The Oilers have been the Golden Knights’ kryptonite this season. Despite the two teams being in reverse spots in the standings from where they were expected to be, Edmonton has beaten Vegas in both of the team’s first two all-time meetings this year.
1. The Golden Knights haven’t lost a game to a team from the Pacific Division this season other than the Oilers. Against Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver, and Arizona, the Golden Knights are 13-0. Against the Oilers, the Golden Knights are 0-1-1. As we know from last season, being good against your division is extremely important. It’s pretty much why Vegas is running away with top spot in the Pacific.
2. The first meeting between the Oilers and Golden Knights came back on Nov. 14 when the Oilers pounded the Golden Knights 8-2 in Edmonton. To be fair to Vegas, this was the point in which they were in riding their fourth- and fifth-string goalies as Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcom Subban, and Oscar Dansk were all on the Injured Reserve. Max Lagace, who sports a .872 save percentage for the season, got shelled for seven goals on 29 shots, then Dylan Ferguson, the 19-year-old emergency call-up from the Kamloops Blazers got nine minutes of action in relief. In January, the Oilers played their first-ever game in Vegas and won in overtime, kicking their off-week off on a nice note. It’s one of just six losses in 26 games the Golden Knights have at home.
3. It’s been truly shocking how well Vegas has done this year. I personally don’t find it all too fair to compare their results to that of the other expansion teams from the 90s considering the Golden Knights had access to a much better crop of players in the expansion draft, but the fact they’re not only gunning for a playoff spot but potentially the Presidents’ Trophy in their inaugural year is insane. After a month, everyone expected Vegas to be a mirage. They were a bad shot differential team with high percentages much like the Colorado Avalanche of 2013-14 and the Calgary Flames of 2014-15, but as time went on, their underlying numbers improved and their record is legitimate.
4. According to Corsica, Vegas has an expected Goals For percentage of 52.69 per cent. That ranks fifth in the league behind Dallas, Carolina, Edmonton (!?!?!), and Boston. This stat is derived from looking at shot volume and quality both for and against at even strength to determine how the team should perform with league average percentage numbers. It’s not perfect obviously, but it’s much like the Pythagorean win/loss record in baseball which aims to figure out how well teams ought to be doing based on run differential by isolating the team’s actual results from the realities of sequencing and luck.
5. So, what does this Vegas team do well? First and foremost, they score a lot of goals. At even strength, they score the fourth most goals in the league and they boast a modestly successful power play which operates at a 20.79 per cent efficiency. All told, Vegas ranks third in the league with 194 goals. William Karlsson leads the way with 29 goals thanks largely to a absurd 24.2 shooting percentage, but Vegas boasts quite a bit of depth, as three other players have at least 20 goals and three more players have at least 10 goals.
6. Scoring a bunch of goals has been key for the Golden Knights, especially when the team was without three of their top goalies at the same time, but they’ve also done a good job keeping the puck out of the net. They’re the league’s fifth best team in terms of expected goals against, which is a testament to their solid blueline. But Marc-Andre Fleury has put up Vezina-calibre numbers when healthy. Fleury owns a .932 save percentage in 25 games, which is topped by only Darcy Kuemper and Carter Hutton, two backups who play on very good defensive teams in Los Angeles and St. Louis. Fleury will be starting tonight for the Golden Knights.
7. Vegas is one of the league’s best teams at scoring first. When they do get that lead, they often don’t let go of it. The Golden Knights are 22-3 after scoring first and they rank third in the league in first-period goals. But they don’t score and go into a shell. They score first, keep the pedal on the gas, and make life very difficult for the other team to catch up.
8. That’s enough about Vegas. How about the Oilers? Ahhhhh. Edmonton is on a four-game losing streak. Over that span, they’ve allowed 21 goals against. The penalty kill has been a disaster, of course, and the team is still struggling to pull it together on the power play. At even strength, though, they haven’t been all that bad. It’s really been special teams and mediocre goaltending that’s dragged the team down.
9. An interesting thing to think about with Vegas is how they’ll navigate the trade deadline. They have two major impending UFAs — James Neal and David Perron — who seem unlikely to stick around long-term. Both would fetch a nice return at the deadline and despite their great first season the Golden Knights need to worry about the future. Could they deal those two and then use other assets to buy elsewhere? I wonder if they could deal Neal for a good return and then bring back somebody like Patrick Maroon to slide right into his role.
10. As always, I’ll do a Connor McDavid Art Ross report, because that’s one of the only worthwhile things left to follow this season. McDavid is tied with Claude Giroux and Phil Kessel for third in the league with 66 points. Nikita Kucherov has extended his lead with a recent hot streak and sits at the top of the league with 72 points.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 02/15/2018 – 2:00pm MST