Golden Knights vs. Sharks
The Cinderella story and historic run continues for the Golden Knights. In their first ever playoff series the Golden Knights shut down the Los Angeles Kings in a four game sweep. Though Vegas dictated much of the pace of that series, it was far closer than most people seem to realize. LA's defensive structure still limited the number of high quality chances Vegas was able to attempt, and of course Jonathan Quick put up the kind of performance that deserved more than a series loss via a sweep. What was critical to Vegas' success was that they matched LA's defensive structure pretty much point for point and did not allow the Kings room to breathe in the offensive zone. Ultimately the series came down to who would break more between Quick and Fleury and the former Pittsburgh tender came out on top.
It will be a different challenge for Vegas in their next opponents, San Jose. While San Jose doesn't quite have the defensive structure that LA and Vegas possess, they more than make up for it with a potent offense, and Martin Jones is as good as any tender in these playoffs until he proves otherwise. The best news for Vegas is that San Jose got what was quite likely the easiest matchup of these playoffs in Anaheim. A scattered, broken, and poorly coached team that barely stumbled their way into the playoffs. San Jose had no trouble walking over the Ducks, only receiving some semblance of a challenge in Game 4. The Knights came out of a very hard fought series with four straight wins and are the more battle tested team at the moment. That's not to say San Jose will be underestimating Vegas by any means, but it could work in Vegas' favor that they had to struggle against a team playing playoff level hockey. People throughout the year seemed to sleep on Vegas' defensive capabilities and strength, a strength that came through in their first round match-up. It will be a true test of Gallant's system, seemingly adopted off the LA and Nashville models of defending, if it will be good enough to hold off the likes of Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Joe Thornton (whenever he returns), Logan Couture, etc.
Players to watch from Vegas:
Shea Theodore: Theodore is picking a very good time to finally play to his fullest potential. Most know of his capabilities with the puck and his skating, and to be sure he was absolutely flying in Round 1. But Theodore also happened to put on his best defensive performance to date in his career, focusing less on chasing the puck and making smart decisions in his positioning. There were very few times he was beat in his own zone, and when it happened it was never fatal. I expect to see more of the same out of Theodore, giving Vegas the extra boost in having a third guy playing like a solid #2 defender (the other two being Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt). Vegas may not have a Doughty, Burns, Karlsson, etc. but the trio listed above more than make up for it.
David Perron: Free of the constraints of the suffocating LA defense, Perron is healthy and will have more space to work with in this series. A very underrated quality in Perron's game is his ability to hang onto the puck and refuse to give it up in the offensive zone. While some may view this as puck hogging, it actually has a strong effect on the ice, as his insistence on dangling through the zone and waiting for the right time to make a decision can disrupt the defensive systems his opponent's throw at his line. And more importantly, when things get too hectic for his teammates, if they are too jittery and jumpy, his possession antics calm things down and allows the team to refocus. I think if San Jose doesn't focus on him when he's on the ice, he could do some real damage.
William Carrier: Like it or loathe it, William Carrier will do his damnedest to make a difference out there to lay his body into as many key players San Jose has as many times as he can. It would be a shocker if he registered even a single point in this series, but that won't stop every San Jose fan from cursing his name when the series gets underway. The wonder is, as a guy who usually keeps his hits clean, but still plays with an incredibly hot head...will now be the time that Carrier steps over the line? Will his intense focus on physicality result in key penalties to the Knights (and before the conspiracy theories start flooding back in, LA had more powerplays in round 1 by a fair amount). Worth watching to say the least.
Vegas will win if: They can consistently outwork and skate the Sharks, play a focused passing based offensive game that doesn't get intimidated when the goalie goes stonewall, they don't take stupid penalties
Vegas will lose if: There are any cracks in the defensive system they employed against LA, they let Martin Jones get in their heads, they take stupid penalties.
HFBoards Note: We asked fans of teams around the league to preview the upcoming playoff round of their team, this is one of the responses we received. Thanks to all those who submitted a preview!
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