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VGK-SJS Preview: How Will Knights Handle Sharks' Aggressive PK?

April 21, 2018, 9:57 PM ET [4 Comments]
Sheng Peng
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Out of the pot, into the frying pan.

Vegas will go from facing LA's NHL-best penalty kill to San Jose's second-ranked PK in the second round.

Meanwhile, the Sharks must fend off a Golden Knights' penalty kill which has been third-best in the league since December 8th.

There are a host of special teams questions with Knights-Sharks -- here are but a couple:

How Will Golden Knights PP Handle Aggressive Sharks PK?

Up the ice, San Jose's penalty kill is actually pretty casual.

They'll send one forechecker just to, excuse the pun, check in, while hanging three back around the blueline.

View post on imgur.com

They did this time and time again in Game Four against Anaheim. So expect to see a lot of this:

View post on imgur.com

In general, penalty kills around the league won't be very aggressive up the ice, as they don't want to be burnt by outnumbered rushes.

But even the Vegas PK pressures a bit more up the ice:

View post on imgur.com

Instead of San Jose's sole forechecker, Vegas send two (Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek) to check in. Then up the ice, the Knights blueliners keep a cautious gap with Jeff Carter, while Bellemare attempts to force Carter into a turnover before entry.

That said, the Sharks PK is especially aggressive when the power play is set up; I assume that their reserve in the other zones is to save energy.

No quarter is given to any Duck, even playmaker extraordinare Ryan Getzlaf. By attacking the puck, the Sharks are hoping to force the opposition into mistakes. "They make you make mistakes," observed Gerard Gallant.

So how will the Golden Knights compensate?

"Crisp passes," Colin Miller offered.

Of course, those won't always be available under duress. Gallant noted, "They're good at pressuring you up high."

"It's possession before position," indicated Jonathan Marchessault. "[Possession] is more important."

Essentially, Marchessault is talking about not losing the puck under any circumstance. The set up doesn't have to be perfect.

In the above clip, we see Anaheim play keepaway with quick, crisp, and often short passes, probing for a weakness in San Jose's armor. If given a good shot, take it.

There's a flipside to the Sharks' aggressiveness. Here's an example of how to overextend them:

View post on imgur.com

Fact is, the San Jose PK is still down at least a man. There will always be an open opponent somewhere on the ice. There's only so much they can do to make up for that fact.

In this case, Getzlaf makes a brilliant cross-ice pass under two Sharks' sticks to the open man, Rickard Rakell. As San Jose collapses on him, because the winger finally has a chance to breath, he's able to identify another open Duck -- that's Corey Perry, in front of Martin Jones.

"Generally, if you can get that one pass through the seam, you can beat the pressure of a penalty kill," said Miller.

Gallant pointed out, "When they do give up something, it's a pretty good chance."

How Will Golden Knights PK Attack Joe Thornton?

All this isn't to say the Knights' penalty kill isn't aggressive either. As noted, they attack up the ice more. They also pressure the set-up PP too; you must.

In the first round, however, they seemed to give one King a wider berth than others:

View post on imgur.com

The Golden Knights appeared to pursue the puck more vigorously as long as it wasn't on Anze Kopitar's stick. This is sensible, as overpursuing Kopitar opens up seams for the all-world playmaker to exploit.

This is in stark contrast to the Sharks' strategy on Getzlaf.

Both strategies, of course, are sensible in different ways; it just comes down to philosophy and personnel.

Now if there's one playmaker in the league perhaps more brilliant than even Kopitar and Getzlaf -- and outside of Sidney Crosby -- it's Joe Thornton.

Of course, Thornton hasn't played in three months. He's faced Vegas just once, on November 24th. In that contest, the Golden Knights PK appeared to afford him a Kopitar-like respect.

But will they if he returns in this series?

"You press them a little harder, just to see where he's at," admitted Nate Schmidt. Schmidt wasn't talking particularly about Thornton, but about any star returning from a long layoff. "Even the best players in the world, after not playing for so long, there's a little bit of rust there. Give them the respect, but you got to make sure you get on them early."

Like Getzlaf and Kopitar, Thornton will occupy the Sharks half-wall.


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