The Chicago Blackhawks have officially advanced to the traditional 16-team format of the 2019-20 Stanley Cup playoffs. They dispatched the Edmonton Oilers in four games in the qualifying round, and will now face the first-seed Vegas Golden Knights. In preparation for this best-of-seven series, I reached out to The Hockey Writers’ Eddie Rivkin, who covers the Golden Knights, to get some insight from the enemy regarding this matchup.
Greetings Eddie, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us!
The biggest news coming out of the bubble for the Golden Knights is that forward Max Pacioretty is in attendance and should be ready to go against the Blackhawks. For those Blackhawks’ fans who aren’t aware, Pacioretty was the highest scorer for the Golden Knights during the regular season. He’s been out with an undisclosed injury since July 20.
Q: So Eddie, in your opinion, how will Pacioretty’s presence affect the dynamics of the team and the forward lines?
Effect of Pacioretty’s Presence
A: First off, it’s important to note the team revealed Pacioretty’s absence was NOT COVID-19 related. He remained in Vegas where the team stated he could get the best possible treatment. At the time, the Golden Knights were unsure of the medical situation in the bubble and cited this as a reason for him staying in Vegas.
But to get to your question, Pacioretty’s effect is going to be HUGE for the Golden Knights! As with every team, the expectation would be to begin the playoffs fully healthy. What makes this even more significant is that it will be the very first time new head coach Pete DeBoer has had his entire starting lineup dressed and healthy since he came to the team on Jan. 15.
In training camp Part 2, there were a couple of significant line changes. Rather than ruin your surprise, Gail, I’ll let you wait until the series starts to see them. Fair warning; prepare to meet “The Meat Grinders”!
(Author’s Note: Eddie is referring here to the Golden Knight’s fourth line that features the infamous heavy-hitter, Ryan Reaves).
Q: Goaltending is another pretty big story in this series. Robin Lehner came over from the Blackhawks at the trade deadline and has posted better numbers in the crease than veteran Marc-Andre Fleury. Yet Fleury is the tested veteran with more playoff experience. Coach DeBoer indicated he will probably utilize both at some point. How do you see this playing out?
Goaltending: Lehner or Fleury?
A: Ah, that’s a situation which has the entire fan base on edge.
In theory, Fleury is without question the face of the franchise. Three Stanley Cup rings and more accolades and records than you have room for in this column would lead one to believe he is the unquestioned No. 1 goalie.
But if you believe that you would be completely wrong. From day one, DeBoer said he was going to do things his way and play the players he thought would give them the best chance to win. He has lived up to that statement time and time again. He broke up what was thought as the permanent top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, and has basically removed the heart of the franchise, Deryk Engelland, from the lineup.
The sample size for Lehner here is only five games, but he posted a perfect 5-0-0. Fleury has had the worst statistical year in the last ten seasons. It will take BOTH goalies to get to 16 wins and a Stanley Cup parade down the Fabulous Las Vegas Strip. But if I was a betting man, Lehner will get the first opportunity to mind the crease.
Q: Do you have any specific concerns regarding how the Blackhawks might give the Golden Knights some trouble in this series?
Golden Knights’ Concerns About Blackhawks
A: What a loaded question! The Blackhawks’ pedigee of three Cups in 10 years is undeniable and is not something the Golden Knights will take lightly. And if goaltender Corey Crawford stays hot; we all know a hot goalie can steal games, sometimes even a series.
Even with the lopsided Golden Knights’ overall results versus the Blackhawks (8-1-0), the team will not take them for granted. DeBoer won’t let that happen. The Blackhawks did very well dealing with the speed of the Oilers, but neither team believes much in defense. On the other hand, the Golden Knights very much do.
Q: What do you see as being key for the Golden Knights to win this series?
Golden Knights’ Keys to Success
A: The key to the good guys winning the series is actually quite simple: depth. Whereas the Oilers have one line and one-half of another, the Golden Knights are going to roll four lines at the Blackhawks for 60 minutes every single night. And four lines that are capable of putting the puck in the net.
Add to that emerging superstar Shea Theodore on defense, and arguably the best goalie tandem in the playoffs. Vegas is built to win right now.
All right, let’s cut to the chase.
Q: What is your prediction for the outcome of this series?
Blackhawks/Golden Knights Series Prediction
A: I’m going to the betting window at Caesars Palace and taking the Golden Knights in five. One of the perks of living in Vegas!
Well! Eddie is one confident fella, isn’t he? He only has the Blackhawks winning a single game in this series. I guess he has a right to his opinion!
Either way, it’s been very enlightening to gain some insight from the eyes of the enemy. The Golden Knights and the Blackhawks officially drop the puck for Game 1 this Tuesday night at 9:30 Central Time.
Let the games begin!