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Golden Knights Have Stymied Top Players Deep Into Each Series

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have faced their fair share of offensive superstars this postseason and they’re about to see a few more.

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and now Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov.

As with any playoff series, the biggest names dominate the conversation before it begins. Then, as it wears on, the winning team usually finds a way to slow them down.

As a staff and as a team we’ve done a good job of taking certain players away from what they want to do as that series has gone on and that’s why we’re still playing. -Cassidy

Vegas has struggled against opposing stars early in series. In Game 1 against Winnipeg, Dubois and Connor each scored to give the Jets a 2-0 lead. Draisaitl scored four in the opening game of the second round and then added another pair in Game 2. And Game 1 of the series against Dallas saw both Hintz and Robertson hit the back of the net.

However, the impact of the best players for the other team dwindled as the series got deeper and deeper.

Points Per Game (Game 1 & 2)Points Per Game (Game 3 & Beyond)Goals Per Game (Game 1 & 2)Goals Per Game (Game 3 & Beyond)

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Vegas Won As A Team By Dominating Every Important Individual Matchup

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke,

In a series highlighted by individuals, both head coaches kept using the term “team” in the postgame press conferences directly after Game 6.

Nobody on our team is asked to carry the team on their back. That’s part of the story here is the team that plays the best usually wins. We feel our team outplayed their team. It wasn’t about this player outplayed this player or this goalie against this goalie. -Bruce Cassidy

We win as a team and we don’t win as a team and we stick together. -Jay Woodcroft

While both coaches are absolutely correct, the reason the Golden Knights won as a team was they won all of the key individual matchups in the series. From front to back to on the ice and off, Vegas dominated in all the places necessary to beat the Edmonton Oilers and now they’re headed to the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in six years.

Here are five specific matchups the Golden Knights got the better of on their way to dispatching the world’s greatest player in the second round.

Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault vs Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse

You don’t have to look further than the scoring numbers when breaking down this matchup. Eichel was 5-1 against Ceci and 4-1 against Nurse while Marchessault was 6-1 against Ceci and 4-1 against Nurse.

Beyond the scoring though, the Golden Knights’ forwards were consistently able to hold the puck in the offensive zone against Ceci and Nurse. Eichel in particular was excellent in gaining controlled entry over the course of the series which relieved pressure on the VGK defense and forced whichever forward line was against them to defend. Marchessault’s forechecking caused havoc and he scored four times from directly in front of the goal.

In a series where puck possession was always going to be paramount for the Golden Knights, Eichel and Marchessault delivered in as big a way as they could over the six games. The Oilers only had one pair that should have been able to handle these two, and they weren’t able to do it.

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Vegas Defense Set Early Tone For Game 4 Dud

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the better part of eight games, the Golden Knights defense have carried their team to success in the postseason. That was until last night’s Game 4 in Edmonton. Not only did Vegas’ blueliners jump start the Oilers offense in the opening period but they potentially put their team at a disadvantage for Friday’s Game 5 too.

Before the game clock hit the eight-minute mark Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore committed two slashing penalties and committed an egregious turnover. Unfortunately, the bad luck didn’t end for the 27-year-old blueliner. Edmonton cashed in on Theodore’s second slash and things began to unravel for the Golden Knights 7:38 into Game 4. Almost six minutes later, the Oilers took a three-goal edge, all with Theodore on the ice.

Opening 13:30 of Game 4

  • Score: 3-0 EDM (2 EV, 1 PP)
  • Shots on Goal: EDM – 8, VGK – 2
  • Penalties: VGK (Theodore – 2 x Slashing), EDM (McLeod – Tripping)
  • Faceoff Wins: EDM – 6, VGK – 4
  • Hits: EDM – 14, VGK – 11

It’s been stressed a dozen times over the past week; do not give the Oilers power play opportunities. Although Edmonton scored just once on the man-advantage in Game 4, it came seven minutes into the game, doubled their lead and completely shell-shocked the Golden Knights. Theodore’s inability to cleanly defend opened the door for an Oilers rout. Of course, it wasn’t just the penalties taken because Edmonton was the first team to hit the box. It was a combination of over-committing, poor positioning and problems tracking the puck. It was uncharacteristic for an overall reliable defenseman.

Going back to the last series with the Winnipeg Jets, Vegas’ blueline has been the team’s most consistent unit. Last night, the shaky defense hurt VGK’s attempt at taking a two-game series lead back home for Friday’s Game 5. It’s easy to compliment the opponent’s attack but even coach Bruce Cassidy couldn’t hold back after last night’s 4-1 defeat.

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VGK Won’t Stray From Plan To Open Periods Despite Oilers’ Firepower

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Right before the national anthems at every Golden Knights home game, the public address announcer introduces Vegas’ starting lineup to the crowd. If you didn’t know better, you’d probably expect to hear names like Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, or William Karlsson. But, instead, almost every night it’s Nic Roy, William Carrier, and Keegan Kolesar.

Throughout his time behind the Vegas bench, Bruce Cassidy has always preferred to start his fourth line. He says it’s to “set the tone” or “get the team playing the right way” and while those cliches are all good and well, what he really means is he wants a simple start that will keep anything crazy from happening.

The Golden Knights’ 4th line plays a very elementary style of hockey. Get the puck, gain the center red line, send it to the back glass, and then go hit people until they get it back. There’s nothing flashy about it, and most of the time it doesn’t generate much offensively. What it also doesn’t do though is allow the other team much of anything. If Vegas wins the draw, there’s a really good chance it’ll be 200 feet away from the Golden Knights’ goal in seconds. If they lose it, the trio of Roy, Carrier, and Kolesar are excellent at locking down the neutral zone and forcing a dump-in the other way. Again, nothing flashy, and likely nothing really happening.

It’s been successful against pretty much every team in the NHL this season, and it’s a strategy that’s not new to Cassidy. Both Pete DeBoer and Gerard Gallant liked to deploy the fourth line to open games as well.

However, the Edmonton Oilers offer something much different than every other team in the league. Not only do the Oilers have the best player in the game, they also have arguably the second-best player, and to start games and periods, they often send them both out together.

They feel they have an advantage putting Draisaitl and McDavid together, and they’re right, they are two of the best players in the world and they are dynamic, so I get it. But we have to try and counter it the best way possible. -Bruce Cassidy

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How The Golden Knights Successfully Slowed Down Edmonton’s Zone Entries In Game 1

How do you slow down Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the Edmonton Oilers? That’s the million-dollar question coaches have been asking themselves since the two paired up seven years ago. As the Oilers roster has been built up with even more speed around them the answers have been fewer and further between.

Last night though for good stretches of Game 1, the Golden Knights drew up a successful blueprint. After 40 minutes, Vegas had limited the best offense in the NHL to just one high-danger chance at 5-on-5. Then, down the stretch, Edmonton could not consistently gain entry to the offensive zone and it led to a panicky goalie pull and a too-many-men penalty that helped seal victory for the Golden Knights.

So, how did they do it?

It all comes down to gap control. The Golden Knights are well-equipped on the back end with six defensemen fully capable of stopping anyone in the league if they are placed in a good position to do so. It’s getting in that position that’s tricky.

The first, and simplest, way to gain good defensive position against a speedy Oilers team is to just not let them have the puck.

We spent a lot of time in their end with O-Zone puck possession. That allows our D to rest a little and be able to hold their gap. It also forces their forwards to go check in their own end so now they are below the tops of the circles on the breakout which also allows us to hold our gap. -Bruce Cassidy

Yes, it really can be that easy. Spend time in their offensive zone, make them defend, and when the puck comes out of the zone, they’ll be more focused on getting off the ice as opposed to attacking.

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke,

In the 1st period, especially after the Oilers scored their first power play goal, all four Golden Knights lines spent the majority of their shifts hemming Edmonton into their own zone. This continued in the 2nd when the Oilers managed just three scoring chances in 14 minutes of even-strength play.

Of course, spending the entirety of the game in the opposition’s defensive zone is not possible, so eventually, the puck will come out and that’s when the next part of the blueprint comes in.


It’s a term Bruce Cassidy spent so much time talking about this year that I made a video to explain exactly what he means. You can watch it here.

In Game 1, Vegas’ reloads were excellent at not only keeping the puck in the O-Zone longer but also forcing the Oilers to navigate more traffic when trying to carry it through the neutral zone.

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Regular Season Success ‘A Different Animal’ For Edmonton’s Stars

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Neither the Vegas Golden Knights nor the Edmonton Oilers are expecting an easy or quick Second Round series. Each team advanced under the seven-game limit in their opening series but in all likelihood, this matchup could go the distance. Both have opposite strengths which could impact the ability to score or defend. No matter how it plays out, both locker rooms are expecting a challenging and entertaining two weeks of hockey.

Going into tonight, the Oilers are likely feeling good about their situation. In the regular season, Edmonton had the upper hand between the two Pacific Division rivals. The Golden Knights dropped 3 out of 4 games (1-2-1) and struggled to outscore the lamp-lighting Oilers. Altogether, both teams scored more goals per game than their season averages in the matchups against each other. 4-3, 5-4, or even higher scores appear to be the expected outcomes in these games.

It’s a different animal this series than what we saw versus LA. A big difference, actually. Different styles, different challenges, different problems they present. And they seem to be firing on all cylinders. They have a deep forward group that likes to play a pressure-based game. They finished at the top of the conference for a reason. They had a pretty steady year and they get contributions up and down the lineup. -Jay Woodcroft, Oilers coach

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On Paper, VGK Have The Answers For However Oilers Deploy McDavid And Draisaitl

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft has a decision to make each and every time he sends the best player in the world over the boards for a regular shift.

When Connor McDavid steps on the ice, does he put Leon Draisaitl out there with him or not?

Early in the series against the Kings, Woodcroft chose to keep his two biggest weapons separate in an attempt to offset the two excellent defensive centers on the other side. It didn’t work. The Oilers fell into a 2-1 series hole and appeared they were going to be down 3-1. That’s when the Oilers bench boss opted to load up his top line and play McDavid and Draisaitl together. From there, the series shifted and the Oilers not only came back from a 3-0 hole in Game 4, but they went on to win Games 5 and 6 and never trailed in either game.

The decision radically changes the makeup of the Oilers’ lineup which is why all eyes will be on how Woodcroft chooses to open up the series in Game 1.

The good news for the Golden Knights is they should have an answer either way. The current setup Vegas has been deploying should give them a great chance at defending the pair when separated and it will offer matchup advantages when both are off the ice. Jack Eichel, William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, and Nic Roy can all be trusted to hold their own against either McDavid or Draisaitl and the complementary wingers should be able to pitch in enough to offer not only defensive resistance but also a potent attack.

Defensively it gets tricky when the dynamic duo is separated. Throughout the season, and even more so in Round 1, the Golden Knights leaned heavily on Alex Pietrangelo to share the ice with the opposition’s best players. Pietrangelo spent more than 75 of his 91 even-strength minutes against members of the Jets’ first and second lines. The challenge with Edmonton is that there are two elite centers to defend and only one Alex Pietrangelo.

If Woodcraft separates Draisaitl and McDavid, either VGK’s second pair (McNabb-Theodore) or third pair (Hague-Whitecloud) will be out there consistently against one of the big two. In Round 1, it worked out for the Golden Knights as the Jets top-six were able to muster up just one goal against VGK’s non-Pietrangelo defense pairs. But, McDavid and Draisaitl are a little different than Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele (or Vlad Namestnikov when Scheifele got hurt).

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Oilers “By Far The Better Hockey Team” According To EDM Analysts

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Local broadcasters tend to view games through team-colored glasses. In Vegas, our favorite analysts wear golden goggles, and up in Edmonton, they’re rocking orange and blue shades. There’s nothing wrong with the optimism and positivity coming from club insiders, it’s just natural. However, on last night’s Oilers broadcast, there were comments made that were tough to argue against.

This is a message game by the Oilers. And the message is, ‘Vegas. you guys may be on top of the standings right now but we’re picking up steam.’ When they play the good teams the Oilers have another gear. This is the best the Oilers have played in the last ten games. This is the best they’ve played and the Golden Knights have had no answers. -Rob Brown, former NHL’er and Oilers analyst

Tuesday’s matchup meant a lot to Edmonton and it showed. The Oilers controlled the pace, their power play was on point, and the Golden Knights’ offense was tempered. Edmonton thought Vegas “stole” two points from them on Saturday, so last night’s contest must’ve been circled by Connor McDavid and his teammates.

Every line contributed. Power play was good, PK was really good. So, that’s a great sign. We still gave up four goals, we want that to come down a little. All in all, we had the play in our favor for most of the night and handled them very well. -Leon Draisaitl, EDM forward

Maybe it was a message game, and maybe Vegas wasn’t prepared for it. Move on, that can happen in a long 82-game regular season. Still, after a listless defeat the Golden Knights sit three points ahead of the Oilers for first place in the Pacific Division.

None of that mattered to Edmonton’s insiders. What they viewed last night was more than just a dominant performance by the Oilers. According to pundits in Edmonton, Vegas began showing their true identities in Tuesday night’s defeat.

I don’t see with Vegas how they’re as good as they are and how they have the record they have. With the injuries they have and the goaltender situation. They’re best player is hurt and their next best player, Jack Eichel, is having an average year at best. Yet they’re still on top. It’s just a team I don’t understand. Vegas looks older, looks slower. They look error prone. -Rob Brown, Oilers radio network

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Slowing Down McDavid And Draisaitl Is The Only Way

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights’ next two games are a home and home with the Oilers. Edmonton is an important team on the schedule not just for where Vegas finishes in the standings, but also for establishing some dominance over a potential playoff opponent.

Like any team, the first focus on Vegas’ mind this weekend will be stopping, or at least slowing down, the league’s two leading scorers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

In 17 games played against the Oilers, the pair had been responsible for 16 goals and 24 assists against the Golden Knights. That’s 2.35 points per game and it’s a big reason why VGK have a franchise tally of 7-8-2 against Edmonton, their worst record against any Pacific Division team.

Amazingly, the Golden Knights have held both McDavid and Draisaitl pointless in four of the last seven meetings between the two teams. Connor missed one of those games, but for three straight both guys played and came up blank on the scoresheet.  Oddly, the Golden Knights went just 2-2-0 in those four games, needing overtime to win the one McDavid was out.

Overall though, holding down the Big Two has been crucial in VGK’s success. In the seven wins, the Golden Knights have allowed McDavid and Draisaitl five goals and four assists. In the ten losses, those numbers balloon to 11 goals and 21 assists. Thus, in Golden Knights wins, 97 and 29 average .71 goals per game and 1.3 points per game, while the losses see those numbers at 1.1 goals per game and a whopping 3.2 points per game.

One part of the game where Vegas has had above average success against the Oilers is on the penalty kill. Edmonton has just scored seven power play goals in 17 games with McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice together, but they’ve also allowed VGK to score twice shorthanded. Vegas won both games in which they tallied a shorty.

Finally, outscoring the Oilers at even strength with these two on the ice is critical for the Golden Knights to come out on top. When they do, the Golden Knights are 4-0-0. When they are outscored in the time when McDavid and Draisaitl are on the ice, Vegas is 0-5-2.

It’s not surprising, but it absolutely is true, if the Golden Knights want to beat the Oilers, it starts and ends with limiting the damage done by their two superstars.

Colorado Proving Teams Can Slow Down McDavid In Western Conference Final

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In 14 lifetime games against the Vegas, Connor McDavid, the world’s most electric player, has 17 total points. That’s an average of 1.21 points per game. It’s exciting for the fans but not for the Golden Knights. To be fair, most NHL franchises have been torched by McDavid as he’s averaged 1.58 points per game over the past four seasons.

However, in the Western Conference Final, the Colorado Avalanche seem to have figured out how to at least slow him down. Through three WCF games, the Avalanche have held McDavid to 3 points. Well below his 1.44 career points per playoff game and 2.17 he had in the first 12 playoff games this year.

Colorado deserves high marks for successfully executing a plan to slow down Edmonton’s captain. It’s similar to how the Golden Knights handled Avs superstar Nathan MacKinnon.

A couple of mental mistakes, a couple of positioning mistakes. That’s what a team like Colorado does to you. The second that Colorado was up a couple of goals they went into lockdown mode. Colorado knew they had enough to win then they locked it down. That’s what good teams do in the playoffs. –Matt Kassian, Oilers Analyst and Former player to TSN

By limiting McDavid the Avalanche have taken away the Oilers’ biggest weapon and their identity. Edmonton isn’t as effective, fast, nor as threatening without their one-two punch of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

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