Just like five years ago, the Golden Knights completed the gentleman’s sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, dropping Game 1 before then rattling off four straight wins. As the series went Vegas’ game continued to grow while Winnipeg’s felt like it was deteriorating. What appeared like it was going to be a long, hard-fought series turned into a one-sided affair that culminated one of VGK’s best games of the year to close it out.
Win or lose, there’s always plenty to glean from a playoff series. Here’s what we learned from Vegas’ five-game win over the Jets.
Balanced lineup held up in all situations
Heading into the series Bruce Cassidy had a lot of decisions to make with Mark Stone returning to the lineup. Rather than loading up, he opted for a balanced lineup highlighted by three pairs of top-end players on each of the first three lines. Danger lurked after Game 1, but as the series wore on it became clear all four Vegas lines could be trusted in any zone against any line of the Jets.
Nine different Vegas forwards spent at least 20 minutes on the ice against the Jets’ most dangerous player in the series, Kyle Connor. Whether it was home or away, the Golden Knights did not have to chase matchups in this series and it allowed for each line to have great moments at different points.
Plus, Cassidy was able to spread the wealth in regards to minutes load, which clearly had an impact in Game 5. The Golden Knights looked like the fresher team and it’s because they were.
Stick to the initial plan
When the series began, the Golden Knights knew the team with the better forecheck would win. So, they entered with a plan to consistently throw the puck in deep and use their physicality to challenge the smaller Jets defense. It didn’t work at all in Game 1, but they remained undeterred. Josh Morrissey’s injury may have helped, but eventually the Jets began to succumb to the VGK pressure and it saw the rest of the ice open up for the Golden Knights.
Once the forecheck began giving Winnipeg troubles, it allowed Vegas to lock down the neutral zone which helped them spend less time in the defensive zone.
The coaching staff had a good game plan of what we wanted to do against this team. They have some very skilled forwards so if we could attack their defense and make them come 200 feet. We had a gameplay we wanted to stick with until it didn’t work and it never didn’t work so I think we were able to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. -Mark Stone
Each game as the series went along, Vegas appeared to be taking more and more of a firm hold on the 5-on-5 play. Winnipeg never adjusted and the Golden Knights never needed to.
Special teams remains less than special
Vegas finished the series 3 for 16 (18.8%) on the power play while surrendering 5 goals on 12 (41.7%) chances to the Jets.
Even with Mark Stone back in the lineup the Golden Knights power play still had many of the same problems that have plagued them all season. The few times the Golden Knights did have success they were able to catch the Jets out of position rather than forcing them out. The very last power play of the series offers some hope for the future though. Vegas was able to hit their classic tic-tac-toe play to set up a goal for Chandler Stephenson. If that play is working, it should open up a lot more moving forward.
On the kill, the Golden Knights experienced a myriad of issues, including a heavy dose of poor luck. Their entry defense was average which led to the Jets having plenty of time to operate in the zone. In the end, most of the damage came from shots from the circles, but the Jets definitely had some good looks from all over the ice. Winnipeg’s power play was not great in the regular season, so allowing them to score on more than 40% isn’t a good sign with what lies in store in Round 2.
You can’t beat up the Golden Knights
No team in the first round threw more hits than the Winnipeg Jets. They averaged five more hits per game than any of the other 15 teams competing in the playoffs. However, it did not impact the Golden Knights at all. In fact, it actually may have done more to help Vegas than it did hurt them.
Often times during this series the Golden Knights were able to absorb Jets hits while making a good hockey play. That led to many situations in which Vegas was able to pop 3-on-2 or 4-on-3 rushes up the ice and gain easy access to the offensive zone. The Jets definitely came into the series with a plan of knocking around the Golden Knights, they achieved it, and it didn’t work.
Also, Winnipeg had a target on Mark Stone, and specifically’s Mark Stone’s back. They were not afraid to take late shots at Stone and not only did his back hold up, it seemed to ignite he and his teammates. The playoffs are only going to get rougher and tougher as they go on, VGK clearly seem up for it.