Like the atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights came out rocking. Just 3:23 into the game Shea Theodore scored the first goal, what went on to be the game-winner. That’s because, after that goal, the Golden Knights abandoned some of their normal principles and opted to play a possession-based defense style game, and a gem of one.
Less than a minute after the goal, Brayden McNabb was tagged with a hooking penalty that took away a lot of the Golden Knights momentum. They killed the penalty, but went on to look like a different, but equally good, team. Rather than their standard transition style of offense the Golden Knights relied much more on their forecheck, they were hellacious in their backcheck, and for the first time ever, they recorded over 50 hits and won a hockey game.
I think we were good both ways. It was good to see a lot of speed and physicality, it was a fun game to be in. We just didn’t give them much time and options the entire game. -Jonathan Marchessault
It wasn’t a normal game for Vegas. In total, there were just 35 scoring chances at even strength between the two teams. Golden Knights games averaged 45.2 per game in the regular season. The Golden Knights maintained possession and had a specific purpose with the puck; do not make mistakes that lead to easy breakouts and offense the other way. That’s the big reason for the low scoring chance totals and why even down a goal in a playoff game, the Kings were only able to muster up three scoring chances the entire 3rd period.
I think it was complete, from the first guy going to the last defenseman coming into the play and helping. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Vegas was excellent in possession through the neutral zone which led to either easy skated-in entries or strong, smart dump-ins.
I thought the forwards did a great job. I thought we were putting pucks in great positions. We know Quick likes to play the puck, so you have to put the puck in the corners and forecheck, and we did a good job of that. -Shea Theodore
But it wasn’t just in the offensive end, defensively the Golden Knights may have played their best game of the year. McNabb’s long stick was terrorizing Anze Kopitar, Engelland and Theodore made life a pain on Jeff Carter, and all six defensemen were solid on puck retrieval and subsequent puck movement on Kings dump-ins.
The possession the Golden Knights maintained in the offensive zone helped a lot, but when the Kings were able to start a rush through the neutral zone or find a way into the zone, Vegas was positionally sound, had sticks in passing lanes, and quite simply didn’t allow many shots from dangerous areas.
The Kings barely got anything going directly in front of the net until after the whistle was blown. Then they were ferocious; pushing, shoving, and trying to show their mite, especially Kyle Clifford, but that didn’t translate when the puck was actually in play.
This wasn’t the perfect game by the Golden Knights, in fact, it was kind of far from what we remember seeing when Vegas was at its best, but this was everything and more that was needed to win Game 1 of this series.
The Golden Knights proved they could outskate the Kings and while doing it they proved they could check with the Kings as well.
Mission accomplished in Game 1, now as adjustments are made, it’ll be interesting to see if the Golden Knights stick to this style of play or if they try to go back to what was working so well for a majority of the season. Either way though, they continue to prove they are perfectly adept at doing the only thing that really matters, winning.
**Stick tap to NaturalStatTrick.com for the graph and the advanced stats used in this article.**