sharks a slight edge. But there’s no doubting the defensive unit Vegas offers, and how they work well together and there really is no standout name on their blue line. San Jose offers threats in perennial Norris Trophy contenders in Karlsson and Burns, but Vegas’ pairings have shown their up to the task at limiting opponents’ chances, and they’ll be busy doing so going up against a Sharks team that averaged 33 shots on goal per night.

GOALTENDING

VEGAS: Marc-Andre Fleury returned to the net last week, a great sign for the Golden Knights after his strong performance last spring. He finished the season with a .917 ESSV% and was second in the NHL with eight shutouts. Vegas was also a strong shot-suppression team, allowed 28 per night at even strength, and as we’ve seen throughout his career Fleury’s acrobatics can quickly turn a strong scoring opportunity for an opponent into a highlight-reel save.

SAN JOSE: Martin Jones will hope for reset once Game 1 arrives. He had a forgettable regular season with an .896 ESSV% and a .788 high-danger save percentage, which was 24th out of 25 goaltenders with at least 2,000 minutes played, per Natural Stat Trick. His partner, Aaron Dell, wasn’t much better with an .899 ESSV% and a .793 HDSV%. There are plenty of strengths to this Sharks team, but their goaltender might the weakness that holds them back.

ADVANTAGE: Vegas. A healthy Fleury means good things for Vegas. Jones has shown no signs that a rebound is coming this season, and Dell doesn’t offer any help behind him if things get ugly.

ONE BIG QUESTION FOR EACH TEAM

Can Vegas’ power play wake up?

The Golden Knights scored 39 power play goals this season and finished with a success rate of 16.8%, good enough for seventh-worst in the NHL. With extra man situations becoming tougher to draw in the postseason, Vegas needs to take advantage of their extra man opportunities as they could be the difference in any game at this point.

Which Martin Jones will show up?

There’s no fallback option here for the Sharks. Dell has struggled as well, and when playoff hockey gives us those tight, low-scoring games, it’ll be up to Jones to come up with a big save and even steal a game or two if San Jose is to have a shot. Can a reset heading into Game 1 work wonders for Jones? We’ll see.

PREDICTION

VEGAS IN 6. Unless Jones reverts back to his old form, it’ll be tough to see the Sharks really making a challenge at getting revenge for last year’s playoff exit. The Golden Knights are well-balanced up front, have played strong defensively in front of Fleury and Malcolm Subban, and have the clear better goaltending heading into this matchup. 

MORE PREVIEWS:
• Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
• Islanders vs. Penguins
Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Blues
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Predators vs. Stars
Capitals vs Hurricanes

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Islanders still hot; Oshie still a shootout wizard

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Three Stars

1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

What has gotten into this guy? Is he trying to make it so we can’t call him just a pest any longer, like a lower-tier Brad Marchand, or something?

Either way, Pageau’s absolutely on fire. While, yes, one of his goals did come on an empty-netter, it’s still impressive that he generated the first hat trick of his career on Wednesday, especially without any time on Ottawa’s power play. JGP (who might need some sort of J.C. Penny-inspired nickname at this point?) was responsible for the game-winner to boot.

Pageau now has eight goals in his last six games, and at least one point (eight goals, one assist) in six of his last seven contests. Overall, he has 11 goals and 15 points through 18 games this season, although it’s this recent torrid pace that’s especially impressive. More on that in the factoids …

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Pageau’s career-high for goals is 19, and points is 43, both recorded in 2015-16.

2. Derick Brassard, New York Islanders

It’s been a nightmare for Brassard basically from the moment he was part of the trade that sent Mika Zibanejad to the Rangers (and a higher draft pick to the Rangers than to the Senators, oh my). The once-useful forward couldn’t find his footing while bouncing around the NHL.

When the Islanders made a $1.2 million investment in Brassard for 2019-20, it felt like a low-risk move with the potential for a heartwarming turnaround. That seemed like a slim possibility when Brassard managed just a single assist through his first eight games for the Isles, but now he’s really picking up steam.

Brassard has 10 points in his last nine games after generating a one-goal, two-assist night as the Islanders thwarted John Tavares and the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Avoiding the “we don’t need you” debate regarding Tavares, allow this: any team could use a resurgent player at just $1.2M in AAV.

3. Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks

Speaking of inspirational stories. Strome just never could really find his footing — or true opportunities, depending upon your perspective — as the third pick of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Arizona Coyotes. He’s found a new lease on life with Chicago, and while he’s suffered through some dry spells as the bounces slowed down a bit in 2019-20 vs. his 2018-19 run, Strome is hot again.

He scored two goals and one assist for three points on Wednesday, helping Chicago stun Vegas. Strome now has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in his last four games, representing a significant chunk of his 12 points in 17 games overall in 2019-20.

Strome’s teammate Patrick Kane ranks among other players with three goals (Kane also had 1G, 2A), if you prefer other choices.

Highlight of the Night

The Devils suffered another painful loss, but it will be more difficult to ignore Wayne Simmonds‘ sneaky-strong start to the 2019-20 season after he scored a goal like this:

Also, with Carter Hart vs. Braden Holtby being the focus of the Flyers – Capitals recap, there was the risk of this runner-up getting lost in the shuffle.

Factoids

  • Remember T.J. Oshie‘s epic shootout performance for the U.S. during the 2014 Winter Olympics? It turns out he still rules at that skill. The Capitals note that Oshie has scored on 44 of his 83 attempts, giving him the highest percentage (about 53) of any player with at least 60 shootout attempts.
  • Casey Cizikas is the 11th different Islanders player to record a game-winning goal so far this season (they have 13 wins overall). NHL PR notes that such a figure (11 different players with GWGs) leads the NHL at the moment in 2019-20. It’s a nice stat that drives home how everyone is pitching in for the Isles, right?
  • The Stars congratulated Corey Perry for his 1,000th NHL regular-season game. Not sure how many goalies he’s “bumped into” or people he’s angered during that span, but I’d wager “more than a few.”
  • Both the Islanders and Capitals pushed their point streaks to 13 games on Wednesday. Via NHL PR, this is the sixth such streak in Washington’s history, while the Isles have managed it five different times.
  • Sportsnet points out that Toronto’s special teams (17.6 PP percentage; 75.3 on the PK) have been far, far worse than recent years. Could that come down to coaching, bad luck, or other factors?
  • Pageau’s nine goals ties with Leon Draisaitl for most in the NHL since Oct. 23, according to Sportsnet.

Scores

OTT 4 – NJD 2
NYI 5 – TOR 4
WSH 2 – PHI 1 (SO)
DAL 3 – CGY 1
CHI 5 – VGK 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks add to Golden Knights’ troubles

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During a hectic stretch during an overall hectic game, it looked like the Vegas Golden Knights might end their losing streak by beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

The game turned on its head during a dizzying second-period sequence during what was overall a pretty dizzying game. Ultimately, the biggest takeaway is that the Blackhawks won 5-3, pushing the Golden Knights’ losing streak to four games.

Rough night/nights for the Knights

The Golden Knights opened up the game with a 2-0 goal lead 6:29 into Wednesday’s contest, but it (obviously) ended up being insufficient.

Things really tumbled out of control during what had to be a maddening sequence in the second period.

3:54 in: It seemed like Alex Tuch expanded Vegas’ lead to 3-1, only a review determined that the goal was not over the line. So the score remained 2-1 in Vegas’ favor.

4:09: About 15 seconds later, Calvin de Haan tied the game up 2-2.

4:54: One minute after that Tuch goal didn’t count, Erik Gustafsson gave Chicago a 3-2 lead.

If that wasn’t enough to make things miserable, the Golden Knights’ fear of a messy goalie situation – particularly if something happens to their starter – came to the forefront when Marc-Andre Fleury was shaken by a collision with Alex DeBrincat. It seems like MAF was OK, although it’s tough to overlook Vegas losing so convincingly despite generating a 42-26 shots on goal advantage.

Again, this pushes Vegas’ losing streak to four games in a row, and the headaches extend beyond that. The Golden Knights have only won one in their past seven games (1-3-3). Getting some charity points could end up being crucial if these struggles persist (and it’s worth mentioning that they’ve only won twice in their last nine, going 2-4-3).

[More on the Golden Knights’ worries in net.]

Scraphawks

With an eight-game homestand to begin the season, it seemed like the Blackhawks had a chance to start 2019-20 on fire. Instead, they limped to a 2-4-2 record during that span.

That’s bad, but they’ve been reasonably scrappy since then, as they’re now 7-7-4 after following that homestand with a fairly tough schedule. No, it’s not world-beating stuff, and this franchise probably isn’t comfortable shooting for “respectable” … but, hey, the Blackhawks might at least be a tough out at times this season. Five of the Blackhawks’ next seven games take place in Chicago, so maybe this time they can take advantage of some home cooking?

Young guns

Perhaps the most exciting development for Chicago is the work of developing players.

Yes, Corey Crawford was great (39 saves), as was Patrick Kane (one goal, two assists), but hopeful forwards of the future factored heavily in this win, too. Kirby Dach authored his first multipoint game with a goal and an assist. Dylan Strome is heating up; he generated three points on Wednesday, and now has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in his last four games. DeBrincat also pitched in two assists.

***

While the Blackhawks have the weapons to at least occasionally put up a decent fight, you could probably still mark this as an upset for the Golden Knights. That said, it will be upsetting for MAF & Co. if Vegas cannot right the ship soon.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals break Flyers’ streak, but both teams stay hot

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The Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers entered Wednesday Night Hockey as two of the hotter teams in the NHL. While something had to give, it’s fitting that the two rising clubs needed a shootout to settle things.

Overall, it was quite the goalie duel between Braden Holtby and Carter Hart, with the Capitals ultimately taking the 3-2 (SO) win.

Climbing starters

There are also some parallels between Holtby and Hart, specifically.

Each goalie carried four-game winning streaks into this game, showing signs of getting on track despite slow starts (Holtby had a .898 save percentage before the bout, while Hart lagged behind even further with a mark of .893).

Holtby ended up prevailing, improving his winning streak to five games, and he hasn’t been dinged with a loss since Oct. 10. Despite individual struggles, Holtby is now 9-1-3 in a crucial contract year for the 30-year-old.

Not nearly as much money hinges on how Hart fares in 2019-20, being that the 21-year-old still has two seasons remaining on his RFA deal. That said, Hart generated hype with Philly late last season, and Flyers fans are always eager to see a goalie actually deliver — to the point where it has to really heighten the pressure for netminders who might be vulnerable to such attention.

[More: reasons for optimism for Philly fans.]

Again, both goalies delivered. Holtby stopped 30 out of 31 shots and got the W, while Hart earned the Flyers a point after making 35 of 36 saves.

Not cooling off yet

At this rate, the Capitals’ quiet dominance might build to a roar. They improved to 14-2-4, continuing an 11-0-2 point streak that began on Oct. 14. With their next game coming against the Canadiens on Friday (Nov. 15), that means Washington is now on a month-long point streak. Impressive stuff.

The Flyers finished the night at 10-5-3, which is quite impressive after a 2-3-1 start to 2019-20. Their winning streak stopped at four games, but their point streak is growing, as it is now at seven games (5-0-2).

Both teams are showing some ability to adapt to nightly situations to get wins, or at least a standing point, for their troubles. In Philly’s case on Wednesday, they should absolutely thank Hart.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Golden Knights will meet Wednesday night for the second time this season. The two teams met on October 22 in Chicago where the Knights rallied from a late one-goal deficit in the third period to win 2-1 in a shootout and keep their undefeated streak against the Hawks alive. Hawks forward Kirby Dach scored his first career NHL goal in the loss, while Knights defenseman Nick Holden scored the equalizer with 1:33 remaining in regulation.

Patrick Kane set a career high in points last season with 110 (44G-66A) and has shown no signs of slowing down in 2019-20. Kane is currently riding a six-game point streak and has tallied 11 points (5G-6A) over that span. He leads Chicago in scoring with 20 points (8G-12A). Kane recorded three points (2G-1A) on Sunday as he helped the Haws defeat the Maple Leafs. His two goals were his first multi-goal effort of the season.

After a home-and-home sweep of the Sharks to open the season, the Knights looked like one of the clear favorites out West. But that no longer seems to be the case as Vegas has now dropped five of their last six games (1-2-3) overall. The Knights ended a four-game road trip on Sunday by losing to the Red Wings 3-2. Vegas squandered a 2-1 lead midway through the third period and Wings forward Anthony Mantha scored the winner with 31 seconds remaining in the game.

Knights forward Mark Stone currently leads the team with 18 points (8G-10A) but was held scoreless during the teams recent four-game road trip. Stone began the season with four multi-point performances in his first five games of the season but has tallied just one multi-point game since. In Stone’s scoring absence, Max Pacioretty has stepped up by scoring a goal in three straight games. The former Canadiens captain has six pts (4G-2A) in his last seven contests.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Chicago Blackhawks at Vegas Golden Knights
WHERE: T-Mobile Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 13, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blackhawks-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Alex DeBrincatDylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Brandon SaadJonathan Toews – Kirby Dach
Andrew ShawDavid KampfDominik Kubalik
Alex NylanderRyan CarpenterZack Smith

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Calvin de HaanBrent Seabrook
Olli Maatta – Adam Boqvist

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max Pacioretty – Paul Stastny – Mark Stone
Alex TuchCody EakinCody Glass
Tomas Nosek – Nicolas Roy – Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt
Shea TheodoreNicolas Hague
Jon Merrill – Nick Holden

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Darren Dreger. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk  and Pierre McGuire will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.