Game 6 Preview: Golden Knights aim to eliminate resilient Oilers, advance to third round

Game 6 Preview: Golden Knights aim to eliminate resilient Oilers, advance to third round

The Vegas Golden Knights will have their first crack at eliminating the Edmonton Oilers from the playoffs when these teams square off in Game 6 tonight at Rogers Place.

The Golden Knights are coming off a 4-3 win in Game 5 and hold a 3-2 series lead over their Pacific Division rival.

Golden Knights edge Oilers 4-3 in Game 5, take 3-2 series lead thanks to special teams
The Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers competed in what proved to be the closest game of their best-of-seven second-round series Friday night at T-Mobile Arena. It was the first game decided by one goal and featured some of the biggest momentum shifts in the series, but in the end,

These clubs have alternated wins all series long, with the Golden Knights taking a lead and the Oilers erasing that lead in the next game. If that happens for a third time, this series will go to a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena.

But the Golden Knights don't want to host the Oilers again this season. They want to take care of business tonight on the road, but they will be facing a desperate Oilers team that has responded well to adversity all year.

The fourth win of a series is always the most difficult to attain, and Edmonton has enough firepower to overcome even the most complete defensive effort the Golden Knights can muster. The Golden Knights needed just one game to eliminate the Winnipeg Jets in the first round, but this is a completely different series, with either team fully capable of advancing.

With both teams getting their top defensemen back from suspension, this is sure to be a heated battle between two teams hungry for the all-elusive championship hardware. Here's what the Golden Knights need to do in order to close out the series in six.

Keys to the game

Survive the first

The Edmonton Oilers are going to throw everything they have at the Golden Knights, and it will start on the opening faceoff. The crowd will be feverish, the Oilers will be fired up and the Golden Knights will have their hands full.

Weathering the storm early will be key, especially considering the Oilers have scored first in all five games. Plus, the Golden Knights tend to take a penalty in the first few minutes of every game, which has been a punishing trend.

  • In Game 1, Nicolas Hague got called for interference 2:43 into the contest, and Leon Draisaitl scored on the ensuing power play at 3:56.
  • In Game 2, it took just 1:13 for the Golden Knights to be shorthanded, as Brayden McNabb got whistled for cross-checking. Zach Whitecloud then took a high-sticking penalty at 5:40, and the Oilers scored on both power plays.
  • In Game 3, the Golden Knights did not take a penalty in the first period. They still gave up the first goal – Warren Foegele scored on the rush – but the Golden Knights scored the next five goals in their most lopsided victory of the series.
  • In Game 4, it was back to business as usual. The Oilers scored at 5-on-5 when Shea Theodore lost control of the puck in the defensive zone; Edmonton scored again 52 seconds later after Theodore committed his second slashing penalty of the frame.
  • In Game 5, Reilly Smith got called for hooking 1:10 into the contest, and Connor McDavid scored his first of two power-play goals at 3:02.

The Golden Knights have given up the first goal at 3:56, 2:21, 2:45, 6:46 and 3:02 of the first period in Games 1-5, respectively. Not being able to get through the first seven minutes of a period without giving up a goal is a clear-cut sign that one team is getting off to drastically more effective starts than the other.

But the entire opening frame has been an issue for the Golden Knights.

Vegas has given up a total of 12 first-period goals. By comparison, the Golden Knights have surrendered a total of two goals in the second period and three in the third. In other words, Edmonton has scored 71 percent of its goals in the first period.

In four out of five games, the team with the lead after 20 minutes has gone on to win. It's clear that Vegas has not been able to get off to strong starts, and Edmonton has had the Golden Knights on their heels in every installment of this matchup.

One common thread among Vegas' three wins has been quick-response goals.

"[If we] give up the first one, then we better be pushing hard, we need to get the next goal," Bruce Cassidy said after Game 5. "I think that's been our mindset after we've given up the first one is to try to aggressively push through to get the next one."

  • In Game 1, Ivan Barbashev answered 40 and 61 seconds after Draisaitl power-play goals in the first and third periods, respectively.
  • In Game 3, Jonathan Marchessault got his first of the playoffs 1:59 after Edmonton took a 1-0 lead courtesy of a 5-on-5 goal by Foegele.
  • In Game 5, it was Jack Eichel who scored 50 seconds after McDavid gave the Oilers their fifth 1-0 lead of the series.

Clearly, the Golden Knights need to get off to a better start, but if they do fall behind once again, answering relatively quickly – within two minutes – seems to go a long way.

That's easier said than done, especially on the road, but more than anything, the quick-response goals are indicative of Vegas' effort level, engagement level and compete level. If the Golden Knights don't bring their best effort, aren't fully engaged and aren't ready to compete in the first period, they could be in trouble early.

"Just don't take yourself out of the game in the first period," Cassidy said.

That's a critical objective for the Golden Knights tonight in Game 6.

Be cool

The Golden Knights have struggled with discipline throughout this series.

Regardless of the officiating, regardless of what Edmonton players have done between the whistles, regardless of what has gone on in previous games, the Golden Knights have to play their most disciplined game of the season.

When the Golden Knights take penalties against the Oilers, they're playing with fire. It hasn't hurt them terribly in the last two games, as Vegas went 6-for-7 on the penalty kill in Game 4 and only allowed one goal on a five-minute major in Game 5. However, all three of Edmonton's goals in Game 5 came on the man-advantage, and the Oilers have gone 9-for-22 in this series; their 40.9 percent conversion rate is the kind of dominance that easily can be the deciding factor in a game. The more chances the Golden Knights give the Oilers' power play, the more likely it is to burn them.

Nine of Edmonton's 17 goals in this series have come on the power play; that's 53 percent of Edmonton's offense. Six of those nine goals have come in the first period when Edmonton has forced the Golden Knights into taking penalties. If the Golden Knights can limit those opportunities, their chances of coming away with a win will be significantly enhanced.

Vegas very well may be overwhelmed at the start of tonight's contest. The Oilers have their backs against the wall and have smelled fish in the water against the Golden Knights in the first period throughout this series. It's difficult to contain some of Edmonton's top offensive threats, but the Golden Knights are taking unnecessary penalties against bottom-six forwards and defensemen.

For example, Whitecloud took a high-sticking penalty on Derek Ryan, Theodore retaliated against Klim Kostin, Smith and Nicolas Roy both hooked Evan Bouchard, Hague tripped Foegele, Eichel retaliated against Vincent Desharnais, Alex Pietrangelo retaliated against Bouchard at the end of a period, and Keegan Kolesar took a completely unnecessary penalty on Mattias Ekholm late in the second period of Game 5.

This is not a matter of coaching. Cassidy and his staff have preached discipline all year; it's not a coincidence that Vegas was the least-penalized team in the NHL during the regular season. It's also something that has been stressed throughout this series.

At some point, the players have to maintain discipline on their own; they have to control their emotions, they can't retaliate no matter what Edmonton does and they can't take lazy stick penalties against such a lethal power play.

It should go without saying, but plays like Pietrangelo's slash on Draisaitl and Kolesar's boarding on Ekholm also cannot happen. There's no room for that in the game, and Kolesar could have cost his team the game had things gone another way.

Both penalties were stupid and dirty, and the Golden Knights can't expect to compete for a Cup if they're going to stoop to that level. It's no secret that the Oilers have been baiting the Golden Knights, but it's Vegas' fault that it has worked.

The issue tonight is that the Oilers likely will bring the same level of physicality they played with in Game 4. Vegas never had an answer for it, and it led to many penalties, including the one that justly earned Pietrangelo a one-game suspension.

But positionally and strategically, Edmonton's physicality in Game 4 was a problem all night, and it's something the Oilers got away from in Game 5.

Cassidy said he and the Golden Knights noticed that during the game.

"[The Oilers] didn't have the same jump that they certainly had up there in Edmonton in Game 4," he said after Vegas' 4-3 win. "They just didn't have the same drive and intensity... The physicality that they showed in Game 4 wasn't quite as evident. ... That's what our guys sensed. Whether that's accurate or not, I don't know. But that's how our feeling was on that bench, that we can grab a hold of this, that [the Oilers] weren't dominating or pushing us out of the game by any means."

As far as the physicality is concerned, that won't be the case tonight.

It would be shocking if Jay Woodcroft doesn't encourage his players to return to that style of play that was so effective in Game 4.

Vegas needs to be ready for it.

"Get greasy"

Cassidy said after Game 5 that the Golden Knights needed to "get greasy" offensively. In other words, Vegas needed to get to the top of the crease and the front of the net and score greasy goals. The Golden Knights don't need the perfect play, they just need to get to high-danger areas and throw pucks at the net.

Cassidy commended Eichel for doing that on his first-period goal, and he noted how Mark Stone and Smith both scored from there as well.

"We needed to get greasy tonight, we needed to get to the top of the crease," he said. "We have to make a conscious effort to get there and get pucks there."

The Golden Knights have had some issues scoring during the series, namely in Games 2 and 4, when Vegas combined for two goals. Stuart Skinner has had his moments, but the Golden Knights need to test him. If they take away his eyes and go hard to the net, there's only so much he can do. He has been inconsistent throughout the playoffs; the Golden Knights have to take advantage of that. It's not enough to play sound defense, especially since the Oilers need just seconds to make a perfect play and set up an easy goal.

"I think we know how to check well, we know how to defend, but we had to be in a position to defend so we needed to get those goals to get ahead of them," Cassidy said about Vegas' three-goal outburst in the second period of Game 5.

The Golden Knights don't necessarily need to score in bunches, but they have to get to the dirty areas to challenge Skinner and find the back of the net.

Projected lines

Golden Knights

Ivan Barbashev – Jack Eichel – Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith – William Karlsson – Nicolas Roy
Brett Howden – Chandler Stephenson – Mark Stone
William Carrier – Teddy Blueger – Keegan Kolesar

Alec Martinez – Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb – Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague – Zach Whitecloud

Adin Hill
Jonathan Quick


Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Zach Hyman
Evander Kane – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Warren Foegele – Ryan McLeod – Derek Ryan
Klim Kostin – Nick Bjugstad

Darnell Nurse – Cody Ceci
Mattias Ekholm – Evan Bouchard
Brett Kulak – Vincent Desharnais
Philip Broberg

Stuart Skinner
Jack Campbell

How to watch

Game 6: Golden Knights vs. Oilers
When: 7 p.m. PT
Where: Rogers Place
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM