Almost two whole overtime periods!
What. A. Game!
USA Today Sports
Vegas Golden Knights fans spent parts of five periods waiting for their team to punch their ticket to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For much of the game, it seemed inevitable that the Golden Knights would eventually score as they dominated the game from the jump. Diving into the advanced stats, the Golden Knights were clearly the aggressor and it’s not even close to debatable. At one point, Colin Miller and Jon Merrill even combined to keep a puck out of the Golden Knights' net, but other than that, the home team seemed to be in full control.
Despite their territorial dominance and visible speed advantage, the Golden Knights ended the evening as the hard-luck losers of a 2-1, double overtime thriller. After a long night, we will keep it brief, here’s the Game Changers from Game Six.
#1: (Elite) Martin Jones
USA Today Sports
If we were sponsored by a beer with two only letters in their name, I might start referring to the Sharks’ starting goalie as “the Most Interesting Man in the Series”. Another game is (finally) in the books and he is once again the clear-cut, number one “Game Changer”, with an alternate accompanying adjective in each. Jones made 59 saves in an unbelievable effort for a goaltender who had a line of 3-for-7, just a couple games prior. Whatever he ate, drank, did, slept on, talked about, practiced, prayed to, etc. worked wonders because he looked nothing like (Bad) Martin Jones.
“I think our group has never lost faith in him. I think we knew he was capable of this and we needed him tonight and he was our best player.”
-Peter DeBoer on Martin Jones’ performance (via VGK post-game)
Time after time, Jones came up with big saves when the Sharks desperately needed them. On more than one occasion, the Sharks got caught in their own zone, with gassed defenders, and Jones came up with a big save and a cover, before the Golden Knights could capitalize. Early on he looked a little shaky as Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and Paul Stastny missed golden opportunities with the net wide-open. He quickly settled in and was the MVP of the night. With his effort in goal, the Sharks have a chance to pull off a three-game comeback, with a win at home in Game Seven on Tuesday evening.
#2: Tomas Hertl...again
USA Today Sports
Unintentionally, our number-two Game Changer stays the same. Hertl was the hero of the evening, scoring the deciding goal of the game 11:17 into double-overtime. Just 31 seconds after Barclay Goodrow took a horrible, potentially back-breaking slashing penalty, Hertl ripped a seemingly harmless wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury. The future Hall-of-Fame goaltender looked to misplay his angle on the shot and was beat short-side, through his blocker. Shea Theodore was in pursuit of Hertl as he received the stretch pass from Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but he went for Hertl’s stick just a moment too late as Hertl fired in the game-winner.
As you can see above, following their Game Five win, Hertl boldly guaranteed a Game Seven. He proclaimed the Sharks were the better team in the series. In our last Game Changers, I expected to write about him again, one way or another.
From Game Changers, Game Five:
Hertl may very well find himself in the Game Six “Game Changers” article, whether they win or lose, due to his post-game comments. “We have one game and then come back for Game Seven and I believe it because we are a better team than them.” This quote may be inspirational or detrimental. Stay tuned.
As it turns out, his comments did not have a negative effect on the Sharks, as they are now preparing for Game Seven, in San Jose. With the Golden Knights on the ropes, Hertl and the Sharks now have the chance to prove that they are indeed, the better team.
#3: Shot Selection
There have been many games this season, in which the Golden Knights have passed the eye test as the better team, despite eventually losing the game. On multiple occasions, the team has chalked it up to a hot goalie, bad luck, or too many posts hit. Against a fragile goaltender like Jones, they simply needed to covert early and get him second-guessing himself, playing on his heels. Game Six continued the series’ trend, as the team to score first once again won the game.
Logan Couture’s goal at the tail-end (19:51) of the first period turned out to be huge. Thanks to the great work done over at Natural Stat Trick
, the Golden Knights clearly didn’t execute well enough in the offensive zone. With a 59-29 edge in shots, the scoring chance numbers are way too close for the Golden Knights to be truly happy with their execution. See the game summary below, keeping in mind that these numbers encompass all situations.
VGK (top), SJ (bottom)
Scoring Chances For/Against (SCF/SCA)
High Danger Chances For/Against (HDCF/HDCA)
Vegas controlled the puck for long stretches and got off a ton of shots, but they weren’t overly threatening to Jones and the Sharks. Following the game, DeBoer hit it right on the head, before seeing any stats. “Yeah, I don’t think the shot clock told the story. I mean they had some pressure. They had some perimeter stuff, a lot of perimeter shots, I thought. I thought when you probably dig into the chances, they are probably a lot closer than the shot clock indicated.” When you’re right, you’re right and DeBoer sure was. Below are the Gameflow Chart and Heat Map that show the Golden Knights’ volume, but lack of focus on the “High Danger areas” (slot/net-front).
Once again, the Sharks staved off elimination, this time in enemy territory. With the loss, the Golden Knights squandered their opportunity to close out a series inside the T-Mobile Arena for the first time ever. Golden Knights faithful will need to hope for a Game Seven win or make the trek to Nor Cal in order to see it live. Game Five brought a decent number of VGK fans to San Jose, but due to experiences like this, Game Seven may have far less grey and gold in the stands.
Game Seven will be Tuesday night, following another Game Seven involving the contentious Toronto Maple Leaf-Boston Bruin rivalry. Both series feature two teams that don’t care for one another which makes for a great night of hockey. Catch all the action, starting at 4pm Pacific and roll right into the Sharks-Golden Knights at 7pm. Following Game Five, I have shared the belief that the Game Six winner will also be the series winner. Historically, the Game Five winner (when down 2-3 in the series) has only won 20.3% of the time, but with the way this series has gone up-and-down, the Sharks may be firmly in the driver’s seat.
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