What We Learned After Two Nights in Vegas

Games 1 and 2 are now in the books with the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals knotted even at 1-1 heading to the nation’s capital. But are things really that close? Did either team steal a win? Let’s take a look.

Things Settled Down After Game 1

As expected, Game 2 had a more controlled tone after the reckless but exciting play of Game 1. And the 6-4 final score of Game 1 looks like it may end up being a bit of an outlier as far as how the rest of the series will play out.

As for why that is, it comes down to a few factors.

  1. Both goaltenders shook off their nerves/rust combination and played solid games, with the Capitals’ Braden Holtby looking particularly stout. Seriously, did you see that save?
  2. Players remembered their responsibilities and bore down on defense.
  3. The referees found their whistles and called more penalties, which you might think that by creating more power plays, would allow for more scoring chances and scoring, but really impacted the game more by slowing down the pace a bit when compared to the frenetic Game 1.
2018 Stanley Cup Final
NHL officials
  1. The Golden Knights’ fourth line played like a fourth line. The Tomas Nosek – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Ryan Reaves line came back down to earth in Game 2 and were largely ineffective after being the story of Game 1. Their cumulative ice time plummeted from 34:06 to 22:35. Of course, part of that is the byproduct of playing from behind versus having the lead, but if they were still the hottest line, they would have been out there more often.

The Capitals Physicality Factor

The Capitals noticeably upped their physical play in Game 2, using their big bodies to their advantage by roughing up the Golden Knights every chance they got. The physicality resulted in some uncharacteristic retaliatory penalties by Knights players and seemed to really tilt the ice in the Caps favor.

Ryan Reaves is in the line-up to be the Golden Knights’ thumper, and he has been mostly effective, however, he did fall back into his old ways, taking a bad penalty by cross-checking Tom Wilson in the face after the whistle. Was it embellished? Sure. Was pretty much every other penalty in the game? Absolutely.

Ryan Reaves, Golden Knights, Stanley Cup Final
Vegas Golden Knights right wing Ryan Reaves looks to continue physical play (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

But it is clear that when the Caps play their bruising brand of hockey, they are more able to stifle the Knights’ swarming attack. Of course, it helps when one player, in particular, is finishing his checks.

Capitals Follow the Leader

Alexander Ovechkin was largely called out for his poor play in Game 1, but stepped up and played a much better Game 2. He skated hard, finished his checks with authority (five hits), made some key defensive plays, and did what he does best, stuffing home a power-play goal in the second period. He’s a proven playoff performer, despite this being his first Stanley Cup Final, and the Capitals may well win this series if he continues to score and do all the little things you need your captain to do.

Are the Golden Knights or Capitals More in Control?

You would think the obvious answer is the Capitals, having stolen the momentum and home-ice advantage with it by taking the ‘W’ in Game 2. But let’s take a look at some numbers.

Total shots for Games 1 and 2 – Vegas 73, Washington 54

The Golden Knights are putting considerably more shots on goal, testing Holtby much more often than the Capitals are getting shots on Marc-Andre Fleury. You could argue that this series could easily be going to Washington with the Caps down 0-2 had it not been for Holtby’s heroics (seriously, did you see that save?). If Alex Tuch was able to get his shot past Holtby, it would have been difficult for the Capitals to fight through the home-crowd momentum and register the win.

Braden Holtby Stanley Cup Final
Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (70) makes a diving save against the Vegas Golden Knights in the third period in game two of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Total hits for Games 1 and 2 – Washington 84, Vegas 64

Don’t think these stats matter? See above. The Capitals are playing their brand of physical hockey and wearing down the Golden Knights’ defense while slowing their speedy forwards. The Golden Knights certainly aren’t known for their physical play, but you can see some players growing frustrated with the constant checking (we see you, Erik Haula) and it may become more of a factor as the series plays on.

Luck always plays a factor, and although the Capitals may have stolen one in Game 2, the Holtby save on Tuch wasn’t the only bounce going their way. It’s hockey, these things happen. And with the series heading to Washington for Games 3 and 4, we’re eager to see if the  Golden Knights’ speed game can overcome the Capitals’ power.

For what it’s worth, we’re betting on a 2-2 series heading back to Sin City.