The Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers open their second-round series on Wednesday night.
Despite dropping their first game of the playoffs, Vegas rallied to win four straight games on route to eliminating the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. Meanwhile, the Oilers are coming off an entertaining series against the Los Angeles Kings, where they advanced in six games.
The teams were separated by only two points in the Pacific Division standings this season. Ahead of Game 1 tonight, we’ll take a look at how the teams match up.
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Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights got Mark Stone back for the start of the playoffs, which was a huge boost. With Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, and William Karlsson as their top three centers, the Golden Knights are set down the middle. While they may not have the same high-end offense, wingers like Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and newcomer Ivan Barbashev do give Vegas a pretty capable top-nine.
The blue line is led by Alex Pietrangelo, who averaged more than 25 minutes per game in the first round. But their defense group is also extremely well-rounded. Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore, and Brayden McNabb will carry the bulk of the lead, while Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud round out the group. If there’s an area where Vegas has a clear advantage over the Oilers, it’s on the blue line.
With injuries devastating Vegas in net, the the Golden Knights are relying on Laurent Brossoit. Despite only getting into 11 games this season due to injury, he put together a great first-round against Winnipeg. Brossoit managed a .915 save percentage but will face a tougher challenge against Edmonton.
No team in the NHL has a more dangerous forward group than the Edmonton Oilers. Even aside from top stars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, others like Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Zach Hyman give the team a ton of different scoring threats within the top six. The Oilers were the clear top offensive team in the NHL this season, averaging almost four goals per game.
Defense has often been seen as a bit of a weak spot for the Oilers, though. But the team made a massive upgrade at the trade deadline, acquiring Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators. A reliable, shutdown defender, Ekholm was exactly what the team needed on the blue line.
However, the defense group as a whole is still weaker than what you see with Vegas. Darnell Nurse adds offense but can’t always get the job done in his own end. Evan Bouchard is a bit of a similar case, with massive offensive potential but defensive play that lags behind a bit. Then Cody Ceci has been quite solid over his two years in Edmonton but isn’t necessarily a game-changer, and Brett Kulak and 26-year-old rookie Vincent Desharnais round out the group.
In net, the Oilers leaned on Stuart Skinner through the back half of the season and first round. While he was far from perfect against the Kings, with an .890 save percentage, he was able to out-duel Joonas Korpisalo. Again though, given the team’s offense, the Oilers often only need adequate goaltending to get by.
Special teams will play a factor in this series and it’s not a question. The Oilers’ power play has been a nightmare for opponents this season, operating at a deadly 32 percent. Their success on the man advantage ended up being a main factor in them getting past the Kings as well, going 9-for-16 on the power play in the first round.
Vegas didn’t see the same success. Their power play ranked 18th in the NHL this year, operating at 20 percent. While it’s still fairly average overall, it was nowhere near as dominant as those of other top teams.
Neither team had a particularly strong penalty kill either, with the Golden Knights and Oilers ranking 19th and 20th in the league respectively.
What the Golden Knights have going for them is they were the most disciplined team in the NHL. Being shorthanded only 195 times this year, Vegas didn’t often give their opponent an opportunity to win the special teams battle. That carried over to the playoffs as well, giving the Jets only 12 power plays across five games.
If the Golden Knights are going to get past Edmonton, they have to limit penalties. With the Oilers’ power play being as dangerous as it is, it has the potential to be an x-factor in any series.
We should see a good matchup between the Pacific Division’s top teams. Despite Vegas having home ice though, it’s hard to bet against Edmonton with the way they’ve been playing.
In four meetings between the teams this season, the Oilers won three of them. It should be a competitive series and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it go the distance. But factor in Edmonton’s dynamic offense and killer power play, and I think many, including myself, will predict the Oilers to come out on top.
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Courtesy : https://clutchpoints.com/golden-knights-vs-oilers-2023-stanley-cup-playoffs-preview-and-prediction