Facing the Vegas Golden Knights means a lot of things for the San Jose Sharks.
In my Friday Preview, I wrote: “Will the Golden Knights bring out the best of the Sharks tonight? Or, like Feb. 13, will they once again bring out the worst?”
We saw some of the best, in terms of response to adversity, that this edition of the San Jose Sharks has to offer on Friday, albeit in a 5-4 OT loss. Last night, we saw some of the worst, in terms of talent disparity, in a tepid 4-0 whitewashing.
The difference in forward depth between Vegas and San Jose was underscored by Alex Tuch.
Tuch started the night on the Golden Knights’ third line, 10 goals to his name. By the end of the night, he was skating on the top line, filling in for an injured Mark Stone, now 12 goals on the season.
On the other side, when Tomas Hertl was added to the COVID Protocol list on Feb. 24, Dylan Gambrell was elevated to second-line center. Gambrell has two assists in five games since then, zero goals and four helpers on the year. Looking past production, he has not created consistent offense in a more offensive role. Second-line winger Timo Meier was a game-time scratch, so John Leonard, and his three goals this rookie campaign, got the call.
This is no criticism on Gambrell or Leonard, forwards with clear talent who are being asked to shoulder unfair burdens. But essentially, Vegas has a top-six forward, currently tied for the team lead in goals with Max Pacioretty, buried on their third line. San Jose, even at full health, has who? Gambrell, Leonard, Ryan Donato, Matt Nieto, Patrick Marleau, Noah Gregor, Marcus Sorensen?
Once again, this is not a criticism on these San Jose players. It’s not their fault that they’re all basically fourth-liners, save for perhaps Donato and Leonard, being shoved into larger roles.
No, the fault lies, as I’ve written, with Doug Wilson. It’s his roster. Like last season, he’s counted on his young forwards to step up. And while they’re better than they were last year, they’re still not good enough right now.
In the off-season, I wondered why the San Jose Sharks didn’t sign more polished free agent forwards, considering the buyer’s market. It was clear not just to me, but to NHL scouts outside the organization, that this forward group, especially the third line, didn’t have enough polish.
Could they use, for example, a Carl Soderberg or Mattias Janmark right now? No, these veteran UFA forwards weren’t additions that would’ve vaulted the Sharks into contender territory, by any means. But both are playing important minutes for the surprising fourth-place Blackhawks, a fellow cap-strapped ex-Western Conference power, and are examples of the type of player — and price and term, $3.25 million combined, just for this season — that probably would’ve kept San Jose out of last place and closer to that elusive last West playoff berth.
Instead, the San Jose Sharks are going away like a quiet sunset, just one win on this almost-completed seven-game homestand, eight points out of fourth place.
That Vegas Volume
Just based on volume, it was clear who was in front last night.
Dubnyk noticed how loud #VegasBorn bench is: "They're definitely loud. They stand up & cheer for blocked shots & things like that. It's a positive thing. It's certainly a lot more noticeable when there's no one in the building. It's energy."
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 7, 2021
On the other side, the San Jose Sharks were predictably subdued. It’s hard to get things going on the bench when you’re down four with just minutes left in a critical game.
Devan Dubnyk added: “If you’re playing in their end, you’re throwing big hits, doing everything that we talked about that we want to do, then it’s not going to be a whole ton of stuff to cheer for. That’s really all you can do to quiet that down.”
Obviously, San Jose did little of that last night.
As many commenters have noted, that volume goes hand and hand with a confident, winning squad. And that’s just another one of those striking contrasts between the Sharks and the Golden Knights.
Here’s Jonathan Marchessault – “Grant Gustin Next To Oliver Queen’s Grave” meme – shoveling dirt on the rivalry:
"We used to have a really good rivalry, but now it's not as powerful as it was the first two years." -Marchessault on Sharks
— SinBin.vegas (@SinBinVegas) March 7, 2021
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