The Vegas Golden Knights were in need of a major bounceback this season, and they got it. After missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history (historic), the Golden Knights made a coaching change. And it seems to be paying off. This season, Vegas has been able to battle through some injury concerns to occupy the top spot in the Pacific Division.
On the flip side, the Winnipeg Jets have been battling a devastating slump that almost cost the team their playoff spot. Luckily for them, their elite goalie was mostly able to save the day through the latter portion of the season.
The last time these two teams met in the postseason, Vegas took care of the Jets in five games. Winnipeg was coming out of an incredible battle the previous series and the Golden Knights were able to take advantage of a worn out team. That won’t be the case this season, however, meeting in the first round. They will be energized and ready to battle. But will the result be any different?
Season statline and head-to-head matchup
|TEAM/STAT||W||L||OTL||P||GF||xGF%||GA||CF%||PP%||PK%||Record vs. Opponent|
|Vegas Golden Knights||51||22||9||111||267||52.8%||225||48.6%||20.3%||77.4%||3–0–1|
Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for % (CF%) stats are in all situations from moneypuck.com.
Vegas Golden Knights storyline to follow
The Vegas Golden Knights have shown themselves to be the most cutthroat organization in the league. They are in win-now mode every single season and are not afraid to make big, bold moves to try and achieve their goals. This leads to them making huge trades of questionable value and coaching changes way more often than one would expect from a top team in the league.
Vegas has been a contender in the Pacific all season, even though they have dealt with injury issues to key players like Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, as well as missing Robin Lehner for the entire season. New head coach Bruce Cassidy is showing his impact on the team and lineup by keeping them competitive and in contention for the division title.
The biggest concerns for the Golden Knights will be scoring and stability in net.
Earlier this season, Eichel went through a bit of a slump and was out of the lineup for periods of time. Needless to say, he was not producing offensively. When he was gone, the rest of the team struggled to score enough to win games. As soon as he returned to the lineup and started scoring again, the Golden Knights were good again. The offence of this team seems to run through their star centre, even though they do have a few other players who can contribute.
The Golden Knights have also used five goalies this season, and currently appear to be rolling through as many of them as possible for a game each. Logan Thompson took over as the starter early this season but missed time due to injury, Adin Hill has played well but has also been out of the lineup for the most part since late February. Laurent Brossoit is back now, but was also hurt a lot. Sensing a trend, here? Now, at the trade deadline, they acquired Jonathan Quick, who is currently the worst goalie statistically on the team.
The turnstile in net will make it difficult for any goalie to grab the reigns and get into a groove. This could be a position of weakness for the Golden Knights, if no one can stay healthy or get enough ice time to find their game, and a possible place to exploit for their opponents.
Winnipeg Jets storyline to follow
At the end of January, the Winnipeg Jets were sitting comfortably second in the Central Division. A seven-point cushion over the third-place Colorado Avalanche and an eight-point lead on a playoff spot. But since February 1st, the Jets have completely lost their mojo. In fact, they barely even squeaked into the playoffs, taking until the last two games to finally clinch the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
What happened? They have a Vezina candidate goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck, a Norris candidate in Josh Morrissey at defense, and with Mark Scheifele, one of the most consistent producers in the league, and Kyle Connor, one of the best scorers over the past few seasons at forward, how does this team fall off so far in a such a short period of time?
Since February 1, the Jets have gone 12–13–2. An incredibly unimpressive record. The team that, until this point, was averaging 3.19 goals per game suddenly found itself averaging just 2.76 goals per game, placing them fourth worst in the league.
Scheifele, in particular, was the face of this offensive slump. Disconnected from the games, at times, he has (only) recorded 18 points in 27 games since the beginning of February. Including a stretch of nine games where he had just two assists.
With the Jets essentially stumbling their way into the playoffs at the last minute, are they even going to pose a threat in the first round? The core of the roster seems disconnected and disjointed. Hellebuyck is absolutely able to carry this team, but they still need to be able to score enough to give him a chance to steal games.
On paper, this is an incredibly interesting matchup. The Winnipeg Jets have a much better roster on paper than how they perform on the ice, so they could very realistically break out of the slump they’ve been in and make an impact in these playoffs. But it is just as easy for this to continue against a team that possesses a lineup that matches up well against them.
With scoring talent like Scheifele, Connor, Blake Wheeler, and a severely underutilized player in Nikolaj Ehlers leading the way, the Jets should be one of the more dominant scoring teams in the league. Whether it is a slump or the impact of a new system brought in with last offseason’s coaching change, the Jets are in the bottom half in league scoring. Maybe it is time for the coach to loosen up a bit and let his offensive players produce the way they have in the past. Sitting on their heels will not play out well against a quick and aggressive team in Vegas.
With the inconsistency in the crease that the Golden Knights have had this season, it would also make sense to try and test their goalies early and with high volume.
Conveniently, it appears that the Golden Knights will be getting Stone and Zach Whitecloud back for the playoffs. Even if the Jets wanted to let their offence loose a bit, getting one of the best defensive forwards in the league and a quality defender back for the postseason will inevitably help Vegas shut the Jets down.
Looking the other way, Hellebuyck has shown in the past to be able to steal games and series’ on his own. In his playoff career, his stat line is an incredibly respectable .921 SV% and 2.46 GAA. If he shows up to Game 1 dialed in, able to make a few huge saves early, he can both energize his own team to give them the swagger they need and deflate the balloon of the Golden Knights.
Despite the injury issues and rotating cast of goaltenders, these two teams finished with a nearly identical total of goals against in the regular season. The Golden Knights gave up one more goal than the Jets as the two teams finished giving up the tenth and eleventh fewest goals.
The games in this series should be close. Hellebuyck can stifle the Golden Knights’ offence while Vegas’ defensive prowess from the skaters can contain whatever offence the Jets can muster. It might not be the highest scoring series around, but it should be a great one to watch from a strategic standpoint.
The way this matchup is looking on paper, the Jets should be competitive and challenge the Golden Knights well, but they do not seem to be up for the task of winning the series. Vegas has been a better team all season even as they battled through their injuries and roster shuffling. And with the return of a couple of important players to the lineup, it gives no reason to suggest the Jets will suddenly become better again.
4–1 Vegas Golden Knights