The San Jose Sharks are creating a traffic jam in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury — congestion the Golden Knights need to clear Friday in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal series at T-Mobile Arena.
At age 33 and a veteran of 14 NHL seasons, Fleury isn’t about to get rattled. But he’s not amenable to the Sharks having carte blanche to set up shop at the doorstep to his office.
“It’s something we expected from them, something we scouted them for,” Fleury said of the havoc Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and the rest of the Sharks are creating. “Obviously, it’s not always easy to find the puck, but they’re a team with speed and skill. They run some picks on the ice so we have to handle that.”
Ah, yes, the picks.
It was a point of postgame emphasis from Knights players Wednesday after the 4-0 loss in Game 4. They said interference in the Sharks’ offensive zone that was not called in the first period led to the first two San Jose goals. The Sharks were whistled twice for interference in Game 4 and have been called for interference at least once in each game of the series.
“I think it’s something we have to be more aware of and handle,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said of the Sharks’ penchant for playing the body without the puck. “But we also have to do a better job in front of (Fleury) and allow him to see the puck.”
The Sharks are playing quicker with each game and forcing the Knights’ forwards to scramble deeper in their own end to help the defensemen. In doing so, it also forces the Knights to start their offense a further back than normal, which can sometimes negate their speed.
The Sharks did a very good job bottling up the neutral zone the first two periods of their Game 2 victory last Saturday and did it again Wednesday in Game 4.
“They ran a strong forecheck,” center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “It was like they had a lot of bodies in our end.”
Forward David Perron said it’s the responsibility of the forwards to disrupt the Sharks in their end with a strong forecheck and establish control of the neutral zone.
“Sometimes it’s just something simple like getting a stick on a puck and getting a deflection and then getting your transition game going,” Perron said.
Center Cody Eakin, who has been consistent in coming back to help the defense throughout the playoffs, said it’s about giving Fleury a clear path to make plays.
“I think it comes down to winning the one-on-one battles,” Eakin said. “When we play our system right, it prevents them from starting their offense. We have to maintain our consistency.”