Stay Out Of The Penalty Box
As the series has gone on the Golden Knights have spent more and more time in the penalty box. Given the talent of the other side of the ice, it is almost suicide to give up 5 powerplay opportunities as they did in game 4. The Knights need to get back to their game 1 levels of discipline and puck pressure.
In games 2,3 and 4 they have been slightly off the pace at reaching the puck. This has led to lazy penalties for tripping, holding, and interference that wouldn’t have been needed in game 1. If they can stay out of the box, it will seriously undermine the Capitals offense, and save a lot of energy. Vegas has given up more penalty minutes with each game, culminating in the Caps going 3/5 in game 4. The Golden Knights cannot win if they give up 5 penalties to the Capitals.
Being More Clinical
Despite outshooting the Washington Capitals handily in games 2 and 4 of these finals, they have failed to find the goal more than twice in any game since game 1. In game 4 their wasteful shooting reached new levels as they hit the pipe 3 times and missed a gaping net. Some of that can be chalked up to luck, but the shooting has been poor in this series.
They have had a large number of uncontested shots, although some of that is down to questionable shot selection at times. When they have got into the high-scoring zones they have been wasteful. They have become transfixed with shooting to Braden Holtby’s glove side, and seem unable to adapt as the game unfolds.
Shooting accuracy has also been very poor, and they have been distracted by the Capitals immense efforts at shot blocking. They have limited the Golden Knights effectiveness on long-range shooting with an absolute masterclass in blocking shots, racking up at least 18 blocked shots in every game.
More Speed Less Haste
One of the strengths of the Vegas Golden Knights this season has been their ability to unsettle opposing teams with their speed to the puck. They swarm to the puck in two’s and forcing the puck handler into careless errors and turnovers. Nowhere was this more evident than in game 1 where the Knights outclassed the Capitals down low.
The Capitals have responded by being more physical, but the Knights seem to have lost some discipline as well. They aren’t sticking to defensive assignments as well as they have all season. They are now constantly getting caught on switches and leaving the backside open near the net. In their haste to get to the puck, they have become very sloppy. They have been much slower to the puck as well, with their takeaways dropping in each consecutive game. From 22 takeaways in game 1, they have dropped to 19 in game 2, 10 in game 3, and just 8 in game 4.
Whether the downturn in their level of play is a consequence of the pressure of the finals is debatable. What is for sure is that they need to fix things quickly. One thing is sure, Vegas now find themselves in a spot they’ve thrived all season: Underdogs.
Well, that’s our three keys to a Vegas win in game 5. It’s been a fascinating series so far, with epic momentum shifts, so the Golden Knights aren’t done yet. But they need to get back to playing Vegas hockey fast or this series will end tonight on home ice.