The Vegas Golden Knights are riding a wave of momentum. For three straight games, the Golden Knights have controlled play against the Colorado Avalanche, and in two of those, both at home, Vegas came away with the victory. After one of their poorest efforts of the season in Game 1, Vegas has seen one hell of a comeback in the last three games to tie the series.
Part of that has been the play of Marc-Andre Fleury back in net, who now has a .926 save percentage against the Avalanche this season. But the vast majority has been due to the play of the skaters ahead of him. Vegas is dominant at 5-on-5; they have outshot the Avalanche in this series 118-70 at full strength and have generated 9.65 expected goals to 4.46 against.
The Golden Knights are also doing the things they need to do in order to specifically beat the Avalanche. They have cut down on mistakes in the last two games, stopped taking penalties (only a little over two minutes in each of the last two games) and are finding ways of slowing down the Avalanche’s attack without doing so illegally.
The two teams are playing at a break-neck pace, but Vegas is doing better at that. The Golden Knights are dumping and chasing when necessary and are finding ways to carry in the puck against the Avalanche’s defense when able. The same cannot be said of the Avalanche over the last three games.
Vegas’s defense, which includes the defensive forwards, is finding ways to interrupt Colorado’s progress and limit breakout chances for players like Nathan MacKinnon. That has to continue for the Golden Knights to take this series.
While the top six is doing the heavy lifting in terms of scoring — especially Max Pacioretty, on the Mark Stone line, who has seen little help from his linemates but continues to produce — each of the lines is able to hold its own, and that showed in Game 4, which was nearly as good a game for Vegas as Game 1 was a bad one.
Now, Vegas looks to take a game in Colorado. Doing so could determine who wins this series, as neither team has yet won a game on the road. The Golden Knights won two games in Colorado in the regular season and lost the other two. So Vegas can defeat the Avalanche in their arena, especially when the Knights are playing as well as they did in both Game 3 and Game 4.
The Golden Knights will look to take their first lead in the series in tonight’s Game 5 battle against the Avalanche. Here’s what to watch for.
What to watch for
- As the Golden Misfits line goes, so goes the team. With Jonathan Marchessault going off in Game 3 and Game 4 — scoring four goals between the two contests — Marchessault and William Karlsson now only trail Pacioretty for the most points by Golden Knights skaters against Colorado this season (both have 10). The line got off to a slow start in the series, as they were outshot 7-4 in the first contest and ended up allowed two combined goals in the first two games. Reilly Smith also took that critical penalty in overtime of Game 2. The line generated just two high-danger chances in the first two games. But then they took off in Game 3, scoring two goals at 5-on-5 and generating 0.6 expected goals to 0.31 against. Game 4 was the line’s best effort perhaps all season, generating seven high-danger chances, scoring two goals and generating 0.87 at 5-on-5. If they can continue to play on that level while Colorado attempts to find the right matchup to stop them, Vegas has much better odds.
- On the other side of that scoring, it’s been a while since two crucial pieces of the Vegas lineup showed up. The third line hasn’t scored a goal since Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild, and Shea Theodore is still without a goal in these playoffs. In terms of point production, quite simply. Vegas’s most valuable player last postseason has not been the same. Alex Tuch hasn’t looked the same as he did in the middle of that Minnesota series, and Nicolas Roy, who also came up big at times during the first round, has also largely gone missing. Perhaps putting a better scorer than Keegan Kolesar on that line would help, but at this point, they are helping with forechecking and are not getting stuck often in their own end. Still, it’d be nice to see that line score more, and the former Tuch-Theodore household needs to start showing up in these playoffs.
- Vegas has discovered a weakness in Philipp Grubauer’s armor. Now, it’s all about exploiting it. While Grubauer has largely been the better goaltender in this series both in the regular season and in the playoffs — he has a .930 save percentage in his games against Vegas while Fleury has a .926, and Grubauer has saved 4.73 goals above expected to Fleury’s 4.39 — there is an area where he’s lacking. While Fleury has an .899 save percentage from high danger against the Avalanche, Grubauer has just an .831 against Vegas. Three of Vegas’s 12 high-danger chances in Game 4 went in, as did two of Vegas’s nine in Game 3. Grubauer has yet to have a perfect game from high danger for Colorado, where even in Game 1, when Vegas had just five chances from the high-danger area, one went in. The lesson from all this: drive the net and shoot. Or just bank the puck off Grubauer himself. Either way works.
How to watch
Time: 6 p.m.
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM