Golden Knights’ Power Play Struggles Lead to Loss Against Sharks

The Vegas Golden Knights are now in the midst of their first losing streak of the 2022-23 NHL season after losing 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, bringing their record to 13-4-0. After having their nine-game winning streak broken on Saturday, Nov. 8 against the St. Louis Blues, which included a perfect 5-0 record on the road, they have yet to get back in the win column.

This is just the second time in 25 games that the Golden Knights have lost to the San Jose Sharks in regulation, with their last loss coming in January of 2019. The last time these two teams met was on Oct. 25, when Phil Kessel became the NHL’s new Iron Man after playing in his 990th consecutive game and also scored his 400th goal in a 4-2 win for the Golden Knights.

Tuesday’s game against the Sharks also had a major milestone, with Jack Eichel recording his 400th career point after scoring the opening goal of the game in the final moments of the first period.

Despite a rough start to the season for the Sharks as they sit sixth in the Pacific Division, they’ve managed to play above expectations in a lot of ways, and entered this match winning their previous two games against the Dallas Stars and the Minnesota Wild.

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The Sharks have remained very competitive in almost all of their games this season, with seven of their 12 losses finishing within a one-goal margin, and three of them coming in overtime. They also came into this game with the second-best penalty kill in the NHL, which ended up playing a major role in the result of this match.

However, nothing has been more surprising than Erik Karlsson’s start to the season. He has been the NHL’s highest-paid defenseman since signing an eight-year, $92 million extension with the Sharks in 2019, and has yet to have the offensive production to show for it until now.

Through 18 games Karlsson has already tied his goal total from last season with 10, and sits eighth in the NHL in points with 22. With injuries plaguing his career over the past few seasons, it’s unclear whether or not he will maintain this strong start, but there is no doubt he is talented enough to do it, even if it’s on another team.

Golden Knights’ 2nd Period Struggles

With the Golden Knights being one of the most dominant teams in the NHL so far this season, it’s difficult to pick out many issues that they could improve on. However, one of their glaring weaknesses has been their play in the second period.

When it comes to scoring chances, on their recent five-game road trip the Golden Knights allowed 29 high-danger chances in the second period while allowing just 14 combined in the first and third periods. This trend continued in their match against St. Louis, where they allowed just one high-danger chance in the first period and none in the third, while allowing seven in the second period.

This could have something to do with their ability to score early in games dictating how they play. The Golden Knights have scored first in 12 of their 17 games, including this one against the Sharks, and it’s become very apparent that they have prioritized their defensive zone play under head coach Bruce Cassidy.

Bruce Cassidy Vegas Golden Knights
Bruce Cassidy, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Their tendency to sit back in an attempt to prevent zone offense has led to conceding rush chances, and as a result, high-danger chances have become more frequent when they are protecting their leads. The Golden Knights were able to generate a ton of rush chances in the first period because of their willingness to have an offense-first mindset, and the second period felt like they completely changed their philosophy.

While much of the outcome of this game was dictated by their play in the third period, this shows that the bad habits that they’ve been developing in the middle part of games aren’t sustainable, and can hurt them in some of the most important points of the game.

Power Play Woes Continue in Vegas

The Golden Knights’ issues on the power play are much more apparent when watching them play rather than looking at the numbers. Despite ranking 13th in the NHL on the power play, which isn’t that concerning considering their ability to win games with even-strength scoring, there are a lot of structural issues that need to be corrected.

The main struggle in this game came from their lack of overall pace when breaking into the offensive zone. One of the main reasons the Sharks are strong at defending on the penalty kill is because they’ve been able to break up passes, pressure the puck carrier really well, and keep teams to the outside when they cycle the puck. However, the Golden Knights’ own issues were the reason they weren’t able to convert on Tuesday.

They ended up going 0-3 on the power play in this game with just two shots, and their visual frustration on their third attempt led to Reilly Smith taking a tripping penalty to negate their advantage, which resulted in Timo Meier’s game-winning goal. 

Reilly Smith #19, Vegas Golden Knights
Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Golden Knights have had four games this season where they haven’t scored on the power play after having three or more attempts. This is a problem that a team with this much talent on both power play units shouldn’t have, and it’s beginning to become increasingly concerning as the season progresses.

Final Thoughts

The most positive thing to take away from these past two games is that despite all of these struggles, the Golden Knights are still remaining extremely competitive, and are having no problem putting up goals. They currently rank sixth in the NHL in goals-per-game with 3.59, and their stars are performing the way they should be.

There were a lot of ways that this team could have been in a very different position to start the season. With the goaltending question being a non-factor, players remaining healthy, and Eichel performing as advertised, there are a lot of things to be happy about when it comes to their performance, and there should be confidence within the fanbase that these issues will be sorted out over time.

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