The Golden Knights are built differently than most teams in the Pacific division. For example, the Kings were ranked 2nd in average height (6’1), and 3rd in team weight (207 lbs) last season. The Golden Knights have 11 players weighing in at 200 pounds or more, and just seven players heavier than LA’s 207 pound team average. The Kings have 18 players 200+ lbs and 11 that weigh more than 207. On to height, Vegas has five players 6’3 or taller. LA has eight players 6’3 or bigger. I could keep going. Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, LA, and Vancouver are all designed to handle the heavy load in front of their own goal.
Net presence isn’t always determined by strength. When there’s room to take advantage of, size doesn’t matter. Vegas may not be a big, physical team but they proved to be strong around Vancouver’s net.
David Perron‘s deep slot goal in the first period was a gorgeous display of his typically velvety hands (the only real way to describe his hands) but Nate Schmidt‘s net presence helped create an open lane. Vancouver’s defense was so busy clearing out the VGK defenseman, they got in the way of goaltender Jacob Markstrom‘s vision. Once James Neal passed the puck it was all target practice from there. The distraction in front by Schmidt, and a patient Perron got Vegas on the board first.
The Golden Knights second goal was created by an aggressive Alex Tuch. The 220 pound forward outskated two Canucks for offensive possession. William Karlsson parked himself in front of the net, and waited for Tuch’s assist. Vancouver defenseman Alex Edler had no clue #71 was inches away from the crease when he flipped the puck over Markstrom. He was untouched and free to get in position. Sure it was a defensive breakdown but Vancouver allowed space in front again, and the Golden Knights capitalized.
On the third and game-winning goal, the heavy presence of VGK’s top line was too much for Vancouver to defend. It began with a key puck battle Neal won behind the Canucks net. Once in control, the toothless veteran connected with Perron, who moved the puck to an open Erik Haula for the score. The top-line center was camped out near Markstrom and one-timed a cross-crease feed from Perron. It was beautiful puck movement, and again Vegas took advantage of the open space in front on the Canucks net.
It wasn’t just the Golden Knights goals. Multiple rushes Vegas players blocked out and created a wall in front of Markstrom. Defensively, it wasn’t Vancouver’s best game but Vegas made things difficult. Winning offensive and neutral zone battles, timely passing, and crowding Markstrom.
In today’s NHL, speed and skill can sometimes neutralize size and strength. We’ll see if the Golden Knights have open space to move around in front of Jonathan Quick this Sunday. If there’s room expect Vegas to find it.