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Golden Knights Need to Focus on Themselves

Key to winning Round One will be playing Vegas-style hockey

by Gary Lawless @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

No disrespect intended to the rest of the field in the Stanley Cup tournament but the Vegas Golden Knights need to worry about themselves and no one else.

Let the San Jose Sharks and any other opponent the Golden Knights might encounter in this post-season live their best lives. If it turns out the opponent is better, so be it. But when Vegas is Vegas, they're one of the best hockey teams in the world. No question about it.

So for the Golden Knights in their opening round series with the Sharks the formula is simple.

"Well if we get our forecheck going we are a good team," said Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant on Monday. "I like our team when we are back tracking and putting back pressure on the other team. I am pretty sure every coach is saying the same thing, forecheck and play hard and you'll get opportunities to win the game. We've got to defend well, play the game the right way and do the right things and we will be ok."

Gallant is right. Every coach left in the playoffs can say the same thing. But for Vegas it rings extraordinarily true.

They have but one 30-goal scorer on the roster and not a single 80-point player. The blueline doesn't have a Norris Trophy candidate. Arguably, it's fair to say deadline acquisition Mark Stone and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury are the only players who have had elite seasons. Since the expansion draft forward joined, Vegas has been a team which embodies the sum is greater than the parts. Play together and play the simplest of styles and everything seems to go their way. Vary from this mantra and the results become poor.

For the better part of two regular seasons and four playoff rounds, the Vegas Golden Knights have thrived by playing to their identity. When Vegas does hockey the Vegas way - look out. Only one team has bested them and that's the Washington Capitals in last year's Stanley Cup Final.

When they slip, it's quite remarkable how quickly things fall off.

To that point, Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb says his team didn't put their best foot forward against the Caps and learned a lesson from that moment.

"We kind of lost our game to be honest with you, and it started to show more in Game 2. It's frustrating looking back to get so close and to lose your game in the Final," said McNabb. "It stings for sure. It hurts but this year, it's been motivation. We know how to handle ourselves."

Gallant says his focus will almost entirely be on his team and their game.

"Well, if I did the other thing (worry about what the opposition is doing) I will be doing what we haven't done in the past year and a half," said the reigning Jack Adams Award winner. "So we are going to focus on what we do best. Like I said we know them and they know us. We are going to play our game and execute."

One barometer for how Vegas is playing is the offensive blue line. When Vegas sticks to North-South hockey at the blue line and enters the zone cleanly, either on the rush or by dumping the puck behind the opposition, they're at their best. When they go East-West at the blueline the result is often a turnover which feeds the opposition rather than the Golden Knights.

"You know it is real important, obviously, when they have guys like (Erik) Karlsson and the rest of their guys coming," said Gallant. "I think the other coach is saying the same thing about us, you don't want to turn the pucks over at the offensive blue line, so hopefully we can use our velocity, beat their blue line and get some opportunities like that. You don't want to force pucks on the blue line."

There's not much to pick between these two teams. They both have depth. San Jose has the edge in explosive scoring. Vegas has the best goalie. Both are well coached. In many ways, this is a pick 'em series.

But only if Vegas is true to itself. If they try to rely on skill rather than work - it likely won't end well. If, however, the Golden Knights look in the mirror at the end of the series and see themselves; they'll likely be smiling.

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