These are the fun ones folks. A big home game, against a big, talented division rival, is what the fans and the players alike live for. Vegas knows how to party on a Thursday night and tonight, the T-Mobile Arena will be the hot spot, as the Vegas Golden Knights host the San Jose Sharks at 7pm. This isn’t just the Golden Knights vs the Sharks, this is Tyson vs Holyfield, this is Ali vs Frazier, this game is huge!
Vegas is currently one point ahead of the Sharks for second and two points behind the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division. While the Golden Knights find themselves ahead of the Sharks and just shy of the Flames, both San Jose and Calgary have played one less game than Vegas. Now that the schedule has moved into the second half of the regular season, these division games mean even more for playoff position, especially games against San Jose and Calgary.
All three of these teams are legitimate contenders. They all have the necessary pieces to make long playoff runs. Calgary is the only team out of the Pacific Division’s elite, that did not make the playoffs last season. Therefore, their rise to first place is truly remarkable, considering Vegas and San Jose were widely considered to be the top two teams in the Pacific.
San Jose has been aggressive in the past few seasons, trying to get over the hump. The Sharks have a history of being a great regular season team, but consistently fall short in the playoffs. In an effort to win that elusive Stanley Cup, the Sharks have changed personnel and brought in players that have helped make them even more formidable. Listed below are some of the biggest moves by the Sharks in the last few years.
June 30, 2015 – Goaltender Martin Jones acquired from Boston for Sean Kuraly and a 2016 1st round pick (turned into Trent Frederick). Although Martin Jones is streaky and inconsistent at times, he is a solid enough presence in the San Jose net, to make the team a perennial contender. In hindsight, the player and pick used to acquire him, were well worth the swap.
Evander Kane (USA Today Sports)
February 26, 2018 – Winger Evander Kane acquired from Buffalo for a 2019 Conditional 1st Round Pick, a 2020 4th Round Pick, and Daniel O’Regan. This move has yet to play out completely, but the Sharks made a “win now” move in acquiring the proven 20-goal scorer from the Sabres. Kane has a habit of wearing out his welcome with teams (Atlanta/Winnipeg, Buffalo), but there is no denying his talent. When he is motivated and plays within the rules, Kane is one of the elite offensive players in the NHL. (Kane was suspended during the Western Conference Finals last season, for an illegal cross-check to Golden Knight Pierre-Edouard Bellemare).
May 24, 2018 – Winger Evander Kane was resigned to a seven-year, $49 million contract extension. Both Kane and the Sharks have expressed their happiness with one another. Kane said the following about playing in San Jose, “…..I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: That’s when I knew I wanted to be a Shark until I retire.” Upon his arrival, Kane made an impact, with 14 points (9g, 5a) in 17 games. He also added four goals in their playoff run (nine games), before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights. San Jose was getting the production and Kane was happy to feel wanted by an organization, something he did not feel in Winnipeg or Buffalo, for various reasons.
(Kane wrote an article for The Player’s Tribune and it was a very good read: www.playerstrubune.com/en-us/articles/evander-kane-san-jose-sharks-nhl )
Erik Karlsson (USA Today Sports)
September 13, 2018 – Sharks end the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes: Sharks acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson and winger Francis Perron for Josh Norris, Chris Tierney, Rudolfs Balcers, Dylan DeMelo, a 2019 2nd round pick, a 2019 or 2020 conditional 1st round pick, a 2021 conditional 1st or 2nd round pick, and a 2022 conditional 1st round pick. There is no question that Erik Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. His mix of offensive talent and defensive strength create the perfect defenseman for the current version of the NHL. Teams with smooth-skating, offensively gifted defensemen present more threats than those without that player. Karlsson is one of the best at it. San Jose acquired a top-five caliber defenseman and it may be the move that puts them over the top. The conditions of the aforementioned picks are in relation to San Jose making/missing the playoffs and if they resign Karlsson when his contract expires at the end of this season. Ottawa got two solid players in Tierney and DeMelo, but San Jose certainly had to make this move.
As some of you may remember, Vegas’ General Manager, George McPhee, was said to be a real player for Karlsson at the trade deadline last season. When he was unable to acquire Karlsson, he set his sights on Ryan Reaves and Tomas Tatar. McPhee also dealt Brendan Leipsic to the Vancouver Canucks for defenseman Phillip Holm, a player who never donned the Golden Knights’ shield. San Jose got the player everyone in the league wanted. That player is currently on a tear, with an active point streak of 14 games. He has compiled 24 points (1g, 23a) over that stretch, dating back to December 5th. In that time, the Sharks have gone 10-3-1.
San Jose isn’t the only team on a hot streak playing this evening. The Vegas Golden Knights have won seven games in a row and have gone 12-2-3 since December 6th. Both teams have been playing great hockey as of late, which makes this matchup even more intriguing. It is strength vs strength in this one. Both teams are at the best and this game will serve as a real benchmark for a potential playoff meeting between the two talented clubs.
Lately, the Golden Knights have been blessed with the gift of depth scoring. An injury to Max Pacioretty, while not ideal, brought up Brandon Pirri. Pirri has lit the net up this season. In the eight games he has played at the NHL level, he has racked up seven goals and three assists, for 10 points. It’s not every day that an AHL (all-star) player comes up and scores over a point per game and nearly a goal per game. He was sent down upon Pacioretty’s activation from the IR, but quickly brought back when Carrier and Smith went out of the lineup. He rewarded the team by scoring a power play goal, set up by a Pacioretty post hit. In addition to the red-hot Pirri, Vegas has received significant contributions from bottom-sixers like Reaves, Cody Eakin, and Tomas Nosek. Bellemare and Ryan Carpenter have been solid on the penalty kill for Vegas and even through the injuries, they continue to win games. With Vegas, you get a real team/group effort. The top line is good, but Vegas kept winning games, despite Jonathan Marchessault going seven straight without a goal. He finally snapped the goalless streak with a breakaway tally on Tuesday against the Rangers.
Jonathan Marchessault (USA Today Sports)
Supplementing the depth scoring, Reaves finally got a chance to fight in front of his home crowd, when he dropped the gloves with Adam McQuaid on Tuesday. “Two days ago, I said one of my biggest regrets might be I never get a fight in T-Mobile, but uh, two days later, here we are.” Reaves knows the energy of the crowd and he is acutely aware of his status in the fans’ heads and hearts. He not only fights for his teammates, but that sentiment makes it clear that he fights for the fans too.
HockeyFIghts.com Fight Stats: 7.66 Rating (out of 10) and 87.3% vote for Reaves as the winner.
Both Vegas and San Jose currently find themselves managing a few impactful injuries. The Golden Knights have been without forwards Erik Haula, William Carrier, and Reilly Smith. Defenseman Colin Miller has also been out of action, dating back to December 19th. Just yesterday, backup goaltender Malcolm Subban was added to that list with an illness, and Maxime Lagace was recalled from Chicago (AHL) to back up incumbent starter and Vegas heartthrob, Marc-Andre Fleury. Smith and Carrier are day-to-day and it is not clear if one or both men will be in the lineup this evening. San Jose’s injury list is significantly shorter, as they remain without defensemen Justin Braun (knee) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (wrist).
Tonight’s game not only has the intrigue of two of the top three teams in the Pacific Division going head to head, but it will also be a game between two of the hottest teams in the NHL overall. Most times, one team will be playing well and the other is just doing alright, or both teams are struggling. It is rare to get two division rivals, who have a nice personal rivalry of their own, going toe-to-toe while playing their best hockey of the season. This is Vegas and tonight’s game will feel like a Pay-Per-View event, a true boxing match between top heavyweights in the Pacific Division. Who will land the first blow? Who will have their arm raised at the end of the bout? Clear you schedules and tune in tonight to find out because you will be hard-pressed to find a better game to watch the rest of the season.
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