The Vegas Golden Knights delivered the first punch in a season-opening, back-to-back series with the team that knocked them out of the Stanley Cup playoffs last April, cruising to a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night in Las Vegas.
Round 2 is Friday night in San Jose, and the big question is whether two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson will be on the ice for the Sharks.
Karlsson was scratched about an hour before Wednesday night’s game for what the team called “a personal matter,” and he wasn’t at the team’s morning skate on Thursday.
“I can’t share anything, and I don’t know,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer told the San Jose Mercury News when asked about Karlsson’s absence and whether he’d be back Friday night.
The Sharks, already short-handed due to a three-game suspension to 30-goal scorer Evander Kane, fell behind 2-0 in the first six minutes and managed just 22 shots on goal in the opener. Two other key offensive players, Timo Meier (left wrist) and Kevin Labanc (stick to the face) also left the contest with injuries but were back on the ice on Thursday.
“Barring a setback, they’ll be in (the lineup) tomorrow,” DeBoer said.
Vegas also sustained a key injury in the physical and intense contest that featured 72 hits. Nate Schmidt, arguably the team’s top defenseman, left the contest in the first period after bumping knees during a collision in the slot with Logan Couture. Schmidt is “week-to-week” with a left knee injury according Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant.
The last time Vegas visited San Jose was for Game 7 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series. The Sharks, down 3-0 midway through the third period, rallied to take a 4-3 lead with four goals on a controversial five-minute cross-checking penalty and eventually won the game and series, 5-4, on an overtime goal by Barclay Goodrow.
“We know tomorrow is going to be a lot tougher,” Vegas center Paul Stastny said after the opener. “They’re going to bring their ‘A’ game, they’re going to feed off their crowd, and they may have other guys in their lineup as well.
“We know what to expect there and we know that it’s going to be loud. We know the crowd is going to be firing on all cylinders. It’ll be fun and another easy game to get up for.”
Gallant stressed to his team after the opening win that there are still 81 games to be played.
“It’s the same old thing, one game at a time,” Gallant said. “It’s two points, just trying to get to the playoffs. There’s a long way to go. We had a great start to the season, but every season is a little bit different. We know we’ve got a great hockey team and if we play well and work every night then we’ll achieve our goal.”
DeBoer said, “We’ve got to be better. I know they’re going to be good again. They’ve got a good team, so we’re going to have to be better.”
–Field Level Media