The 2019-20 Vegas Golden Knights had a lot to prove coming into the Western Conference Round Robin. While many people felt they were still a top team in the West, they had a lot of turmoil this season. However, through one exhibition and three round-robin games, the Vegas Golden Knights have regained their 2018 form and that will make things very difficult for teams in the Western Conference as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.
Vegas Golden Knights Regaining Form
From the drop of the puck in the round-robin series, the 2019-20 Vegas Golden Knights came out with a purpose and looked like a different hockey club from the 2019-20 regular season. They took advantage of the pause as all the players stayed in Vegas during the pandemic. Once Phase 2 and 3 began, the players were able to work together and become a unit. Having Pete DeBoer as the head coach certainly helps, but there was too much talent on this team for them not to be a position to win this season.
Now through three round-robin games, the 2019-20 Vegas Golden Knights have captured the first seed in the Western Conference after defeating the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 4-3 in overtime on Saturday. Their reward for being the one seed, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Golden Knights are doing it without one of their top forward Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty was deemed unfit to play before the round-robin series began. Coach DeBoer anticipates that Pacioretty will be ready to play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But the way the Golden Knights are playing, they can let him rest up and get healthy for the later rounds of the playoffs. Just like in 2018, when Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final, they are getting contributions from everyone in their lineup. Most notably Mark Stone. Stone looks like the player he did in Ottawa. Through three games, he has five points (two goals and three assists). Out of the players that played in the round-robin, every player on the team has a point except two. Paul Stastny has to pick up his game for the Golden Knights, he just looks like a passenger right now.
Goaltending No Problem
It does not matter if it Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner, the Golden Knights have a capable starting goaltender as the Stanley Cup Playoffs start. Lehner played one more game than Fleury, but do not read too much into that. However, Lehner has shown he can carry a team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So if Fleury struggles, Lehner can jump right in and get the job done. Defensively, the Golden Knights will want to clean up some things to help out their goaltenders. They are still giving up too many scoring chances in the high danger zone. But with a little time off it will be hard to address that. It will have to be done on the fly.
Rest of the West
Don’t Sleep on Colorado
A team you can’t sleep on come the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche finished second in the Western Conference after losing to the Knights. However, in a loss, they had chances to capture the number one seed. Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz both looked sharp for the Avalanche during the three round-robin games. The scary thing is that Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog have yet to get going. Once they start finding their way, the Avalanche will be tough to play against. One good thing is that with this line not clicking on all cylinders just yet, the secondary scoring is picking up.
Players Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and others have been stepping up to produce goals and points. That is huge for Colorado as before they were just a one-line team. Secondary scoring is a key for Colorado to have success in the playoffs. Even though Cale Makar has not produced points-wise, he has looked solid for the Avalanche during the round-robin. He is the quarterback of that defence and his transition game is key to Colorado’s success. They have an interesting matchup against the Arizona Coyotes. Even with them finishing second, if they start clicking they are a team nobody will want to play.
What’s Up With Dallas
Even with the Dallas Stars getting the third seed, the same issues that have plagued them for the past few seasons have come to the forefront once again. The fact that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn continue to not produce for the Stars is a problem. These players should not need constant motivation especially this time of year. And while these round-robin games are nothing but glorified exhibition games, it is important for teams like Dallas to have a rhythm going into the playoffs. You just can’t turn it on when games matter the most. They will be going up against a good Calgary Flames team. So the Stars need players like Benn and Seguin to be sharp.
Having been shutout in three of their four games, if you include the exhibition game, the Stars are in serious trouble. Goaltender Ben Bishop can’t do everything. The Stars will need more from the offence. However, that will be tough since they are known to go on cold streaks. And the more concerning thing is that Bishop and Seguin being unfit to play in two of the four games. Offensively, the Stars have the ability to score. However, the Stars are older and have just not got the production they hoped they would get from Joe Pavelski or Corey Perry. If nothing changes, the Stars could be looking at an early playoff exit.
Defending Champs Still Looking For Their Edge
After losing in a shootout to the Stars, the St. Louis Blues finished as the number four seed in the West. The Blues had been the number one seed for most of the season and when the season was paused. However, the team that played during the regular and the team that played during the round-robin was a completely different team. It is a little surprising to see the Blues struggle this way. They did not play there aggressive style of forechecking the puck that won them a Stanley Cup last season. Maybe they just need the playoffs to start to get their edge back.
However, just like the Stars and the Boston Bruins, it is hard to turn things on and off again. Even though Vladimir Tarasenko returned to the lineup, he was still finding his skating legs. The Blues will need for him to get going on. St. Louis is built for the playoffs, so hopefully, when the next round starts, they show up and play. It will be interesting to see what Blues shows up against the Vancouver Canucks. The two contrasting styles will be interesting to watch and the team who can dictate play will be the winner.
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