Golden Knights vs. Jets: Three questions facing each team

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Golden Knights

1. Can Marc-Andre Fleury keep this up? After posting a .981 even strength save percentage in the first round, Fleury was a measly .941 against the San Jose Sharks, boosting by a pair of shutouts in Games 1 and 6. The Los Angeles Kings and Sharks did a good job of getting pucks through to Fleury, but the Golden Knights’ shot suppression improved and they’ve allowed an average of 23.9 shots at 5-on-5.

2. Can their even strength scoring improve if Fleury falters? When you have Fleury playing like he has, you can rely on those tight, low-scoring games to get you by in the postseason. But the Winnipeg Jets bring a ferocious offense into the conference finals. Tied for the most goals per game in the playoffs (3.58), it will take another strong defensive play for Vegas to slow the Jets’ offense. The Golden Knights have only averaged 2.9 goals per game through 10 games with 19 of their 29 goals coming at even strength. It’s easy to fall behind against Winnipeg, and they can’t rely on Fleury posting obscene numbers every night.

3. Will Vegas be able to prevent the Jets getting to the net? Two images tell the story. The first is how unsuccessful the Sharks were at getting in close on Fleury:

Now we have what the Jets did against the Predators:

(Via NaturalStat Trick)

San Jose managed just four even strength goals around the net while Winnipeg basically bought real estate in front of Pekka Rinna. There are enough big bodies on the Jets roster that they’ll be able to create and find space in and around Fleury’s net. That could cause Vegas plenty of trouble.

Jets

1. How effective will Mark Scheifele be against William Karlsson? “Wild Bill” had a year that could have ended with a seat at the Selke Trophy party, but he was not named one of the finalists. His 43 regular season goals earned him some love, but his two-way game was certainly overlooked. He’ll likely have the big challenge of slowing Scheifele, who leads all players with 11 goals.

2. Will the penalty kill step up? Fortunately for the Jets’ shorthanded unit, Vegas’ power play has only been okay through two rounds, clicking at 17.5 percent. But Winnipeg’s penalty kill hasn’t been much to write home about with a 74.2 percent success rate. The Golden Knights are already showing a need to produce on power play scoring with 7 of their 29 goals coming with the extra man. Averaging only 2.9 goals per game, if Vegas can’t get their power play going, that will cause them plenty of issues in this series.

3. Can depth carry them through? Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny led the Jets offensively in the second round, but contributions also came through from Brandon Tanev (three goals), Kyle Connor (six points) and Nikolaj Ehlers (four assists), among others. Ten different forwards recorded a point and seven scored a goal against the Predators. Vegas may not have enough to stop the waves coming over the boards that Paul Maurice has at his disposal. Also keep in mind that Patrik Laine has one goal in his last 10 games. He’s due for a breakthrough.

MORE:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.