In the Golden Knights’ initial four games with the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference quarterfinal, the line of Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone was virtually unstoppable.
They combined to register 28 points, in comparison to the rest of the Vegas roster, which mustered 21 combined points. Game 5, though, was a different story as Stastny line was held scoreless for the first time in the series.
Some would credit the decline to regression, because no line will average seven points a night in the playoffs. But there’s also what San Jose did to counter, shifting Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns onto that line to hold Stastny and the others at bay.
Game 6 is at 4 p.m. today at T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights are looking to close out the series. The success of Pacioretty, Stastny and Stone against the newlook Sharks line from Game 5 will surely help determine the outcome.
“We don’t look into matchups like other teams,” Pacioretty said. “We have a good group of forwards and defensemen that can play against anybody. We’ve proved that all year.”
In the first four games, Stastny’s line abused San Jose’s pairing of Erik Karlsson and Brenden Dillon. But Vlasic returned to the Sharks lineup in Game 5, filling his usual spot in the lineup alongside Burns after being injured in Game 2. The Golden Knights won all three of the games he wasn’t a full participant in.
Yet, the Golden Knights’ players aren’t buying into the narrative.
“We were just off a little bit and that’s how it is sometimes,” Stastny said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against. For us, it’s about what we do.”
If the Golden Knights see Vlasic and Burns as an issue against the Stastny line, they can counter in Game 6. As the home team, they have the last change so they can opt to send out one of their other lines, and keep the Stastny unit for another defensive pairing.
But it doesn’t sound as if that is part of the game plan, as Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant has long said he doesn’t like to focus on the opposition. Still, it’s worth watching to see if the Golden Knights counter the Sharks’ counter.
“I coach my team, I let them coach the other way,” Gallant said. “Obviously when you add a player like Vlasic it helps your hockey team. They played a better game (in Game 5), let’s see if they can do it in our building.”