The Vegas Golden Knights opened their second round series with a 6-4 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, giving them a 1-0 lead in the series.
Leon Draisaitl picked up all four goals for the Oilers and was absolutely phenomenal throughout the entire game. This performance made him the first member of the franchise to have a four-goal performance in the playoffs since Jari Kurri in 1987.
As for the Golden Knights, Ivan Barbashev had two goals in the game, with his first opening the scoring for the team and his second being the eventual game-winning goal. This was his first multi-goal performance in his playoff career, tying his previous high in playoff goals when he won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019.
Golden Knights’ Defensive Dominance
While no coach is going to be satisfied with their team’s defensive play after giving up four goals, there were actually a lot of positive things to take away from how the Golden Knights played in their own zone.
Through the first two periods the Golden Knights held the Oilers to just one high-danger chance and ended up outshooting them 26 to 14 as well. While the Oilers played with an immense amount of pressure in the third period, the Golden Knights still dominated defensively for the majority of the game.
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The Golden Knights just completely locked down the middle of their zone at even strength and kept the Oilers’ shots to the outside. Two key parts of this were Brayden McNabb and Alex Pietrangelo, who had a lot of tough minutes in this game against the Oilers’ top offensive players and they were able to balance their tendency to play physical and clear the net, without giving up any breathing room in the slot area for the Oilers to attack or for passes to go through.
Another major factor in their defensive success came as a result of their pressure while forechecking. The Oilers are undeniably a faster team, but the Golden Knights were relentless with their pursuit of the puck and forced the Oilers’ defense to cough up pucks and make errant passes. This style of forecheck prevented the Oilers’ forwards from gaining momentum through the neutral zone, outside of Connor McDavid, who picked apart the defense on multiple occasions.
Responding to Pressure
Both of Barbashev’s goals came moments after the Oilers scored on the power play, and were generated from great response shifts from the Golden Knights’ top six.
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There are a few reasons why they were able to respond so well, but it mainly has to do with how the Oilers deploy their forwards on the power play. Like most teams in the playoffs, they play their top power play unit for all two minutes in order to give them the best chance to score. However, the Oilers aren’t a deep enough team that can get effective shifts from their role players once Draisaitl, McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman and Evan Bouchard are all tired.
The Golden Knights were able to put out their top six forwards after the penalty kill and capitalize on this major advantage by putting the Oilers’ defense on their heels, tiring them out, and not giving them an opportunity to change. It’s tough to determine if this will be a trend throughout the series, but it was a noticeable factor in the outcome of this game.
It’s also worth noting that the Golden Knights’ penalty kill was pretty structurally sound despite giving up two goals. They had 15 takeaways and six of them came on the penalty kill, which is a result of the Oilers getting frustrated with playing on the outside of the offensive zone and forcing plays towards the middle of the ice.
While there are a lot of aspects both teams would like to clean up, it’s pretty much exactly what you could have expected between the Golden Knights and Oilers in a game where both teams are feeling each other out. The Oilers continued to remain dominant on the power play, the Golden Knights took over at even strength, both goaltenders weren’t at their best, and in this case, the better defensive team prevailed.
It felt like the Golden Knights were far too passive toward the end of the game once the Oilers pulled within a goal. While they found a way to get out of this game, they’ll have to find a way to be aggressive for a full 60 minutes in order to put themselves in a more comfortable position later in games.
Both teams will get an extended break and prepare for Game 2 on Saturday in Las Vegas at 4:00 PM PST, 7:00 PM EST, where the Golden Knights will have an opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series before heading to Edmonton.