The Sharks were once again unable to find their rhythm, dropping their ninth game this month at the hands of the Golden Knights despite a stellar performance by Aaron Dell.

Dell made 34 saves in the final meeting between the Sharks (18-20-2) and the Golden Knights (20-13-6) this regular season. Still, Vegas earned a 3-1 victory at the SAP Center Sunday night. Captain Logan Couture said:

“I think we’ve got the players to win hockey games in this league, but I don’t think we’re playing the right way. … We’ve got, in my mind, the personnel. I don’t think that the personnel has decided that we’ve got to play a certain way to win hockey games.”

The matchup between the recent Pacific Division rivals did not have its usual heated drama and intensity. Apart from a quick scrum late in the second period that resulted in off-setting roughing minors to Brenden Dillon and Ryan Reaves, the game went by relatively peacefully. 

While both teams traded scoring chances early, Vegas slowly ramped up the pressure, leading 13-7 in shots on goal by the end of the first period. The Golden Knights continued to lead in shots on goal for most of the game. Couture said:

“It’s disappointing, we’re a veteran team. I’d understand if we were dressing 10 or 12 rookies, but you can count the amount of rookies that were dressed tonight on one hand, so it needs to be a lot better. … It is our veterans, it’s not our young guys that are making these mistakes.”

The Sharks were hampered by penalties to key players in the first half of the game. Evander Kane received a tripping penalty just 90 seconds into the first period, Erik Karlsson sent the puck out of play for a delay of game penalty late in the first period and midway through the second period, Brent Burns received an elbowing penalty.

Vegas had chances to score early, such as Nicolas Hague sending back-to-back wrist shots off the goal posts. When Mark Stone cut to the slot in front of the San Jose net and fired off a one-timer, Dell quickly gloved the shot from Vegas’ second-highest point-scorer. Assistant coach Roy Sommer said:

“You can’t blame the goaltending tonight. If we gave him a couple of goals and we’d have a win tonight because he was outstanding. ”

The second period started similarly, with the Golden Knights putting the offensive pressure on. Dell stopped Shea Theodore’s backhand shot and then slid across to stop Theodore from burying his own rebound.

The Sharks finally had sustained offensive zone pressure late in the second period, forcing Vegas keeper Malcolm Subban to make three saves in 30 seconds.

The Golden Knights responded by scoring the first goal just 90 seconds later. From below the Sharks goal line, Alex Tuch made a no-look pass to Paul Stastny, who put the one-time shot past Dell with 3:30 remaining in the second period.

The Sharks answered back four minutes into the third period. Burns skated the puck around the Vegas net and threaded a pass across the goal crease to Couture. The team captain buried the shot to tie the game at 1-1.

Three minutes later, Dell continued his strong performance in net, stopping Tuch on a breakaway and then recovering to get in front of Brayden McNabb’s slapshot. Dell said:

“I feel like im playing well right now. I feel like the more opportunity I get, the more experience I’m getting and I think im taking that experience and making the most of it.”

But Vegas broke through again when Theodore’s wrist shot beat Dell far-side for the 2-1 lead with 11:55 left in the third period. Sommer said:

“I’ve been here 22 years and they haven’t had a lot of seasons like this. It’s kind of a new look, and it’s not a fun look … But what we need is maybe an ugly goal at the right time instead of giving up one. I mean, you look at it, these five games, we’ve been in every one of them going into the third. It’s not like we’re getting outplayed for 60 minutes.” 

The Golden Knights put the game out of reach late in the third period, when Reilly Smith rushed by Karlsson and sent the puck back to Jonathan Marchessault, who buried a one-timer past Dell to seal the 3-1 win.

With the win, the Golden Knights are now tied with the Arizona Coyotes for first place in the Pacific Division. The Sharks enter the holiday break with the fifth-worst record in the NHL, and 10 points out of a playoff spot. Couture said:

“We’ve got a break here, guys are going their separate ways to see family, but everyone’s got to take a look in the mirror and decide — What do you want to bring for the second half of the year? What do you want to accomplish as a hockey player in the NHL this year? A lot of guys haven’t had good years, a lot of guys have been let downs from last year. There’s a lot of improvements, so I think some soul-searching in this room. Everyone needs to be better.”

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