Game 2 Preview: Golden Knights must maintain discipline against lethal Oilers power play
The Vegas Golden Knights will look to take a 2-0 lead against the Edmonton Oilers when these teams square off in Game 2 of their best-of-seven second-round series this afternoon at T-Mobile Arena.
Vegas secured a 6-4 victory in Game 1 for their fifth consecutive playoff win thanks to a combination of strong puck pursuit, quick-response goals and a balanced effort from throughout the lineup.
The Golden Knights got points from 11 different skaters and held Edmonton's full-throttle offense in check for long stretches of the game. Despite everything Vegas did right, this was a one-goal game for the final 11:27 of the third period, and Edmonton had all the momentum heading into the final minutes of regulation.
That shows just how narrow the margin for error is against such a potent offense. That's particularly true for the Oilers' power play, which converted on two out of three opportunities in Game 1. Edmonton's man-advantage is operating one step below automatic and is showing zero signs of changing any time soon; that necessitates a full commitment to discipline by the Golden Knights.
But most pundits picked Edmonton to advance. After all, the Oilers have had Vegas' number over the last few years, and Edmonton has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who is coming off a dominant four-goal performance. The Golden Knights may have jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but this series could swing back and forth for seven games.
How Vegas responds to Edmonton's between-game adjustments could be very telling about the fate of this series. No matter what, it seems destined to be a thrilling one.
Keys to the game
Buy in to discipline
First and foremost, the Golden Knights have to maintain discipline.
This should come as no surprise.
This was a necessity for the Golden Knights coming into the matchup, it remains one going into Game 2 and it will continue to be throughout the series. The Oilers' power play is virtually unstoppable. Even when Vegas' penalty kill did everything right in Game 1, Edmonton still found the back of the net. It doesn't take much, either. McDavid and Draisaitl need just a few seconds to create something out of nothing, and the rest of the unit complements the superstars well.
The Oilers went 2-for-3 in Game 2; had they been able to set up in the offensive zone with the extra attacker late in the third, they very well may have scored at 6-on-5. Vegas prevented that scenario by repeatedly stuffing Edmonton's entry attempts at the blue line, but the Oilers are deadly with a man-advantage. The Golden Knights must do everything in their power to play as much of the game at 5-on-5 as possible.
This is nothing new. The Oilers had the best power play in the regular season (32.4 percent) and also led all clubs in the first round:
Edmonton scored nine goals on just 16 attempts for a ridiculous 56.3 percent conversion rate. For context, the Golden Knights went 3-for-16 (18.8 percent). The second-place team was the Winnipeg Jets, who scored five goals on 12 attempts. Against the Golden Knights.
Even though Vegas was relatively disciplined, the Jets took advantage of their opportunities; in fact, Winnipeg scored at least one power-play goal in every game in which Vegas took a penalty.
–KOI series preview: Golden Knights face high-octane Oilers in Round 2
That number is now up to 57.9 percent thanks to the two goals in Game 1, both of which came in the first four minutes of a period. Ivan Barbashev was able to negate that momentum boost on both occasions, but that's not going to happen every time the Oilers convert on the power play.
There's no way around it: Vegas must remain disciplined.
The interference call on Nicolas Hague that led to the first goal was a light one, but the Golden Knights need to realize how tightly this series will be called, especially if McDavid is involved. The other penalty that led to a goal was Alex Pietrangelo's roughing call at the end of the second period. This was an inexcusable and thoughtless penalty to take. Even if Pietrangelo disagreed with the call, the Golden Knights have to be smarter. There was no need for it, especially at the end of a frame. That can't happen moving forward.
Avoid a track meet
The Golden Knights played a very sound defensive game through the first 40 minutes of action, giving up just one 5-on-5 goal, which came in the final 11 seconds of the first period on a trick shot from the goal line that banked in off Laurent Brossoit. But that was it.
In the first period, the Oilers went nearly 14 minutes without recording a shot while the Golden Knights scored three unanswered goals. Obviously, that lead did not hold, but it gave Vegas necessary breathing room and, more importantly, stole the momentum from the road team. But the Golden Knights held a high-flying offense to 15 total shots and just 11 at 5-on-5 through 40 minutes. The Oilers averaged 35.3 shots per game in the first round, which ranked second behind only Boston (35.6). The Oilers generated just three shots on goal in the first 18:40 of the first period before rattling off five, including Draisaitl's second goal of the game. But most significantly, Vegas held the Oilers to just one high-danger chance at 5-on-5 in 40 minutes of playoff hockey. That's something that won't be sustainable as the Oilers make adjustments moving forward, but it's a testament to Bruce Cassidy's system and the players' willingness and ability to execute.
The third period, however, was a different story.
In the third, the Oilers recorded 10 shots at 5-on-5 (12 total) and controlled possession across the board; at 5-on-5, they led 24-12 in shot attempts and 13-6 in scoring chances while owning a 67.34 percent expected goal share and, noticeably, generating seven high-danger chances. After managing just two at all strengths through two periods, Edmonton generated eight in the final frame.
Needless to say, the Oilers turned up the heat.
They only managed two goals (again, one at 5-on-5 and one on the power play), but they were dangerous as they came in waves. It was the first time in the game that the Oilers started to break through Vegas' neutral-zone coverage and had a much easier time entering the zone and staying there. After Draisaitl tied it at 3-3 1:35 into the frame, the Golden Knights responded with two goals in 50 seconds. But for most of the rest of the period, the Oilers were dictating the pace of the game. That led to back-and-forth chances at both ends, which favors the Oilers.
The Golden Knights have to avoid this. Given the speed and skill of the Oilers' top players, a track meet is the last thing Vegas can afford to entertain. It's easier said than done, but it should be area of focus for the Golden Knights this afternoon.
Pepper the keeper
Stuart Skinner has looked shaky throughout the playoffs, and the Golden Knights didn't have a ton of difficulty against him Wednesday night in Game 1. He finished the night with 28 saves on 33 shots for an .848 save percentage; through seven postseason contests, Skinner has a 3.68 goals-against average and .883 save percentage, which rank 20th and 18th, respectively. Interestingly, Jack Campbell managed a 1.18 goals-against average and .964 save percentage in 50:39 of action in relief of Skinner when he got yanked in Game 4 against Los Angeles. However, Skinner was just nominated for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year after taking over the crease in the regular season and likely will be between the pipes for the Oilers moving forward.
No matter who is manning the crease, the Golden Knights cannot deviate from their game plan. They need to continue to forecheck, generate scoring chances and throw pucks at the net at all times. A strong forecheck that keeps Edmonton hemmed in its own zone will limit Vegas' vulnerability at the other end of the ice.
Ivan Barbashev – Jack Eichel – Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith – William Karlsson – Michael Amadio
Brett Howden – Chandler Stephenson – Mark Stone
William Carrier – Nicolas Roy – Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez – Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb – Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague – Zach Whitecloud
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Evander Kane
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Nick Bjugstad – Zach Hyman
Warren Foegele – Ryan McLeod – Derek Ryan
Klim Kostin – Kailer Yamamoto
Darnell Nurse – Cody Ceci
Mattias Ekholm – Evan Bouchard
Brett Kulak – Vincent Desharnais
How to watch
Game 2: Golden Knights vs. Oilers
When: 4 p.m. PT
Where: T-Mobile Arena
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM