Is it really a rivalry if one team kicks the other to the curb?
In the mind of Marc-Andre Fleury, there’s still that want and need to defeat the San Jose Sharks, given what happened two years ago.
“In the playoffs, they won one, and we won one,” Fleury said. “That’s still in the back of my head.”
It’s fair that the Game 7 collapse in 2019 will linger with Fleury, and the Vegas Golden Knights, until they win a Stanley Cup. To say that may come this year at the expense of the Sharks plummeting toward the bottom of the West Division standings may be all that much sweeter.
Fleury recorded his 65th shutout in the NHL, and his league-leading fourth of the year, on Saturday in a 4-0 victory for the Golden Knights. Vegas’ six-game winning streak is the longest current run in the NHL, and one more win would give the Knights the longest such streak overall.
That not withstanding, however, the Golden Knights have dominated their Northern California rivals. In the regular season, the Golden Knights are 11-1-3 all-time against the Sharks.
Maybe the rivalry has fizzled out? Depends who you ask.
“We used to have a pretty good rivalry. Now it’s not as powerful as it was the first two years,” said forward Jonathan Marchessault. “It’s always good to get a win. We just came here and took care of business.”
On to the grades.
It’s incredible to think sometimes that with how much talent the Sharks have, that the Golden Knights can dominate them in all three zones. To be fair, San Jose was without Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl, so take this with a grain of salt.
That said, Alex Tuch is on fire and someone needs to tend to the inferno engulfing his body.
Tuch scored twice more Saturday, his fourth straight game with a goal and eight total in his past seven, to tie Max Pacioretty for the team lead with 12.
“I just go out there and play my game, play hard, play fast,” Tuch said. “[My linemates] have been playing well, and they’ve been giving me opportunities to score, and I’ve just been capitalizing on it.”
Tuch credits a little puck luck to his hot stretch, but it helps when your line is dominating. The third line of Tuch, Cody Glass and Nic Roy was dominant, generating 14 attempts while only allowing two. The trio had four high-danger chances, with Tuch’s first goal being one of them.
“I was able to get a little time and space, and tried to rip the puck,” Tuch said. “He was playing a little off his post, so I thought high-glove would work, and where it went, I got a little lucky.”
Tuch double shifted for the final 25 minutes due to Mark Stone leaving with an undisclosed injury. Despite being denied his first hat trick, Tuch led all forwards in ice time with 19:57.
Stone appeared to take a puck to the leg in the second period and did not return. He was held out as a precaution, per Pete DeBoer. It sounds like he’ll be ready to go Monday at Minnesota.
The top line continued its recent run of dominance with Stone scoring his second goal in three games. Stone (2G, 8A), Pacioretty (4G, 4A) and Chandler Stephenson (2G, 3A) extended their point streaks to four games.
Vegas out-attempted San Jose 28-15 in the first with 14 of them on goal. You’d think the Sharks were the ones that had to leave their hotel in the middle of a road trip.
Reilly Smith scoring for the second consecutive game could also mean a sign of things to come.
The only reason it’s not going full ‘A’ in a 4-0 win because it shouldn’t have been 4-0.
The Sharks had a few opportunities in the first period to get on the board. Had it not been for Fleury, that would’ve been the case.
Prior to Stone’s goal in the first period, Fleury had to stop a breakaway on Joel Kellman. Nick Holden was caught on an extended shift with the fourth line (disaster in of itself), but Fleury bailed him out.
John Leonard also had a grade-A chance late in the first, but Fleury stopped him. No one saw him creep to the crease, hence why Nic Hague was so far out of position.
Analytically, all three pairs were net-positive. Hague and Zach Whitecloud (14-12), Alex Pietrangelo and Holden (18-10), and Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez (15-10) all did their part. Holden and Pietrangelo were on the ice for two goals and generated 1.1 expected goals.
Pietrangelo took a puck to the arm late in the third period, but still finished his lone penalty kill shift with less than three minutes left.
“Fingers crossed that it’s nothing serious,” DeBoer said.
We’re running out of things to say about Fleury.
He starts the previous 10 games, finally gets a day off Friday, comes back Saturday and puts on a show.
Fleury made 24 saves for his 478th win in the NHL, now trailing Ed Belfour by sixth for fourth place on the all-time wins list.
“I love playing, and I just take it as it goes,” Fleury said. “I thought [Saturday] I felt lots of energy, my legs were good. Some nights, it’s like anybody who goes to the office. Some days you don’t feel as good, and you’ve got to find a way to get the job done. I pride myself on being consistent.”
Fleury has yet to put together a string of bad starts. After allowing four goals Feb. 9 against Anaheim, he allowed two over his next three starts. Despite allowing six goals in two games against Colorado, both that should’ve been wins, he answered with two allowed in his next two starts.
He’s the most reliable player on the Golden Knights right now, and it’s why he’s still a bonafide Vezina favorite.