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:
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.