Despite winning over 50 games and taking the Pacific Division this season, a cloud of skepticism and doubt seems to constantly linger over the Vegas Golden Knights any time hockey pundits discuss their postseason chances.
The whole “they’ve never been here before so who knows what to expect” narrative is a fair one to attach to the Knights, but one thing I continuously hear when people break down this series is that the Knights are deep, but they don’t have superstars like Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty.
Although William Karlsson has been close — if not on par — with Kopitar this season, it’s tough to argue against that sentiment. Simply put, the Knights are built on depth and speed, while the Kings tend to lean on their high-talent players like Kopitar, Doughty and Jeff Carter.
When it comes to this series, though, the depth versus star power debate is an interesting one, particularly when you break down the forwards for each team.
Yes, Kopitar is the best forward in this series, but what is being overlooked is that Kopitar is not just playing Karlsson one-on-one. He’s playing against an entire line that has been one of the best in the NHL.
Again, Kopitar is fantastic in just about every statistical category, but when you break things down on a per-minute basis, Jonathan Marchessault and Karlsson were actually better than Kopitar during 5v5 play this season.
Stars in the Series
I’m not going to sit here and say Karlsson and Marchessault are on the same level as Kopitar, because I don’t know that they are, but I think when you consider that the Knights’ top line will likely match up with Kopitar each time he’s one the ice, it does negate some of the “star power” Kopitar brings to this series.
If you go further into the numbers, Vegas’ top line — with Rielly Smith healthy — has regularly outshot and outscored teams this season. However, you can easily counter that by bringing up how Kopitar torched Vegas for five points (two goals and three assists) during their four games this season. Jeff Carter also scored a power play goal in both games he played against Vegas this season.
From a statistical comparison, the Knights’ top line could go tit for tat with Kopitar for a while. However, I think you are beginning to see how this match up is closer than what some are portraying it to be.
Outside of the top line battle, the Knights’ depth could really chip away at the Kings “star power,” which is largely thanks to the likes of David Perron. Granted, Perron may not be back on the ice until later on in the series, but when he does return to the lineup, it’ll create a ripple effect that allows Alex Tuch to slide down into a third line role with Tomas Tatar, and it also could push Ryan Carpenter into a more natural fourth line center role. By doing this it creates a more balanced lineup that can attack the Kings in a variety of ways. This should help the Knights a ton since the Kings third and fourth lines are below average— and that’s being generous.
The defensive side is where the Kings’ star power really shines, though. There’s Doughty and a decent supporting cast of Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Dion Phaneuf, although the numbers would suggest Martinez and Phaneuf have regressed this season. Then for Vegas it’s a true “by committee” approach.
Over the course of a seven game series I’m really curious to see how a “by committee” approach works because given the urgency in each game a player like Doughty could have a gigantic impact.
The other area where star power could really matter is on special teams. The Kings’ penalty kill was ranked No. 1 in the NHL this season and they held the Knights in check during the regular season, forcing them to go 0-for-13 on the man-advantage.
On the flip side, the Kings’ PP unit seemed to figure things out down the stretch, scoring 17 power play goals during their last 25 games and seven during their final 10 games. Vegas wasn’t too far behind the Kings, though, scoring 15 power play goals during their last 25 games and five during their final 10 games.
With benches being shortened during the postseason and top units staying out on the power play longer, we’ll likely see talented players thrive on the man advantage. This is where if you buy into the whole “the Kings are more talented than the Knights” narrative Vegas could have a problem, especially since the Kings’ penalty kill only allowed six goals against during their final 25 games.
Not to sound too cliche here, but I think you can see where the Knights’ depth will help them and where the Kings’ star power will help them. I must admit, I hate to sit on the fence here with this whole “depth versus star power” debate, but I genuinely believe both teams will use this to their advantage at some point during the series and we likely won’t see a “winner” until the series concludes. In the meantime, enjoy the chess match between John Stevens and Gerard Gallant!