Following their COVID-19 related break, the Golden Knights showed no signs of rust in their series with the Los Angeles Kings. With a sweep, Vegas was able to re-take their spot on top of the Honda West Division. The Golden Knights were able to achieve this without their top defensive pair, an explosion of offense, strong goaltending and a change in tactics.
Winning Without Top Pair
Entering the series with Los Angeles, Vegas was going to be shorthanded on the blueline. Both Alex Pietrangelo and Brayden McNabb were unavailable for the Golden Knights. Pietrangelo’s absence was due to COVID-19 protocols while his partner was placed on long-term injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Because of his placement on LTIR, McNabb is expected to miss at least 10 games.
Despite losing their top defensive pair, the Golden Knights were able to overcome this adversity and fend off the Kings. This also served as an opportunity for Shea Theodore to showcase his worth to the organization. In this series, he had two points and proved he should be the quarterback of the top power-play unit with an impressive display of playmaking ability. Since Pietrangelo arrived in Sin City, Theodore had seemed to take a back seat to the recent free-agent signing. This mixed with Vegas rotating five defensemen appeared to cause him to have a slower start to the season. Following this series, it would not be surprising to see the young star on the scoresheet more often.
However, despite the impressive offensive play from the defensemen in this series, the Golden Knights did allow LA to shoot the puck. The Kings were able to get an average of 30.5 shots on goal against the Golden Knights. Los Angeles was able to create chances and keep the games closer than the Golden Knights wanted. The Golden Knights will need to find a way to decrease their shots against with Pietrangelo and McNabb out of action if they want to continue their success.
The Golden Knights offense had no problems following their extended break, scoring nine goals in the two-game series. This was highlighted by the play of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty – the linemates combined for a total of seven points. Despite getting production from the usual subjects, Vegas’ depth players made a strong contribution to the scoring. In Game 1, Nicolaus Hague earned the first-star rights after posting a three-point night with one goal and two assists. Game 2 belonged to Chandler Stephenson, who scored two goals with one of them being the game-winner.
The Golden Knights have remained one of the hottest offenses in the NHL following their two wins against the Kings. Currently, Vegas is ranked fifth in the NHL with 3.56 goals per game. This is also good for the best in the Honda West Division. One of the reasons why the Golden Knights offense is so dangerous is due to the high amounts of shots they take. Vegas is currently ranked fourth in shots per game with an average of 32.4.
As with any Golden Knights game, the goalie situation was one of the main focuses. To the surprise of no one, the series was split between Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. In the first game of the series, Fleury was impressive as he had a save percentage of .931. This continues his current hot streak as he has been a brick wall in the 2020-21 season. Fleury only allowed two goals in his appearance and continues to make a strong case as to why the Vegas net should be his.
Lehner seems to have bounced back following a tough stretch of games. He was able to post a .906 SV% with three goals allowed. Once again, Lehner did have the higher workload in his game as the Kings were able to produce 32 shots on goal compared to Fleury’s 29 shots against.
This series showcased why the Golden Knights made the right choice in choosing to keep both netminders. Even with their top defensive pair out of action, Vegas never seemed to be nervous when defending due to the strength of their goalies. The ability to have a fresh goalie in each contest has been a big reason why the Golden Knights have a 7-1-1 record. There is no way of knowing how much longer the split will go on, but with the season nearly being 20% over there might not be a reason to deviate from the current strategy.
A New Start
The Golden Knights implemented a new strategy against the Kings. Instead of starting the fourth line, which has been a staple of Peter DeBoer’s gameplan, Vegas used their second line to start the game. The line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault was used to generate offense at the beginning of the game. The decision also comes after the recent poor play of the fourth line.
This tactic change seemed to work for the Golden Knights in the first game as they were able to score within the first minute. However, in the second game, the opposite happened as the Kings were able to score in the first 36 seconds. This leads to speculation if this tactic will continue or if DeBoer will go back to his original gameplan.
All in all, the Golden Knights have managed to continue their success despite an extended break due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. They remain as one of the hardest teams in the league to play against and will look to build on their hot streak in their next series against the Anaheim Ducks.