Defense, special teams will continue to make the difference in Game 3 Sunday in Las Vegas.
Vegas evened the first-round series with San Jose behind a 5-3 win on Friday night. The Sharks recovered from a 3-0 first period deficit by scoring three goals of their own in just two minutes, but were held scoreless in the final two periods.
At the optional practice Saturday morning, Brenden Dillon said the team was focused on the next game:
“I think every game, we’ve kind of had that mentality of wiping the slate clean … You look at [last night’s] game, at the start of the second period, we thought of it as 0-0.”
After recording an impressive .923 save percentage in Game 1, Martin Jones gave up 3 goals just 7 minutes into the first period. He was then pulled for Aaron Dell, marking the the fifth time in his career that he was chased from a game by Vegas. When asked if poor play was the reasoning for pulling Jones, DeBoer said:
“It didn’t play a role in my pulling him … I’m not hanging that on Jonesy, we have to be better. I didn’t like our first 10 minutes, obviously, and as a group we need to be better.”
Jones is expected to start for Game 3 in Vegas Sunday night. Dillon said:
“Jonesy’s a guy who takes a lot pride in how he plays and has been in the league for a long time … For Jonesy, we have no doubt that he’s going to come out, have a great game.”
Lackluster power play
The San Jose power play has looked abysmal. Despite eight opportunities, the Sharks only converted one while coughing up two shorthanded goals. Through more than 13 minutes on the man advantage, including a full minute of 5-on-3, the Sharks managed just 12 shots on goal.
Kevin Labanc, who was on the ice for more than half of San Jose’s power play time, said:
“I think we have to move the puck a little bit quicker, get shots off a little bit quicker. They’re a good shot blocking team, so we just gotta get it through and kind of get stuff to the net.”
Vegas blocked 26 shots through the full game. Of the missed opportunities, Dillon said:
“If we’re looking at the grand scheme of things, if you’re going to make a team take seven or eight penalties, you’ve got to make them pay for that.”
Friday night was the first time in franchise history that the Golden Knights gave an opponent eight power play opportunities.
Lack of depth scoring
Scoring has not been a problem for the Sharks, but their depth lines have been kept off the scoresheet. Third line center Joe Thornton has a goal and an assist, but neither of his regular line mates were on the ice with him.
Labanc, who earned a career-high 56 points this year and recorded a point in seven of eight final regular season games. He has zero points this series, as does Marcus Sorenson.
It was this line that was frequently causing matchup problems throughout the regular season, with a plus-11 rating through 71 games. Labanc said the trio needs to get back to outworking their opponents in the offensive zone:
“That’s where we’ve had so much success, so I think that’s a big part of our line .. we’ve just got to find that right chemistry. Once we do, it’ll be hard for Vegas to stop us.”
Stars play heavy minutes
The Sharks top liners might be more fatigued heading into Game 3 in Las Vegas. On Friday night, San Jose’s star players played a hefty share of minutes due to the team trailing for most of the game and the unusual number of power play opportunities.
Five Sharks players logged more than 20 minutes of time on ice, lead by Erik Karlsson with 29:08 and Brent Burns with 28:36. On Erik Karlsson receiving heavy minutes in both games this series, DeBoer said:
“There’s no issue … I mean, 29:08 was probably out of necessity because of Vlasic going down and because of the power plays. I dont think thats a normal number, but he didn’t have an issue with it.”
Karlsson leads the Sharks in points with four assists.
Of the forwards, Joe Pavelski played the most with 25 minutes, followed by Tomáš Hertl and Logan Couture. Evander Kane was close behind with 19:55 minutes played. Vegas only had three players with 20 or more minutes played.
However, Justin Braun, who played 19:38, said the team is not worried:
“Yeah, I think that’s fine. You look at Burnsie and Karl, throughout their careers, they play 30 minutes a night, doesn’t seem to affect them and the others just kind of fill in.”
Defense pairing shakeups
Marc-Edouard Vlasic played only seven minutes on Friday night, after blocking a high shot and exiting the game just one minute into the second period. DeBoer has not given an update on his condition.
Tim Heed could draw back into the lineup to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut. Heed has two goals and 11 assists in 37 games played this season. The 28-year-old Swede would likely be placed on the third pairing with Justin Braun. Heed said:
“You want to play when it all matters. That’s the time right now and that’s what you work for all the time, to play those games. So I’m excited.”
This could force DeBoer to give more minutes to Joakim Ryan as well. Ryan only played three minutes in Game 1 and 7:34 in Game 2.
Cleaning the slate
While trying to return to the winning style they showed in the series opener, the Sharks will also need to clean the slate of Friday night’s loss. DeBoer said:
“I thought our whole game was just okay and this time of year, it’s hard to win when you’re just okay.”
Puck drop is set for Sunday at 7:30 p.m. inside T-Mobile Arena.