Since the NHL trade deadline, the Golden Knights are 9-2-0. It’s an impressive run for a team reconfiguring its lineup in preparation for the playoffs. So far, deadline acquisitions Ivan Barbashev and Teddy Blueger have fit right and added impact to both the top and bottom six. In fact, Vegas has one of the highest goals per game averages since March 3rd (3.90). The local club is unquestionably heading into the postseason in the right direction.
Really good win for us. Big win. It tells something, you have depth in the team. Every single line is doing their job. -Ivan Barbashev
With their consistent, successful play of late the Golden Knights look ready for any potential first-round matchup. Unfortunately, injuries have crept up on the Golden Knights in the past couple of weeks. Reilly Smith and Logan Thompson were the latest to be infected by the injury bug but there is plenty of time left for both to heal and rejoin their teammates. So pushing the injuries aside let’s take a look at the teams Vegas could host in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the season ended today, the Golden Knights would welcome the Winnipeg Jets for a best-of-seven-game series. What would be a matchup of the 2018 Western Conference finals, Vegas should feel comfortable facing the Jets. This season Vegas is a perfect 3-0-0 against Winnipeg. Sure, two were tight games but the 31st franchise came away with six standings points to the Jets one. On the other hand, Winnipeg’s lineup is led by one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.
Currently, Connor Hellebuyck is tied for the second lowest odds to win the Vezina Trophy behind runaway candidate Linus Ullmark. The Jets goalie is holding teams to 2.55 goals per game, is top three in Goalie Point shares (12.2), and top four in goals saved above replacement (24). When you tie in Hellebuyck’s superb numbers with the Golden Knights struggling expected goals for numbers, a first-round matchup against the Jets doesn’t look as one-sided as it was in the regular season. While Vegas will be a favorite to win the first-round series, it could come down to the Golden Knights goalies outperforming the 2020 Vezina award winner.
A matchup between the two youngest franchises would have to be a dream come true for Gary Bettman. The accomplishment of the league’s expansion would be on full display for all the doubters to see. Vegas had instant success and Seattle is on pace to clinch their first playoff series in their second year of existence. However, if both teams do face each other, there will be a clear favorite. Seattle can play quick, Seattle can score, but Seattle can’t defend.
The Kraken are in the top five in goals per game (3.46) and are towards the bottom in goals allowed per game (3.17). Both averages get worse for Seattle when they line up against Vegas. In two matchups this season, the 32nd franchise’s goals for dropped almost half a goal to 3.00, and their goals against rose to 3.50. The Golden Knights also scored three power play goals, outshot the Kraken, and won the faceoff battle. The two teams will meet up two more times this season, but the results shouldn’t significantly alter the odds. Typically, teams don’t like to look ahead but you could make a case Vegas would rather see Seattle than any other opponent in the opening round.
Let’s be honest, this would be the worst-case scenario for the Golden Knights. I can’t imagine any Western Conference team wanting to deal with Connor McDavid in the first round of the playoffs. In 17 games against the Golden Knights, McDavid has recorded 20 points (8G, 12A) and his team won ten. It’s not an ideal matchup for Vegas, but in five seasons the Golden Knights have doubled the amount of series wins than McDavid and his teammates.
While their offense is a major threat, Edmonton’s inconsistency on defense and in the net could be key factors if Vegas advances. Challenging the Oilers’ power play and outscoring them on 5-on-5 are other ways the Golden Knights can find success against Mcdavid, and oh yeah, Leon Draisaitl.
There are scenarios that would force Vegas to face other WC and/or Pacific teams in the opening round but that would take several game streaks by certain teams. As long as the Golden Knights continue to finish their business, they will be prepared to host any club.