Golden Knights Ready For Kings In Playoffs

Alex Wright

Richard Brian-Las Vegas Review Journal
Vegas celebrating after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Kings in one of the teams previous match-ups

The regular season was nothing short of miraculous, winning the National Hockey League Pacific Division and earning a number 1 seed in the playoffs. Now the intensity is amped up for the postseason. An amazing regular season could all be forgotten with a disappointing performance in the postseason.

The Golden Knights first round matchup features their I-5 rivals, the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings finished in 4th place in the pacific division and earned one of the two wild card spots in the western conference playoffs.  The first two games (Wednesday and Friday), will be played in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena and the scene will shift to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for games three and four, (Sunday and Tuesday). Then, if necessary, games five, six and seven will alternate cites, (Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Las Vegas for game seven).

These two teams played four times during the regular season. In the first two meeting, Vegas controlled the tempo of the game and made the Kings play a fast-paced style of game that eventually wore the Kings down. The next two games were a different story for the Knights, it was the Kings who imposed their will on the Golden Knights and played their physical style of game that allowed Los Angeles to control the tempo and take those two victories.

Vegas understands how important controlling the tempo of the game is and how they need to make the Kings play Vegas’s game, defenseman Lucas Siba told the Las Vegas Sun, “I think we are a fast team, a smart team, and we retrieve pucks.” While playing physical when the time presents itself, such as finishing off a hit, but they must stay true to beating teams with their speed.

An issue that some teams force upon themselves, is that they play down to their opponent. Meaning they play the other team’s style and not staying true to their identity. Forward Jonathan Marchessault told the Las Vegas Sun that playing the Kings style of game threw the Knights off their game, “In our last game against them here we tried to be physical and push them around, and I think we woke them up more than anything, I don’t think we should do that. We’ve had success by playing our game.”

A usual key to playoff victories stands with the men minding the net. Marc-Andre Fleury of Vegas and Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles have both won multiple Stanley Cup Championships, (Fleury won three in Pittsburgh). But it could come down to chemistry in postseason play that could give the Kings a slight advantage.

There are many players still remaining from the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup winning teams for Los Angeles. Including Capitan Anze Kopitar, who had 2 goals and 3 assist in the two victories against Vegas. And other key contributors such as Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty. The Kings have experienced the long grind that is the NHL Playoffs together as a team on multiple occasions.

The Golden Knights however, in their inaugural season, have not had that same team experience of playing together through the playoffs. Many of their players have played in meaningful playoff games like Fleury and defenseman James Neal who both played in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.

If there is one thing that Vegas has an advantage of, it is their home crowd. The Golden Knights have home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Vegas will play 4 out of the 7 total games at home, if the series goes to seven games, (in hockey the first team to win four games in a series wins the series). They are tied with Tampa Bay for the best home record in the NHL, at 29-10-2. Many road opponents who have entered T-Mobile area have become infected with what is known as “Vegas Flu”

This theory was discussed by many sports writers in Las Vegas, suggesting that opposing teams would party and gamble the night before they played the Golden Knights. Thus leading to slow starts form the opponents early in the games and allowing Vegas to jump to early and large leads in the game. Other teams tried staying in hotels off the Vegas strip, but much more of the same developed.

Vegas has not let their “inaugural season” show. Meaning they have been playing like a team that has been together for many years, instead of a team in their first season ever. And nothing has seemed to intimate this team this season, whether the adversity of playing 5 different goaltenders throughout the season. Or having to deal with the horrible October 1st shooting that devastated the city they play in. The city has rallied behind their team and they have the whole Las Vegas Valley backing them.

Vegas will have to use their raucous home crowd to their advantage, as they need to set a quick, fast-paced tone early against the Kings, and wear them down physically throughout the series. Something they have done so often in the regular season. If Vegas “throws the first punch,” scores early goals and make the Kings commit errors and turnovers, it should be smooth sailing for the Golden Knights to the second round.