Two of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League square off on Thursday night when the defending Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights host the San Jose Sharks at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights, who entered Wednesday night’s action tied for first place with the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division, bring in a seven-game winning streak, just one off the franchise record set during last season’s storybook run to the Stanley Cup Final.
San Jose, which is one point behind the Flames and Vegas, has won four in a row and six of its last seven.
“We’re just playing a lot better hockey,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said after his team’s 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. “We’re more energized. We’re forechecking well, we’re playing good (defensive) coverage. I like the way our game is.”
Vegas, began the season 9-12-1, is 18-3-3 since a 7-2 loss at Calgary on Nov. 19. The Golden Knights haven’t lost a game in regulation at home since a 4-1 loss to St. Louis on Nov. 16 and own the NHL’s longest active home point streak of 12 games (10-0-2), which includes a 6-0 blanking of the Sharks on Nov. 24.
San Jose caught fire shortly after that drubbing, having gone 13-3-2 since a 6-2 loss at Ottawa on Dec. 1. A big part of the turnaround has been the play of defenseman Erik Karlsson, who had his second consecutive three-assist game in Tuesday night’s 7-2 win over Edmonton while also becoming just the fifth defenseman in NHL history to record an assist in 14 consecutive appearances, joining legendary Bobby Orr and Phil Housley in accomplishing that feat.
If Karlsson, obtained in a trade with Ottawa in September, can pick up another assist Thursday night, he’ll tie Brian Leetch’s 15-game streak set during the 1991-92 season. Paul Coffey holds the record with assists in 17 straight games during the 1985-86 season.
“He’s really established his game in our structure,” said Sharks center Joe Pavelski, who was named to the Pacific Division All-Star team along with Karlsson and defenseman Brent Burns. “We feel comfortable playing with him. He’s been a big piece to our success lately.”
“He’s just a world-class player,” San Jose assistant Steve Spott said after Tuesday’s win. “He’s as good in our end as he is in the offensive end.”
Spott was behind the bench Tuesday in place of Peter DeBoer, who thought he had the flu but told TheAthletic.com on Wednesday he now thinks it was a concussion after getting hit in the head with a puck during Monday night’s 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
Spott said the Sharks, who fell behind 5-0 in the first 24 minutes in their last trip to Las Vegas, are playing much better heading into this meeting.
“It’s good to go in with confidence,” Spott said. “We know what we are getting into when we go into that building. They’re extremely talented and extremely fast and that’s a hostile environment in that building. We’ve got to go in with a positive mindset.”
Vegas, which defeated San Jose 4-2 in the second round of the NHL playoffs last season, has allowed just nine goals during its seven-game win streak. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had 33 saves in blanking the Sharks in the first meeting, leads the league in wins (25) and shutouts (six).
“The next (game) is going to be a big one,” Gallant said. “We’ve just got to be ready.”
–Field Level Media