For the Vegas Golden Knights to defeat the Washington Capitals and win the Stanley Cup to put the exclamation mark on their inaugural season, they will need continued elite goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, strong defensive play, good discipline, and some additional secondary scoring.
Let's examine the underlying numbers behind each of these requirements. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Vegas on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
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Fleury's continued success
The Golden Knights' run to the Western Conference title has been primarily driven by Fleury, whose .947 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the highest among anyone who played at least 10 games since Jacques Plante of the St. Louis Blues in 1969 (.950). Victory is in their grasp if that continues.
There is room for a slight decline in Fleury's play, but if his save percentage drops to his previous playoff average of .908, the Golden Knights will allow an extra 1.3 goals per game. That's based on their postseason average of 33.7 shots allowed per game, the fifth-highest among teams entering this postseason. Washington has allowed 28.2, the second-fewest.
Video: Is Fleury the front-runner for the Conn Smythe?
Improved defensive play
Vegas could take some pressure off Fleury with stronger play in their zone at even strength and when killing penalties.
The Golden Knights' top defensemen are Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland. They are paired with Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore, respectively, at even strength, and play together when shorthanded. They will be tasked with shutting down Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who leads the playoffs with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 19 games, and forward Alex Ovechkin, who ranks second with 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 19 games.
Of the 27 goals scored against Vegas in the playoffs, 13 have been scored with McNabb on the ice, and 16 with Engelland. In terms of shot-based metrics, the Golden Knights have been outshot 268-244 in 5-on-5 shot attempts with McNabb on the ice, for an SAT of minus-24, tied for third-last on the team. Engelland is plus-7.
Video: Beating the odds: Vegas' journey to the Cup Final
Physical play is an important component of Vegas' game plan. The Golden Knights are averaging 39.7 hits and 10.6 takeaways per game in the playoffs.
This strategy carries the risk of taking too many penalties. For example, McNabb ranks third with 64 hits and has generated nine takeaways but is tied for second with eight penalties.
Maintaining good discipline is especially important when facing Washington, which has scored on 28.8 percent of its power plays this postseason (ranked second) and has five players with at least nine power-play points; defenseman John Carlson leads with 10 (three goals, seven assists).
To measure how well players and teams are managing their physical play, Iain Fyffe introduced the Disciplined Aggression Proxy (DAP) in 2001: hits plus takeaways, divided by penalties taken. With 595 hits, 159 takeaways and 57 times shorthanded, Vegas has a DAP of 13.2, which ranks fifth among the 16 teams to make the playoffs this season.
McNabb has a below-average DAP of 9.1 (64 hits, nine takeaways, eight penalties), which could lead to some penalty trouble. Good examples of disciplined aggression include Engelland, who has a DAP of 20.0 (36 hits, four takeaways, two penalties), and forward Cody Eakin, with 30.5 (53 hits, eight takeaways, two penalties).
Even if their goaltending and defense holds up, the Golden Knights will need more scoring, at even strength and on the power play.
They have scored an average of 2.87 goals per game and scored on 17.6 percent of their power plays, each below the NHL averages of 2.92 and 22.6 percent this postseason.
The best opportunities to pick up more scoring include Colin Miller and Engelland at defenseman, and David Perron and Erik Haula among forwards.
Miller led Vegas defensemen with 41 points (10 goals, 31 assists) in 82 games in the regular season but ranks fourth with three points (two goals, one assist) in playoff games. Engelland ranks last with no points in 15 games, which is 4.4 points fewer than expected, based on 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 79 regular-season games.
In the regular season, Perron led the Golden Knights with 50 assists, and Haula with 12 power-play goals. They are slightly off their pace in the postseason; Perron is tied for third with seven assists in 11 games, and Haula has yet to score a power-play goal.
Video: SJS@VGK, Gm5: Haula banks sharp-angle shot off Jones
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