It seems as if this match up was not so much a shock for every fan out there as I had a few people say they called this match up, and for those that did. Kudos to them. Anyways the 125th Stanley Cup final will hold two underdog teams coming into the playoffs. The Washington Capitals from the East and Vegas Golden Knights from the West. Underdogs I say because the Capitals were not written off as a playoff team this year and when they went down 2-0 to Columbus everyone thought they were done. The Golden Knights never gained much respect from fans in the league and coming into this playoffs very few people had them getting passed the first round.
The Capitals are 12-7 this playoff run with a 66 goals for 47 goals against, 28.8 percent power play, 75.4 percent penalty kill and 32 shots per game. Compared to their opponent who is 12-3 with a 43 goals for 27 goals against, 17.6 power play percentage, 82.5 penalty kill percentage and 31 shots for per game. The Capitals and Knights faced during the regular season Vegas played the Capitals three times and all three times the Golden Knights won, with that behind the Capitals and playing much better now well see how that affects the series, probably won’t have any affect. The story line going into this series, well there is plenty but one is, long time Capitals general manager George McPhee faces his old time team with his new team the Golden Knights. Marc Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby meet once again, these two just seem like they can’t avoid each other. Diving into the series looking at both teams here is what the Capitals have going for them.
Capitals advantages over Vegas
(1) Experience and hunger: Now the Capitals have not won the Conference finals and made a Cup appearance in 19 years but they have a laundry list of playoff experience and per say a game 7 comes along I am feeling more confident with Ovechkin over Kalrsson if I am a fan. The Capitals have Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Holtby, Orpik, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Beagle, Connolly, Oshie all players who have experienced what it is like to play on the big stage. Plus the Capitals just look like a different team they are hungry, and seem like they are not going to be denied from anything this year. They have a ton of momentum going for them, winning four straight in round one, beating the Penguins in round two, and now a game 7 win in the Conference finals, if you are the Capitals, confidence is high and hunger is even higher.
(2) Alex Ovechkin. The Golden Knights do not have a player like this, yes they have goal scoring and grit, but Ovechkin is a hall of fame player and a one of kind type of talents. He certainly has been on a different level this playoff season, winning the Rocket coming into the playoffs must have stirred the pot a but. Leading the playoffs in goals(active) and being within the top two for points. Every game we have seen a different side to Ovechkin that not many have seen in recent playoff years, the guy looks like the Russian machine that never stops, throwing his weight around, scoring goals and getting the team going. Ovechkin is a huge difference maker.
(3) Depth production, guys like Andre Burakovsky scoring 2 big goals, Lars Eller, Devante Smith Pelly, Jay Beagle, Chandler Stephenson, Brett Conolloy these guys all have chipped in one way or another this whole playoff run and they have been a huge reason the Capitals have made it this far. I believe the Capitals have a deeper line up and will keep up and possibly out skate the Vegas forwards. The Capitals fourth line is better than Vegas’s and it also does not hurt that the Capitals fourth line and third line can be a huge factor in mixing and matching lines for Barry Trotz.
Advantages for Vegas over Washington
(1) Marc Andre Fleury, now Holtby has been a brick wall posting back to back shutouts and a 2.04 GAA and 12-6 record but Fleury has been one of the biggest reasons Vegas is here right now posting Conn Smythe like numbers with a mind blowing 1.68 GAA and a 12-3 record and .947 SV percentage. Fleury has seemed to be dialed in, and on another level same for Holtby but if you were comparing the two at the moment right now. Fleury really does give Vegas the upper hand.
(2) Inexperience, now this one may seem odd but the Golden Knights have used their inexperience for the better this playoff run. They have shown that if you just go out play your game and not worry about all the other noise in the background, have some fun, you’ll be fine. The Golden Knights have a few experienced players but for the most part they are here right now due to their work ethic and guys just buying in and not worrying about what everyone else is saying. They have essentially lived the we have no expectations on us so let’s set the standard model.
(3) Scoring, the Golden Knights have been a team all year that has been able to score goals no matter what. They average 2.87 goals per game and they only played 15 games this post season perhaps a few more games and they would be around three. But it seems the Golden Knights play an incredibly quick transition game that leads to goal scoring and a ton of scoring chances. No matter the situation Vegas seems to know how to score and by just getting the puck to the net they found out sometimes works out. A team that does not quit paired with scoring to supplement that can be scary.
How these two match up evenly…
The Golden Knights and Capitals are very similar teams they finished four points apart in the league, won their division and play a similar style of hockey. The Capitals knew coming into Tampa they did not have the skill factor so they used their legs, capitalizing on mistakes and quick style of play to beat the Lightning. Same with Vegas and what they have done all year. The Golden Knights and Capitals both play a very quick style of play, they transition very quickly and rely on their transition game to give them scoring chances or their goals for. Two teams that play a quick, physical style of play will make for an interesting playoff series, as we will see how Gallant adjusts and Trotz adjusts.
Their defenses are extremely similar too, they both have three defenseman lines that play a heavy game, physical and shutdown, they both have one to two offensive defenseman but the rest are your typical gritty, stay at home guys who get the job done. The Capitals have the same issue but an issue that has worked out in their favor, some inexperienced defenseman that have stepped up massively this playoff run. The Golden Knights whole defense unit is inexperienced but the Capitals have Christian Djoos, Michael Kempny who are a little less experienced than the others and have played quite well for the Capitals. These two match up similar on the back end and it will be a series that may not possess a ton of offensive even strength scoring.
Goalies, these two have met in the playoffs and regular season a dozen times. They know each other quite well, but the Capitals may have the upper hand here as they know Fleury a little better then the Golden Knights know Holtby. Fleury went to game 7 vs the Capitals last season, went to game 7 vs the Capitals in 2008-09, plus all the times they played in the regular season. The Capitals have a long history with Fleury one that can pan out to be useful or hurt them, either way going into a match up vs a team you do not know much about besides the goalie is a positive at least.
Gerard Gallant and Barry Trotz now, arguably some of the best coaches in the league right now and the Gallant may have the upper hand though as he will have McPhee in his ear talking about the Capitals, the Capitals old GM McPhee will be a huge help for Vegas here as he may know some things other GM’s would normally know but still these two coaches have been a thing of beauty this playoff series and have really set the example for the players. Making it a fun, competitive and winning environment. Anytime your coach is skating laps in practice that’s a positive or anytime you have players showing their love for their coach(Gallant) that’s a positive. Two great coaches.
Quick look at what Vegas is saying…
The stage is set and for game one Monday May 28 the Golden Knights host the Capitals, the lines are out and will change of course but right now it is -143 Vegas and +123 Washington, that’s a big line for a Stanley Cup game, wow. Maybe buy in now. Despite the line it is saying that Washington has 57 percent bets and Vegas has 43 percent. Across the other 13 sites it is saying around +120 to 135 for Washington and -140 to -155 for Vegas. Get in now if you want, because that line is changing for sure. Over under 5.5 also, may just be smart enough to buy on that because that is for sure hitting.