Last season the Vegas Golden Knights shocked the hockey universe by not only competing for a playoff spot, but winning their conference and eventually bowing out to the Alexander Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals.
In what is perhaps an even more surprising move, Vegas followed up their inaugural season with an impressive encore. They’re at 93 points with two games to play this season, which is a decline from their 109 point performance in 82 games last season.
But hopefully at this point we’ve learned not to be against Gerard Gallant’s band of speedy misfits.
Because speed will be the Knights’ biggest weapon against the aging San Jose Sharks. A team that’s never been able to push through to Lord Stanley’s hallowed ground, the Sharks were poised to obliterate the competition this season, but hockey’s a funny game, in that things rarely turn out how they’re supposed to.
It’s going to be fascinating watching two veteran coaches jockey for position, so here are a three questions to chew on as we count down the seconds before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.
1. Finding the Right Pieces on Special Teams
Two years ago the Washington Capitals added offensive powerplay quarter back Kevin Shattenkirk into the fold and it didn’t go as planned. Long-time Capital John Carlson lost his spot on the powerplay, and it wasn’t until the Capitals rectified that mistake last season that we got to watch Carlson feeding one-timers to Ovechkin, or calling an audible and switching with the Great 8 mid-man advantage.
Last season, the Golden Knights’ powerplay hummed along at 21.37% (league average was 20.18%). In a year in which they swapped out David Perron and James Neal for Max Paccioretty, Mark Stone, and Paul Statsny, their percentage sits at 17.03%, below the league average of 19.76%.
Something to watch for. Here’s what their powerplay looked like last year:
Same idea here. Hey, the Oilers often find themselves down a goal late in games, at least they’re learning how to produce in those situations.
2. Speed vs Experience
Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Brent Burns are getting long in the tooth, but they’ve been through this dance so many times they probably don’t even get nervous any more. Can the same be said of the Vegas Golden Knights? Hockey’s dream team, they play the game with pace, with conviction…
But now there’s pressure.
However, the Sharks’ experience might be a telling factor. If their experience is exiting the playoffs before the final trophy is awarded, then that’s a habit at this point, right?
This will be a fascinating battle between DeBoer and Gallant. Can the Sharks overcome their lack of high end speed? Can the Knights overcome the pressure?
The Sharks have a certain amount of savvy, that’s for sure. Talk about innovation in a world of over-coaching:
Now imagine a healthy Erik Karlsson.
From last week, in case you missed it…