The Round Robin games are continuing throughout the weekend as the Stanley Cup playoffs are nearly here. In Edmonton, the number one seed in the Western Conference is up for grabs, as the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche face off on Saturday afternoon.
Here is a preview of Saturday’s Round Robin matchup, along with a free pick. Currently, the Avs are -125 favorites.
Round Robin Recap
In two games versus the Stars and Blues, two exceptional defensive teams, the Golden Knights offense exploded. Monday against Dallas, Vegas overcame a 3-1 deficit, scoring four goals in the third period to win 5-3.
Three of those goals came in five minutes, with RW Mark Stone and D Nate Schmidt each chipping in a goal and an assist. Robin Lehner drew the start in net, making 24 saves.
Then Thursday against St. Louis, the Knights once again had a big third period. Down 4-3 heading into the final frame, Stone and D Shea Theodore scored less than three minutes apart, as Vegas’ three goals helped give them the 6-4 victory over the defending champions. Vegas also shut down St. Louis’ power play while outshooting them 38-17.
As for the Avalanche, the stout defense has been their forte through two games. Last weekend against the Blues, Colorado won in one of the most unbelievable final plays in recent memory, as C Nazem Kadri scored a buzzer-beating power-play goal to give them a walk-off 2-1 win.
Colorado scored both of their goals in the final frame, D Ryan Graves with the other, while Philipp Grubauer made 31 saves and allowed just the one goal.
Then on Wednesday, Colorado dominated the Stars from start to finish. Rookie D Cale Makar scored a power-play goal very early on, and LW Andre Burakovsky and RW Jonas Donskoi each had multi-point nights, as the Avs blanked Dallas 4-0. Pavel Francouz drew the start and stopped all 27 shots that came his way, while the Avalanche dropped 40 shots on Dallas’ Anton Khudobin.
The Golden Knights and Avalanche squared off just twice during the regular season, with the Avs dominating on both occasions. Late October in Las Vegas, Kadri’s two goals sparked a huge 6-1 victory in which Colorado outshot Vegas 40-26.
In late December, both Kadri and LW Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored two goals, as the Avalanche dominated once again in Las Vegas, winning 7-3. The Avs went 2-for-5 on the power play while outshooting the Knights by six.
Keys to Victory
Vegas will win if they win the first period. In the last two games, the Golden Knights have thrived in the third period. But to beat a tough Avalanche team, Vegas will need to start off strong.
No team allowed more first period goals during the regular season than the Knights, while no team scored more goals during the first period than the Avs. Look for key contributors like Stone, C William Karlsson, and LW Jonathan Marchessault to set the tone early and avoid falling into an early hole.
Colorado will win if they kill their penalties. The Avs are facing a Golden Knights team that has scored 11 goals over their last two games. While just two of them have come on the power play, Vegas had a top-10 power-play unit during the regular season and averaged more shots on net than anybody.
If the Avs young defensemen, such as Makar and Samuel Girard, can shut down any extra-man opportunities for Vegas, that will allow stars like C Nathan MacKinnon and RW Mikko Rantanen to focus on offense.
Both teams have used two separate goalies through two games. For Vegas, that means Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, who went 27-16-5 in the regular season with a 2.77 GAA and .905 save percentage, is expected to start.
For Colorado, Grubauer is likely to draw the start ahead of Francouz. Grubauer went 18-12-4 while missing some time with injuries this season, earning a 2.63 GAA and .916 save percentage.
When these two teams have played over the last couple of seasons, the Avalanche have dominated, outscoring the Golden Knights 20-7 in their previous four games. Colorado has also been playing better defense, giving up just one goal since the seeding games began.
I’m going with an Avalanche team that is playing some of their best hockey yet, picking them to win and secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
Pick: Avalanche -125