The Vegas Golden Knights are the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup, and they deserve every bit of praise for their success, but there are reasons to doubt their ability to win the championship. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury looks unbeatable — his .947 save percentage and four shutouts lead the league this postseason — yet the rest of the Golden Knights roster isn’t as formidable.
Jonathan Marchessault leads the team with 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 15 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, William Karlsson has 13 points (six goals, seven assists), and Reilly Smith has 16 points (two goals, 14 assists). At even strength, those three have outscored opponents 10-4, with a 98-87 edge in scoring chances. The Golden Knights’ second line — James Neal, Erik Haula and David Perron — wasn’t as prolific and may be a soft spot for Washington to exploit.
That trio barely outscored opponents in the playoffs, albeit in a small sample size, and they were woefully out-hustled in the high-danger areas such as the slot and the crease, yielding 17 shot attempts while producing just six over 45 minutes of ice time. The bottom-six forwards haven’t littered the scoresheet, either.
|Golden Knights lines in the playoffs||GP||TOI||GF||GA||SCF||SCA||HDCF||HDCA|
If you remember, the Capitals were able to move past both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning after those teams didn’t get much secondary scoring. For Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist had 10 of the team’s 14 goals in the second round. Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point scored seven of the Lightning’s 15 goals in the Eastern Conference finals. That lack of depth is a key reason Washington prevailed over both en route to its first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 20 years.
The Capitals, meanwhile, are enjoying primary, secondary and even tertiary scoring. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov had four goals each against Tampa Bay, with five other skaters — Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie — scoring two goals each. Five more skaters added one goal apiece.
Washington’s top two lines, centered by Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, have positive goal and scoring-chance differentials when skating five-on-five, and its third line, centered by Eller, breaks even. Jay Beagle and his linemates on the fourth line aren’t as productive, but considering their role, they also are extremely valuable.
Beagle’s line has taken more than half of its even-strength faceoffs in the defensive zone (117 out of 215) during the playoffs, yet its overall goal differential (5-4) and goals allowed from high-danger areas (three) suggest they have more than held their own.
|Top line (Kuznetsov)||18||11||151||120||54||51||6||4||25%|
|Second line (Backstrom)||5||6||103||92||43||33||3||3||31%|
|Third line (Eller)||10||8||122||104||45||47||3||5||38%|
|Fourth line (Beagle)||5||4||59||86||19||32||3||3||54%|
Washington’s defensemen are also contributing to the offense, and not solely on the power play. Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen each have eight even-strength points, and John Carlson has six. Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore, by comparison, lead the Golden Knights with six even-strength points apiece.
If you believe depth wins championships — and the Penguins’ past two titles suggested it does — there is every reason to believe Washington is the better team heading into the Stanley Cup finals.
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