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What We Learned: Turns out taking a lot of penalties is bad

Logan Couture celebrates after burying the Golden Knights in Game 2. (John Locher/AP)

Anyone in their right mind saw that 7-0 Game 1 in the Pacific Division final for what it was: An aberration.

Vegas is perfectly good and the Sharks had a very bad game, and you put those two things together to get an ugly blowout in which the Golden Knights doubled their playoff goal total.

In Game 2, the Sharks were much more dialed-in, and apart from a few lapses that wound up in the back of the net, managed the puck effectively. Their job was made a lot easier by Vegas seemingly insisting on committing a string of dumb penalties that, over the last 70 or so minutes, added up to eventually cost them the game.

This was uncharacteristic, to an extent. In the regular season, the Golden Knights were better than the league average in terms of conceding power plays to their opponents and that had largely been true in the first round as well. But in Game 1, they put San Jose on five power plays, not that it mattered much. And in Game 2 they gave up 8:39 of PK time across seven Sharks power plays and conceded two goals, including Logan Couture’s double-overtime game-winner.

It’s no secret that taking seven penalties, even in four-plus periods of hockey, is not advisable, but it also seemed as though Vegas was having trouble keeping up with the Sharks across the whole of the game. Their goals were not scored through the usual process of very Vegasly dictating the terms on which the game would be contested, but rather by creating a couple turnovers (and a lucky bounce on the first one) and then winning a set play off a draw. The Sharks otherwise ran the show more or less from front to back; Vegas didn’t have a double-digit shot total in any one period.

The problem, then, is pretty clear as the series moves to San Jose: Vegas giving a team with as much fire power as the Sharks 12 power plays in eight periods of hockey is probably courting disaster. This is a team that drew the 10th-most power plays in the league this year, and converted them at a rate above 20 percent, which is usually about the cutoff for “good power play.”

It’s worth noting that San Jose has spent almost as much time on the power play as Vegas so far in this series — 18:28 versus 19:22, both of which are a lot in just two games — but the Sharks put them on 10 in Game 1 alone. Again, that’s a total freak thing, and it’s something that certainly got talked about; in Game 2, Vegas went on just two power plays for a grand total of 138 seconds.

Both of these clubs can absolutely stick a knife in your gut on special teams. One second things are going fine, and the next the game is over because they’re drawing a ton of penalties and, eventually, converting. One can certainly argue that 24 power plays combined in eight periods is entirely too many, and that is the correct read on the situation, but if this is a series in which the refs are going to call every little thing, that probably benefits San Jose more than it does Vegas because the Sharks just don’t take penalties as a general rule; those 10 power plays in Game 1 were equal to almost 5 percent of what they gave up in 82 games in the regular season.

As the series shifts out of Vegas tied at 1-1, this is absolutely the thing for everyone to keep a careful eye on. It’s not so much an issue if refs call it tight because that’s just the tone that’s being set. But if things get called inconsistently, that could put either team in a tough position. You never want guys not knowing what is or isn’t a penalty on any given play, and to be fair that doesn’t seem to have been the case so far. In both games, the teams that committed too many infractions were correctly penalized. It’s fair to say neither team has a real gripe with the officiating, on the balance (though Vegas might be upset with how the two goal reviews went for it on Saturday).

There’s a pretty strong correlation between all these power plays and teams making goalies stand on their heads. Marc-Andre Fleury was stellar again this weekend, facing 47 shots after stopping all 31 the first time out. Meanwhile Martin Jones’s numbers are quite bad (nine allowed on 43) but certainly not under siege. That is to say, San Jose seems to have gotten the better of the possession and if Fleury isn’t lights-out (as opposed to merely “good,” as he was Saturday) then things get a lot more complicated pretty quickly for the Golden Knights.

Special teams truly is the one big storyline so far here and Vegas is quickly learning that these Sharks actually have guys who can put the puck in the net. If Joe Thornton comes back at some point in this series, that’s just another potential issue for, I don’t know, Deryk Engelland to deal with.

At 5-on-5, Vegas and San Jose have been dominant teams in these playoffs, to be sure. But on the PK, both teams have been pretty bad in terms of how many high-quality looks they concede per minute. And if that’s the case, the question becomes how much longer Vegas can count on Fleury to go .940-something on the PK. (He’s also still .993 at 5-on-5. These numbers simply can’t last.)

The rate at which both these clubs can make teams pay for mistakes both in terms of committing penalties and keeping up coverage on the PK means the most likely outcome here is the team that takes the fewest penalties will probably win these games.

Certainly, to keep trying it the way these losing teams have gone is to invite ugly outcomes. Wouldn’t want that to be you.

What We Learned: Playoff edition

Boston Bruins: At this point I just don’t know what you’re supposed to do about that top line anymore. They didn’t exactly dominate territorially, but the extent to which the Bruins were pummeled when they were off the ice, and all the points they collected once again, tells the story pretty effectively. They’re just unstoppable at this point, and any one of them can have a big night and sink your playoff hopes that much deeper. Brad Marchand on Saturday? Just 1-3-4, no big deal.

Nashville Predators: Boy that’s a big comeback game from Pekka Rinne, huh? He made (approximately) six thousand saves and, while some of the goals he gave up weren’t great, you still have to say he was pretty damn phenomenal. It’s weird to say that this game with nine goals was a goaltending duel, but it for sure was. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 37 of 41 at the other end (and got a piece of the game-winner too, because he is my perfect boy). I could watch these games for the rest of my life.

Pittsburgh Penguins: I know we’re all supposed to be insanely mad about the non-goal but any time I see stuff like this I think back to that Flames playoff run a few years back where they appeared to score a goal but then someone explained the parallax view to me and I was like “Ah yeah, that makes sense.” Of course, we should fooooooooooooor suuuuuuuuuuuuure have a damn chip in the puck by now and then we wouldn’t have to explain to people what the damn parallax view is — turns out sports fans don’t wanna talk about geometry a lot when their team loses — but hey, one thing at a time I guess.

San Jose Sharks: Lost in all the “Logan Couture is extremely underrated” talk that sprung out of Saturday’s game (he is, by the way), Brent Burns had a whopper of a night after being terrible in Game 1. If he’s not going for that Sharks defense, it’s a problem, simply because he’s basically always going to play like 24 minutes and that’s a lot of time to be giving a guy who’s not playing well. Put another way, Pete DeBoer will always let Burns work through it, and he’s earned that, but now is not the time to have to work through it, y’know?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos noted that other than the fact they got blown out, they played well. And that’s one of those things people don’t want to accept but can absolutely be true. Mike Babcock said that after Game 2 in Boston as well, and hey, that series didn’t end up being a blowout or anything. In the end, the better team won Game 7 and frankly I would be surprised if the Bruins didn’t win this series too, but these are two good teams and sometimes good teams can make other good teams look bad when they get the bounces and so on. If the Bruins keep getting outshot 36-24 or something similar, 6-2 wins aren’t likely to keep happening here.

Vegas Golden Knights: The fact that so many penalties were taken by Vegas’s depth players in this series probably says something about the disparity in quality between San Jose and themselves when you get further down the lineup. Vegas’s depth has always been overrated once you get off those top two lines, and if they’re not gonna help by scoring goals (probably not!) and are gonna hurt by continually taking penalties (possible!) then that strikes me as … a problem.

Washington Capitals: Man I gotta tell ya, even when the Caps were up 3-1 late in the game, you had to be like, “Surely the Pens are gonna get one back.” They didn’t but that’s the power of Knowing The Caps Will Blow It. I can’t imagine the psychic weight that has for the team itself, but that’s extremely a real thing that everyone with even a passing familiarity with the sport carries in their hearts and minds.

Winnipeg Jets: That extra-attacker goal to force overtime was the most inevitable goal I have seen in these playoffs. The shot off the post and the Preds not getting a body on a guy parked between the hashmarks was inviting a big problem. Mark Schiefele missed that look once. He wasn’t gonna miss it twice. My man is just too hot right now.

Play of the Weekend

The finish to roof this puck at this speed is absolutely stunning.

Gold Star Award

Logan Couture is a borderline-elite player but few will discuss this!!!!

Minus of the Weekend

I totally get the league refusing to let the Canucks send their dumb mascot to the draft lottery thing. Like, it would have been insanely funny, but I get it. And I’m mad about it, but I get it. And that’s all it should be next season, but I get it.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Kshahdoo” is really trying to help the Oilers.

Skinner + 2nd overall for Draisaitl + 10th overall

Signoff

Ye… I… y’know th… one thing I sho… excuse me for one second.