The Vegas Golden Knights have done it. Despite many (including myself) having this series going to seven games, the Knights once again said “To hell with your take!” and swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, becoming the first expansion team to ever sweep a playoff series in its inaugural season.
As always, let’s dive in and take a look at what we learned from this historic series.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury does it again
I sound like a broken record, but I cannot not give Fleury the credit he deserves. Flower was an absolute monster this series and somehow managed to improve his play as the series went on.
Game 4, in particular, was an especially otherworldly performance by Fleury. He stopped all 31 of the Kings’ shots on goal and made numerous clutch saves to protect Vegas’ one-goal lead.
Fleury finished the series with a ridiculous .977 save percentage and a 0.65 goals against average (he allowed just three goals in four games).
This goes without saying, but without Fleury, this series goes well beyond four games.
2. Brayden McNabb gets his revenge
Imagine being in McNabb’s shoes.
After spending three years in Los Angeles, the Kings left McNabb unprotected in June’s expansion draft. Sure enough, the Golden Knights ended up claiming McNabb, giving him a prominent role on the back end in their inaugural season. Not only did he record NHL career highs in goals (5) and plus-minus (plus-26) during the regular season, but he ended his former team’s season by scoring the one and only goal in Game 4, sending the Kings home winless in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That must feel pretty damn good.
Even aside from his series-winning tally, though, McNabb gave Los Angeles fits all series in the defensive zone. He blocked 10 shots, dished out 14 hits and logged nearly 100 minutes (14 of those minutes coming on the penalty kill).
If you’re still curious as to why Vegas gave McNabb a contract extension, this series should explain their reasoning.
3. Vegas held off the Kings’ superstars once again
As noted by our own Chris Okrainetz prior to the start of the series, the Kings are a top-heavy team with limited scoring depth, which ended up being the kiss of death against the Golden Knights.
In the series’ four games, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Drew Doughty, some the Kings’ top point-getters, combined for a grand total of just three (3!) points. All three of those points were awarded to Kopitar and Brown in Game 3, the highest-scoring game of the series (a 3-2 victory for Vegas).
At the end of the day, the Kings just didn’t have the depth to keep up with Vegas. And it cost them in a big way.
Speaking of the Kings’ inability to keep up...
4. Los Angeles had no answer for Vegas’ speed
Game 2 was a prime example of this. Through the game’s first 40 minutes, both teams drove play at more or less an even rate. But as the game went on, the Golden Knights gradually began to take control, and their speed (as well as Los Angeles’ fatigue) likely is what gave them such an advantage.
This didn’t just occur in Game 2, though. There was a similar pattern in advanced metrics in Game 1 and Game 3 (though Vegas had the upper hand for basically the entirety of Game 3).
Vegas is known league-wide as a speedy team that wears down opponents as games progress, and this series was a microcosm of what got Vegas to the postseason.
5. Vegas shows no issues creating quality scoring chances
The following heat maps, provided by Natural Stat Trick, give a basic representation of how effective Vegas was in the offensive zone this series (as well as just how good Jonathan Quick was for Los Angeles).
Clearly, the Golden Knights made it a priority to get to the dirty areas of the ice and make life miserable for Quick (particularly true in Game 3). This is especially impressive when you consider that the Kings were arguably the best defensive team in hockey during the regular season, allowing just 202 goals against.