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No Need To Measure The Next Two Games Against Colorado

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As expected, the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are proving to be the two best teams in the West Division. Both crossed the 30 game mark this week and both sit comfortably in a playoff position with more than 40 points apiece. It’s not shocking, at least not in a below-average division like the West.

West Division Team Points %/NHL Rank
Vegas .750 (2nd)
Colorado .694 (6th)
Minnesota .661 (8th)
St. Louis .578 (15th)
Los Angeles .500 (20th)
Arizona .500 (20th)
San Jose .484 (23rd)
Anaheim .353 (30th)

In a sense, the Avalanche and Golden Knights should be thankful for one another. It’s the only real competition each will face in the regular season. There’s an argument that Minnesota deserves more credit, but in my opinion, this is a two-team division. And the top two franchises are playing lights out right now. Colorado has collected points in eight straight and Vegas is 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. This means one will cool off tonight.

It was fair to call the first four matchups between the Golden Knights and Avalanche measuring stick-type games. The next two games not so much.

There are several elements that need to be considered for tonight’s night’s face-off in Denver. The Golden Knights are without two major pieces to their roster. If Max Pacioretty is unavailable then the offense is less potent. The same goes for Alex Pietrangelo. While he hasn’t been as effective as expected in his limited time on the ice, the veteran defenseman was brought in to help Vegas beat quality opponents like Colorado.

The next factor is the goaltender rotation. Last time when these two clubs met up, Marc-Andre Fleury started all four games. This go around expect to see Fleury and a healthy Robin Lehner in the Vegas nets. Vegas is trying to integrate Lehner back in the lineup and prove they can beat Colorado with either netminder.

By the next time these two teams meet, one, if not both, could look different. Their last two matchups come weeks after the trade deadline. It’s possible both front offices will try and upgrade their rosters. Heck, maybe these next two games will influence those decisions.

Neither team needs to prove anything at this point. So rest, lineup experimentation, and adjustments could be part of this two-game series to almost hide their secrets for the inevitable playoff series in May.

We can gain some knowledge from the upcoming two-game set though. Vegas could be without their best goal scorer, and certainly their $8.8M defenseman who will both play vital roles if Vegas were to eliminate Colorado in the postseason. In a case where the two teams split the next couple of games then there’s possibly more to uncover. Will the team to lose first come out and correct their mistakes or will there be a letdown?

It’s possible both clubs walk away feeling good about themselves. Win or lose, there’s something to learn about your team. This is a quiz. Important, yes, but there’s still plenty of time to study up for the final.

The West Division Is Essentially A College Mid-Major

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s an old saying in sports that goes something like “you can only play what’s in front of you.” The idea is that a team has no control over the level of competition on their schedule. Their job is to simply go out and handle that competition night in and night out.

The Golden Knights have been doing just that. 30 games into the season, Vegas leads their division and stands in 2nd place in the entire NHL in points percentage. They have an impressive +33 goal differential, winning streaks of four, five, and six games, and haven’t lost more than two games in a row all year.

It’s all great and would be easy to proclaim the Golden Knights among the clear-cut Stanley Cup favorites this season, but here’s the problem.

This year, due to the unbalanced shortened schedule, it does matter who you are playing.

Because each team is strictly playing teams inside of their division, strength of schedule absolutely matters when discussing the overall ranking of teams.

The West is the only division in the NHL to contain three teams (SJS, LAK, ANA) that missed the 24-team playoff last season. The East has two (BUF, NJD), while the North (OTT) and Central (DET) each have one.

All seven of those teams currently sit on the outside of the playoff picture and one of the seven represents a team in dead last in each of the four respective divisions. Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, Anaheim, and San Jose are all unquestionably terrible NHL teams. Maybe you can make the case the Kings have taken a small step in the right direction, but even that could be considered a stretch.

Thus, playing in the West offers a massive advantage to the five teams that did reach the playoffs last season. On each of their schedules, they play 24 games, or 43% of the schedule, against non-playoff teams. Compare that to teams in the East who get just 16 or those in the North and Central that get eight or nine.

In determining the best team in each division, the schedule is balanced and thus fair, but when trying to figure out how teams across divisions stack up, records and stats from the West must be taken with a grain of salt, similarly to how we do with college sports. When collegiate sports are judged in determining bowl games or the NCAA tournament, conference, and competition, matter. An undefeated team in a conference with weak competition is often considered much worse than a team with many losses in a challenging conference. This year, the West Division is the NHL’s equivalent of college football’s Big East or basketball’s Mountain West.

I went through all 31 teams to show how many points each have racked up against the seven non-playoff teams from last year, plus how many games are left on the schedule to score even more easy points in the back half of the season.

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League Leading Top Lines

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are leading the league in several categories this season but one in particular is a bit surprising. Vegas forward Max Pacioretty scored two 1st period goals last night to give him a total of 16 on the season. Pacioretty’s production has him five goals behind superstar and league leader Auston Matthews. However, that’s not a shocking statistic.

Most Goals Scored By Line
VGK: Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone (24)
BOS: Pastranak-Bergeron-Marchand (17)
NYI: Lee-Eberle-Barzal (16)
VAN: Boeser-Miller-Pettersson (16)
COL: Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen (15)

Not only is Pacioretty scoring, but his linemates are as well. The support from captain Mark Stone and center Chandler Stephenson have transformed Vegas’ top line into the best scoring trio in the NHL. Considering the heavy offensive lines in Boston, Edmonton and Toronto it’s unexpected to see the Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone lead the entire league.

Vegas fans have seen the chemistry all season. All three complement one another and serve important roles when they’re on the ice together. We know Pacioretty is out there to sling the puck, but Stone and Stephenson have elevated the entire line by their playmaking abilities. The captain has 24 assists, meanwhile, the top line center has 11. The trio combined has a running total of 83 points or 33% of all Golden Knights points.

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Golden Knights Buck The Trend Against The Wild

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Minnesota Wild came into last night’s matchup with the Golden Knights winning six straight games. Their streak ended when Max Pacioretty scored the game-winner for Vegas in overtime. The victory at home and in front of 2,600 fans was dramatic but also a rarity for the Golden Knights. It was only the third time Vegas beat Minnesota in nine tries. Maybe the tides have changed after last night’s heroics.

It seems like every time you play in Vegas whether you have the lead or they have the lead they come out in the 3rd. They really come at you and it’s tough to play against them. -Nick Bjugstad, MIN forward

Since the inaugural 2017-18 season, no other Western Conference team has given the Golden Knights more of a headache than the Wild. In nine meetings, Vegas has lost six and won twice in overtime or a shootout. The Golden Knights had struggled so much that their second-worst points percentage (.333) in team history came against the Wild.

What makes Minnesota such a difficult opponent for Vegas?

I think they got caught up in the rush game to a certain extent. It went both directions. Minnesota had chances, Vegas had chances. The difference was that Minnesota was still able to play well in their defensive zone when it called for it. Vegas was not really tight in the 2nd period. -Mike McKenna, AT&T Sports Analyst

Maybe, it was the pace of the game. The Wild can really move and they make quick decisions. From accurate stretch passes to their ability to collect and convert rebounds, Minnesota presents a problem for Vegas. Last night’s 2nd period was the perfect example. The Golden Knights were challenged with pressure and speed in their own zone, and couldn’t hold on to the puck in the Wild’s zone for very long.

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Where Has All The Offense Gone?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the first time in 2021, the Golden Knights have lost consecutive games. After racing out to an impressive 10-2-1 record in their first 13 games, Vegas has dropped two in a row to the Colorado Avalanche. The Golden Knights are also 2-3-0 in their last five games and have scored just eight goals.

Before the recent skid, the Golden Knights had been averaging 3.7 goals per game. Over the previous five, that number has plummetted to 1.6. The even-strength scoring numbers look even worse. First 10 games, Vegas scored 31 goals at even-strength. Since, they’ve mustered just four in five games.

We need to find ways to generate offense especially at 5-on-5. A big part of our game is to produce and try and play offense without giving up much defensively so we need to find out how to get better in that area. -Max Pacioretty after 2/14 win vs. COL

So, what happened?

First, it starts with the most basic concept when it comes to scoring, shooting. The Golden Knights reached 30 or more shots in six of their first 10 games. They’ve failed to reach 30 in any of the previous five and haven’t even made it to 25 twice (their two lowest performances of the season).

They’re 27th in the NHL in shots on goal per game with 25.8 since February 10th. Before this stretch, they were 5th in the league with 32.3.

It goes beyond shots actually on goal too. The even-strength Fenwick numbers (unblocked shot attempts) are poor as well. Vegas has allowed more unblocked shot attempts than they’ve created in just six games of their first 15. Four of the six have come in the last five.

The Golden Knights have had 80 even-strength shots blocked in the last five games. That’s an average of 16 blocked shots against. In the first 10 games, Vegas saw 122 shots blocked or 12.2 per game; a difference of almost four more blocked shots per game.

First 10
37 goals (3.7 per game)
32.3 shots per game
6 games with 30+ shots (60%)
55.5% Fenwick
12.2 shots blocked per game

Last 5
5 goals (1.6 per game)
25.6 shots per game
1 game with 30+ shots (20%)
46.1% Fenwick
16 shots blocked per game

The next one is a confusing one. In Vegas’ first 10 games they recorded 45 takeaways while giving the puck away 54 times. In the last 10, they’ve more than exceeded their takeaways (59) in half the number of games, while seeing their giveaway number (23) drop by about one a game. Thus, the Golden Knights are up more than seven takeaways per game over the last five than they were in the first 10.

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Vegas And Colorado Preparing For Inevitable Postseason Showdown

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After last night’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Golden Knights have played a total of 15 games in the 2021 shortened season. Their overall record is an outstanding 10-3-1 but Vegas’ measuring tape record is 1-1-0.

In six periods against the Avalanche, the pace, style, and quality of hockey was noticeably different. Cliché or not, the last two contests between the heavyweights in the West felt like playoff games. The Golden Knights hadn’t seen the power, skill and speed of Nathan MacKinnon and his talented teammates. Same goes for the Avalanche. In the 13 games Colorado played, only Vegas has a winning percentage of .569 or higher.

You get a real good goaltender like Fleury that is an active player in the net. He’s an aggressive guy. This is a team that checks real well. Their numbers on the analytics side of it is they’re not giving up a lot of scoring chances and you have to earn those chances. -Jared Bednar, Colorado coach

With six matchups left between one another, the Golden Knights and Avalanche will have to do some soul searching. In all likelihood, the winner of the West Division will be one of these two clubs. If that’s the case, both front offices will examine their clubs and ask themselves if the current roster is good enough to beat the other in a long playoff series. To advance it might come down to taking advantage of trade deadline or feeling confident and standing pat.

It might sound simple, but both the Avalanche and Golden Knights should look at each other as their only roadblock to the Stanley Cup Finals. Whether it’s a waiver pickup, a deadline trade, or the elevation of internal depth, any and all acquisitions should be aimed at outlasting the other in a seven-game series. Perhaps Vegas looks to add speed or depth scoring at the deadline to help neutralize Colorado’s pace and power. Or maybe Colorado looks to add some girth and toughness to challenge Vegas’ strength.

There’s no doubt the speed and level of play has been higher than any point we’ve seen. -Pete DeBoer

Last year at the deadline each team added to their offense. Colorado traded for Vladislav Namestnikov and the former 1st rounder scored four goals in the postseason. Vegas acquired depth for three positions. Alec Martinez was brought in to sure up the defense and he’s been in the lineup ever since. Offensively, the Golden Knights supplied the bottom-six with Nick Cousins. And of course, Vegas flip-flopped Malcolm Subban (and in a way Marc-Andre Fleury) for Robin Lehner.

Both teams tend to be active around the deadline, making deals in three straight years. Expect involvement again this year but like Vegas, Colorado has cap issues. It could come down to which front office can be more creative opening up room for more salary.

From what we saw in the last two games, the Golden Knights and Avalanche are evenly matched, despite each playing without key pieces. Both are elite and capable of winning the Cup, but can’t do so without getting through the other.

We all know it, Vegas and Colorado are destined to play in the second round of the postseason and it has the potential of being one hell of series. Best start preparing now.

Season Point Total Projections Against The William Hill Spreads (Plus Division Odds And A VGK Prop)

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

New year. New season. New odds!

Hockey season is just two weeks away and our friends at William Hill have you covered with a few different options to bet on the Golden Knights and the NHL. They’ve listed season point totals for all 31 teams, plus division odds, Cup odds, and a special VGK prop for how many points the Golden Knights will amass in the month of January.

Let’s make some picks for the West Division.

Anaheim Ducks
O/U 57.5 Points

The Ducks are stocked full of young talent and have an incredible goaltender. Of all teams in the West Division, they are the one I see as the most volatile. I can see them putting up 65 points and challenging for a playoff spot, and I can also see them struggling for a long stretch and it burying their season. Last year they came up a bit short of a point per game, this year I think they can get there. Pick: OVER 57.5 Points

Arizona Coyotes
O/U 59.5 Points

There was a time last season when it looked like Arizona could win the division. They even made a mega trade to go get Taylor Hall. It kind of all fell apart after that but then the Pause hit, they were gifted a playoff spot, and made the most of it getting a series win. They did it in the most boring way physically possible though and now the most exciting player on that team is in Buffalo. In the end, they are the Coyotes and they always tend to find a way to underwhelm no matter what the expectations are. Pick: UNDER 59.5 Points

Colorado Avalanche
O/U 76.5 Points

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