2023 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets
A lot can change in five years, eh?
The last time these two teams met in the postseason, the Winnipeg Jets were a Stanley Cup contender that had slowly but surely built up a stable of high-skilled forwards through the draft, had even more talent waiting in the wings, and had infamously been forecast as the “2019 Stanley Cup Champions.”
The Vegas Golden Knights, meanwhile, were a shocking upstart team that rode some breakout performances, a defence-by-committee approach, and a Vezina-candidate season from Marc-André Fleury all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
But when Vegas knocked out the Jets in the Conference Finals, everything began to disintegrate in Winnipeg. Within the year, they lost their two best defencemen, and they haven't even made the semifinals since. When they missed the playoffs last year, it seemed like the end of an era. But new coach Rick Bowness seemed to have at least temporarily re-animated the corpse of the Winnipeg Jets and they snuck into the postseason in the last week of the season.
That's not to say things haven't gone a little bit haywire in Vegas either. Multiple postseason flame-outs, a whole new set of franchise players (hello, Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, and Alex Pietrangelo), and an injury-marred hiccup season last year totally recontextualize this new version of contention in Vegas. The team finished with the best record in the Western Conference, but it seems like they nonetheless have a lot to prove before fans will take them truly seriously as a true Cup contender.
My playoff previews are stats-based, going off of both macro- and micro-level statistics gathered by TopDownHockey and AllThreeZones respectively. This allows us to look not only at high-level results (like goals, shots, and expected goals) but also the stylistic process that creates them (like passes, shot types, and transition play) to get a better sense of how the teams match up. Instead of comparing offence to offence and defence to defence, I'll be breaking down the offence vs. defence matchups.
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