Vegas’ Inaugural Playoff Series Will Be Tight, But Expect the Knights to Boogie
There’s not much else we can say about Vegas that hasn’t already been said. It’s a wonderful story, the type that makes sports and betting all the more fun, but now comes the hard part.
Even though they are playing with house money, the Golden Knights will want to back up their marvelous debut season with a series win. Playoff hockey is a special, special thing, and introducing a new fan base to the heart-in-your-mouth spectacle will take this team to new heights.
The Knights and Kings have played some feisty contests, and Vegas has claimed Los Angeles as its early rival, so this should be fun. It should also be very, very close.
Vegas Golden Knights (-130) vs. Los Angeles Kings (+110)
Wednesday, April 11: Los Angeles @ Vegas, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Friday, April 13: Los Angeles @ Vegas, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, April 15: Vegas @ Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Tuesday, April 17: Vegas @ Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Thursday, April 19: Los Angeles @ Vegas, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN*
Saturday, April 21: Vegas @ Los Angeles, TBD*
Monday, April 23: Los Angeles @ Vegas, TBD*
Setting the Stage: The Knights and Kings split four regular season meetings that were only decided by one total goal (11-10 in favor of LA). Vegas won the first two (both in 2017), while Los Angeles swept a home-and-home on back-to-back days in late February.
This is your classic offense vs defense series. The LA defense, which allowed the fewest goals in the league, will try to shut down a potent Knights’ offense, though the Kings offense has looked a lot better since Jeff Carter returned from injury on February 24th. From that point on, LA has averaged an impressive 3.10 goals per game, which would rank just outside the top 10 for the season. – Stuckey
What The Numbers Say: Neither team is a bona fide juggernaut, and their peripheral stats back up that notion. In fact, just going by underlying numbers, these are two average squads.
For a while, Vegas’ possession stats backed up that the Knights were among the league’s top teams but they’ve hit a snag since the All-Star Game. Overall, the Knights rank 12th in the NHL in Corsi For % (a barometer for possession that measures the number of shot attempts for vs. shot attempts allowed, also known as CF%), 20th in expected goals (xG) for per 60 (2.22) and eighth in xG against per 60 (2.16).
The Kings are below average in terms of possession, which is weird because they were a Corsi stalwart over the last decade. They are also in the bottom-third of the league in generating opportunities, ranking 25th with a 2.07 xGF/60. They are much better in preventing opportunities with a 2.24 xGA/60, which is 13th in the league, but that number outruns their 2.04 goals against per 60, suggesting they’ve relied heavily on goaltender Jonathan Quick this season.
Goaltending: Speaking of Quick, he’s had himself a dandy of a season with Los Angeles. He finished fifth in the NHL with an 11.53 Goals Saved Above Average (the number of goals saved compared to a hypothetical league average goaltender, also known as GSAA) and second among all NHL players with a 6.21 WAR according to Corsica.Hockey.
Across from Quick will be the venerable Marc-Andre Fleury. When he’s been healthy, “Flower” has been superb, providing much-needed stability for the first-year Knights. In 46 games for Vegas, Fleury has posted an 8.21 GSAA and a 93.14 even strength save percentage, which is .75 basis points higher than his expected save percentage. He’s been very good.
Quick’s playoff reputation is the stuff of legend, but when you look at the numbers, there’s very little between these goaltenders. — Michael Leboff
Did You Know? Vegas is the 10th expansion team to join the NHL since 1991. When the previous nine teams made their first playoff appearance, they went 23-30 straight-up in the opening round with four teams winning their series and advancing. — John Ewing
The Golden Knights lost, 7-1, in their regular-season finale. The last time a team lost by five goals or more in their regular-season finale before the playoffs was in 2006, when both the Hurricanes and Rangers both did it. That year, the Rangers got swept in the first round by the Devils but the Hurricanes ended up winning the Stanley Cup. — Evan Abrams
Player to Watch: Los Angeles has the best penalty kill in the league, but if one player is likely to break through on the man advantage for Vegas, it’s Jonathan Marchessault. We discussed Marchessault extensively on Inside the Lab, but he leads the Golden Knights in power-play shots over the past month (98th percentile), despite Erik Haula leading the team in power-play goals (12). — Joe Holka
Why Vegas Should Win: The Kings have a decent top-six, led by star center Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty is among the league’s best blue-liners, but there’s a steep drop in talent after that. The Knights don’t have a Kopitar — although Marchessault and William Karlsson are both closing on his level — but what they lack in star power they make up for in depth. Vegas can roll three good forward lines, which is more than the Kings have, and while its fourth line leaves a lot to be desired, it’s a wash compared to L.A.’s.
On defense, the Knights don’t have a Doughty, but they’ve got a solid group without any real liabilities. Once again, it’s more than the Kings have.
Why Los Angeles Can Win: The Kings will need their best players to carry them through this series. That means Doughty, Kopitar, Quick, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Dustin Brown will all need to produce and provide cover for their lack of punch beyond their top guns. This isn’t out of the question, and we’ve seen Quick do some incredible things in the playoffs. – Michael Leboff
Betting Value: There’s little to separate these two teams, but the Knights’ depth should win out over the course of a long series. Los Angeles seems like a trendy pick in Round 1, probably because we’re all still in disbelief that this is actually happening, but they are the second-best team in this series. I think this line is worth watching, as well, as the Knights could be a good bet if it moves off -130. – Michael Leboff
Leboff: Knights in 6
Holka: Knights in 7
Stuckey: Kings in 6
All stats provided by Corsica.Hockey and Natural Stat Trick.