The Vegas Golden Knights just wrapped up the greatest inaugural season for an expansion team in the history of the NHL. Led by William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, they shattered expectations by dominating the highly contested Pacific Division.
The young Vegas squad will be facing a dangerous first round opponent in the Los Angeles Kings, who have plenty of playoff experience under their belt. The Kings kicked off the season with an 11-2 start, but since then they have been struggling to recapture that magic that they began the season with. That being said, the Kings are one of those teams that always saves its best for the postseason.
Let’s break down every angle of this first-round showdown.
Vegas: When they are healthy, the Golden Knights have one of the premier goal-scoring units in hockey. Reily Smith, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault have comprised one of the most effective first lines in the NHL. What truly makes this offense scary is that all four of their lines are truly unselfish. The only element that might spell trouble for this unit are the undisclosed injuries to Marchessault and David Perron.
Los Angeles: The Kings have struggled with top-heavy scoring all season. If Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown weren’t scoring, neither were the Kings. The only other forward that displayed somewhat of a pulse this season was Tyler Toffoli, who scored 24 goals this season.
Advantage: Vegas. The lack of depth for Los Angeles is something Vegas should easily capitalize on in this series.
Vegas: Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb all enjoyed some of the best work of their career. They all got consistent minutes for the first time and made the most of it. Miller and Schmidt led the defense in scoring with 41 and 36 points, respectively.
Los Angeles: The Kings have been eviscerated by injuries on the blue line. Derek Forbort is expected to miss time this series and Jake Muzzin sustained an injury in late March. Drew Doughty, one of the most touted defenseman in the league, had the best offensive output of his career with 60 points. One spot that may be an area that Vegas can exploit is Dion Phaneuf. The aging defenseman has become more of a liability for the Kings towards the end of the season.
Advantage: Los Angeles. Drew Doughty is hands down the best defender in this series. Although the Knights young core has been impressive this far, the defensive consistency from the Kings stars is what puts them ahead.
Vegas: Marc-Andre Fleury was the best player George McPhee had available to him in the expansion draft and he did not hesitate to pick him up. Fleury generated the best save percentage of his career, posting a .927 mark while going 29-13-4 in 46 games. If it was not for injuries, he would be in the conversation for the Vezina trophy.
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick also had one of the best seasons of his career going 33-28-3 with a .921 save percentage. The polarizing goaltender looks to put an end to his critics by taking his team deep into the playoffs.
Advantage: Vegas. This is by far the best goalie matchup in the first round of the playoffs this year, but Marc-Andre Fleury has been more consistent when it matters most.
Vegas: The Golden Knights power play unit ranked 8th in the NHL with a power play percentage of 21.4%, while generating 53 goals on the power play. Their penalty kill unit killed 81.4% of their penalties (ranked 10th in the league) and scored eight short-handed goals.
Los Angeles: The Kings had the best penalty kill unit in the NHL, killing 85 percent of their penalties on the season and only allowing 39 power play goals. Their power-play unit was not nearly as impressive, ranking 18th in the league with only 49 goals and a power play percentage of 20.4%.
Advantage: Los Angeles. Boasting the best penalty kill unit in the league is no easy task. Yes, the Knights have more of a balance, but it’s hard to pick against the Kings in this category.
Vegas: Tomas Tatar. George McPhee paid a steep price to acquire the forward from the Detroit Red Wings before the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline, giving up first, second and third-round picks. The talented forward has not produced at a high level yet for the Knights, but he is certainly capable of it.
Los Angeles: Adrian Kempe. Kempe was brilliant at times this season, but over the past 30 games his production has become almost nonexistent. It will be critical for him to get off to a good start for the Kings.
Vegas in six. Sin City will get the last laugh in this series. The Kings defense will make it interesting, but the ultimate underdogs will move on to the second round.