Breaking down the Winnipeg Jets’ chances against the Vegas Golden Knights

Gene Principe previews the upcoming Western Conference Final, with two teams- the Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights- both prepped to make history, as neither team has made the Stanley Cup Final for far different reasons.

Both the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights are in the Conference Final for the first time in team history, with Vegas managing to get there in their inaugural season, perhaps one of the most impressive accomplishments in the history of the sport.

Even more impressive for the Golden Knights is that they’ve made quick work of their opponents, needing just 10 games to reach the third round, and in the process they’ve controlled 57 per cent of the scoring chances at 5-vs-5, 62 per cent of the scoring chances on net, and 61 per cent of the passes to the slot. Essentially, they’ve had an incredible amount of shot quality control that has allowed them to score in bunches and make things easy on Marc-Andre Fleury, who has rewarded them with a .951 save percentage.

The Jets were dealt a much tougher second-round opponent than the Golden Knights, and as a result their scoring chance numbers aren’t as strong. But their 53.72 per cent score-adjusted Corsi is slightly better than the Golden Knights despite a higher-quality opponent.

By those metrics you’d have to give the advantage to the Golden Knights, but I think we can look a little deeper at the tendencies of each team to see where each has an advantage.

The Golden Knights have only managed to be even from the high danger area or inner slot, preferring a very low event game there; only the Los Angeles Kings produced fewer shots from there in the playoffs. The Jets, meanwhile, have typically been excellent at getting to that area, and boast the highest rate of shots from the inner slot of any remaining team in the playoffs.

The Jets allow more shots from that area as well, but it’s important to note that the two teams they’ve faced in the playoffs so far were both very strong at generating those types of chances and defending them, and the Jets still managed a positive differential.

The Golden Knights meanwhile, stayed even, but most of their good work in that area was against Los Angeles, as they only controlled 45 per cent of the high danger chances against the Sharks. This is an area you can expect to see the Jets dominate in the third round.

The high slot is a very different story for Vegas, an area of the ice they dominated all regular season and continue to in the playoffs to an even greater degree. The Jets have a positive differential there as well, but the Jets lead the playoffs in shots from the high slot, and allow the fewest against of any team. They control nearly 72 per cent of the shots from that area at 5-vs-5, an absurd rate that is dependent on both their ability to generate offence and their smart defending.

Another area to watch in this series is how well the Golden Knights defend off the rush. They’ve been allowing just over three scoring chances off the rush every 60 minutes in the playoffs, less than half of the playoff average, however that particular skill may not be of as much use against the Jets, who aren’t shy about attacking off the rush, but generate a large majority of their scoring chances off the forecheck and off the cycle.

With the ability Vegas has to defend the slot area, one thing that works in the Jets’ favour compared to the other teams they have faced is their ability to score from the perimeter. Not only do they lead all playoff teams in goals from the outside with 14, but they also possess arguably the best weapon from the perimeter in the NHL: Patrik Laine.

Laine has had a bit of an underwhelming playoffs so far, with the Predators and Wild both heavily focused on taking away pre-shot movement for his one-timer, but with the way Vegas defends, they may be more focused on defending Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Paul Stastny, which could leave more room for Laine at 5-vs-5 and on the power play.

I think the Jets are going to take this series, and Laine should be a big reason why.

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