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.
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.
It’s always been part of the game. They always have guys going to the net. -Fleury
Coach Gerard Gallant agreed.
That’s part of hockey. Everyone is going to the net hard. You’ve got to battle in front. I don’t think they’re going after Flower but they’re trying to get bodies in front of the net and you’re going to have contact. Guys are trying to score goals. I don’t think they’re trying to do anything intentional (to hurt Fleury). But when guys go to the net, things happen. –Gallant
The Knights are also in need of doing a better job in the faceoff circle. Paul Stastny has been strong in the first two games, going a collective 23-37 on draws for 62 percent. But his teammates need to pick it up, which isn’t easy considering how good the Sharks’ centers are.
Yet despite winning Game 2, Vegas was just 48 percent in the circle. That’s not going to hold up over the course of the series. Ironically, the Knights were better in Game 1, where they were even with the Sharks on faceoffs won (34 of 68). Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was an outstanding 6-of-9 in Game 1 but was just 5-of-12 in Game 2.
They have a lot of centermen. They have a lot of guys who are on the strong side. Every line has two centermen who can take (faceoffs), both righty and lefty. When you have that, you can be more aggressive because you know there’s someone else who can step in. -Stastny
Why harp on faceoffs? Because it’s all about puck possession. If you have control, you dictate the terms of how the game is played. Once you lose possession, everyone’s on defense and the entire mindset changes.
Here are the numbers through the first two games of the series on how the teams are faring at the dot:
VGK 34-68 on faceoffs (50%)
SJS 34-68 on faceoffs (50%)
VGK 31-65 (48%)
SJS 34-65 (52%)
So what’s Stastny doing better than his teammates? I asked Stastny if he had a “book” on opposing centers, much like a baseball pitcher keeps track of the hitters he’ll face.
I’ve been playing against these guys a long time so I pretty much know what they’re going to do. Every guy is different. I can be good against one guy and not so good against another. It’s just a matter of matchups. -Stastny
Stastny’s linemate is delivering too. I’m liking the overall play of Mark Stone, who is proving to be the big-time player everyone expected him to be when Stone was acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline in late February. Not only is Stone scoring goals (he’s got three in the first two playoff games), he’s defending well, playing physical and standing up for his teammates and his goaltender.
That’s what you’re looking for at this time of the year. He’s a competitive guy. He plays the game hard. He finishes his checks. We heard a lot of good things about him before we got him. But the playoffs are a different level and he’s showed up. -Gallant
And while the Knights know they can play better, they also displayed some traits in Game 2 that can help them the remainder of the series. Fleury shut out the Sharks over the final 40 minutes Friday, an indication he’s getting a rhythm and is settling in. The penalty kill was outstanding and had a pair of shorthanded goals. They were getting early pressure on Jones and ultimately chased him from the net for the fifth time in 14 matches. Jones will start tonight’s Game 3 and that may be the most interesting dynamic. How will he respond?
This is an engaging series as we all thought it would be. The war of attrition has begun. The skirmishes figure to increase as tempers boil over. The bumps and bruises are escalating with each period.
Yep. Playoff hockey. There’s nothing like it. Enjoy Game 3.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**