The Vegas Golden Knights have been the NHL’s most compelling story ever since their roster was formed in the expansion draft last summer. All throughout the season, the eyes of the hockey world have been glued to the Golden Knights as they put together what has been the very best inaugural season by an expansion team in modern day sports.
All eyes were once again on the Golden Knights Wednesday night when they took on the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of their first-ever playoff series. And while some thought Los Angeles would give the Knights more than they could handle, Vegas came out and played the game that got them to the postseason — a fast, aggressive style with an extra pinch of physicality thrown in.
And it worked!
The Knights ended up beating Los Angeles 1-0, giving Vegas its first postseason win in franchise history. It may not have been a high-scoring affair, but it was easily one of the more exciting games we’ve seen from the Golden Knights all year, and that’s quite an accomplishment given the high volume of thrillers they’ve been a part of this season.
What did we learn from the Golden Knights’ first playoff victory? Let’s jump right in.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury outdueled Jonathan Quick
The biggest storyline going into this series, at least from my viewpoint, was the showdown between Fleury and Quick. The veteran backstops are two of the most decorated goalies actively playing in the NHL and were destined to put on a goaltending clinic in this first-round series.
And boy did they in Game 1.
Fleury stopped all 30 of the Kings’ shots Wednesday night and picked up his fifth shutout as a member of the Golden Knights. It was an excellent performance by the 33-year-old, even though he did give fans a couple scares here and there.
Quick also had himself a fantastic performance, stopping 27 of the Golden Knights’ 28 shots on net. He obviously didn’t get the end result he wanted, but if he continues to play the way he did Wednesday night, this series will be a dream for goalie aficionados.
2. Los Angeles found a way to slow down the Golden Knights’ top line
Throughout the season, the Golden Knights’ top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith has wreaked havoc against just about every team that Vegas has taken on. Going into a seven-game series against the Knights, one would assume that a defensive-minded team like the Kings would focus primarily on neutralizing that top line. And if that truly is the case, then it worked out pretty well for Los Angeles in Game 1.
Despite Vegas’ top line driving play at a respectable rate, the trio of Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith combined for just one shot on goal (from the stick of Smith) at 5-on-5 in Game 1. Granted, many of their attempted shots were either blocked or missed the net entirely, but keeping a line that’s produced at an alarmingly high rate all year to just one shot on goal is no easy task.
Vegas’ top trio combined for 13 points in just four games against Los Angeles in the regular season. For the Golden Knights to extend their lead in the series, they’ll need that top line to keep the points coming. One goal obviously won’t always be enough to beat a team like the Kings on a regular basis.
3. Vegas’ fourth line, though, was superb
Is it possible that the Kings spent so much time preparing for the Knights’ top line that they just chose not to even bother with their bottom line? Because it certainly appeared that way Wednesday night.
Vegas’ fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Tomas Nosek and William Carrier was totally unstoppable in Game 1. The trio averaged a ridiculous 73.24 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 and helped create the lone goal of the game scored by Shea Theodore (even though it appeared to be deflected in by Bellemare) in the first period.
Carrier, in particular, was especially impressive as he dished out 10 hits and led the team with a 75.00 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5. Unfortunately, he exited the game midway through the third period after taking a vicious hit to the head from Drew Doughty (who had taken a beating from Carrier all night).
The hope is that Carrier passes through the NHL’s concussion protocol without any symptoms and will be ready for puck drop Friday night. If he’s not, though, it may be Ryan Reaves taking his place on the fourth line, which is not a good thing for Vegas.
4. This series is going to be a physical gauntlet
This was slightly touched upon when reviewing Carrier’s play from Game 1, but the physicality displayed by both teams in their first meeting of the series is unlike anything we’ve seen from any of the Golden Knights’ 82 regular season games.
The Kings and Knights combined for a total of 127 hits Wednesday night.
One hundred and twenty-seven.
To put that number into perspective, here’s a crazy statistic from friend of the site Jesse Granger of the Las Vegas Sun.
The 4 regular season games between these teams averaged 61 combined hits per game.— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) April 12, 2018
They are at 100 through 2 periods tonight.
Welcome to the playoffs, folks!
It is fair to wonder, though, just how well the Golden Knights will be able to withstand such a physically demanding series. The Kings are built to play this way (they ranked third with 1,935 hits in the regular season). The Knights, however, play more of a finesse game. Will Vegas be able to continue this style of play without being worn down? It’s hard to say. But so far so good.
5. T-Mobile Arena is already one of the best venues in hockey
There’s a reason why the Golden Knights play so well at home. The atmosphere inside T-Mobile Arena is unlike any other building I’ve ever been in. I sometimes feel like home ice advantage can be taken for granted, but that certainly won’t happen in Las Vegas. The folks in Sin City are just happy to have a team. And that’s what makes this possible: