In Game 2 of the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks first-round series, Vegas was able to squeeze out a win in overtime. This game had a much different feel to it than Game 1 as Chicago was able to keep steady pressure and bring the fight to the Knights. Although Vegas won the game, it brought forth some interesting developments that could affect the outcome of the series.
Pacioretty is Out
In a bit of shocking news, Max Pacioretty was deemed “unfit to play” prior to the contest against the Blackhawks. Pacioretty joined the team late in Edmonton so he could rehab an injury back in Las Vegas. However, it seems that in his first game back with the team, he has re-aggravated that injury. This sudden change brought Chandler Stephenson up to the top line for Game 2. This has the possibility to be a huge loss for the Vegas lineup because Pacioretty was their leading goalscorer during the regular season.
Luckily for the Knights, they have had ample time to adjust to life without Pacioretty. Vegas had played all of their round-robin seeding games without their leading scorer and still were able to produce. So far in the playoffs, Vegas has scored four goals in every game and they are one of the top-scoring teams in the postseason. However, the absence of Pacioretty has the chance to significantly alter how the Knights power play performs going forward. Pacioretty led the team with eight power-play goals in the 2019-20 season and his scoring touch will be missed on the man advantage.
Second Line Success
With the absence of Pacioretty, Vegas has had to rely on other players to produce points. The second-line has seemed to step up to that challenge. In Game 2, the trio of Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and Paul Stastny had a combined six points. Smith also put home the overtime winner. These three players have had success due to their puck retrieval and skill with the puck. They have been Vegas’ best line throughout the first round and are being rewarded for their hard work.
In addition to their stellar offensive play, they also have been exceptional in the defensive zone. Their offensive chances off the rush are a direct result of the line’s ability to break the puck out with ease. This can also be attributed to how well they communicate with each other. Being the only line that was not changed due to the absence of Pacioretty, they do not have to worry about a lack of chemistry. As the series moves along, this line could be given an increased role because of their production on both sides of the ice.
Normally, teams do not expect much from their fourth line in terms of point production. However, the Knights are receiving high-level offense from this unit. Even with Nicolas Roy being moved to the third-line, Tomas Nosek has filled in perfectly. He did so by adding to the point production of the line. Nosek was able to score, off of an assist by Carrier, on a zone entry in the first period which puts the line at 12 points so far this postseason. With the interchangeable parts, Vegas’ fourth-line is possibly the best in the playoffs.
The reason for the continued success of the “Meat Grinders” is their physical play. By finishing every check and relentlessly attacking the puck-carrier, this line is able to create chaos in both zones. This chaos directly correlates with their production, as most of the unit’s goals have come from scrambles in front of the net. It also allows them to shut down high-skilled players. By giving these skilled players less time to think or react with the puck, Vegas’ fourth-line not only prevents scoring chances but frustrates their opponents.
Young Hawks Are Flying High
Game 2 saw the young guns of the Blackhawks take over. Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik all scored for the Hawks in this game. For Strome and Dach, they scored their first career playoff goals. The Blackhawks are the youngest team in the playoffs and are going to need these players to produce in order to have success. As the playoffs have moved along, Dach has been seemingly growing more comfortable with each game. The 19-year-old rookie trained with Patrick Kane during the pause of the season and it seemed to ignite a new sense of confidence in the 2019 third overall draft pick.
Kubalik has been a constant threat for the Blackhawks since he made his playoff debut against Edmonton. Posting five points in that game, teams have had to be careful of the Calder Trophy finalist. Due to his scoring ability, it has caused teams to focus on him, thus allowing for his linemates to generate more chances. This is especially bad news for teams because Kubalik is on the same line as three-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Toews. These young players could be a serious problem for the Knights if they are able to continue to put pucks in the back of the net.
Lehner’s Job to Lose
Robin Lehner started his second consecutive game to the surprise of some. Lehner had only played in six games with Vegas prior to Game 2, but recorded the win in each one. Although this game was not ideal stat-wise, Lehner was still able to lead the Knights to victory. With this win, it marks his seventh consecutive victory with the team. It would seem that head coach Peter DeBoer is riding the hot hand right now as that could explain why Marc-Andre Fleury has not seen the ice in this series. However, it has paid off as Lehner still remains perfect as a member of the Knights.
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Lehner’s stats through the playoffs have been good through his four games. However, his work ethic and intensity may be the reason why DeBoer has given him the crease in this series, or it could even be as simple as Lehner knowing the tendencies of the Chicago roster. There is still the chance that the goalies may split time just like they did during the round-robin. DeBoer has been vocal about his team needing both netminders in order to achieve their goals this postseason. However, the job seems to be Lehner’s for the foreseeable future.
Going forward, these five takeaways have the possibility of affecting the series for either side. If Vegas cannot control the young skill of the Blackhawks, this series could take a turn south. The Knights are without their leading scorer but the amount of depth they have on their roster is helping their chances tremendously. An unexpected goalie battle could force both Lehner and Fleury to raise their level as they do not want to lose the net.