Is Logan's line the antidote to Golden Knights' top trio?


In Game 4, the Sharks held the Vegas Golden Knights' top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith without a five-on-five point for the first time all series. It was also the first time since Game 1 of Vegas' first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings that all three players failed to score a point in any situation.

The trio didn't create many chances, either. With Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith on the ice five-on-five, the Golden Knights generated four scoring chances and two high-danger chances in Game 4, according to Natural Stat Trick. They were out-chanced, too, for the first time since Game 1 against Los Angeles. 

Unsurprisingly, each member of Vegas' top line saw a lot of Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose's shutdown pairing. Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith each played around 12 five-on-five minutes, and each spent about 10 of those minutes matched up against Braun and Vlasic. 

The forward matchups were a different story. During Game 3, the Golden Knights' top trio spent the majority of its ice time matched up with the top line of the Sharks: Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, and Chris Tierney, filling in for an injured Joonas Donskoi. In Game 4, the split was more equitable between San Jose's first and second lines, and the latter started to close the gap against Vegas' first line. 

The table below shows Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith's five-on-five scoring chance differentials against Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl through the first three games of the series. It's not necessarily a perfect comparison, as the Sharks threw their lines in a blender chasing overtime-winners in Games 2 and 3, but it's still instructive. 

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
  vs 89 vs 39 vs 48
Karlsson +6 +8 +8
Marchessault +6 +8 +9
Smith +5 +7 +7

Now, here are what those differentials looked like in Game 4.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
  vs 89 vs 39 vs 48
Karlsson -1 -2 -2
Marchessault -1 -2 -2
Smith -1 -2 -2

It's a one-game sample, but those are pretty noticeable improvements, and ones that the Sharks will need to continue in order to shut down the Golden Knights' primary source of five-on-five offense. Vegas' top line has scored half of the team's five-on-five goals (four), and five of the nine even-strength goals. Plus, now that Gerard Gallant will now have last change at his disposal in Game 5, it's likely that San Jose's second line will continue to see time against Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith. 

Friday night will be a good indication of whether or not Boedker, Couture, and Hertl's performance against the Golden Knights' formidable first line was an aberration, or a turning point. The latter will go a long way towards the Sharks winning what is now a best-of-three. 

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