Go forward and pinch your self, however we will guarantee you that is no dream. In their inaugural season, this ragtag Golden Knights bunch are heading to the post-season as the highest seed within the Pacific Division. A white-hot begin noticed Vegas blaze their manner into the document books, and breakout seasons for William Karlsson, Erik Haula and Nate Schmidt saved the Golden Knights atop the division. The league’s latest membership did begin to cool off to because the post-season approached, although, and so they could possibly be beginning to slide on the worst attainable time. An skilled Los Angeles Kings group, led by Hart Trophy contender Anze Kopitar, isn’t going to be fearful about dealing with the division’s high crew. After all, it wasn’t all that way back the Kings gained the Stanley Cup because the West’s eighth seed, and so they did so with a number of members of this present group.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
How They Win: Even with John Stevens changing Darryl Sutter behind the bench, the Kings nonetheless play a heavy sport — they’re third within the league in hits — however they aren’t fairly the Corsi darlings they’d been for such a very long time. The Kings now place an emphasis on high quality of shot somewhat than simply firing the puck on the web. Los Angeles has, in consequence, ramped up its taking pictures proportion and offense to the league common. But the important thing to the Kings profitable remains to be very a lot about suppression. Goalie Jonathan Quick is having his finest season in years and is L.A.’s finest participant on the very best penalty killing unit within the league. The Kings additionally end sturdy. They outscored opponents by almost 40 targets within the third interval, proper on the high of the NHL with Boston in that class. Leading the way in which is 30-year-old kingpin Anze Kopitar together with his finest offensive season since 2009-10 whereas persevering with to be a two-way power as a shutdown middle.
How They Lose: The Kings play a way more up-tempo sport underneath Stevens than they ever did underneath Sutter. Forwards equivalent to Dustin Brown have been inspired to suppose offense greater than they did underneath the earlier regime and be extra selective about laying out a giant hit. The draw back is the Kings are giving up a further six pictures in opposition to per sport (from 25.9 final season to 31.6 this yr). That may drive some coaches or goalies loopy, and it flies within the face of the credo that protection wins within the playoffs. And Drew Doughty is typically thrown off his sport when a pest equivalent to Matthew Tkachuk is shipped in his route.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
How They Win: No crew within the league is extra relentless on the forecheck than the Golden Knights. Game in, sport out. What’s outstanding is that this group has been collectively lower than a season and so they all bought it from the start. That’s a feather within the cap for Gerard Gallant, simply the NHL’s coach of the yr. The Vegas forecheck plan is to aggressively stress defenders in their very own zone, negating or speeding their breakout. On the counterattack, the Golden Knights have a balanced offense that strikes the puck effectively with nice velocity and has relied on a crew taking pictures proportion properly above the league common — unparalleled for an enlargement crew. Vegas had 5 gamers — Karlsson, Haula, James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith — attain the 20-goal mark earlier than some other crew within the league had 4 gamers get to 20 targets.
How They Lose: The hockey gods get to the tip of the fairytale guide they’ve been writing? They all come again to earth on the identical time? Seriously, assault them on the forecheck in the identical trend Gallant has the Golden Knights pressuring the opposition. The Vegas blueline is the least skilled within the league, and it’s susceptible to buckling underneath warmth. Two years in the past, solely Brayden McNabb and Jason Garrison had been second-pair defensemen across the league. The different had been on the third pair on their former groups or within the minors. The Golden Knights aren’t a bodily crew. They desire positioning and forechecking to win battles. A crew that takes the physique and pressures them to the boards could have success in opposition to these upstarts.
Five Things To Watch
1. At some level the clock has to strike midnight and Karlsson has to show right into a pumpkin. He’s been the NHL’s Cinderella Shooter this season, climbing from a 7.7 % shooter in almost 200 video games to a sniper blasting away at 23.Four % charge. The Kings blueline goes to key in on him, and that would lead to a downturn on the most inopportune time.
2. Which Marc-Andre Fleury do the Golden Knights get? The veteran netminder turned in arguably the very best marketing campaign of his profession, however he’s had his share of playoff misfortune. His profession playoff save proportion is .908 and he has 5 post-seasons wherein he had a SP decrease than .900 with 5 or extra video games performed. If that’s the Fleury that reveals up in opposition to the Kings, Vegas could possibly be in for an early exit.
three. Los Angeles desperately wants secondary scoring. Kopitar can’t proceed to do that by himself. He outscored his next-highest scoring teammate by 31 factors. This good be the place Jeff Carter is available in, although. His return from harm got here full with 13 targets in 21 video games and Carter is a confirmed playoff performer. Getting Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli going would even be an amazing assist.
Four. Cracking the Los Angeles protection with any consistency is a tall job. No crew allowed fewer targets in opposition to, the Kings had the eighth-lowest pictures in opposition to per sport and their penalty kill was tops within the league. Not solely that, Jonathan Quick appears to have returned to type after just a few so-so seasons by posting the second-best full-season SP of his profession. The solely factor that may journey up Los Angeles’ blueline is the knock to Jake Muzzin, which threatens to power him out of a sport or two to begin the collection.
5. The margin of victory or defeat could possibly be razor skinny if the season collection was any indication. Vegas and Los Angeles performed one another 4 occasions and the overall purpose differential throughout these contests was one. Two of the outings wanted time beyond regulation to discover a conclusion — the Kings and Golden Knights traded OT victories in video games two and three of the season set — whereas Los Angeles gained the ultimate assembly Four-1 after dropping a Four-2 resolution to Vegas weeks into the marketing campaign.
THN Series Prediction: Kings in six.
LINE COMBOS, DEFENSE PAIRINGS & GOALIES: