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Coaches Room

Golden Knights must make it harder on Stars in Game 5 of West Final

Zettler says Vegas needs more traffic in front of Khudobin to avoid elimination

by Rob Zettler / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2019-20 season by former NHL coaches and assistants who turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Rob Zettler and Rob Cookson will take turns providing insight throughout the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In this edition, Zettler, former assistant with the San Jose Sharks, breaks down Game 4 of the Western Conference Final, taking a look at why the Vegas Golden Knights are struggling to score and a big reason why Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin has been so good in this series heading into Game 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

I did not see the Dallas Stars taking a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Final, certainly not based on some of the statistics we have.

The Vegas Golden Knights have outshot the Stars 130-92, and the Stars have given them 19 power-play chances while getting nine of their own. Yet each team has scored six goals through four games, and the Stars have three one-goal wins.

A big reason, or issue if you want to call it that, for the Golden Knights is the fact that they've been too perimeter-based in the series. The 5-on-3 for 70 seconds in the third period of Game 4 on Saturday is the perfect example.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Stars Series Coverage]

 

The Golden Knights moved it around, but they were getting all their looks from the outside with little to no traffic in front of Stars goalie Anton Khudobin.

They've got to make this harder on Khudobin. They have to make him fight through it more. And they've got the horses to do it.

Mark Stone. Max Pacioretty. Even William Carrier and Ryan Reaves. They've got some size.

The Golden Knights have some shooters back there too. Shea Theodore can shoot it. Nate Schmidt can shoot it. Those guys can get the puck through.

It's like any time when you have trouble scoring, it's got to get a little bit ugly. When you have that presence in front of the net, it makes retrievals easier as well, makes it easier for you to get the puck back.

But I am surprised at how this series has gone through four games because I see all the stats and how lopsided most are, especially the possession numbers, in favor of the Golden Knights.

In fact, I noticed halfway through Game 4 that Vegas defensemen had eight or nine shots on goal and Dallas defensemen had none.

Video: Khudobin, Stars win Game 4, take 3-1 series lead

That's what I was originally angling toward with this column when I thought about it midway through Game 4. I was thinking the Stars had to start using their D. Then they get a power play, they get a shot from John Klingberg, Jamie Benn gets the rebound, and they score. 

When you establish that point shot, you can loosen things up, but that point shot is only effective when you have traffic in front of the goalie.

Vegas needs more of it.

Possession time and control of the play and control of the shots are great, but they can become nonfactors when you don't have enough going on the inside.

Khudobin has made some acrobatic saves, but for the most part he's making it look like 'I'm there already and I see it.'

When a goalie is in that mode and he's already set to the play, it means he's seeing everything. If he's getting across and he's already set for a shot that's coming from the flank, it means he has an eye on the puck the whole time. He's watching it move and he's shuffling or shifting accordingly.

That said, Pacioretty missed a wide-open net, though the puck may have gone off Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen. Khudobin made a great save on Jonathan Marchessault that I thought was targeted for a goal.

Those guys usually don't miss those too often.

I think they can break the Stars in Game 5. It wouldn't surprise me if they did, honestly.

Since the conference format was adopted for the 1981-82 season, teams with a 3-1 lead in the conference finals are 34-1 (97.1 percent). The New Jersey Devils rallied to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final and then won the Stanley Cup. 

I think the Golden Knights are more than capable of coming back from down 3-1. I think they're that deep and they're that good.

But the big boys must get on the board, meaning Pacioretty, Marchessault, Stone, Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch.

It surprises me that they have struggled to score because those guys are all workers, they don't cheat the game. They work for what they get, so I have to think the dam is going to break for them.

But they've got to get a little bit dirty. It sounds a little bit cliche, but you need some people in front of the net and you need traffic in front of this guy if you're going to beat him.

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