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How The Golden Knights Broke Open The Blackhawks In Game 1

The early going of any series is going to come with what is commonly referred to as a “feeling out process.” Teams usually play pretty close to the vest, not revealing their entire game plan for the series and it tends to lead to slow-moving hockey. It doesn’t always go that way, but there’s no better way to characterize the opening frame of Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Blackhawks.

Not only did neither team score in the 1st, there weren’t even many great chances. Between the two teams, there was a total of five-shot attempts from inside the “house” in the entire 1st period. Most chances came from far away and both teams did well to thwart the opposing team’s attack.

I thought they played hard and were pretty hard defensively. You could tell they were trying not to give up much either. -Pete DeBoer

As the game went on though, the Golden Knights took what was already a slow game and made it even slower. In the 1st period, they were looking to strike quickly when in the offensive zone, and with Chicago’s commitment to defend it led to short offensive possessions. In the 2nd, that started to change and the game did with it.

I think we did a better job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the 2nd period and on. They’re a rush team, so we don’t want to get into a track meet with them. Once we can get them to stop in the d-zone we can control the game a little bit more. It all came from offensive zone time and holding on to the puck behind the net. -Reilly Smith

Instead of playing the brand of fast transition hockey that helped carry the 2017-18 Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, these Golden Knights slowed the game down, controlling the puck with more purpose, and methodically broke down the Chicago defense.

All four Vegas lines followed the same pattern as the game went on, defaulting to more of a cycle game than we’re used to seeing. Where Chicago’s defense preferred to collapse into the dangerous ice in the 1st period, the controlled offense from the Golden Knights forced them to open up in the 2nd and 3rd. Playing from under the goal line drug Blackhawks defensemen to the puck opening up shot lanes from the point and half-wall.

We were first on pucks in the o-zone and we were making good decisions. We took over in the 2nd and 3rd periods. -Marchessault

Both the first and second goals were a result of patient offensive play.

On the first, Alec Martinez cycled a puck under the goal line where Smith picked it up. Rather than heading straight for the goal or looking for the decisive pass to, or through, the slot, he held on to it eventually working it up to Theodore. Again, showing patience, Theodore carried it down towards the circle creating a shot lane as the Hawks switched the on-puck defender. Theodore shot it and Crawford couldn’t make the reaction save. (Here’s the highlight)

On the second, Nic Roy entered with speed charging towards the goal, but rather than taking on a properly positioned defensemen, he button hooked out towards the half-wall to maintain possession of the puck. Ryan Reaves overlapped him heading towards the side of the goal where he presented himself for a pass. Reaves accepted the pass and could have tried a quick shot in attempting to stuff it past Crawford, but instead, he hesitated bringing the puck away from the goal to create more space to shoot. While he did, William Carrier drove the net hard presenting traffic in the event that Reaves’ shot was stopped. It was, and Carrier won a scramble play (something that has plagued Chicago in these playoffs). (Here’s the highlight)

This is how the Golden Knights unlocked what appeared to be a stingy Hawks defense.

They used patience, persistence, and puck retrieval to set up the chances, then either a shot through traffic or a scramble in front to put the puck in the net.

Series often evolve as they go on, but this is likely a style the Blackhawks will not be able to defend due to their personnel. If Vegas can keep cool and calm in the offensive zone, they can break down the Hawks defense and either score goals that way or eventually spread the defense out allowing for more conventional Golden Knights speed-drive offense.

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31 Comments

  1. Daryl

    How Vegas broke open Chicago? This is easy, Chicago isn’t very good. Their defense his horrid, their goalie is barely average and their offense, when clicking, is just above average. They are not a very good team. They were dominated throughout the entire game, even with all the mistakes Vegas made on the PK. This should be an easy sweep for Vegas, but sweeps aren’t necessarily easy.

    • Why didn’t they score in the first period then? Or even have a good chance?

      • The Hawks were clogging the lanes in the first period not giving the Knights any opportunities. Once the Knights realized what the Hawks were doing, they kept the puck to the outside and opened scoring chances.

      • The Noodle King

        The Knights weren’t hungry enuf…..?? !!

      • Doktor Hockey

        “Why didn’t they score in the first period then”? That’s like saying why didn’t CBJ or TB score in FIVE periods. Simply, the Knights came out with little energy in the 1st. Turned it on and dominated a team that is not good. Period! Don’t need much analysis to figure that out!!!

      • Daryl

        And to add to what others have stated, Vegas didn’t look very good. They weren’t making sharp passes and making bad reads. Once they settled down they looked over-powering

    • Hopefully you’ll have better luck this year in the Cup final.

      Blackhawks are 3-0 in this millennium.

  2. Mike StG

    Ken, Excellent analysis of the strategy. PDB’s coaching skills are getting good results, including on the PK as well.

  3. Coyote

    The only thing that concerned me was all the passes that ended up as turnovers. A few were right on the tape of CHI players. Need to clean that up.

    • A Fan

      I agree. Ken forgot to even mention this fact.

      As far as a Captain, I agree with those who think Smith would be best. I always said during the Knights first year that Smith was the best overall player. Some such as Karlsson got more attention because of his 43 goals. Give it to Smith.

    • Mike StG

      Coyote, agree. Max looked rusty out there and some of those errant passes came off his stick. The other thing I noticed was that Cousins and Chandler seemed out of sync. I’m sure it will get better, but I think Roy at C3 with Tuch makes the 3rd line go. Would rather see Chandler, Roy & Tuch on L3 and Cousins centering L4 (as Reavo put it – the chicken breast between the 2 slabs of meat).

      • Doktor Hockey

        As I said the other day, I would switch Cousins & Roy. Cousins can stir the shit with #28 & #75. Roy better playmaker for #20 & #89. Watch, this change will probably be made!

  4. A VGK Fan

    LIke i’ve been saying for awhile now, How about Reilly Smith for Captain? I am telling you guys, he is the hardest worker out there. quietly puts up numbers without the fanfare. y’all in love with Stoner, but Smitty is the main man!

    • Doktor Hockey

      Look … Stoney is Going to be THE captain … done deal!!!! Just accept it now, so you won’t be so upset in a couple months!!!!!

      • Daryl

        Dok…. I agree, I think he will be the Captain. PDB even motioned to it at one point saying he was the captain (or one of the captains) of this team. I love the guy, but I don’t like his emotional outbreaks, especially his negative ones. I would rather have a more level headed Captain

    • Couldn’t agree more he leads by example and is probably the hardest worker on the team. Despite what doktor hockey thinks he is in the twilight zone anyway with his rational. That’s not taking anything away from Stone but Smith for captain if he wants it.

      • Daryl

        I completely agree… I love Smith. He is probably the hardest worker on the team and the most underrated player. He leads by example and you rarely see him make a mistake. I’d pick him over any other player on next year’s team

      • Doktor Hockey

        Why do you continue to criticize HD? You are just an idiot with no rational at all. You can talk, blah blah blah, all you want but Stone WILL be captain. Your “love affair” with Smith does not make him the captain. I have told you … They will not name a guy with 2 yrs remaining, over a guy with multi years remaining, even IF all else was even. (and it’s not). So, go ahead and keep saying your BS about me. Just makes you look stupid!!!!

        • DH -Your love affair with Stone doesn’t make him a captain either. Notice l don’t referr to you as an idoit – l am probably a more knowledgable hockey person than you know. Besides l was agreeing with the post you objected to by other fans who also recognize Smith contribution to the team.

      • The above was reference to Smith not Stone. Actually was in reference AVGK Fan comment.

  5. Julie

    Here is my simple analysis:

    * Lehner is a bigger guy than I thought. He breaks skates. Not easy to do as a goalie. He let in a goal during a Hawks’ power play. Luckily, it was the only one.

    * My husband is from Edmonton, so anyone beating Chicago is ok in his book. Plus, Chicago has Kane, who according to my husband, is an a$$.

    * Reilly, Marchessault, and Theodore are doing great. And whoever stepped in to hold the puck against Lehner to keep it from going in was fantastic…was that White cloud?

    Looking forward to Game 2!

    • Daryl

      Just a couple things…. Vegas was on the PP when Chi scored a SH goal. No biggie 🙂

      And yes it was Whitecloud who held onto Lehner to help control the puck even though Lehner didn’t need the help. I actually thought Whitecloud was going to knock Lehner down causing him drop the puck. I think there were 3 times in that game where Whitecloud got “lost” and ran into Lehner.

      As for the breaking of the skate, it’s happens several times a year as the goalie tries to go from side to side and he pushes against the iron. I’m not saying it’s easily done, just that it does happen throughout the year

      • Julie

        Yes I see I didn’t edit my post well enough, thank you. I recall thinking Chicago had less players than Vegas when Chicago scored and what an unfortunate time to allow a goal. Still, it was just the one, so that was good. I haven’t seen skate repair like that before, but no doubt it happens, kind of like NASCAR.

        I have to say I enjoy the announcer, Doc Emrick. I hope to see Fleury soon, too. And I wouldn’t be surprised from what I have learned/ seen if Philadelphia comes through on their side to win their conference.

        • Doktor Hockey

          I have been listening to Doc do games for many years. He’s good … but, as the years have passed, he gets a little wordy, with stories and stuff, sometimes ignoring the action on the ice for almost a minute at times!

  6. sb

    Every win in the Playoffs is big. Butttt, Chicago isn’t much of a challenge. Two very good lines, not much on the 3rd and 4th, bad defense, not great goaltending. This is a Team that will fortunately allow the Knights to take their usual 1st Period off. That’s the advantage of finishing 1st and playing number 8. Chicago should make for a terrific launch to the tougher rounds ahead. Max should be dangerous by the second round. Smith as Captain? Yeah. Good choice.

  7. Another knowledgable individual not like some on this site. Smith for the big “C” if he wants the job.

  8. Julie

    I have a general question…. If Chicago is considered a lesser team, is it detrimental for Vegas to play them several games in a row? I mean, wouldn’t Vegas run the risk of getting dull or not as sharp if they are not challenged enough?

    I ask because several comments indicate Chicago is not that good, but also VGK could have been better. I would hate to see Vegas lose its edge because it’s not too challenged in a game series when we need them to get stronger. I imagine there is some risk and it’s up to the team to fix deficiencies, but couldn’t help wonder if it’s a dual-edged sword – glad to play a lower-ranked team but it can cause some issues if not careful.

    • Doktor Hockey

      Yes Julie, there’s always a risk when playing a less talented team, but the team must keep playing their game regardless. With so much at stake I don’t think the boys will lose their edge at all. Besides, any team, even the Hawks, can beat you if you don’t put the proper effort out! They’ll be fine!

    • Daryl

      Julie,
      Since the season was cut short and there wasn’t much practice time before the playoffs, I think it helps Vegas playing such a lesser team to start off with. It gives them a chance to work on special teams without worrying a whole lot about making mistakes. Thats not to say they can take it easy and still win, but a couple mistakes won’t be as costly against teams like Chicago. You also have the option of benching a player who has a minor injury without putting your team in a bad spot. Luckily for Vegas all the players are healthy BUT if something were to happen they won’t be that bad off

      • Julie

        Thanks, Daryl and DH for the responses. I understand more now when PDB said that there were some benefits to obtaining the 1st seed position.

  9. james

    Please find a way to keep Stastny out of the line up. Face offs aren’t worth 6.5 million. Does he ever win a puck battle on the boards. Btw Stastny sucksssss

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