You know what would really hit the spot right now? Playoff hockey!
I’m not talking about the dump-and-chase, cycle-the-puck kind. I’m talking about the up-and-down the ice, fast-paced kind of game that keeps fans on the edge of their seats. For that, hockey fans should be hoping for a first-round match-up between Winnipeg and Vegas who, based on the current standings, are projected to meet in the opening round.
A series between these teams has the potential to be the most up-tempo and exciting of all potential opening round match-ups.
Because the Jets rely on quick-strike offence more than any team in the league and the Golden Knights are right behind them.
The Jets rank in the top-10 in scoring chances off the rush and have plenty of speed in their top-six forward group. The Golden Knights, meantime, lead the league in takeaways, which is a driving force behind their elite counter-attack game.
As a result, both teams require very little time in the offensive zone to score goals at even-strength. Winnipeg has scored a league-high 58.2 per cent of its even-strength goals this season less than five seconds after the puck entered play in the offensive zone, either via zone entry or face-off. Vegas ranks second.
Not surprisingly, in the two games these teams played against each other this season, quick-strike offence created almost all the even-strength goals scored between them.
The Jets won both games against Vegas, outscoring the Golden Knights 5-2 at even-strength. Four of Winnipeg’s goals came off the rush and were scored inside five seconds of the puck entering the offensive zone.
On average, teams require about 8.5 seconds of offensive zone time to produce a goal at even-strength. The Jets averaged five seconds per-goal against the Golden Knights.
As mentioned, there isn’t a better team at forcing turnovers than Vegas and that’s exactly how it scored its quick-strike, even-strength goals against Winnipeg.
This takeaway by Mark Stone in the neutral zone is vintage Stone and led to a Vegas goal just a few seconds later.
Not only is Vegas the best team in the NHL at forcing turnovers overall, they are also the best team at doing it in the neutral zone which allows them to create dangerous rush scoring chances like the one you just saw.
That puck pressure extends into the offensive zone as well, which is how Vegas scored its only other even-strength goal against Winnipeg this season, turning a takeaway into a goal in a hurry.
The Golden Knights force teams into mistakes as well as anyone and waste little time counter-attacking. The Jets’ skill players play fast, create a lot of odd-man rushes and have high-end finishing talent.
It’s been a month and a half since the last NHL games were played. If/when the NHL resumes its current season, keep an eye on the Jets and Golden Knights as a possible first round match-up. If the regular season is any indication, it could be one of the most entertaining of them all.