The Way I See It
Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
29 days ago
As somebody who declared in March that all roads to the Stanley Cup would lead through Boston and having deemed defending Cup champion Colorado the Western Conference’s most formidable team, I was as wrong as anybody could possibly be predicting how the 2023 playoff picture stacked up. I’m guessing I have company after a first round rife with upsets.
So, having watched the Edmonton Oilers dispatch the Los Angeles Kings in six games, I’m trying to get a handle on how their second-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights shapes up with the opener in Nevada set for Wednesday.
No matter how I look at it, I can’t find a compelling reason why the Oilers shouldn’t win this series just as they did the regular season series – 3-0-1 — between the teams. Jinx? As wrong as my take about the Bruins was, there’s no such thing.
Game-by-game, I expect that this series will be as close as the regular season was. Three of the games were decided by 4-3 scores and two of those came in overtime. The Oilers, 50-23-9 for 109 points, won 4-3 in overtime Nov. 19, 4-3 on Jan. 14 and 7-4 on March 28. The Golden Knights, tops in the Pacific Division at 51-22-9 for 111 points, won 4-3 in OT March 25.
That’s four games decided by four goals – 18-14 in favor of the Oilers – between two very different teams separated by just two points in the standings after 82 games. Bottom line, the teams are polar opposites. Jay Woodcroft’s Oilers are a high-powered offensive juggernaut with a historically good power play, elite top-end talent and more depth than past seasons.
Bruce Cassidy’s Golden Knights come in as the NHL’s most disciplined and least-penalized team. When they win it’s because they pay attention to details, keep the puck out of their own net — a tried-and-true playoff blueprint – and avoid track meets they can’t keep up in. They know how they want to play.
ADDING IT UP
Mar 28, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates next to Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb (3) after scoring a goal against Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) during the first period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Even with Mark Stone in the line-up, the Golden Knights can’t match Edmonton’s top-end talent up front. Connor McDavid at 64-89-153, Leon Draisaitl at 52-76-128, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at 37-67-104 and Zach Hyman at 36-47-83 give the Oilers a significant edge.
Jack Eichel scored 27-39-66 and was the top point man for Las Vegas. After that, it’s Chandler Stephenson at 16-49-65, Jonathan Marchessault at 22-29-57 and Reilly Smith at 26-30-56. The Oilers scored 325 goals this season and finished plus-65. The Golden Knights finished with 272 goals and were plus-43.
RNH led the Oilers with 1-8-9 against Vegas in the season series thanks in large part to a five-point game in the 7-4 win. Draisaitl was next at 5-3-8 and McDavid checked in with 1-6-7. As lethal as the Oilers power play was this season at 32.4 per cent, it was even better against the Golden Knights at 5-for-9.
The Oilers are bigger all over than they were to start the season and they got considerably better on the blueline at the trade deadline with the arrival of Mattias Ekholm, who has unlocked the kind of results fans have been waiting for from Evan Bouchard. Even with Alex Pietrangelo, is Vegas better than the Oilers on the back-end personnel-wise? I don’t see it.
What about in goal? While Stuart Skinner wasn’t lights out against Vegas in the regular season, going 2-0-1 with a 3.59 GAA and .878 save percentage while Jack Campbell got the other game, I’m not giving former Edmonton Oil Kings stopper Laurent Brossoit an edge. Again, I don’t see an advantage for Las Vegas.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I was a game too exuberant picking the Oilers over the Kings in five games in the first round and I might be guilty of doing the same now in picking the Oilers to beat the Golden Knights in six games. It could go seven, but I don’t see a path to a series win for the Golden Knights. OILERS IN SIX.
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