The Vegas Golden Knights won the round robin tournament and secured the first seed in the Western Conference with their 4-3 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. Watching the game from the stands were the players of Vegas’ first-round opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks, who pulled off an upset by eliminating the Edmonton Oilers in four games.
The Golden Knights know the Blackhawks fairly well. After all, Robin Lehner, who looks to be the starter going into the first round, was acquired from Chicago before the trade deadline in February (a bit ironic now).
Plus, the Golden Knights and Blackhawks have faced each other nine times over the last three seasons, with Vegas holding an all-time record of 8-1-0. The one loss came this season back on Nov. 13 in a game in which the Knights allowed five goals and Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford made 39 saves on 42 shots for a .929 save percentage.
The Blackhawks also have a former Golden Knight on their roster, with old friend Ryan Carpenter serving as their most important penalty-killing forward. Many of the Golden Knights’ young players are probably familiar with the Blackhawks as well from their days of playing 20 minutes away with the Chicago Wolves.
But here are the relevant statistics and factors you need to know heading into this series.
Chicago has, or at least had, the worst defense in the league in the regular season, yet the Blackhawks’ penalty kill was capable. The Blackhawks had a bad power play, something Chicago has become adjusted to, despite plenty of offensive talent.
But the biggest X-factor in the series for Chicago might be the play of Crawford, who got off to a rough start against Edmonton but improved as the series wore on after missing much of summer training camp while ill.
The Blackhawks’ defense was statistically the worst in the league at 5-on-5. They were dead last in shots against per 60 (34.82), expected goals against per 60 (2.64) and high-danger chances against per 60 (12.91). The only saving grace was the eighth-highest save percentage, a .925 mark due in part to the guy now minding Vegas’ net.
Those horrifying numbers led to Chicago having the 22nd highest Corsi (48.45 percent), the 29th highest shot share (47.07 percent), 27th highest expected goal share (46.93 percent) and the 29th highest high-danger share (45.75 percent).
Meanwhile, in those same categories, Vegas was first in Corsi (54.76 percent), first in shot share (54.42 percent), first in expected goal share (56.07 percent) and second in high-danger share (55.72 percent).
The Golden Knights should be able to dominate possession at 5-on-5. In fact, even the Oilers, who had significantly worse numbers in the regular season (their best mark was a 49.55 percent high-danger share), dominated Chicago at 5-on-5. The Blackhawks finished the qualifying series with a 46.04 percent Corsi, 45.6 percent shot share and 39.27 percent expected goal share.
So does Chicago even stand a chance?
We’ll get there, but anything’s possible in the playoffs. Any given Sunday and all that nonsense. In a world where drama doesn’t happen, though, the short answer is no.
Despite those horrible 5-on-5 numbers, the Blackhawks actually maintained a decent penalty kill to the tune of an 82.1 percent success rate, tied for eighth in the league with the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights had the 27th-best mark at 76.6 percent.
But that may end up reversing itself in this series.
Chicago’s numbers came with Lehner in net, and Lehner had the third-best save percentage of any goaltender with more than 60 minutes on the penalty kill in the regular season (.918). He saved 9.38 goals above average and 5.38 goals above expected.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, allowed a power-play goal in each game against the Oilers except Game 4, when they allowed a goal two seconds after a power-play opportunity ended. In the regular season, Crawford was 39th among goaltenders with more than 60 minutes of shorthanded play with a .853 save percentage. That fell to an .821 mark against Edmonton.
But the guys in front of Crawford will have something to say about Vegas’ ninth-ranked power play. Chicago allowed the 15th-fewest expected goals per 60 (6.44) while shorthanded. Vegas’ mark was 6.76, good for 22nd overall.
The Blackhawks’ power play was ranked 28th in the regular season, scoring on 15.2 percent of its opportunities. They scored three goals in their 6-4 victory in Game 1 against the Oilers and then just one more throughout the other three games in the series.
Chicago finished 21st in shot attempts per 60 on the man advantage in the regular season (91.34), 22nd in shots (50.17), 18th in expected goals (6.46) and 12th in high-danger chances (21.39, just .14 behind Vegas). Those aren’t awful numbers, but for a team like the Golden Knights, whose largest weakness this season has been their penalty kill, they aren’t terrifying either.
So what can we take away from this?
Vegas should be dominant at 5-on-5. The Knights’ power play will face a penalty kill that lost its best goaltender, and that goaltender is now helping to fix Vegas’ biggest weakness of the regular season.
I’d be surprised by any result that’s not Vegas in five.