After the emotional roller coaster between the Oilers and the Kings, Edmonton will have a different type of challenge in round 2 against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Their opponents will no longer sit back in a 1-3-1 trap to try and defuse the speed coming through the neutral zone. This Golden Knights team forechecks, and they will be putting more pressure on the Edmonton defence to make plays.
Fortunately for the Oilers, this style of play could open up their rush offence, where players like Connor McDavid shine.
However, just because they are more aggressive on the forecheck doesn’t mean the Knights don’t know how to lock it down defensively. Their 2.74 GA/GP is more impressive than the 3.10 posted by the LA Kings.
I would also expect the Golden Knights to try and bang bodies more than the Kings did; it’s been a more significant part of their game all season.
While this series will be different, the Oilers can exploit this style of play. If the Golden Knights take the physicality too far, they risk unleashing the deadly Edmonton powerplay. If they allow too much space in the neutral zone, the Oilers will attack with their speed and skill.
In the regular season, Vegas had a better goal share than the Oilers, but the analytics largely favoured Edmonton at 5 on 5. The Oilers had better possession numbers, better shooting percentage, and a better expected goal share.
Had Edmonton received more consistent goaltending over the regular season, there is no question they would have secured the higher seed for this series. While the numbers mostly favour the Oilers, Vegas was missing Mark Stone for most of the year, and they had five different goalies play for them this season due to injuries.
Despite all of the adversity, they found ways to win. With Stone back in the lineup, and Brossoit playing solid between the pipes as of late, it’s unlikely that Vegas will be an easy out.
Head to Head
The Oilers have dominated this matchup over the past couple of seasons, going 7-2-2 in their last 11 games against the Golden Knights. The most significant difference has been the special teams.
The Oilers went an incredible 5/9 against Vegas this year on the man advantage (55.6%). The Golden Knights, in contrast, only managed to capitalize on 1 of their 10 powerplays against Edmonton (10%). Recent postseason results don’t look promising for Vegas either, as the Oilers’ 56.3% powerplay against LA is the best powerplay percentage in a playoff series in NHL history.
Both teams have had success on the road in this matchup, with Edmonton winning four consecutive games in Vegas and the Knights winning 3 of their last 5 games in Edmonton. The playoffs are a different animal, but recent history in the regular season suggests that Oilers have an edge head-to-head, especially as the visiting team.
The Bottom line for the Oilers
Discipline will be the key to victory for the Golden Knights in this series. The Oilers dominate the special teams matchup, so keeping their noses clean would be in their best interest. Luckily for the Golden Knights, they know how to play that way. During the regular season, Vegas was the least penalized team in the NHL, and they took the second-fewest penalties in the first round of the playoffs.
The Oilers will need to continue to get contributions from the bottom 6. Vegas has more than enough depth to win this series if McDavid and Draisaitl are the only players that show up offensively for Edmonton. They will also need to get better goaltending from Stuart Skinner. He was their best netminder between the pipes all season, but the .890 Sv% for Skinner in the playoffs will need to improve.
Will Edmonton’s electrifying offence and special teams be enough to send them to the Western Conference Finals again? Or will Vegas’ discipline, physicality and two-way game be enough to shut the Oilers down? We will find out soon!