Las Vegas–Vegas Knights of The Roundtable continues its 8 part series on how the Vegas Golden Knights will fare against the league this upcoming season in the Nationa Hockey League.
The last two days we’ve analyzed the entire Pacific Division which the Golden Knights will be playing a good portion of the games in the 2017-18 campaign.
Part 3 dives into the NHL’s Central Division starting with the 1st 3 teams in that division.
The Chicago Blackhawks by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has called this original six franchise as a dynasty hockey club in the modern era as they have won 3 Stanley Cup Championships within the league’s last 8 campaigns (2010, 2013, and 2015).
The one they captured in 2013, was from the league’s pro rated season after the lockout was lifted.
Also in the span, they captured 3 divisional titles (2010, 2013, and 2017).
For the Blackhawks, they were considered the Vegas odds favorite to capture their 4th cup in recent season during last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, they were dispatched when the Nashville Predators shocked the league by sweeping the Hawks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For the Predators, they marched all the way the Stanley Cup Finals for their 1st time in franchise history. So this caused the Blackhawks organization to look at their current state in how they need to return to elite status once again.
During the regular season, the Blackhawks finished the 2016-17 campaign in 1st place in the Central with a 50-23-9 record for 109 points which is still very good.
Their GF was 244 and GA 213 for the 2016-17 season.
In terms of special teams, the Blackhawks were not very good in that department, particularly on the man advantage.
They posted a success conversion well outside the league’s top 15 in 19 place with an 18.03% rate. That equated to 43 goals (the season prior to last they had 57).
On the other side of the of special teams, they struggled as well as they completed the campaign in 24th place at 77.33% (in the 2015-16 season they pk success was slightly better at 22nd place at 80.26%).
For the Blackhawks, they only had two 30 goal scorers last season in Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin who scored 34 and 31 respectively.
Their assist leader was #88 Kane with 55 and their runner up was defenseman Ducan Keith who is the captain of the Hawks blueliners with 47 of his own.
Kane and Panarin were the clubs 1 and 2 in power play goals with 9 and 7 respectively.
Part of the problem with the Blackhawks struggles while shorthanded was the aging defense. Their oldest players on the blueline were Michal Rozsival (38), Brian Campbell (37), and Johnny Oduya (35).
Like Los Angeles with Drew Doughty in logging big minutes, Hawks defenseman Keith does the same for them at an ATOI of 25:37 per game.
With the league shifting to younger and faster skaters like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews just to name a few, Chicago will need to get younger in that department to be better at killing penalties and defense in general.
For Vegas playing their 1st season in the NHL this upcoming October, veteran blueliner Deryk Engelland is the oldest defenseman on the team at 35 years of age and is in the same boat Chicago aging defense.
The good news however with Vegas is that the majority of their defenseman are in their early to mid 20’s so they could have a small chance at a sample size rate in competing with Blackhawks blueliners.
For the Wild organization, they had a pretty good year in terms of regular season success as they finished the campaign in the 2nd place in the Central with 106 at a 49-25-8 record.
However, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that success did not follow them there as they were quickly handled by their neighbors to the south in St. Louis in 5 games.
Their problems were in the series 1st three games when they only managed to put in the back of the Blues net.
They ran into a brick wall with St. Louis netminder Jake Allen who out performed Minnesota’s back-stopper Devin Dubnyk. Allen’s GAA 1.60 and a save percentage of .956 vs. Dubnyk’s GAA 2.00 and a save percentage of .925.
In the regular season, Minnesota’s power play success rate was in the league’s top 10 in the #9 position at 20.98% and converted 47 times which is not bad.
Their game at killing penalties was slightly higher in the special team’s department at 8th place at 82.95%.
Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederreiter were the Wild top 3 goal scorers. Staal scored 28, Granlund with 26, and Niederreiter produced 25.
Granlund and Miko Koivu led the Wild in assists with 43 and 40 respectively.
On defense patrolling the Minnesota blueline is Ryan Suter played a lot of minutes for them and logged an ATOI last season of 26:55.
Vegas will need to decide who will log that kind of heavy minutes during the regular season. When General Manager George McPhee selected his blueliners during the Vegas Draft, Luca Sbisa brought with him the highest ATOI among defenseman last year at 18:59.
St. Louis Blues
We finish off part 1 of the Central Division with the St. Louis Blues hockey club who completed the 2016-17 campaign in the 3rd position with a 46-29-7 (24-21-5 under Ken Hitchcock and 22-8-2 under Mike Yeo) for 99 points.
As mentioned above in the Wild section they defeated them in 5 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They ended going to the second round and got knocked out by Nashville in 6.
In the regular season, their GF was 235 and GA was 218 which is not a really differential rate.
On special teams particularly on the power play, they had a success rate of 21.28% which put them in the top 10 (8th place) in that department. They ended up converting 50 times last year.
In terms of penalty killing, they fell in the league top 3 which is considered to be elite in that respect at 84.79%.
Going into this season, Vegas will need to keep that in mind that the Blues will want to continue their success in keeping their opponents from putting the puck in the back of the net.
Their best goal scorer was Russian sensation Vladimir Tarasenko who ended up with 39 goals last year which was 1 shy is his career-best he set in the 2015-16 campaign at 40.
Tarasenko along with Jaden Schwartz tied the Blues in assist with 36 each.
When Tarasenko is out on the ice against the Golden Knights they will need to play stingy defense to prevent him from scoring because he has a very good/mean wrist shot and he works hard at getting space that enables him to put the rubber in the back of the net.
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo logged an ATOI last year of 25:17 which the Golden Knights will need to be aware of as well.
Tomorrow we will complete with the Central Division and look at the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, and Colorado Avalanche.