Series Stories: Vegas vs. Edmonton
The series that was close, until it wasn't.
Something that’s always interesting to watch in the playoffs is how quickly a game or a series can get out of hand. The Vegas Golden Knights know a lot about this. The Jets were with them until Game 5 when Vegas finally put their foot down and clinched the series before the game was even halfway over. The pattern of this series was similar.
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In every game Vegas won, the score was close up to a point in the second period where they either scored a couple of goals in short order or took over the game. From then on they could protect & coast. Games 3, 5 & 6 are a good example.
In Game 3, they scored a late goal in the first (which they dominated) to take a 2-1 lead. They scored three goals in the second period and shut down the rest of the game, allowing only 8 shots while taking 6. Only one of those Oilers shots was a scoring chance by my definition.
Game 5 summed up the series for me. The series was tied at that point & they were trailing 2-1 midway through the second period. They had no answer for the Oilers automatic power play & were playing with their top defenseman serving a suspension. Then the Oilers took two penalties, Vegas scored on both power plays and they coasted with a 4-2 lead for the rest of the game. Even after Edmonton cut it to 4-3, they drained the rest of the game in typical Vegas fashion, allowing only four unblocked shots in the third period and allowing Edmonton to carry the puck into their zone on three of their 18 entries. They also had 14 attempts to exit the zone & failed to do so only once.
The game was close, until it wasn’t.
Game 6 followed this mantra, except the Oilers had more of a push in the third period where they needed to empty the kitchen sink. 5 chances on 11 unblocked shot attempts isn’t much, but it was the most Edmonton could create against a Vegas team that mastered the art of playing keep-away in the defensive zone. They didn’t allow McDavid to enter the zone with control once in the third period & limited him to only 2 shot attempts & 3 setup passes. This isn’t bad, but it says a lot that this was the most the best player in the world could do against them with his team’s season on the line & it took three games for him to do it.
A series that was anybody’s call two weeks ago shifted heavily to Vegas’ favor in just a couple periods.
The Story Behind The Stats
Overall, this looks like a quality vs. quantity type of series in Vegas’ favor and it’s true in some ways. Vegas had the better chances, especially in Game 6 and their forecheck was much more effective at Edmonton’s when it came to creating offense. Part of this is because of how Vegas plays when they have a lead, they like to sit back and there were games where they didn’t even try to create offense in the third period if they didn’t have to, focusing on protecting the house & killing the clock.
This series was also heavy on special teams, which is going to stagnate the five-on-five numbers one way or another. Vegas seemed to have the better of play when the series was played on even strength, though.
If you look at the pattern of this series, you’ll see that Vegas won the scoring chance battle most nights. Especially in games that were more open at five-on-five. Games 1 & 3 stand out here in particular. They were entering the zone more than the Oilers & were one of the few teams who could carry the puck in more than 50% of the time as well. In Game 3, they won more with volume & territorial play, creating a lot of their chances off the forecheck & having their transition game compliment it. Edmonton could get rush chances & stop Vegas when they had a lead, but they couldn’t translate any zone time into scoring chances.
There’s a lot that goes into this. Edmonton left offense on the table relative to how much zone time they had & for how many shots they took. Part of it is Vegas blocking most of their shots and playing hot potato with the puck in the defensive zone to get it out. Not always clearing the zone, but recovering their own failed attempts to waste shifts by Edmonton’s top players.
Still, hard to say there weren’t a lot of missed opportunities for the Oilers. McDavid & Draisaitl were able to get on the scoresheet & setup their linemates, but the rest of the lineup leaves a lot to be desired at five-on-five:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 9 shots, 4 scoring chances, 2 chance setups
Zach Hyman: 12 shots, 8 chances, 0 chance assists
Evander Kane 16 shots, 4 scoring chances, 2 chance setups
Kailer Yamamoto: 5 shots, 2 chances, 1 chance setup
As much as I like Warren Foegele & Derek Ryan as players, when they are the only ones creating chances at an above average rate you have some problems. Kane had an especially tough time at getting shots through. I’m a little stingy when it comes to shot tracking, not counting blocked shots for these playoffs and there’s other categories that I don’t count (rollers, mishits, shots from center, stuff attempts that don’t get on net) in an effort to get more accurate reports on what happened in the game & weed out some empty calorie offense. Kane might have been hurt the worst from his because he was credited with 22 unblocked shots at five-on-five per the scorekeeper & I only recorded 16 as actual shots. Wasted offense was a theme for the Oilers and this is a prime example of that with how often he was used as the third guy with McDavid and Draisaitl when the Oilers loaded up their top line. He wasn’t the only one, though.
Compare that to what Vegas got out of Marchessault & Barbashev to complement Eichel & it’s easy to see why they were more efficient with their chances. \
Individual Stats & Notes
Sometimes the game is about limiting the damage instead of shutting down the other team’s best player. It’s also about when you’re giving up chances instead of what you’re giving up in aggregate. Vegas took a couple lumps from McDavid & Draisaitl this series, most of it coming on the power play. They tried to make up for it by returning the favor at even strength & it worked, although they might have been a little fortunate too. Games 1 & 3 were McDavid’s best in terms of creating offense and his line didn’t score a goal in either of those games. Vegas made it tougher for him to do his than LA (Game Score was above 2 only once, which is the normal for him), but even the best players are going to have nights where nothing goes in & he didn’t get much help from his linemates. Same can be said for Draisaitl in Game 6, who setup four scoring chances and had zero points.
Of course, everything is relative when you’re talking about McDavid & Draisaitl. It’s hard to completely shut them down & the most you can do is not let them get behind the defense or make them go through another layer to get a chance. McDavid still created 18 chances during five-on-five play despite the roadblocks Vegas put in his way, which led all players in the series & about on par with where he was at against the Kings (12 chances per 60). Draisaitl, on the other hand, saw his five-on-five stats come down to earth a little (15 chances per 60 to 10.4) because he wasn’t shooting as much.
The top chance creator of the series was Jonathan Marchessault, leading all players with 10. I really enjoyed watching this line for Vegas & how well they complement eachother. Eichel is your quarterback & the guy who leads most of the rushes (16 zone entries & a 62% Carry-in rate to lead VGK), Barbashev is there as the support player to make the connecting pass or find open ice & Marchessault is the finisher. Barbashev kind of reminds me of how William Karlsson played in Vegas’ expansion year because he always seems to be where the coverage isn’t. I think most of his goals with the Blues were either on a breakaway or an instance where he got left alone in front with an eternity to shoot. Seems like this is what Vegas was going for when they acquired him & immediately put him with Eichel.
Some mistakes were more costly than others on the defensemen side. Darnell Nurse & Cody Ceci seemed to get the worst of this for Edmonton. Vegas created a scoring chance over 20% of the time when they entered the zone against either of them & Nurse successfully exited the zone 10 times compared to 16 failed attempts. Ceci was less turnover prone, but he was a total non-factor with advancing the play as the Oilers had only 4.4 successful exits per 60 off his puck retrievals. Getting to the puck in the defensive zone was a challenge for Edmonton, as Vegas played keep-away along the boards and below the goal line to wear them down. Even some of their more reliable defenders like Mattias Ekholm had turnover issues throughout the series. Evan Bouchard & Brett Kulak were charged with the fewest amount of turnovers compared to successful zone exits & they had the smallest workload among Oilers defensemen. Hard to say if Vegas knew who to target or if this is just how the game shook out, but it’s part of the reason why Vegas turned the games into a slog when they got a lead.
Vegas’ defensemen, on the other hand, weren’t punished as much for their turnovers, and they had a lot. Some of that is just how the team handles pressure & how quickly their defensemen move the puck when they retrieve it. Their defensemen weren’t exactly tasked with leading the breakouts, but absorbing the forecheck pressure & getting the puck out of harm’s way so the forwards can make the next play. Most of their exits with possession were off intercepting passes or breaking up the Oilers cycle, so the retrieval plays were only relevant when Edmonton could get the puck deep & forecheck. This is where the Oilers were the weakest all series, so I can see why a few botched retrievals & pucks that didn’t get out might not have hurt Vegas as much as it should have. This was especially the case for their top pair of Alex Pietrangelo & Alec Martinez, who both prevented chances & goals but had to spend a lot of time in their own zone blocking shots to make it happen. It’s something Dallas might want to go to school on next series if they find themselves playing from behind.
It was strange to see Shea Theodore play in the defensive zone as much as he did. I didn’t think he had a bad series all things considered, but he could not play his usual game for whatever reason. He’s at his best when the play is in front of him & Vegas couldn’t attack off reloads in the neutral zone as much as usual, so his skillset was kind of lost in the shuffle. However, Edmonton created only one scoring chance when entering the zone against him, which was surprising because he does not have the greatest reputation as a defensive player. I think Brayden McNabb & his team leading 13 DZ retrievals leading to exits had something to do with it, but credit where its due to Shea Theodore for excelling outside of his comfort zone.
The one Vegas defenseman with the most successful zone exits & the fewest turnovers? Zach Whitecloud.
Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson & Brett Howden were the ultimate opportunist line. Between the three of them, they had 20 shots and 16 of them were scoring chances. Even at half-speed they can still contribute.
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