Ovi or Novi?
The bad boys of Knights On Ice weigh the pros and cons of both teams to figure out who’s going to win.
Dalton Mack: You won the first round, Shep. It shall be your last.
The Vegas Golden Knights are winning the Stanley Cup Final over the Washington Capitals and here’s how they’re going to do it.
Marc-Andre Fleury. Ever hear of him?
Vegas’ 33-year-old netminder followed up a career regular season with what appears so far to be the greatest postseason run in the salary cap era. The Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas and the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick are commonly accepted as the owners of the finest postseason goaltending runs in recent memory (in 2011 and 2012 respectively), but according to Corsica, the Flower has already saved more goals than either of them.
This is especially impressive when you consider that it took Thomas 25 games to post a 15.43 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) and Quick 20 games to post a 13.60 mark. Fleury currently sits at 17.56 in just 15 games. He has saved more than one goal per game more than the average goaltender would. Insanity.
The Capitals’ Braden Holtby has played fine, but his 4.37 GSAA does not even make up one-quarter of Flower’s output.
Fleury’s save percentage is the highest the postseason has seen since before man stepped on the moon.
But Fleury is just one of 20 Knights that dress for a game. How about the others?
Much was made about the Reilly Smith - William Karlsson - Jonathan Marchessault line during the regular season, what with them owning the league’s best goal differential (+23) at 5-on-5. However, they have continued to thrive in the postseason as well, combining for 47 of the team’s 119 points.
But the Knights are anything but top-heavy. In fact, it is their depth that may win them this series. The fourth line of Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan Reaves boasts the team’s best expected-goals for percentage at 66.1%. Sports are about the bottom line, and I’m pleased to report that the process and outcome were both positive, as this line has not yet allowed a 5-on-5 goal, yet has scored two of them.
While the offense and the unreal play of the goaltender may have captured many of the headlines, the Knights’ defensive play has been stout as well. I wrote at length about this earlier in the week, but the top pairing of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb has been lights-out the past two rounds, most recently keeping the deadly Kyle Connor - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler line in check. With this group matched up against the opponents’ best lines, it allows players like Shea Theodore or Colin Miller on lower pairings to freelance a little more given their more favorable matchups.
Even the third pairing, which consists of Miller and Luca Sbisa or Jon Merrill, has managed to thrive, being on the ice for seven 5-on-5 goals for and just one against. Finding a flaw in this Vegas team is a tall order, and given their 12-3 record so far this postseason, no one has really quite done it.
Heck, Vegas even has players in the press box who could potentially make a huge impact. It takes a stellar roster to keep Tomas Tatar off the ice, he of 20+ goals in four straight seasons and the 7th best relative Corsi of 310 players with at least 400 games played in the past eight seasons.
Washington’s best player scratched in their Game 7 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning was Alex Chiasson, and he drives play worse than almost anyone in the game (44.0 CF%). Well, not as bad as teammates Jay Beagle (39.2%) and Chandler Stephenson (43.8%), and just slightly better than Devante Smith-Pelly (44.4%), but you get my point, eh?
Finally, to get a sense of how this matchup might play out, let’s look no further than the two games these two squads did play against one another this season. While shot attempts in their two matchups ended up rather close — Vegas 115, Washington 106 — the scores did not, as the Golden Knights outpaced the Capitals, 7-3.
Even more telling is that Vegas was able to notch a pair of victories despite being a negative-3 in penalty differential. The Knights conceded six minor penalties and allowed goals on precisely zero of those occasions.
Schmidt and McNabb found themselves matched against the Alex Ovechkin line, and Vegas owned two-thirds of the scoring chances when they were all on the ice. If the Golden Knights’ top pairing can do that again, it would take a miracle for Washington to walk away victorious.
Shepard Price: Mr. Mack, what you just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I’ve ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you ever close to something that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone who has read this is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may Ovechkin have mercy on your soul.
Here’s why the Capitals are going to beat the Golden Knights: Ovechkin is hungry, and now that he’s finally in the Stanley Cup Final, there’s no stopping a runaway train. One of the best goal scorers of all time (either the greatest or second greatest, depending upon who you ask) is not going to be stopped by an expansion team.
In 14 playoff games against Fleury, Ovechkin has collected 10 goals and 21 points. He’s been excellent in the past, and he should be excellent again. He and Evgeny Kuznetsov are too dangerous of a pairing offensively to be contained like Patrik Laine and Paul Stastny were.
Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have the following possession metrics at 5-on-5: 52.99 percent Corsi, 56.08 percent shot share, 64 percent goal share, 53.76 percent high-danger share. That’s regardless of linemate. They’ve only allowed three high-danger goals against in 264 5-on-5 minutes.
Then you have Washington’s depth. Past the Kuznetsov-Ovechkin line, the Capitals have Nicklas Backstrom with Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie as well as Lars Eller with Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly. Even the fourth line, made up of Stephenson, Smith-Pelly and Beagle, has some goal scorers.
The Backstrom line has 50 percent Corsi and 53.66 percent shot share, and it is barely losing the high-danger battle at 8-9. They haven’t yet scored, but with 43 minutes played together, they should be due. Without Vrana, Backstrom and Oshie have 50.58 percent Corsi, 53.28 percent shot share and 57.89 percent high-danger share, and they are even in goals (4-4).
The Eller line has 59.09 percent Corsi and 50 percent shot share and hasn’t allowed a goal. Plus, the Beagle line has eight goals among the three skaters.
That kind of depth is what the Golden Knights have thrived on, but the Capitals have the ability to challenge them there. They have speed in players like Burakovsky, Smith-Pelley and Stephenson. They have good goal scoring in Connolly. They have a very solid middle-six center in Eller. The Capitals’ bottom six is going to be a weapon against the Golden Knights.
In addition, the Capitals have two more keys: Holtby and the power play.
Holtby has been the third-best goaltender among those who have played five or more games, behind only Fleury and Martin Jones, with a .923 save percentage. He’s second in goals-against average with a 2.04. He came up huge with two back-to-back shutouts when the Capitals needed him most in Games 6 and 7 against Tampa Bay, and that should carry over into the next round. After all, Holtby has three straight series with a save percentage above .919, which is very good.
The power play has been the secret of the Capitals’ success throughout the playoffs. Not only do they have the second-best power play in the playoffs (behind only the Boston Bruins) at 28.8 percent conversion success, they have the most man-advantage goals with 17. When six different players have at least one power-play goal, the Capitals must be doing something right, even if they found more success earlier in the postseason.
They’ve gotten five power-play goals from Oshie, four from Ovechkin and three apiece from Kuznetsov and John Carlson. The Golden Knights have struggled with multiple-option power plays in the past; just look at the Golden Knights’ penalty kill against the Jets.
The Golden Knights allowed four goals in 29 shorthanded minutes, two of which came from Laine. If they struggled that badly against Laine, imagine what Ovechkin is going to be able to do.
Nobody has been able to stop Ovechkin consistently, and, looking at the playoff track record, that includes Fleury.
That’s how the Capitals beat the Golden Knights. They use the undisciplined play of the Golden Knights to their advantage with a strong power play. They take away Vegas’ first line with an equally strong first line, and they go toe-to-toe with depth. In the back end, they rely on Holtby to carry them, which he did successfully in the last three rounds.