2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Inside the Golden Knights-Oilers Offensive Fireworks

Ryan S. ClarkNHL reporterMay 6, 2023, 7:00 a.m. ET7 minute read

Golden Knights get quick response with 2 goals in 50 seconds

Ivan Barbashev and Chandler Stephenson each scored within 50 seconds as the Golden Knights led 5-3.

LAS VEGAS — Given the current NHL landscape, a team can allow four goals in a Stanley Cup playoff game and their coach can still feel like they’ve had “defensive success.”

That was the view of Vegas Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy as he used those words while offering his assessment of his team following Wednesday night’s 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers in the first Western Conference Semifinals game. He wasn’t trying to deflect questions about Vegas blue line gambling. Nor was he trying to take anything away from the individual who scored all four of Edmonton’s goals, superstar center Leon Draisaitl.

All Cassidy was saying was that what constitutes defensive success in the NHL these days is a more nuanced concept than most might think.

And he’s not the only person associated with the Golden Knights or the Oilers who makes the same point.

“For us, at the end of the day, we’re on the playoff end result. 8-7 is a win for us,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Are there things you can improve defensively? Yes. We are fully aware that we were the best team in the streak. But we are also aware that the second hottest team in the streak is the one we’re playing against. They have certain attributes, and one of those attributes is that they can score.”

Several scenarios could play out in Game 2 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena. There could be fewer goals. But there’s also the realistic possibility that this will be another game with close to — or even more — the combined 10 goals Vegas and Edmonton scored in Game 1 of the series.

So what does defensive success look like in a playoff series that features the two teams that are the proverbial poster boys for the NHL’s continued offensive push?

When asked that question, Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse paused for a few seconds and laughed before answering.

“We look back at the games we’ve had against them throughout the season and we’ve limited them to three goals or in that area,” Nurse said. The Oilers held the Golden Knights to a 3.5 regular season goal average. “I would say that’s probably a better picture of where our defensive game should be.

“We shouldn’t score 10 goals in the first game of a series. But that’s what happens when you have two teams with high firepower. Judging from a defensive point of view, [giving up] three and under is probably a good way to look at it.”

Going back to what Woodcroft said about the end of the regular season, the Oilers entered the playoffs tied for the most wins since March 1 while also leading the league with 4.43 goals per game. The Golden Knights were third in wins and eighth in goals with 3.55 per game during that span.

These numbers are further proof of the league-wide scoring increase. During the regular season, the NHL recorded the most combined goals per game (6.36) in nearly 30 years. That bled into the playoffs with teams combining to average 6.32 goals per game, which is both slightly higher than last year’s pace (6.31) and not far off the highest since the 1994-95 playoffs, when teams averaged 6.36 goals per game.

Goals are the most obvious metric one can consider when determining if a team has had defensive success. But again – nuance.

Cassidy had the empirical and scientific evidence from Wednesday’s 5-on-5 streaks to support his argument. The Golden Knights interacted aggressively with Oilers superstar Connor McDavid every time he had the puck. They paid attention. They used their bodies and their sticks to act as speed bumps against a player who skates at a pace that often leaves teams in his wake, searching for answers.

Vegas limited Edmonton to eight high-risk scoring opportunities, including seven in the third period as the Oilers surged. The Oilers are second in the playoffs in shots per game but were limited to 27 in Game 1. They are second in chances to score per 60 minutes at 34.85 but haven’t managed one. only 27, and also finished well below their 15.29 high-danger average. scoring odds by 60, which is second in the NHL, per Natural Stat Trick.

So there was success.

“I didn’t think it was a play-off,” Cassidy said. “They had a really good push in the third where we got a bit of a heel. We can’t do that against this team. We almost had to go back to playing like we were behind once the score went to 5- 4.”

Leon Draisaitl records 4-goal performance in Game 1 loss

Leon Draisaitl found the back of the net four times, but it wasn’t enough as the Oilers lost Game 1 to the Golden Knights 6-4.

But there were also problems. Like the Oilers who go 2 for 3 on the power play. Ou Draisaitl, one of Edmonton’s two Hart Trophy winners, scoring four times. On one of those goals, Draisaitl knocked the puck off Laurent Brossoit’s back in a move that reinforced why he’s one of the best players in the world.

“Obviously he made a good play and you look at him, take three seconds and you have to move on,” Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud said. “You can’t change what happened. You have to try to fix it and you just have to pay attention to the details of the defense of some guys who are on the ice again. Again, it’s up to the five guys on the ice recognize that and you make sure you get the job done.”

But it’s kind of a two-way street as to what defensive success can look like in this series. Despite allowing five even-strength goals (including one in an empty net), the Oilers also found areas of success. They limited the Golden Knights to seven high-risk chances and 21 total scoring chances in 5-on-5 play, numbers below the Vegas average throughout the playoffs.

Besides, it’s not like the Golden Knights can really find solace. They took a 3-1 lead only for Draisaitl to score with 11 seconds left in the first half. And when the Oilers tied the game at 3-3 early in the third, the Golden Knights pushed to 5-3 scoring two goals less than 60 seconds apart, only to see Draisaitl make it a five-goal game. minutes later.

Also consider who scored for Vegas. Stanley Cup-winning Ivan Barbashev scored twice. All-out threat Mark Stone, who becomes even more dangerous in the playoffs, took his point total to 10 in six games. Chandler Stephenson, who took advantage of his time in Vegas to establish himself among the top six forwards, also has a Stanley Cup on his resume. His winning game was his fifth goal of the playoffs, which is more than he had in his previous 66 postseason games combined.

Now kick in Michael Amadio’s goal and Jack Eichel’s empty goal with less than a minute to play. These are five players whose individual efforts have reinforced what makes defensive success against the Golden Knights a challenge in itself.

That specific challenge being that they can all put the puck in the net. Vegas had 12 players who finished the regular season with 10+ goals and 20 players who had 10+ points.

That’s why Woodcroft said the Oilers should look to avoid giving up “freebies,” which Nurse further explained.

“It’s the turnover that gives a grade A [scoring chance] and drop 2-on-1 and 3-on-2,” Nurse said. “Gifts are the things that are in our own control where you can crush a team and make plays towards the net and not give up a chance against. These are things you can control.”

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