When the Vegas Golden Knights came into fruition a couple years ago, no one (not even myself) expected them to instantly become a contender. The ascension to becoming a Stanley Cup threat has been great not just for the NHL, but for the sports world. The Golden Knights made headlines by making the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. This has resulted in hockey becoming a big deal in Sin City, with almost every Las Vegas denizen rocking Golden Knights gear and paraphernalia. But what can they do to become the fastest expansion team since the Arizona Diamondbacks to win their first title?
Don’t Dig Yourself Into a Deep Hole
The Golden Knights have allowed the first goal in the past six games, a troubling sign for a Stanley Cup contender. Granted, Vegas has won half of those games, including a thrilling overtime victory against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues, but the Golden Knights should consider themselves lucky.
However, digging yourself into that early hole can make life harder, as seen in their Tuesday contest with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Thursday’s game with the Los Angeles Kings. Once teams establish a significant lead on your team, it’s tough for them to relinquish it (cue Booger McFarland). Therefore, solid goaltending and taking care of the puck is paramount to success in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This is especially true in the playoffs, where momentum can decide a series in an instant.
Strong Play From All Lines
The Golden Knights don’t have a marquee goalscorer such as Alex Ovechkin. Rather, their attack is balanced, with the likes of Max Pacioretty (20 goals), Mark Stone (16 goals), and Jonathan Marchessault (15 goals). While it’s nice to have that balanced attack, it’s also worrisome that one line could slump, especially in the playoffs. If you look back at the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, the early-1990s Penguins, and even the late-1990s Detroit Red Wings, these teams had a go-to guy when it came to scoring.
Whether it was Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman (before Scottie Bowman made him create more opportunities for his teammates) or Sergei Federov, their respective teams had skaters who were slump-proof. If it’s Pacioretty, Stone or anybody else on the Golden Knights that is the hot hand, it’ll help Vegas immensely. If not, all lines must come ready to play against any competition in the playoffs.
Fleury Must Be Fleury
Back to the goaltending part. Solid goaltending can be the key to winning the Stanley Cup. Just look at the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 with Jonathan Quick. Fortunately for the Golden Knights, they have a playoff-proven goaltender in Fleury. This is especially true during his days with Pittsburgh, where he would stand on his head, making remarkable saves en route to three Stanley Cups in his career. In fact, Fleury’s career postseason stats aren’t that bad. A 2.51 goals-against average (GAA) with a save percentage of .911, a record of 78-62, and 15 shutouts aren’t too shabby.
In fact, his playoff stats with Vegas are better; Fleury has a save percentage of .922 and a GAA of 2.37. However, “the Flower” isn’t getting any younger. As mentioned earlier, goaltending and puck control are key components of having success in the Stanley Cup playoffs. At the age of 35, Fleury will need his past playoff experience and some help to keep him upright as the playoffs progress.
Neutral Zone Dominance
The Blues won the Stanley Cup on more than just the backs of Ryan O’ Reilly and road game magic. It was also creating turnovers, which led to abundant scoring opportunities. Thus, St. Louis went on to play “Gloria” for the summer of 2019 and hoisted their first Stanley Cup. Going back to the point of scoring from all lines, creating turnovers will be key for the Golden Knights in the playoffs. Doing this will help them get more chances in the offensive zone.
Just Make the Playoffs First
Easier said than done. In fact, this is the most important thing considering the Vancouver Canucks just went on a seven-game winning streak and the Pacific Division is tight right now. One slip-up could be the difference between facing Connor McDavid in the first round and facing the Winnipeg Jets. All this will be of discussion if the Golden Knights focus on finishing the regular season strong and getting to the postseason.