The Vegas Golden Knights will play a round-robin with the Blues, Avalanche, and Oilers to determine seeding but below we discuss why this year’s edition won’t go much further than that.
Playoff hockey demands that a team rally around the goalie that brought them there and this year is no exception. However, there is a controversy brewing in Sin City as to whether veteran Marc-Andre Fleury or newly acquired Robin Lehner should get the nod. Nevertheless, the NHL odds at BetOnline are dealing the Golden Knights at +375, co-favorites with the Avalanche and Blues, to win the Western Conference and tied with St. Louis at +800 to win the Stanley Cup, trailing the Bruins, Avs, and Lightning all at +750.
It will be a bitter pill for Fleury to swallow after leading the fledgling Knights to a stunningly unlikely Stanley Cup run in their inaugural season in which they ultimately bowed to the Capitals in five games. However, Fleury has been the backbone of the team since arriving in 2017 and the three-time Stanley Cup champion – all with the Pittsburgh Penguins – would seem to be the likely choice despite struggling at times this season.
While Fleury has a wealth of playoff experience the same cannot be said of Robin Lehner, who has just eight postseason starts to his name. Yet, he made the most of those starts in posting a dazzling .936 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average last season with the Islanders. Lehner was brought in by the Knights as a high-end insurance policy and he could very well pay dividends if Fleury falters.
I believe Vegas coach, Peter DeBoer, will ultimately give Fleury the start but that will be the wrong choice despite his laudable postseason resume. From February 1st until the interruption of the season in mid-March, Fleury was erratic as evidenced by posting a league-best three shutouts but also an underwhelming .899 save percentage over that time.
The layoff could help Flower bloom in August but the 35-year-old appears to be showing his age. And if he can’t get the job done then Lehner will have to recreate his heroics from last year’s performances and that is a tough act to follow.
Avs Too Hot to Handle
The Knights will play a round-robin with the Blues, Avalanche, and Oilers to determine their playoff seeds but will forego the qualifying round against the remaining playoff entries. Depending on how Vegas fares, they could be the top seed with a much easier first-round opponent or they might be staring at an opening-round opponent like the Winnipeg Jets. This would be a worst-case scenario as the Jets handed the Knights 3-2 OT and 4-0 losses in their two contests this year.
But if the Knights should skip on through the first few rounds, they will likely end up meeting the ferocious Colorado Avalanche. You may recall that the Avs had been plagued by injuries, despite posting 92 points when play was halted, second only to St. Louis in the West. However, those injuries have healed and Colorado will be getting back a boatload of talent, some of which would not have skated in the first few rounds had the season gone uninterrupted.
Let’s also consider how the Vegas goalies fared against the Avalanche this season. Marc-Andre Fleury surrendered 11 goals on 64 shots which translates to a woeful .829 save percentage while teammate Robin Lehner flashed an even lower .822 save percentage in his pair of starts against Colorado as a member of the Blackhawks.
This season is unlike any we have witnessed before and there will be some teams that will be slow to start while others will awaken with a thunder. It’s impossible to predict which teams will do what despite the difference in talent. However, what we do know is when we consider which teams to include in our NHL picks, we must also evaluate the value, vis a vis the odds, of each potential wager.
There just isn’t enough oomph on this Vegas roster to see them past much more than the first round let alone a Stanley Cup championship. Vegas is a great place to visit but save your money for the slots and not a ticket on their hockey team – at least not this year.