The Winnipeg Jets jumped out to an early lead in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final Saturday night and never looked back.
The home team treated their fans to a commanding 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, giving the expansion club their first series deficit of the postseason.
However, there are still games to be won. In fact, the Golden Knights could very well have the series knotted up heading home for Game 3 if they make a few adjustments for Monday night.
Play more disciplined
This is not necessarily a knock on the number of penalties the Golden Knights took in Game 1, it has more to do with how lethal the Jets’ power play was.
The Jets went 2-for-4 with the man advantage, firing six shots while wearing down the Vegas penalty killers. The Jets have proven that they have players capable of unleashing cannons when they set up properly in the offensive zone, and we got a taste of that in Game 1 through one-timers from Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien (Byfuglien’s goal was at even strength).
The Golden Knights surprisingly outchanced Winnipeg at even strength on Saturday night, confirming that it is imperative to keep the game played at five-on-five if they plan to counter the Jets’ attack. If not, the Jets – who boast the third-best power play in the playoffs – will make quick work of Vegas.
Get more pucks to Hellebuyck
As was mentioned above, the Golden Knights won the battle at five-on-five with a Corsi For of 54.05 percent to Winnipeg’s 45.95 percent.
The problem is, Vegas struggled to get pucks into high-danger scoring areas, and even more so, struggled to actually get pucks on Connor Hellebuyck. The Golden Knights were outshot 26-21 in the game, but had an additional 22 shots blocked by the Jets, which is just too easy for a Vezina Trophy nominee.
As the chart shows below, the Jets did a mighty fine job of keeping the Golden Knights away from Hellebuyck, preventing them from getting any sustainable pressure in front of the net.
(Heat Map courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)
The Jets had 70 percent of the high-danger scoring chances in Game 1. However, the Golden Knights had the advantage in scoring chances overall (55.5 percent), meaning, quite simply, the Jets did a much better job of closing the gap against the speedy Vegas offense.
So, whether the Golden Knights execute a stronger cycle game to wear down Winnipeg’s defenders and open up quality chances, or resort to picking their shots better, the fact is, with the Jets’ offense connecting like it has of late, Vegas needs to find a way to counter in order to make the jobs of the Jets’ defenders more difficult.
Grind the Jets down early
The Golden Knights need to play some ugly hockey early in Game 2.
The Jets lived up to their name in Game 1 and came out soaring. Before Vegas had any idea what was going on, they were down 1-0 and things rapidly snowballed from there.
What’s worse – and has been well documented – MTS Place crowd is among the loudest in the league and the arena can become an intimidating place to play when the Jets give them something to cheer about.
This is where Vegas can benefit from limiting chances in their own zone and, more specifically, working the Jets in the opposite end of the rink. If they can find a way to start the game in Winnipeg’s end and work the Jets’ defenders down – as we saw them do to the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in the first two rounds – and possibly squeak out the first goal of the game, then we will most certainly see a different atmosphere.
MTS Place can be a nasty beast for the opposition when the crowd is as deafening as they were in Game 1, but what can be equally as haunting is when it’s dead silent.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)