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Five key matchups for Golden Knights vs. Sharks in second round

Vlasic's ability to neutralize Karlsson among storylines, statistics show

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

The Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks will play in the Western Conference Second Round. They are each coming off a four-game sweep, of the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, respectively.

Here are five key matchups that could decide the best-of-7 series:

 

[RELATED: Golden Knights take bite out of giant custom cake on Food Network show | Complete Golden Knights vs. Sharks series coverage]

 

1. Karlsson vs. Vlasic

After previously scoring on 7.7 percent of his shots (18 goals on 223 shots), Karlsson tied with Alexander Kerfoot of the Colorado Avalanche for the NHL lead in shooting percentage at 23.4 percent this season and finished third with 43 goals on 184 shots.

In the first round, the forward was on the ice for a Vegas-high four goals, and the Golden Knights had a shot-attempts differential (SAT) of plus-28 (89-61) at 5-on-5 with him on the ice. Karlsson also drew a Vegas-high three penalties.

The task of shutting down Karlsson will fall to defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who helped hold the Ducks to one goal in a Sharks-high 77:57 of even-strength ice time, according to Natural Stat Trick. Vlasic started a Sharks-high 37 shifts in the defensive zone and 13 in the offensive zone, spent 38:48 against center Ryan Getzlaf and led San Jose with 18 blocked shots.

Video: VGK@LAK, Gm3: Karlsson buries great pass from Smith

 

2. Burns vs. McNabb

The Sharks biggest weapon on offense is defenseman Brent Burns. He led them in scoring for the second consecutive season with 67 points (12 goals, 55 assists) in 82 games. Burns, who won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman last season, will be facing defenseman Brayden McNabb, who helped shut down Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (no points in three games), a Norris finalist this season.

McNabb started 29 of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone, which ranked second to his partner, Nate Schmidt (30). He blocked a Vegas-high 13 shots, which is 17.8 percent of the 73 otherwise unblocked shots he faced. In the regular season, he blocked 13.5 percent, 3.5 percent less than the League leader, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (17.0 percent).

On his only shot against the Kings, McNabb scored the series-clinching goal at 4:04 of the second period in Game 4.

 

3. Pavelski vs. Bellemare

San Jose scored six power-play goals on 20 opportunities (30.0 percent) in the first round, and center Joe Pavelski had a Sharks-high four power-play points (one goal, three assists) working the point with Burns on the first unit. Pavelski is No. 12 among active NHL players with 37 power-play points (19 goals, 18 assists) in the playoffs. He is tied with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Thomas Vanek and Ottawa Senators forward Marian Gaborik for 18th among active players with 257 in the regular season.

Pavelski will be put to the test against the Golden Knights, who were 12-for-13 on the penalty kill against the Kings. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was a central part of Vegas' penalty kill, leading Golden Knights forwards with an average of 2:46 per game. Bellemare has played 740:00 shorthanded in his NHL career during the regular season, which ranks second among forwards since 2014-15 to Luke Glendening of the Detroit Red Wings (886:37).

Video: ANA@SJS, Gm3: Pavelski pots PPG from the slot

 

4. Theodore vs. Couture

In Shea Theodore, the Golden Knights are seeking to develop their own Burns-like defenseman. They were at their best in the first round when he was on the ice, leading the Kings 99-62 in shot attempts at 5-on-5 for a Los Angeles-best SAT of plus-37 and outscoring the Kings 3-0. Theodore led Vegas defensemen with two points (one goal, one assist) and 23 shot attempts.

The Sharks scored seven goals with forward Logan Couture on the ice, their second most (Pavelski, eight). In the regular season, Couture led the Sharks with 34 goals while taking on top opponents in both zones. His zone start percentage was 48.78 and his most frequent opposing forward was Connor McDavid of the Oilers (24:40), according to Natural Stat Trick.

 

5. Kane vs. Neal

The Sharks acquired forward Evander Kane in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 26. From that point, he led San Jose with 80 shots, tied Couture for the Sharks lead with nine goals and led their forwards with 39 hits. This continued into the first round, when he led them with 21 shots, tied Marcus Sorensen and Tomas Hertl with a San Jose-high three goals and was third on the Sharks with eight hits.

Video: ANA@SJS, Gm3: Kane deflects point shot for PPG

Forwards like Dustin Brown tried to use physical play to knock the Golden Knights off their game in the first round, but the strategy proved ineffective against forward James Neal, who rose to the challenge with 16 hits, which tied Jonathan Marchessault for third on Vegas. In the regular season, Neal had 44 hits in 71 games.

The physical play didn't detract from Neal's performance on offense. He tied Marchessault for the Golden Knights lead with 17 shots, and led them with 16 scoring chances and four rebounds, according to Natural Stat Trick.

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