A Vegas style breakdown of the Jets vs. Golden Knights playoff matchup

Winnipeg Jets (Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports)
Winnipeg Jets (Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports) /

Vegas baby, Vegas.

“Swingers” references aside, I’ve learned that the allure of Las Vegas far exceeds its actual value. That idiom holds true for both its’ hockey team and the city itself.

Beginning a round 1 breakdown of the playoff matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and the Las Vegas Golden Knights with an overt swipe at the opponent seems like an unnecessary salvo. I don’t care. Since defeating the Jets in the 2018 Western Conference final, I have harbored a healthy and deep-seeded resentment for the Golden Knights.

Las Vegas is everything Winnipeg is not. It’s flashy, opulent, garish, and altogether style over substance. A far cry from the utilitarian and pragmatic tundra of the North. What happens in Winnipeg, stays in Winnipeg – only because ‘it’ likely has nowhere else to go.

However, there are aspects of Las Vegas that are unique to any city in North America. It is a unicorn. Using that fact as our north star, here is a breakdown of the Jets’ matchup against the mecca of sin, framed through the anomalies of Las Vegas:

1.       Smoking indoors – You are hard-pressed to find a region in North America that openly encourages smoking indoors, but that is Las Vegas. For most, that prospect alone is offensive, which leads us to our first analysis – offensive prowess.

The Jets’ second-half offensive struggles were well documented, but the totals for the 2022-23 season (courtesy of @GoldenJet204) are as follows:

Jets’ offence: Goals per game 3.0 (21); PP: 19.3 (22); Faceoff %: 48.9 (21); Shooting %: 9.9 (18).

VGK offence: Goals per game: 3.26 (14); PP: 20.5 (18); Faceoff %: 52.2 (7); Shooting %: 10.3 (12).

A deeper look reveals that the teams’ Expected Goals and Corsi metrics are very similar:

In fact (again 5v5), the Jets sit 11th (51.57%) in Corsi, and 14th (2.7) in Expected Goals/60, whereas Vegas sits 22nd (48.15%) and 17th (2.66) respectively. Advantage Winnipeg.

It comes as no surprise that Winnipeg’s offence is comparatively “top-heavy”. Connor, Morrissey and Scheifele all outscored Vegas’ top point-getter, Jack Eichel. Yet Vegas had 8 skaters over 40 points and Winnipeg just 6.

Reductive analysis I know, but the Winnipeg Jets have more offensive talent on paper. How that talent is maximized is a different story, but on talent alone, I am giving Winnipeg the nod.

2.       Promiscuity – People don’t go to Las Vegas for art exhibits and symphony gala’s – they go to get their proverbial ‘freak’ on. As such, it is always important to use protection. Speaking of protection, let’s have a look at the goaltending.

The Knight’s goaltending situation is an ever-evolving quagmire of rotational back-ups and injuries. They traded for Jonathan Quick, who has won 4 of 5, but they started the season with a rotation of Logan Thompson (injured) and Adin Hill (also injured). It looks like Quick and Winnipeg Jet alum Laurent Brossoit will start the series as the Vegas netminders.

I will forego the statistical analysis and simply reference Hellebuyck’s performance in the Jets’ playoff-clinching performance against the Wild to indicate – advantage Winnipeg.

3.       Guns – If you’ve ever been to Vegas, one of the main attractions is to strap on a weapon intended for military combat, and drunkenly spray bullets at paper targets. Second Amendment discussions aside, this ‘agro’ activity is clouded in the auspices of defending oneself in the event of an attack. You guessed it – let’s breakdown the defense:

Jets defense: Goals against/game: 2.73 (10); PK: 82.4 (6)

VGK defense: Goals against/game: 2.77 (11); PK: 77 (19)

Vegas is decidedly better at 5v5 ‘Zone Entry Defense’ as shown here:

Anecdotally, ‘Zone Entry Defense’ has a strong correlation to playoff seeding and playoff success and is an area where Winnipeg ranks last as compared to all the other playoff teams.

The Jets obviously roster the best ‘offensive-defenseman’ in Josh Morrissey, and outside of the defensively disastrous Morrissey-Pionk combo –  the Jets’ defensive pairings have very similar ‘xG Against Per 60’ numbers than Vegas stalwarts Martinez, Pietrangelo, and Hague.

Overall, the teams ‘Expected Goals Against’ and ‘High Danger Shots Against’ are almost identical, with no real advantage to either team. The Jets’ penalty-kill is decidedly better, but given the Jets’ Zone Entry Defense deficiencies, I will give the slight nod here to Las Vegas.

4.       Entertainment – Russell Crowe would like to know who is entertained, and which team has the home crowd advantage. According to True North Entertainment, Winnipeg Jets fans are an apathetic and unsupportive bunch of layabouts, who need to amp up their support for Manitoba’s favorite team. Hyperbole aside, there is no better playoff atmosphere than the Winnipeg Jets Whiteout.

Having attended a Jets game in Las Vegas, I can say that while the pomp and circumstance are unparalleled (maybe take some notes TNE), the Vegas crowd is tantamount to NASCAR fans watching shiny objects circle around an oblong surface.  Watching the game and understanding the game are two very different things. Advantage Winnipeg.

How do the Winnipeg Jets stack up against the Golden Knights?

In all, the Winnipeg Jets caught a break avoiding the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. This team matches up well against Las Vegas, and if current trends continue, this should be a very close matchup. Moneypuck’s Power Rankings have these teams back-to-back.

Vegas dominated the season series, winning all 3 games. The Jets’ two losses to Vegas in October were notably poor performances, and Hellebuyck also had uncharacteristically erratic games in all but one of their matchups. I am not discarding the season series entirely, but rather just heavily discounting it.

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As noncommittal as it sounds, I give the Jets 50/50 odds in this series. The Jets will need to play their best to win, but this Vegas team is unquestionably beatable. Remember, what happens in Vegas – may define the Winnipeg Jets organization for years to come. That slogan is far less catchy than the venerated Vegas slogan – but that’s Winnipeg.