Sharks' game vs. Golden Knights good barometer for division standings

Chelena Goldman

Fans probably don't want to talk about it. Or just wish it never happened. But it wasn't that long ago that the Sharks opened up their 2019-20 campaign with a home-and-home against the Golden Knights, plunging the team into a 0-2-0 hole.

Fast forward to late November and San Jose, while just recently having a six-game winning streak snapped, still is trying to dig themselves out of that hole. They find themselves, once again, facing off against their rivals from Vegas. And while the Knights have run into their own share of roadblocks through the early part of the season, they're still four points ahead of the Sharks in the Pacific Division standings.

Thursday's game is a big test for San Jose. One that can expose whether the Sharks have a chance of completely crawling out of the division cellar.

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Vegas is only 3-4-2 in the month of November and went on a five-game losing skid while the Sharks were stringing wins together. They haven't been very healthy either, with everyone from Cody Eakins to Marc-Andre Fleury being sidelined with injuries through the first month and a half of the season. 

That being said, the Knights have won their last two contests, having shut out the Flames 6-0 and upending the downtrodden Maple Leafs 4-2. In the process, they have wiggled their way into third place in the Pacific Division standings.

Plus -- while fans probably hate to admit this -- the Knights have a way of getting into the Sharks' heads. Through just 10 regular-season contests between the two teams, San Jose is 3-6-1 and has given up an average of 4.1 goals per game.

While the sample size is small, it's still the largest goals-against margin the Sharks have against any team in the entire league.

Facing off against a tough Vegas team isn't the only obstacle San Jose will face on Thursday night -- they will also be missing one of their top forwards. Tomas Hertl will miss Thursday's contest at T-Mobile Arena with a lower-body injury, forcing the Sharks to shuffle up their lines and add Antti Suomela -- who has yet to play an NHL this season -- into the mix.

Losing a player like Hertl, who ranks second on the team with 21 points, will put even more pressure on San Jose when it comes to scoring against a Vegas squad that has outscored them 41-23 over the course of two-plus seasons.

Needless to say, San Jose's defense has to be significantly tighter against Vegas than it was on Tuesday night against the Oilers. Edmonton's forward attack had little problem skating through the neutral zone, and if San Jose isn't careful, they could fall into the same trap against Vegas.

[RELATED: Hertl out, Dell to start in net for Sharks vs. Vegas]

Not to mention that the Oilers got production from all four of their lines and aren't a team known for having depth at the forward position. If the Sharks had trouble containing that team, what's going to happen against a Golden Knights team that regularly rolls out four lines?

This isn't to say the Sharks have no chance of defeating the Knights on Thursday night. It is a big test, however, that can show exactly where San Jose stands this season. If the first two games of the season are any indication, Thursday's game could get ugly in a hurry.

Sharks' game vs. Golden Knights good barometer for division standings originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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