Although it’s only been a week, it feels like it’s been forever since we have seen the Vegas Golden Knight suit up and hit the ice. Having resumed on-ice activities this week, the team will look to make its return to the ice this Friday in a matchup against their neighbours to the West, the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings aren’t having a great season by any stretch of the imagination. Through nine games, they have only won three of those contests and have looked rather lacklustre throughout. Their lone bright spot seems to be the play of captain Anze Kopitar, who has tallied 12 points so far this season. In general, this Kings team is confusing, as we’re not sure whether they are rebuilding or trying to compete in a stacked west division.
Confusion aside, the Golden Knights need to be on top of their game this coming Friday, even if their opponent doesn’t seem the strongest. As it states in the Art of War, “never underestimate your opponent.” This creed, along with three other keys to play, will be the determining factor in helping the Golden Knights capture the series versus the Kings and could lead to some nice “welcome back” momentum they can carry into the month of February. Now, without further a due, let’s jump right into it and look at the three keys the Golden Knights need in order to go perfect in this series.
Forecheck, Forecheck, Forecheck
Upon watching the February 2nd game, which included the Anaheim Ducks matching up against the Kings, one thing stuck out in my mind; the forecheck. Now, the Ducks came away with the victory in that game by a score of 3-1, which in large part was due to their never-ending forecheck. It seemed that the more the Kings kept the puck in their zone, the more they were destined to give it up and give scoring chances away to the opposing side. This leads me to my first point.
If the Golden Knights are going to sweep this series versus the Kings, they cannot allow them to exit their zone with the puck. The Kings house speedy names in Andreas Athanasiou and Trevor Moore, who turn into nightmares for opposing defensemen when breaking out of their defensive zone. Seeing as their outside speed can cause many odd-man attacks, it’s best the Golden Knights neutralize the attack in the Kings’ defensive zone and make it extremely hard for them to get the puck out.
Key plays from Vegas’ third and fourth lines are crucial here. As I’ve said in recent articles, and from which is known around the league, the Golden Knights house one of the best roster depths in recent NHL memory. These lines need to lay the body once in the defensive zone. If the Kings are going to get the puck out of their zone, they’re gonna need to fight to get it out. This depth needs to come alive more so than ever now, seeing as we are starting a new month of hockey and can establish some much-needed momentum in order to recapture first place in the West.
Full 60 Minutes of Hockey
The Golden Knights may house an impressive 5-1-1 record, but throughout many of their games, especially the first four of the season, they’ve slacked through the first 40 minutes and made up for it in the third. Through the first three games of the season, they didn’t carry a lead in any of those games up until the third period. The only way they were able to pull off wins in three of those games was due to their depth, but speaking from a coaching standpoint, you should never be relying on making a third-period comeback in order to win the game.
In order for the Golden Knights to safely secure four points against the Kings, they are going to need to play their game for the full 60 minutes, nothing less. Although they do house some of the best depth in the NHL, they cannot rely on that solely to steal games for them in the third period. Especially now, since they are coming off a little break, they need to get their legs moving early, shake off whatever rust they may have and make sure they don’t slip into their old habits.
This key is essential to not giving the Kings any breathing room to make something happen on the scoreboard. What the Kings lack in 5-on-5 play they make up for on the power play, as L.A. currently sits 15th in the league in power play percentage, converting on 21.62 % of their chances.
With Kopitar and Doughty manning the power play, it’d be best not to give the Kings any chance to capitalize on the man advantage. Vegas does have the seventh-best penalty kill in the league, sitting at 84%, but as the old saying goes, “better safe than sorry.” With all the factors of coming off a break and being rusty coming into play, the Golden Knights don’t need the headache of trying to kill penalties. Play hard, play smart and watch your stick. If they follow these three things, they’re sure to leave with all four points against the Kings.
Back on the Grind
As I said earlier, this series versus L.A. is crucial to building the momentum needed to carry Vegas to a winning record through the month of February. They are playing a condensed schedule, meaning they’re apt to get exhausted at some point throughout the month; this is where proper taxi squad rotation comes into play. If the players are tired, they are more prone to take lazy penalties. Lazy penalties lead to power play goals against.
Analytics aside, I believe this series will be very fun to watch and look forward to watching these two teams going out to battle. What do you guys think? Who will come out on top of this two-game series? Let me know in the comments below!
Michael Vidakis is a Montreal native who writes for the Vegas Golden Knights team here at The Hockey Writers. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer things in life such as Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, staring aimlessly outside windows and tangerines.