If you asked me last summer which team would be the first to advance out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, one of the last teams I would have picked were the Vegas Golden Knights.
I didn’t think their expansion draft was that good, and didn’t think the roster coming out of it was very strong. Here I am eating crow, because the Golden Knights swept the Los Angeles Kings in Round 1, and while the games were extremely low scoring, the series wasn’t particularly close.
The goaltending was undoubtedly phenomenal on both sides, and because of that I don’t think Marc-Andre Fleury, as great as he was, was the difference in this series. Jonathan Quick was just as good as Fleury, perhaps even better, but the Golden Knights skaters dominated the puck.
When I say dominated the puck, I don’t necessarily mean in terms of Corsi, though Vegas did lead with a 54 per cent mark at 5-on-5, or even possession of the puck in the offensive zone, where Vegas controlled 56 per cent of the zone time at 5-on-5.
What I’m talking about is that Vegas was able to make plays with the puck the Kings were not. In fact, the Kings weren’t able to all season. Let’s look at scoring chances to illustrate.
The Golden Knights controlled 62.1 per cent of the scoring chances overall in this series and 62.5 per cent of them at even strength. Over the course of the four-game sweep, they put nearly as many scoring chances on net at 5-on-5 as the Kings put on net, missed, and had blocked.
When you take puck possession time into account, on average, every minute Vegas had the puck in Los Angeles’ zone, Quick faced 2.8 scoring chances that he had to stop, while Fleury faced 1.9 per minute when the Kings possessed the puck in the Golden Knights’ zone. Nearly a full scoring chance more per minute of zone time shows how effective the Golden Knights were at penetrating the slot, and how much more difficult Quick’s job was than Fleury’s.
Shot locations weren’t the only area the Golden Knights dominated either; just look at offensive zone passes that lead to better quality shots.
Keep in mind that the Kings are one of the better teams in the NHL at stopping passes to the slot, but again the Golden Knights generated way more movement before their shots, both at 5-on-5 and in all situations.
On special teams, the Golden Knights love East-West movement, which forces goalies to move laterally on a ton of shots. Fortunately for the Kings, Jonathan Quick is an athletic goaltender who is explosive laterally, but his phenomenal performance only prevented blowouts and couldn’t steal the series if the players in front of him didn’t score.
The Golden Knights don’t have the star players to compare to Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, but the Kings’ lack of depth both up front and on defence made them easy pickings for a Vegas team that plays a more modern NHL system focused on creating high end offensive plays throughout the lineup.
Los Angeles looked better in Game 4, and perhaps even deserved a better fate, but ultimately they were outmatched by Vegas in every offensive category.