Take five: Five takeaways from Game 1 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

The Dallas Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights, 1-0, on Sunday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference Final matchup as the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs roll on at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

That bland lede encapsulates everything about Game 1 of the series– a lot happened and nothing happened.

Physics were defied as Shea Theodore’s stick spontaneously combusted.

John Klingberg scored the only goal, which also happened to be the game-winning goal for Dallas, while Vegas started Marc-Andre Fleury in net over Robin Lehner.

But enough about the game itself, here’s five takeaways for the next game (Game 2 is Tuesday night at 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS depending on where you live), as well as the series as a whole.

1. Will Vegas get their offense going efficiently, if at all?

The Golden Knights outshot the Vancouver Canucks, 36-14, in Game 7 of their Second Round series and won, 3-0, but weren’t able to score a goal on Thatcher Demko until the third period– then added two empty net goals to seal the deal.

Vegas outshot Vancouver, 48-23, in their, 4-0, loss to the Canucks in Game 6 and the Golden Knights outshot the Canucks, 43-17, despite losing, 2-1, in Game 5 of their Second Round series.

Sunday night against the Stars in Game 1, shots on goal were even, 25-25.

So on nights when Vegas is badly outshooting their opponent, they can’t score, but on nights when they’re undershooting their quota, they… also can’t score.

All said, that’s four goals for in Vegas’ last four games and seven goals against in that span. Generally speaking, you want to score more goals than your opponent to win a game, let alone a series.

2. Will we see more Marc-Andre Fleury?

The Golden Knights started Malcolm Subban in net against the Stars in their two regular season matchups and went 1-1-0 before the pandemic canceled the rest of the regular season.

Subban made 24 saves on 28 shots against on Nov. 25th in a, 4-2, loss to the Stars, then turned aside 28 shots on 30 shots faced in a, 3-2, overtime win on Dec. 13th.

At the other end of the rink, Ben Bishop was in the crease for Dallas in both games.

Bishop entered Game 1 with a 5.43 goals against average and an .844 save percentage in three games (1-2) this postseason while battling an injury, so naturally Anton Khudobin continued to tend to the crease as the Stars’ starter.

Fleury got the nod for the Golden Knights on Sunday and made 24 saves on 25 shots faced for a .960 SV%– his second best game this postseason since he posted 26 saves on 27 shots faced (.963 SV%) against the Chicago Blackhawks in the First Round on Aug. 15th.

Before questioning Vegas head coach, Peter DeBoer’s decision making to shelve his hot goaltender this postseason– Robin Lehner– for a game and start Fleury, well, consider this– Fleury is historically better against Dallas.

Nothing about these playoffs feels exactly like the postseason everyone’s used to and if we’re going off of the “every postseason is really just a brand new season– throw out everything from the regular season you just played (five months before the bubble)” theory then you could make an argument in DeBoer’s favor, since Fleury carries a career 11-5-0 record against the Stars in 16 regular season matchups with a 2.12 GAA and a .926 SV%, as well as 34 goals allowed in that span.

Lehner is 2-5-2 in 10 career games against Dallas with a 3.43 GAA, an .899 SV% and 25 goals allowed in that span.

Regardless of the strength of the defense in front of them on prior teams, DeBoer’s perspective is simple– start Fleury over Lehner against the Stars since Dallas has a track record for knowing how to score on Lehner.

Stranger things have happened.

3. Will Tyler Seguin… score?

In 16 games this postseason, the five-time 30 goal-scorer and one-time 40-goal scorer has a whooping two goals for the Stars.

That’s… not ideal.

Seguin has made fewer postseason appearances with Dallas (36 games) than he had with the Boston Bruins (42 games), but he’s amassed 21 points in his Stanley Cup Playoffs career with the Stars (.583 points per game), which is more than his 18 points in a Bruins sweater in the postseason (.429 points per game).

While Jamie Benn isn’t leading his team in scoring, he contributed an assist on Klingberg’s goal in Game 1 and has amassed 5-9–14 totals in 17 appearances this postseason.

Benn has twice the amount of points (14) more than Seguin (seven) in the 2020 postseason.

If Seguin can’t score the clutch goals in the playoffs for the Stars, at least Miro Heiskanen (5-16–21 totals in 17 games), Denis Gurianov (8-7–15 totals in 17 games) and Joe Pavelski (8-4–12 totals in 17 games) have found a way to makeup for a serious lack of offense from Dallas’ superstar.

To his credit, Seguin was “unfit to play” in one game this postseason, which could indicate an injury has ailed his performance, but there might be trouble afoot for Dallas’ offense if any of the aforementioned team points leaders miss any action.

4. The same goes for William Karlsson…

William Karlsson has three goals and five assists (eight points) in 16 games this postseason for Vegas.

Shea Theodore leads all Golden Knights players with 6-10–16 totals in 16 games, while Alex Tuch leads the Golden Knights in goals scored with eight in 16 games.

A big part of their inaugural season success– Karlsson– has been relatively quiet in the bubble.

In 2017-18, he had 43 goals and 35 assists (78 points) in 82 games with the Golden Knights.

Last season, he had 24-32–56 totals in 82 games, which, while not in the 40-goal range, nor 70-point range, is still acceptable from a top-six forward.

This season, Karlsson missed eight games due to injury and had 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 63 games.

He’s become more of a playmaker in his days with Vegas– what with the acquisitions of Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone via trades, as well as Paul Stastny via free agency in the last couple of seasons– but his clutch goal-scoring touch seems out of sync thus far this postseason.

The good news for Karlsson, however, is that the Golden Knights’ offense is more spread out– built around goals from anyone– at anytime– from anywhere.

So if playmaking is all he does, while notching assist after assist, then they’ll be just fine.

5. Can Anton Khudobin really pull this off?

Khudobin’s spectacular 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff run has culminated in his first career postseason shutout in Game 1 against Vegas– the second first career playoff shutout in as many days by a goaltender aged 34 or older.

His 9-5 record in 15 games played this postseason is backed up by a 2.74 GAA and a .914 SV% (with one shutout to go alongside those stats now).

That 2.74 GAA is not Conn Smythe Trophy worthy goaltending, but does it really reflect the kind of run Khudobin’s been on?

In his 15 appearances this postseason, Khudobin’s faced 30 or more shots eight times– with the most he’s faced being 44 shots against in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in the Second Round, in which the Stars won, 5-4, in overtime.

In fact, Colorado gave Khudobin the most problems with half of those 30 or more shots faced games coming against the Avalanche.

Two of those four games where he faced 30 or more shots against were losses.

Interestingly enough, he also dropped a game against the Avs in the Round Robin– in which Colorado fired 40 shots against the Dallas netminder.

Khudobin’s allowed four or more goals in half of the games that he’s faced 30 or more shots on net, but he’s faced fewer than 30 shots in seven games this postseason.

Has he been challenged enough on a night-to-night basis such that he can settle into some semblance of a routine?

Though Dallas has quelled their opponent’s offense about half the time this postseason, the Stars’ defense needs to elevate their game to help ease the load against their netminder to prevent what almost happened against Colorado– a series loss.

Khudobin’s not the issue, but he is playing with fire– whether on fire (like, on a hot streak) or getting flamed by his opponent thanks to his teammates having a breakdown in coverage.