Key matchups between the Oilers and Golden Knights
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
We are now less than twelve hours away from puck drop between the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers. It’s the first time that these two franchises will meet in a playoff series and that’s exciting. It feels like they’ve built up a little bit of a rivalry during their regular season meetings and I’m interested to see if things get spicy early on in this best-of-seven series.
I’ve said numerous times that there are some key areas where I think the Oilers have advantages, but what are some of the key matchups that will define this playoff series? Let’s take a look at three that I’ll be paying extra close attention to.
1 – McDavid vs Pietrangelo/Martinez
I would fully expect Connor McDavid to see a lot of the Golden Knight’s top pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez. In round one, McDavid really saw a lot of all of the Los Angeles King’s top four and Vlad Gavrikov specifically did an excellent job of preventing chances when he was on the ice against McDavid. Doughty was solid as well.
McDavid finding another gear offensively is a key part of the Oiler’s path to victory in this series and to do that, he’ll have to find ways to produce against Martinez and Pietrangelo. This will be especially important in the first two games of the series in Vegas when Golden Knights Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has last change.
During the regular season, McDavid played 32:04 5v5 minutes against Pietrangelo. In that time, the Oilers outshot the Golden Knights 18-16 and had 56.9% of the shot attempts. They also outscored them 2-1 in that span. One goal for every 16 5v5 minutes is solid.
McDavid went up against Alec Martinez for just 14:51 and won the scoring battle 1-0. The shots were lopsided in favour of Vegas at 9-5 though and the shot attempts were dead even.
This is a crucial matchup for both sides and will likely go a long way in deciding this series.
2 – Powerplay vs Penalty Kill
Mar 25, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Laurent Brossoit (39) makes a save on Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Of course, stopping McDavid and the Oiler’s offence isn’t just about keeping them off the board at 5v5. The Oiler’s powerplay produced at a historic level during the regular season and somehow got better during the first round of the playoffs, scoring at a 56.7% clip.
For Vegas, it won’t be a matter of stopping them but basically just trying to contain it to some extent but honestly, I’m not sure if they can do that.
The Golden Knights allowed the Winnipeg Jets powerplay to run at just over 40% in round one and that Jets powerplay was not good during the regular season, ranking 23rd in the league, and they were missing their powerplay quarterback, Josh Morrisey, for the bulk of the series.
Vegas struggled on the powerplay a lot during the year and things got worse towards the end of the regular season. They were 28th in the league in PK% from March 1st on. They’re struggling right now and there is a real chance that Edmonton’s powerplay continues to roll.
The other side of the special team’s battle is a bit of a concern for the Oilers. Their PK was 20th in the league during the regular season while the Golden Knights powerplay was down at 18th.
Edmonton’s PK also struggled in round one as they only killed off 66.7% of their penalties. I would argue a bigger issue for the Oilers will be staying out of the box. Against LA, they were shorthanded an average of 3.5 times per game while the Golden Knights did a great job of staying out of the box with just an average of 2.4 times shorthanded per game, the lowest in the first round.
Those numbers are consistent with what we saw in the regular season. The Oilers were shorthanded the sixth most times in the league while Vegas was shorthanded the least amount of times all season.
Edmonton’s going to need to stay disciplined if they want to ensure their below-average PK doesn’t hurt them in this series.
3 – Depth vs Depth
I’ve said this a handful of times in different articles and podcasts, but Edmonton’s forward depth is the biggest difference between the team this year and last year.
In round one, the Oilers both outscored and outshot the Kings at 5v5 when both McDavid and Draisaitl were off the ice. During last year’s playoff run, the Oilers got outshot 201-185 and outscored 17-14 when their two superstars were off the ice at 5v5. That is quite the difference.
Jay Woodcroft is starting to trust his bottom six right now. The minutes may not be climbing, but he put out Kailer Yamamoto, Klim Kostin, and Ryan McLeod late in a tie game vs the Kings and they rewarded him. That was ultimately a series-defining moment and it wouldn’t have happened if Woodcroft didn’t show some faith in his fourth line. If they can win the possession battle and outscore the Golden Knight’s bottom six, that will really change things in this series.
Against the Kings, the Oilers had eight different forwards score goals and all twelve forwards that they used registered at least one point. In total, six forwards had multiple goals and eight had multiple points.
In round one against the Jets, the Golden Knights also had eight forwards score goals and five had multiple goals in the five-game series. Eleven forwards registered at least a point.
Each side got some solid production in round one from pieces lower in their lineup. Brett Howden scored twice in game four, which gave them a boost in the series. He was sort of their Klim Kostin in round one.
The Oilers have the advantage when it comes to star power, if they also have the advantage when it comes to bottom-six production, then this could be a quick series for the Oilers.
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