The number one seeded Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in five games during the first round matchup. Winnipeg was picked as a potential upset by a number of analyst and fans alike. The primary reason many viewed the Jets as a live underdog was the match up in goal, which saw Rick Bowness’ squad start Connor Hellebuyck while Bruce Cassidy countered with Laurent Brossoit. This difference was particularly stark when considering that Brossoit used to be the backup behind Winnipeg’s perennial Vezina candidate.
Vegas was expected to have the better skater group, with a more mobile defence core featuring Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo, while Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, fresh off LTIR were the stars of their forward group. Great goaltending has repeatedly been the great equalizer in the playoffs, and Hellebuyck had played at an elite level in the postseason. Everything did seem to line up the way of an upset. So how did the Golden Knights attack the Jets in a way that made Hellebuyck seem extremely mortal, ultimately ending in a quick series win?
Karlsson gets one past Hellebuyck
Off the rush, Ivan Barbashev sends an area pass to the middle for William Karlsson, who’s streaking down the middle. His path would take him wide, so Hellebuyck adjust to his angle. However, he overadjusts, opening the far side. Hellebuyck’s first reaction is done and in, so he can’t catch up on the release. First rush goal of the series.
Karlsson gets the first of the game
There’s nothing really systemic in this goal. Vegas throws a puck to the middle, that ends up in a scrummed broken play in the slot. Hellebuyck is retreating as the puck ends up on Karlsson’s stick, and is beat high on the shot.
Eichel puts the Knights ahead
After failing on an attack from behind the net, Vegas goes to Alex Pietrangelo at the point for the shot. His slapshot is tipped by Jack Eichel en route towards the middle of the net, which results in Hellebuyck oversliding on the angle.
Knights gain the lead again
Pietrangelo walks in from the point and sends a puck on net with some traffic off to the side of the shooting lane. Hellebuyck gets the puck in the high chest but can’t cradle it to control the rebound, resulting in a big rebound that ends up going to Chandler Stephenson. Hellebuyck is immediately reaching and doesn’t rotate to the angle, meaning he is covering limited net and can’t recover at all.
Stone gets a pair of goals
Vegas’ second rush goal of the series comes from a three-on-two, where they pass across to the weak side early, which ends up opening up Mark Stone at the netfront for the tap in off the second pass. Hellebuyck takes a lot of extra depth, and doesn’t rotate on the pass, treating it like a shot and stretching directly out instead of back towards Stone’s stick.
Most of the Jets have either collapsed low or are still coming into the zone when Stone receives the low to high pass. Hellebuyck reacts to the shot low, but it ramps in off the Jets’ defenders’ stick. Not much he can do here.
Stephenson opens up the scoring
Stephenson gets the puck with pace on a two-on-two through the neutral zone. At the top of the circle he pulls the puck around the defender to the short side, and goes high glove side before Hellebuyck can react to the adjusted angle.
Knights score during a power play
Knights’ power play goal starts with a blocked shot off the one-timer from the top. Hellebuyck is down on the intial shot but is able to recover to his feet. Stephenson then feeds Eichel for a one-timer off the dot. Hellebuyck ends up pushing flat, so he can’t get back to the post.
Eichel with a one-timer
Eichel gets another one-timer off the left wing dot but this time from the point. Hellebuyck gets a good rotation on this one but the hard shot just beats him through his body.
Kolesar with his first in the playoffs
Off the rush, Eichel lays a soft wrister to the far side, attempting to generate a rebound. Hellebuyck complies, giving Keegan Kolesar an open net. Hellebuyck is unlikely to make the save, but he’s once again flat coming over on the lateral play.
Hellebuyck with a big save
Lateral pass goes across to Stone and Hellebuyck gets a good rotation to get over to the initial location. Stone then drags the bouncing puck to the middle and Hellebuyck is able to use his post and get a second rotation and push to get a piece of the eventual back hand.
Amadio scores in overtime
Dylan Samberg’s clearing attempt goes off Barbashev’s skate and ends up right on Michael Amadio’s stick for a one-timer. Hellebuyck is deep in the net off the broken play, and is still moving when the puck gets by him.
Howden rebounds one in
Vegas breaks in with a three-on-two, and drops it to the trailer. Brett Howden gets his first shot blocked and Hellebuyck is able to recover to his feet. Howden is the first guy to the rebound and he beats Hellebuyck over the glove.
Karlsson helps the Knights gain the lead
The Vegas powerplay feeds their left wing flank again, where Jonathan Marchessault takes a one-timer that would be going wide. Fluke play in the sense that Karlsson gets tied up with Hellebuyck outside the crease, in which it creates the deflection in for a shot going wide and it’s not goaltender interference due to the location.
Barbashev with his first playoff goal this season
Shea Theodore activates off the left point, walking into the circle and firing it top glove, which seemed to be a trend all series against Winnipeg.
Vegas opens up the scoring in less than a minute
Turnover on the wall ends up on Stone’s stick in the slot. Hellebuyck is completely locked in on the shot attempt, so when the pass goes to Stephenson backdoor, there’s no rotation, so he ends up pushing flat and reaching back, so there’s no coverage of the net.
Stone scores a goal
Stone breaks up another play in the slot then fires it top glove once again. Hellebuyck is deep based on the sudden change and starts his glove from close to his body and chases out.
Karlsson with his fourth goal of the series
The first pass attempt was trying to get to Karlsson on the back door. The partial break up ends up on Amadio’s stick who then gets it to Karlsson for the wide open one-timer. Hellebuyck gets a partial rotation but is left once again reaching with his legs and gloves.
Knights score on the power play
The Vegas runs a set play very similar to Los Angeles’ game winner in Game 1 of the Edmonton series. Hellebuyck doesn’t go down when the puck gets down to Stone but when the puck goes back to the middle, Hellebuyck takes a c cut instead of a direct push, leaving him a bit late and reaching to his glove side once again.
The Golden Knights play with a ton of pace, which will be a stark change for the Oilers from the series against the Kings. Vegas played the Winnipeg Jets in the first round, finishing the Manitoba based squad in five games, and making regular Vezina candidate look mortal.
The Golden Knights generated their offence in targetted areas. A large number of their goals came off plays on the rush, using their active defence with the ability to make outlet passes combined with the team speed up front to create chances in transition. It will be interesting to see how Vincent Desharnais defends the rush in the series, as he struggled here in the first round and it could lead to more deployment of Phillip Broberg.
The Golden Knights powerplay focuses on setting up the one-timer on the left wing flank, whether it be Jack Eichel on the first unit or Jonathan Marchessault on the second unit. This play normally starts at the point which is quarterbacked by Shea Theodore or Alex Pietrangelo. The Oilers penalty kill struggled in the LA series, so it will be interesting to see what adjustments they make here.
According to InGoal Media’s Kevin Woodley, the Clear Sight Analytics Data showed that Hellebuyck struggled on cross ice passes more than the average NHL goalie. This is the toughest type of play in hockey for netminders, but they scored an over weighted number of goals through this way. They also made a concerted and successful effort to target Hellebuyck’s glove, but they reportedly have had that tendency all year.
Overall, I believe Stuart Skinner will match up better against Vegas than he did against L.A. Skinner is typically pretty strong against the rush, and his best saves came off lateral plays in the first round. Skinner went 2–0–1 in his regular season starts against the Golden Knights, so it will be interesting to see which adjustments are made on both sides of the puck for the second round Pacific Division matchup.
Photo from @GoldenKnights on Twitter