The Golden Knights lead the Oilers 2-1 in their Western Conference second-round series after earning a crucial 5-1 win in Game 3 on Monday. That came after Edmonton defeated Vegas 5-1 in Game 2. And a wild Game 1 ensued, in which the Golden Knights squandered a (and nearly another) lead by multiple goals but held on to a 6-4 win.
That said, it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect from these powerhouses in Game 4 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN). Will the offensive pendulum continue to swing, with another trip back towards Edmonton? Or does the defense (and discipline) prevail in a way the series hasn’t seen before?
And more importantly, who will come out on top before the pages go back to the desert?
Here we have the X-Factors for Game 4 – from players to stats to a key element that could mean victory or contribute to defeat – for each team in this next crucial duel.
X Factor: Key players
Edmonton: Stuart Skinner
Goalkeeping is essential to playoff success. Apparently.
In that case, all eyes will be on Skinner to see him bounce back and potentially put an end to the five-plus goal games that define this series.
The Oilers rookie was withdrawn from Game 3 after allowing four goals on 23 shots. Skinner also underperformed in the Game 1 loss, conceding five goals on 33 shots.
Just as Edmonton had a roller coaster ride this series, so did Skinner, experiencing notable ups and downs in the postseason. In the Oilers’ victories, Stuart averaged a .921 save and 2.51 goals against. On losses, he has an SV% of 0.857 and a GAA of 4.67.
In the game so far against the Golden Knights, Skinner is 1-2-0 with an SV% of .885 and a GAA of 3.96. Those totals suggest Stuart Edmonton still has more to give – and he’ll likely get a chance to do so in Game 4. Despite the question of whether Jack Campbell would get the call – he parried nine shots on ten shots to exonerate Skinner in Game 3 – Skinner was back in the starting net for Tuesday’s practice. Coach Jay Woodcroft declined to confirm Tuesday that Skinner would be in the net in Game 4, but all signs were pointing in the right direction.
Edmonton spent a disproportionate amount of time on the power play – and scored three goals from it – in Game 2, relieving Skinner of the pressure to turn on his head as the Oilers tied the series 1-1. The Oilers are unlikely to see as much influence from special teams in Game 4. Should he be the Oilers’ starter again on Wednesday, it’s up to Skinner to perform at his best (especially while staying consistent in strength) and renew his confidence in this form as a key factor in allowing him to move forward in this series.
Vegas: William Karlson
The Golden Knights had a star in William Karlsson in their first-round series against the Golden Knights Winnipeg Jets.
Karlsson was undecided Chandler Stephenson for the team lead in goals (4), had the second-best shooting percentage (36.4%) and was an impressive 55.6% at faceoff.
This edition has not yet been adopted. Karlsson caught just one assist against the Oilers (from that Game 1 win), had just seven shots on target in the series, and fell to 51.1% in the closing stages.
One of the great strengths of Karlsson’s game is that he’s a strong two-way player who can contribute at both ends of the ice. Compete with people like them Connor McDavid And Leon Draisaitl in this series is also different from what Karlsson experienced against the Jets. What would help Vegas the most in Game 4 would also be an additional performance from Karlsson on the scorer list. He’s capable of it, making him a key player to watch, not only taking out top skaters but also providing an offensive boost as Vegas look for more scoring depth.
Karlsson should have ample opportunity to break out of this small drop in points. He averages nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game, is active on the power play, and is undermanned. Such versatility rarely goes unnoticed – or unrewarded – for long. And after I’ve seen Jonathan Marchessault, Jack Acorn and Stephenson are eliminated in Game 3, Karlsson should definitely feel it’s time for him to shine again.
X-Factor: Outstanding value
Edmonton: Excellent in rebound
How well do the Oilers come after a loss? Extremely.
Edmonton has not lost a straight game since February 25 and February 27. All six losses since then – including three this postseason – have been followed by wins. And in all three of those wins, the Oilers have scored four or more goals.
It’s a pattern of real staying power and shows the resilience Edmonton could use to their advantage on home ice on Wednesday. In a series that has already seen so much back and forth, the Oilers won’t hesitate to capitalize on everything that has helped them weather previous adversities and once again be on par with the competition.
Vegas: Warriors of Equal Strength
Every team has to find its lead. The Golden Knights could be their balanced strength game.
In this series, Vegas beats Edmonton 10-4 in 5v5. Meanwhile, they are down 5-1 on the power play.
Therefore, it would be of great benefit to Vegas to a) not be in the penalty box in Game 4 and b) force the Oilers to play at even strength as much as possible.
The Golden Knights had similar success playing 5v5 in the first round. Not only did they lead the postseason peloton in goals with equal strength, but they also outperformed the Jets in that category by 15-6 (while again outperforming them 5-5 on the power play). 3).
Another way to look at this for Vegas might be that their penalty shootout was a postseason disappointment (currently the worst among the remaining playoff teams at 56.5%). However you dish it out, Vegas’ best chance of beating the highly skilled, high-flying Oilers is when they earn their offense in 5v5. Edmonton has not excelled here so far. Vegas wants this to continue in Game 4 and beyond.
X Factor: Range of Possibilities
Edmonton: More balanced offensive attack
The Oilers have two world talents in McDavid and Draisaitl driving their offense — often from the same line.
What Edmonton saw in Game 3 was the need to start distributing wealth.
Zach Hyman was disabled by a lower body collision Nicholas Hague During the first phase of Game 3, this limited his ice time (from his usual 20 minutes per game to just 14:06) and highlighted just how deep the Oilers’ players had to be to have more impact on the series.
Edmonton had four total scorers against Vegas: Draisaitl (6), McDavid (2), Evan Bouchard (1) and Warren Foegele (1). The breakup of McDavid and Draisaitl — who started playing together again during Edmonton’s first-round series against Los Angeles — might help jumpstart some other skaters (namely Evander Kane And Ryan Nugent Hopkins).
“We spend a lot of time talking about creating the conditions that are most conducive to our team,” Woodcroft said Tuesday of the transfer of McDavid and Draisaitl to different units. “We move them on the chessboard quite often. Sometimes when we feel like that’s a slap in the arm that we need, maybe we do.” [have them together]. Very rarely do we get stuck in one mindset. I think it’s because you know the team personnel and I think our swapping of parts makes us a dangerous team; It’s part of us.”
Hyman was the Oilers’ third most important forward in the postseason, behind the team’s superstars. He didn’t practice Tuesday and if he’s unavailable for Game 4, it’s all the more important for Edmonton to find contributions elsewhere.
Case in point: Foegele’s third line for the Oilers, Ryan McLeod And Derek Ryan. It seemed like they were really swarming – it was Foegele who opened game three and scored from a Ryan shot – and if Woodcroft can get any more power out of them it would take the extra pressure off the top six .
Regardless of who exactly produced that performance, Edmonton knows improvements need to be made in their 5-on-5 offensive game. The best course of action is to dive deep into the team.
Vegas: More production from the blue line
The Golden Knights’ defense has yet to reach its full offensive potential.
In three games against Edmonton, Vegas’ back end scored (from Zach Whitecloud in Game 3) and seven total points.
In five games against Winnipeg, the Golden Knights had zero goals and eight points from their blue line.
What if that changed?
“We’d like a little more [from the defense]” Coach Bruce Cassidy said on Tuesday. “I scored a big goal from Zach the other night.” But on this particular streak, we have to be very careful about how far we can get away from the back end and how quickly they can come back at us. I think the lads want to make sure you’re defensive and you’re not reckless, but you still have to be attacking and moving in today’s game.”
Of course, the first job of defense is to keep pucks off the net. But the lack of offensive production in Las Vegas in this area is worth investigating — and ideally exploiting.
The playoffs are all about evolution. How can a team improve on the fly without having to make drastic changes? This is an easy area of adjustment for Vegas that could pay big dividends right away. Whether it’s taking shots from the point through traffic, supporting forwards on the run, or just putting pucks in the net for rebound attempts, when the Golden Knights’ defense becomes more committed and adapts to their offense adjusts, it would add another element to their arsenal that the Oilers should have accountable for progressing.
And what team wouldn’t want that?