The Vegas Golden Knights are playing for the Stanley Cup. The oddsmakers like them even as every resident of Las Vegas stops by their casino on the way home from work to put a few beans on them to crack the code of the Florida Panthers.
Rather than a straight “Stanley Cup Final Preview” like everyone else, VHN will be doing a deeper dive to scratch your hockey itch. Instead of a vanilla overview, we’re getting into the advantages and disadvantages the Golden Knights have.
There are four to seven games left in the NHL season that began on Oct. 11. The seven-month journey is nearly complete, and the summit is within sight.
And the Golden Knights have a few advantages in the Stanley Cup Final that coach Bruce Cassidy will undoubtedly utilize to his advantage and that Florida coach Paul Maurice can do nothing about.
Vegas Golden Knights Advantages:
1. Giant Defensemen Near the Net
Matthew Tkachuk and his reign of terror in the NHL playoffs may end in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers winger has tortured defensemen near the net, filled the cage with game-winners, and been THE primary difference between the cupcake Florida Panthers who were summarily bounced after winning the Presidents’ Trophy a year ago, and this Cup Final team.
This may be the singular matchup that starts a parade down Tropicana or Las Vegas Blvd.
The Golden Knights have big defensemen; they cannot be easily moved and protect the net well. The corps is solidly built from the top of the food chain, Alex Pietrangelo, to the sixth defenseman Zach Whitecloud.
Until the Golden Knights relaxed, the Dallas Stars couldn’t get within shouting distance of goalie Adin Hill. Except for the power plays, neither could the Edmonton Oilers.
All six Golden Knights defensemen are 6 feet or taller and at least 200 pounds. Five of the six are at least 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.
It won’t matter which matchup Maurice chooses, Tkachuk will face the gargoyles near the Golden Knights net. That’s a big advantage for the G0lden Knights.
2. Ice, Ice Baby
Sure, the Golden Knights put a scare into all but their rosiest fans when they allowed Dallas to force a Game 6. Sure, the Golden Knights teetered on a territory where only two other teams had ever been, but there was a silver lining.
By losing a pair of games, the Golden Knights pushed the Stanley Cup Final to its last possible start date, extending the Florida Panthers’ long, loonnggg layoff.
The Panthers last played on May 24. That’s a 10-day layoff. Sure, the skaters’ legs will be a little heavier, and they’ll need to get their wind, but Bruce Cassidy’s 2019 Boston Bruins team also had a long layoff and won Game 1.
What’s the difference? The Panthers were living on Sergei Bobrovsky’s ridiculous hot streak. The goalie was pedestrian this season was an anemic .901 save percentage.
In the playoffs, he’s been brilliant. Bobrovsky has a .935 save percentage, and a few of the Panthers’ wins were goalie-led thefts.
That’s not the “Playoff Bob” who has suffered a few past meltdowns. His career playoff save percentage is only .909.
He was hot. “Was” is the keyword. What will a long layoff do to a goalie who is seeing beachballs? The Golden Knights might be able to get to him early in the series and take away that impenetrable confidence.
3. Deep Waters
The Golden Knights were deeper than Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Dallas. The Golden Knights’ bottom-six crew torched Dallas in Game 6 with crucial goals in the first and second periods. They limited Edmonton’s Connor McDavid to three even-strength points and harangued Dallas Stars’ center Roope Hintz throughout the series.
The Golden Knights have the rarest of secret weapons: defensive forwards who can also score. William Carrier, Nic Roy, and William Karlsson can score like second-line players while frustrating the opponent’s offensive players.
While Florida’s third line with Eetu Luostarinen-Anton Lundell-Sam Reinhart had respectable stats, Karlsson has already scored 10 goals. Karlsson and Roy have a decided advantage on the 21-year-old Lundell and 38-year-old Eric Staal in the battle of who can nullify the opposing team’s best players.
The Golden Knights’ bottom six don’t make many mistakes, but they create a few.
And those are pretty big advantages.