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It’s All About The Goaltending

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Before the opening-round playoff series between the Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks had begun, I pointed out that Vegas would win and it would do so because of superior goaltending.

Hey, I’m no Scotty Bowman, but you didn’t need to be to know that Marc-Andre Fleury was better than Martin Jones and/or Aaron Dell.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

And as this series heads to SAP Center Thursday for what could be a series-ending Game 5 following an impressive 5-0 victory at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday night, it’s a fact Fleury has been a big part of why the Knights hold a 3-1 series lead.

He’s getting better with each period of each game. He wasn’t great in the 5-2 loss to the Sharks in Game 1. And after letting in three late first-period goals in Game 2, Fleury has been virtually unbeatable.

I’m not blaming him for the loss or the trio of goals allowed in Game 2. But he’s doing what you want your goalie to do — stop the easy ones, make a few spectacular saves, be the first line of defense on the penalty kill and keep your team in the game.

He’s tracking the puck with laser precision. He’s always a step ahead of the Sharks in anticipating where the play is going to be. His positioning is spot on. And he’s moving well in his crease and post to post.

In other words, Fleury is being Fleury. He stopped all 28 shots he faced in recording his 15th career playoff shutout, tying Chris Osgood for fourth place on the NHL’s career list.

I have felt good all playoffs. They are a good team, it’s not over obviously. It was a big game tonight and a big win for us. One game at a time. -Fleury

The win, Fleury’s 78th in the playoffs, moved him past Mike Vernon into seventh place on the all-time list for goaltender wins. Next is Ken Dryden, who had 80 postseason victories.  Patrick Roy is the career leader in playoff wins with 151.

It is really cool. I have been very fortunate to play on a lot of good teams and again this year. It is very humbling to be amongst these guys who I grew up watching. -Fleury

His play Tuesday did not go unnoticed by his coach, his teammates and his opponent.

He played awesome the first two periods. We weren’t happy with our game. Obviously, we got out to the 1-0 lead in the first shift fortunately for us so that was big, but we didn’t play our type of game for two periods. I thought and we played a lot better in the third. Fleury was huge, when we needed him, he was huge. -Gerard Gallant

This from Shea Theodore:

I think when you watch him out there and he makes those saves, you see how confident he is. Even when he is playing the puck, he is confident with it and he always makes the right decisions. –Theodore

And San Jose coach Peter DeBoer tipped his hat to Fleury.

I thought we created a lot of chances on the other end, but you have to give Fleury credit. He frustrated us tonight and allowed them to be in the position they were in the third. -DeBoer

The Knights have done an awful lot of things well in this series. The line of Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have dominated and the Sharks still haven’t found an answer for them. They’re doing the little things well, like winning faceoffs. They’re outhitting the Sharks.

What Vegas has not done well is avoiding penalties. They’re taking way too many, and it’s going to catch up with the Knights. Maybe not in this series, but perhaps in the next round. Fleury has been tremendous in standing up to the barrages of shots the Sharks have fired at him when they have the man advantage and that’s what you hope your goalie will do. Tuesday, San Jose went 0-4 on the power play and they are just 3 for 20 in the series (15%).

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“So-Called” Fourth Line Having Major Impact Vs. Sharks

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In three playoff games, the Golden Knights top six have been outstanding. Between the two lines they have 11 goals, and 14 assists. However, after a winning night that featured Mark Stone’s hat trick and the second line’s offensive explosion, Gerard Gallant took time to praise a different line. The so-called fourth line.

For me tonight, they were as good as their top line, for the role they play on our hockey team. -Gallant

The trio of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier averaged 10 minutes of ice time, generated four shots on net, had three takeaways, three blocked shots and won 75% of faceoffs.

They are momentum guys. They finish checks, they take very few penalties and play the game the right way. -Gallant

Playing the game the right way means pushing the puck towards the offensive zone, pouncing on loose pucks and winning board battles. Sure, it’s a bunch of cliches but for anyone that watched Game 3, they noticed the impact the fourth line had in their 10+ minutes played.

When you cause turnovers, when you’re skating hard that’s a big part of it… I’ve talked about forecheck for a year and a half, two years. When we’re forechecking well and moving our feet well we’re a good team. -Gallant

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Max Pacioretty Delivers On Son’s Demand In First Home Playoff Game

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Max Pacioretty was a Golden Knights fan long before he ever became a Golden Knight. The reason for that is his sons, Lorenzo and Maximus fell in love with the team in the playoffs last year.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Pacioretty told his sons he was traded to Vegas, they wanted to know which logo the Golden Knights were on their NHL bed sheets. Unfortunately, because the sheets were a few years old, there was no Golden Knights logo. Luckily, Max had a backup plan because he knew his boys would remember the pregame shows they watched together last year in the playoffs.

So I’m like, “Vegas! Here — come on, you remember these guys, right? From the playoffs last year? That cool team in black and gold? They made the Cup Fi—”

And right in that snap second, I see their eyes just light up. I know I don’t even have to finish the sentence. The boys, not only do they remember Vegas from the playoffs last year……. they loved Vegas in the playoffs last year.

So now they’re jacked.

Now they’re parading around the house, you know, chanting and hollering, “WE’RE GOING TO VEGAS, WE’RE GOING TO VEGAS.” -Max Pacioretty, Player’s Tribune

(By the way, if you haven’t read that Player’s Tribune article, stop reading this right now and go read that. It’s better than this one, I’m not even going to lie. I would appreciate it if you come back though.)

So there’s no question Pacioretty has been thinking of Sunday night’s game for a while. His first playoff game as a member of the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. It was always going to be special, and it was always going to be a memory he’d share with his kids.

As soon as my kids woke up at 6:30 in the morning they thought it was time to go to the game. For my family, it’s the best time of the year. -Pacioretty

Then, one of his sons made a request, one he’s never done to his NHL superstar father before.

First time in my career my son asked me to score a goal tonight and I was able to do so. In this rink, I’m sure he had a ton of fun. -Pacioretty

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

That’s a lot of pressure.

About eight minutes into the 1st period and just a few seconds into Evander Kane’s 4-minute high stick penalty, dad got it done. He took a pass from Shea Theodore, walked in towards the goal and sent a laser of a shot past Martin Jones.

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Golden Knights In Good Shape Despite Sloppy Play

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

You’re the road team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Your main objective is to get a split and take home-ice advantage away from the other team.

The Golden Knights got what they were looking for, splitting the first two games of their opening-round series with San Jose. It is now a best-of-five series with three of those games potentially at T-Mobile Arena, where you can expect a frenetic crowd both inside and outside the building.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As for how the Knights got the split can come into question and leave pause for concern heading into tonight’s Game 3. There are so many obvious points: mainly stay out of the penalty box and don’t turn the puck over in your end. You know that, so there’s no sense in belaboring the point.

Give Vegas credit for not completely folding after squandering a 3-0 first-period lead. The Knights showed some resiliency in regaining command of the game and eventually posting the 5-3 victory Friday.

The Knights may very well go on and win the series and advance to the conference semifinals. But they’ve got a few things to clean up in Game 3 in order for that to happen.

San Jose continues to try and take liberties with Marc-Andre Fleury and the Knights’ skaters need to send a message to the Sharks that it won’t be tolerated. Especially when Evander Kane is looking to stir the pot. Kane is so talented but he plays with a certain edge that sometimes crosses the line. He needs to be accounted for. Same with Timo Meier who has no problem crashing the net and getting in Fleury’s face. Ditto Joe Pavelski, Barclay Goodrow, Logan Couture, and Michael Haley.

If you’re a Golden Knight and you’re going to beat the snot out of someone who messes with your best player, I can live with that kind of penalty. Fleury is your most valuable commodity. You can’t let the other team have carte blanche and run at him whenever they feel like it.

I see Jonathan Marchessault always willing to come to the aid of his goalie. Marchessault is one of the smallest players on the roster in terms in size. In terms of heart, he’s one of the biggest.

Marchessault said it’s the responsibility of any Golden Knight who is on the ice to protect Fleury.

They know he’s our best player. When you hit the goalie, it’s a matter of respect. If I had a chance to hit (Martin) Jones, I’m going to be smart and pull up. But if they hit Flower, everyone who’s on the ice needs to do something. The shit’s going to go down, basically. –Marchessault

Fleury doesn’t believe the Sharks are out to hurt him. But he knows they are trying to make things uncomfortable and try and get him off his game.

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“Behind The Scenes” Of A Massive Shorthanded Goal By William Karlsson

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Think back to last year, when the Golden Knights traveled up to San Jose for Games 3 and 4 of the second round series with the Sharks. After a wild Game 2 in which Vegas had their game-winning goal wiped off the board, the series was tied 1-1. The Golden Knights took a two-goal lead into the locker room for the second intermission.

Then, all hell broke loose and the Sharks scored not one but two goals to tie up the game and send the pivotal Game 3 into overtime. On that night, a loss in San Jose could have devastated the Golden Knights chances to continue their magical inaugural season. Luckily, William Karlsson was there to save the day, scoring a game-winner on a gorgeous shot past Martin Jones.

Now, fast forward 348 days to Game 2 in San Jose. Once again, the Golden Knights are in danger of watching their season slip away unless they can salvage a road game at the SAP Center. They had amassed a three-goal lead and blew it inside of the 1st period. They allowed a goal that was eventually waved off. And heading into the 3rd they had successfully killed five of six penalties, but a seventh one early in the final frame looked like it could have been the one to help San Jose tie a 4-3 game.

The first minute of the power play the Sharks looked dangerous including shots from Brent Burns and Logan Couture and an Erik Karlsson shot that was blocked. After a few clearances, the Sharks finally got set up perfectly in the zone, with Brent Burns on one point, Erik Karlsson on the other, and Joe Pavelski screening Fleury. The puck went from Burns to Karlsson, back to Burns, to Karlsson, to Burns, to Karlsson, back to Burns, and then on to the stick of Joe Thornton who was walking in towards Fleury. Thornton tried to slide one towards Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl in front of Fleury, but the shot pass was blocked by Schmidt.

From there, I’ll let the man who ended up turning the game on its head, William Karlsson, take over.

It was off a shot and it came off to the half wall and I saw that we were going to be first to the puck, that Reilly was going to get to it first. Then I saw Burns go and then he hesitated and I saw he was caught in between. I knew Thornton was on the other side, so I just tried to skate as fast as I could to that hole. And then Reilly’s pass was just unbelievable. -Karlsson

The pass was fired diagonally in between the two bearded beasts. It had some heat on it, but Karlsson caught it in stride heading in on a 1-on-none breakaway.

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Golden Knights Agree They’ll Have To Protect Their “Bubble” Better

(Photo Credit: Photographer Jason Pothier)

Earlier last week Golden Knights defensemen Shea Theodore talked about what the team learned from last year’s second round series against the San Jose Sharks.

It was our first playoff run as a team and we learned a lot from each series. (The Sharks) are good with their sticks around the net. When you look at Pavelski, the amount of goals he’s tipped in right around low. Kane’s another guy, Hertl’s a guy, Couture, they’ve got a lot of guys that play really well in tight and around the net. -Theodore

One of the elements to the Sharks game last season was to crowd the open space in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and boy did they ever do it again in Game 1. As Theodore mentioned, Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane and Logan Couture were, and still are, tough to handle. San Jose tried circling around and camping out in front of Fleury, but thankfully for Golden Knights fans, the Golden Flower was superb.

On Wednesday night, the tables were turned. Sharks players spent a majority of the night camped out in front of Fleury and the Golden Knights couldn’t clear players out of the “bubble.” The area from the crease and extended out a few feet has to be locked down if Vegas wants to keep the Sharks off the board as the series continues.

Coach Gerard Gallant spoke about the Sharks tight down low-pressure yesterday at his daily press conference.

We gave them too much time there. They came out they were physical and they forechecked real good. You got to be physical, you have to be strong. They spent too much time in our zone against our D. -Gallant

So, what’s the adjustment for Game 2?

I think you have to be aware of where they are. When they add that fourth guy in the rush as d-men we have to be talking to our forwards on who to pick up. That’s when it can become really deadly. -Theodore

While we all watched Fleury make amazing saves series after series last season it’s tough to expect him to do it again. He’ll need less traffic and double parked Sharks in his zone. If his teammates can do a better job of sealing up the bubble in Game 2 they’ll have a great chance to even the series.

Penalties Hurt In Game 1, But It’s Not Like Vegas Didn’t Earn Their Pain

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the Golden Knights biggest points of emphasis in this series coming was to stay out of the penalty box. In Game 1, Vegas spent 34 minutes in the box. Of course, 20 of those came on misconduct penalties in the final minute, but still 14 minutes, or seven minor penalties, is simply too many against a team like San Jose.

Definitely, they are avoidable. We’ve got to be more disciplined. -Gerard Gallant

You always want to stay out of the box, especially against a team with that much firepower. We definitely have to stay out of there and keep them even-strength. -Deryk Engelland

With just two 5-on-5 goals scored of the seven total in the game, it was clearly a major part of the outcome of Game 1. So, let’s take a look at each one.

Penalty 1 – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Tripping

It’s not as much the penalty in this case as it is the shift that led to it. Vegas was hemmed in for about a minute before this puck squirted out to the side and Bellemare’s stick gets caught in the between the legs of the Sharks player.

I just need to be sharper. When I see that the puck goes behind him I have to remove the stick quicker. I was trying to make sure he didn’t have full control of his stick so I put my stick in the way, but my stick ended up between his legs. As soon as he started twisting I realized my stick was in the wrong spot. It’s avoidable. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Penalty 2 – Jonathan Marchessault – Unsportsmanlike

In a post-play scrum Marchessault ends up getting punched in the face. The call on Marchessault is essentially called as embellishment and it’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s a clear mark on Marchessault’s face from where Dillon landed a left hook and yet somehow Marchessault is given two minutes for being hurt by the punch. This one is plain and simply the referees losing control, and it hurt the Golden Knights badly. This was the beginning of what was soon to become a 3-on-3 and eventually two Sharks goals.

Penalty 3 – Deryk Engelland – Hooking

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Pick A Zone, Any Zone, The Golden Knights Stunk In Them All In Game 1

They outplayed us in every facet of the game tonight. They played hard, they worked and competed and we weren’t close to good enough and we have to be better next game. -Gerard Gallant

(Photo Credit: Photographer Jason Pothier)

That’s not how you win a playoff hockey game on the road, that’s for sure. And while there’s no doubt Gallant is right, that his team didn’t do much of anything well, it was specifically their deficiencies when they had the puck that sunk them in Game 1 in San Jose.

There are three places a hockey team can possess the puck, in the defensive zone, in the neutral zone, and in the offensive zone. In all three, the Golden Knights failed. When they had the puck and needed to exit, they struggled. When they eventually did get the puck out, they couldn’t get it through the neutral zone with speed and crispness with any consistency. And in the cases where they did get it in, the forecheck came up lame.

Forechecking as a unit of five wasn’t there tonight. Their D are going to make that first play so you have to have two in there quick and we need our D-men joining the rush and joining the forecheck as well. As a unit of five, we just weren’t good enough tonight. We’ll try and figure out why and get to work tomorrow. -Max Pacioretty

It seems as if a lot of the times they are back there anticipating dumps in certain areas and when their D skate that way and anticipate the play they are able to come out of the zone with full control. We need to make exits on their hard and we didn’t do that tonight. -Pacioretty

Here’s the problem, according to the Golden Knights (and one Shark that we asked), nothing really changed in the way San Jose defended against Vegas.

I think we knew what to expect from their neutral zone I just didn’t think we were moving the puck. We didn’t have our support guys coming through the middle. I thought we were turning over more pucks that we should have. -Theodore

They didn’t do anything different from what we expected, but they played a lot harder. We weren’t good enough, our guys have to be ready to play more competitive hockey than we played tonight. -Gallant

Normally against the Sharks, Vegas exits well, flies through the neutral zone, and forechecks the Sharks into oblivion. Tonight, that was not the case, yet they got what they expected. So the problem must have come from within.

It’s game number 1 on the road. We need to be a little more sharp on some plays defensively, all five guys, and we should be fine on the forecheck. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

We were not moving the puck like we normally do. We shot ourselves in the foot. We didn’t play our style, we didn’t play our game. We need to refocus, readjust and get back to it. -Theodore

In the end, it’s essentially chalked up to the Golden Knights looking in the mirror and saying they weren’t good enough.

That’s fine… for now.

Why The Golden Knights Will Defeat The Sharks

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Let’s just cut to the chase — the Golden Knights will win their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the San Jose Sharks.

Why? That takes a little explanation, though most of you know the edges that go to Gerard Gallant’s team.

For starters, the Knights have the superior goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury is better than either Martin Jones or Aaron Dell.

While both teams boast balance among their four lines, I believe Vegas has a little more depth and talent spread out across its four lines than San Jose.

The Knights can win on the road. They’ve played well at SAP Center in the past and no matter what clever phrases the Sharks’ marketing people come up with to get the San Jose crowd going, it’s not going to throw Vegas off its game.

With all that said, it’s not going to be an easy series. The Sharks are a good team too. They’re getting defenseman Erik Karlsson back at the right time and he’ll be a force to deal with, especially when San Jose goes on the power play.

Joe Pavelski’s going to play and he’s always been tough to contain for the Knights. And I would fully expect Timo Meier to play, bad wrist and all.

Gallant said Monday the team is as healthy as it has been all year and if you take him at his word, the Knights are going to have the flexibility to move people in and out of the lineup. Whether it’s Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek or Will Carrier filling in those left-wing spots on the third and fourth lines to play with Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch or with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan Reaves, there’s going to be lots of maneuverability for Gallant during the series. And I haven’t even brought up Brandon Pirri or Valentin Zykov, though it’s unlikely they’ll play unless a rash of injuries suddenly materializes.

But if you’re looking for three keys to the series aside from the ones I previously mentioned, here they are:

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

First, can the Sharks contain William Karlsson? Wild Bill has scored 10 goals and has eight assists in 14 games against San Jose in his two years with the Knights, including the postseason. He appears to be in Jones’ head, though good luck to getting anyone to admit to it. The Sharks to date still haven’t been able to consistently take away Karlsson’s time and space. And with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault able to get him the puck, Karlsson remains a true nemesis for San Jose.

I seem to be in the right place at the right time. They seem to play me the same way. I don’t think they put any particular focus on me. -Karlsson

Maybe it’s time Peter DeBoer did change it up and try and watch Karlsson a little closer. They did manage to keep him pointless in Games 4 and 5 in last year conference semifinals so maybe they’ll figure it out.

The second key is about containment the other way. The Knights have their own demons to deal with, that being keeping Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl in check. The duo has been a constant pain for Vegas and last year in the playoffs they combined for five goals and 12 points.

Hertl’s a guy who’s big and fast and just makes plays. Couture’s just a slippery guy. he makes a lot of plays all around the ice. It’s all about how we contain them and as defensemen not let them get position to where they can use their body to shield pucks away from us. We keep those guys off the scoreboard, we have a much better chance of winning the series. –Nate Schmidt

The third variable in all this is Alex Tuch. The second-year winger will be on the third line with Eakin and whoever Gallant opts to put on the left side. He learned a lot from his first playoff experience a year ago and you can expect him to be much more comfortable in this high-intensity setting.

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Golden Knights Defensive Style Nullifies Sharks Potent Blueliners

The Golden Knights used the same strategy against Drew Doughty and the Kings. (Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the most dangerous aspects of the San Jose Sharks is their depth of defensemen with offensive abilities. Whether it’s the team leader in points in Brent Burns, or one of the league’s best puck movers in Erik Karlsson, or even the less known players like Brendan Dillon or Justin Braun, the Sharks aren’t lacking offensive production from their defensemen.

This was a major point of emphasis for the Golden Knights against the Sharks a year ago when the two met in the playoffs and will be once again this year. Vegas deploys a somewhat risky strategy in defending the Sharks glut of firepower from their defensemen, something that has not gone unnoticed by the San Jose bench boss.

If they are going to go stand up beside our defensemen up high then the forwards down low are going to have to take advantage of that space. They’ve been consistent with that against us whenever we’ve played them, last year and this year. So we know that’s probably what we are going to get. -Pete DeBoer, Sharks Head Coach

What he’s talking about is how the Golden Knights forwards defend against the Sharks when San Jose has the puck in the Vegas zone. Gallant has instructed his forwards to play as close to the defenseman standing near the blue line as possible to take away time and space and also eliminate shooting lanes.

They play our defensemen high and it ends up with a lot of low play there where you have to take the puck to the net. That’s part of the game when you play them. DeBoer on 3/30 following OT win over VGK

Last year in the playoffs, the Sharks defensemen did not score a single goal at even strength and they managed only a total of 35 shots on goal. The Golden Knights blocked 58 shots from Sharks defensemen in the series.

Over the course of the six playoff games, and even more so in the four games this regular season, the Golden Knights have put an emphasis on not allowing shots from the point. That means taking away Brent Burns’ massive shot, eliminating Erik Karlsson’s shot and passing ability, and limiting every other defenseman’s shot lanes.

You have to get on them quickly. If you give them too much time, they’ll make plays and they’ll create more open ice from that. You have to limit the time and space. That’s pretty much the best answer I can give you. They’re talented players and they’re very creative with the puck. The more opportunities you give them, they’ll make you pay.  -Reilly Smith

The other benefit of playing defenseman high at the blue line is in creating turnovers. Any slight bobble of a pass at the Sharks offensive blue line could mean a Golden Knight taking the puck and starting a break the other way. Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and others will be primary pieces in taking away shots from the point.

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