Both the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets got the first taste of Western Conference Finals action in franchise history Saturday night in Winnipeg, with the Jets coming out on top with a 4-2 victory. The game was even more one-sided than the final score suggests, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that the Jets have jumped out to a 1-0 series lead.
Playoff series in the NHL are seven games for a reason, though; this one is far from over, especially considering how poorly the Knights played in the opening tilt. Plus, the Jets have been excellent on home ice all season, going 32-7-2 in the regular season and 5-2 in the playoffs at Bell MTS Place.
The Knights will be eager to rebound tonight in Winnipeg. Here’s what to watch for in Game 2.
Think outside the box
The Golden Knights are still in the playoffs and discipline is still a key issue; no surprise there. But Winnipeg’s power play is by far the most lethal the Knights have faced this postseason, as there are elite scoring threats everywhere you look. The least dangerous option on the Jets’ top unit is Paul Stastny, who has 15 points in 13 playoff games, five of which have come on the man advantage. But with Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler on the ice at the same time, it’s no wonder there was confusion among the Knights’ penalty killers Saturday night.
The best way to kill penalties is not to take them. The Jets made Vegas pay for it, going 2-for-4 with power-play markers from Laine and Scheifele. Prior to Game 1, Winnipeg maintained a 25 percent success rate on the power play; that number is now at 27.8 percent, good for second overall among the four remaining teams in the playoffs. This comes as no surprise as the Jets finished fifth overall in the NHL in the regular season with a 23.4 percent conversion rate on the man advantage.
Vegas’ penalty kill has been strong, operating at an 85 percent success rate prior to Game 1, which was the highest among active teams and second only to the Los Angeles Kings among the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs. However, after surrendering two power-play goals in Game 1, Vegas sits at 81.8 percent on the penalty kill. That’s still tops among active teams, but discipline will continue to be a crucial sticking point for the Knights. As demonstrated in Game 1, Winnipeg simply has too many weapons on the power play, so it’s imperative that the Knights stay out of the box.
A flurry in the whiteout
Marc-Andre Fleury has been sensational throughout the playoffs. Through two rounds, he held an 8-2 record as well as a league-best 1.53 goals-against average and .951 save percentage among goalies who played in at least five postseason games.
However, he was not sharp Saturday night in Game 1, finishing his worst performance of the postseason with an .846 save percentage. He gave up a goal to Byfuglien just 65 seconds into the game. Though Byfuglien is known for his booming shot, Fleury wasn’t screened on the play and should have stopped it.
Not quite the start Vegas was looking for! Byfuglien beat Fleury with a laser just 65 seconds in. pic.twitter.com/5Fas12rRp2— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 12, 2018
But not all four of the goals were his fault; in fact, he had no chance on several of them. Plus, he made some huge saves at key moments in the game.
Grogeous juggling save by Fleury on the odd-man rush. pic.twitter.com/tUieJ0ACKT— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 12, 2018
HUGE stop by Fleury. pic.twitter.com/KHxyxUtHpv— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 13, 2018
It’s hard to criticize Fleury considering how dominant he has been, but he, like the rest of his teammates, needs to be better in Game 2.
Aim for the white web surrounded by red tubes
The Golden Knights recorded just 13 shots through 40 minutes of action in Game 1, finishing the first, second and third periods with 6, 7 and 8 shots, respectively. Though there was a lot of play tied up in the neutral zone, it’s difficult to win playoff games without directing pucks on net.
It seemed especially wasteful considering Connor Hellebuyck looked shaky on a lot of plays and did not have a particularly strong game despite picking up the win.
To be fair, Winnipeg blocked 22 shots in the contest. However, the Knights can’t afford to be picky when it comes to shot selection. Getting the puck to the net is never a bad play. If players are screening the goalie and are available for rebounds, good things are bound to happen.
Cleanup on aisle two
The Golden Knights were guilty of 11 giveaways in Game 1, including several of a similar nature. It started early with a costly cross-ice pass by Jonathan Marchessault, which got picked off in Winnipeg’s end by Wheeler. Wheeler handed it off to Scheifele, who skated up the ice with the puck, took advantage of a sloppy Vegas line change and eventually left a drop-pass for Byfuglien, who rocketed it past Fleury just 1:05 into the game.
The problem with this turnover in particular is that the Knights continued to make similar soft East-West passes throughout the game, and the Jets continued to capitalize. This seems like an easy fix for the Knights to correct, but the adjustment certainly wasn’t made during the game. That being said, if the Knights know that Winnipeg is waiting to pounce, passes needed to be crisper, and the soft cross-ice feed from the point may need to be taken out of Vegas’ repertoire, at least for the time being.
Winnipeg has tremendous skill, so turnovers will be especially punishing in this series. The Knights need to be more decisive with the puck, especially at the blue line.
How to Watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports app
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM