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April 21, 2019

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Three things to watch as the Knights take on first-round opponent San Jose

VGK vs Sharks At San Jose

Jeff Chiu/AP

San Jose Sharks center Micheal Haley, center, goes after Vegas Golden Knights right wing Ryan Reaves (75) on the bench as center Ryan Carpenter (40) holds his jersey during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Monday, March 18, 2019.

For the second consecutive year, the Vegas Golden Knights will take on the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vegas won last year’s second-round series in six games and has gone 5-1-2 against San Jose in two years’ worth of regular-season matchups.

Here are a few Sharks focal points as the Knights look to continue their dominance over their rivals.

Erik Karlsson’s injury

San Jose’s prized offseason acquisition has played well … when he’s been on the ice. Karlsson played in 53 games this season—and just one since February 26—because of a groin injury. The issue dates back even further, as he missed 10 games starting in January before coming back and reaggravating his groin.

Karlsson returned for San Jose’s regular-season finale but went a month and a half without game action. Keep an eye on Karlsson, particularly in the series’ early games, to see if Vegas can expose any rustiness in the star defenseman.

Martin Jones in goal

The San Jose goalie has started 13 career games against the Golden Knights, including last year’s playoffs. He has been pulled early in four of them.

Jones has poor numbers against Vegas—a 3.28 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage. The Golden Knights tagged him for a 3.13 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in last year’s playoffs, which was out of the ordinary for Jones. He has a reputation as a goalie who raises his game in the postseason, where he has posted a superb 1.93 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 30 career playoff games against everyone except Vegas.

Jones also didn’t inspire confidence down the stretch for the Sharks, losing six games in a row from March 14-28 and allowing at least three goals in all of them. If the Sharks are going to beat the Golden Knights, they’ll need better play from their goalie.

Defensive matchups

The Golden Knights have options for how they want to match up with the Sharks. Nate Schmidt has been the Golden Knights’ featured defenseman this year, lining up across from the opponents’ top line, whether he has been paired with Brayden McNabb or Deryk Engelland.

Schmidt has been with Engelland lately, which figures to be the pair to counter San Jose’s top-line trio of Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Joe Pavelski. The Sharks’ second line—Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane and Gustav Nyquist—might be just as lethal, however, so Vegas’ strategy in combating San Jose’s top six forwards will go a long way in determining the series outcome.

 

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