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Recovering From Tough Periods Becoming VGKs M.O.

(Photo Credit: Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

Since arriving in the bubble in Edmonton the Golden Knights have played in 36 regulation periods. They’ve allowed two or more goals in nine of them including three separate occasions to both the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks.

The response to those periods has been outstanding and is undoubtedly one of the largest factors in why Vegas is one win away from punching their ticket to the Western Conference Final.

When we have a tough period, when we have a 10-minute stretch where we’re in the box a lot, when we get back in (to the locker room) our guys aren’t happy with our performance and that shows, that shows in a positive way. -Nate Schmidt

In the period immediately following, the Golden Knights have outscored opponents 17-3. They’ve shut the opposing team out in six of the nine and have not allowed multiple goals in consecutive periods even once.

They’ve used these response periods to overcome deficits to win games on four different occasions, including last night.

Digging deeper, the Golden Knights have outshot teams in the period after allowing two goals 122-75. That’s a 47 shot difference and a 62% shot share. The shot attempt numbers are even more staggering. Vegas leads 234-129 in shot attempts in the following period, a 105 shot advantage, or nearly 12 shots per period!

But more than stats, it’s been the style of play.

Our group is really good at recognizing when we’re not getting everyone involved in the game. You look at how teams win and you’ve got to find ways some nights. You have to be able to find a way to get your guys amped up and get going. -Schmidt

If it’s penalty trouble, they cut back on the penalties. If they are turning the puck over too much, they ramp up the puck management. If they are allowing too many shots, they turn on the shot suppression machine. Or if like last night, it’s a combination of all of them, they just flat out flip the script and dominate the following 20 minutes.

From the start of the 3rd period, we were going to roll our lines over, try and keep up with us. That’s kind of the idea that our guys wanted. If you roll us over, roll us over, roll us over, it’s hard to play against. -Schmidt

Obviously, it would be best if the Golden Knights could go through games without having “off” periods. But, this is the real world, even though it’s trapped in a bubble, so when they inevitably happen, responding to them is the next best thing and the Golden Knights have passed that test with flying colors.

Golden Knights And Canucks Have Both Beaten Themselves So Far, Not The Other Way Around

The Golden Knights played well in Game 1. They didn’t in Game 2. The same can be said, but in reverse, for the Canucks.

In real-time last night, the game felt like a complete mess for Vegas. The neutral zone seemed wide open, the forechecking was much lighter than in Game 1, and the Golden Knights appeared to be struggling to get out of their own zone every time the puck was in it.

I took the time to go back over and watch both games with a keen eye looking for differences between mental or physical errors and tactical advantages to try and confirm what I saw live. I expected to find one game that showed Vegas imposing their style and the other game Vancouver doing it. That’s not what happened.

Instead, what I saw was a rash of errors by both teams. For the Golden Knights in Game 2, it was mostly errors that led directly to goals. For the Canucks, it was a bit of a slower burn as their mistakes piled up leading to constant pressure by the Golden Knights.

Once Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb blew a coverage in their own end leading to a 2-on-0 in front of Robin Lehner. Another time William Karlsson was caught puck watching and Elias Pettersson was given a Grade A chance that he scored. And another Shea Theodore was simply outskated in the neutral zone, which almost never happens, and it wound up placing Alec Martinez in a position where he had to cover two high-end players right around the goal mouth.

The Canucks did not impose their will on the Golden Knights in Game 2 as much as the Golden Knights shot themselves in the foot.

I thought we could have tied it up in the 2nd or at the very least been down 2-1 but we make a mental mistake on a faceoff play and we’re down 3-1 and have nothing to show for the work you put in to get back in the game. -DeBoer

On the other side, Game 1 was a lot of the same from the Canucks. They struggled to move the puck out of their own end with precision. They bobbled passes that a playoff team normally wouldn’t. And in many cases, plays that NHL players normally make in tight situations were not being made.

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Game 1 Allowed DeBoer To Balance Time On Ice, Setting VGK Up For The Future

When a team is in complete control of a game like the Golden Knights were Sunday, it allows a coach to balance his players’ minutes a bit more evenly.

It was a luxury coach Pete DeBoer was given when his team held a multiple-goal lead for most of Game 1. He wasn’t forced to utilize Theodore for 28 minutes like he had in the past with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. DeBoer also balanced his forwards, using player’s like Ryan Reaves and William Carrier more than their season average. In fact, Reaves played the third-most minutes he had all season and hit the ice more than Max Pacioretty in Game 1.

Take a look at how DeBoer was able to roll his guys out in a dominant Game 1 compared to the rest of the playoffs and regular season.

Shea Theodore
Game 1: 19:40 TOI
Season Average: 22:14 TOI
Postseason Average: 22:57 TOI

Mark Stone
Game 1: 16:00 TOI
Season Average: 19:25 TOI
Postseason Average: 18:44 TOI

William Karlsson
Game 1: 16:21 TOI
Season Average: 18:52 TOI
Postseason Average: 19:13 TOI

Max Pacioretty
Game 1: 14:38 TOI
Season Average: 17:55 TOI
Postseason Average: 16:42 TOI

Ryan Reaves
Game 1: 14:50 TOI
Season Average: 10:09 TOI
Postseason Average: 10:04 TOI

Thanks to Antoine Roussel, Reaves was needed more than normal but it wasn’t just “to keep the flies off the honey.” Extra minutes for Reaves and Carrier equates to less postseason wear and tear on the top-six. Being that it was Game 1, DeBoer should have some well-rested stars for tonight’s matchup.

Going forward, if the Golden Knights and Canucks go deep in their second round series, or games go into overtime, DeBoer should have a bench full of fresh legs. Hopefully, the Golden Knights won’t be forced into a four or five overtime period game, but if they do, the advantage goes to the team that spread their minutes out in earlier games.

If the Golden Knights are able to perform as they did in Game 1, I’d expect DeBoer to deploy the same strategy again tonight. Any situation that has Vegas up by multiple goals, the bottom six, and the fourth line specifically, should see more ice time. But chances are the Canucks will permit that by sending Roussel on the ice to create his typical havoc.

Remember, Reilly Smith said this about Roussel and his antics.

So, I’m assuming if Roussel is out there mucking it up, DeBoer will be able to rest his stars again. If only Vancouver’s pest knew how to keep flies off the honey.

It Was Quite The Game 1, But It’s Still Just Game 1

The Golden Knights came out in Game 1 of Round 2 and threw a haymaker at the Vancouver Canucks. It landed right on the chin and knocked the last remaining Canadian team in the playoffs right on their backside.

But unlike the Golden Knights, who have yet to experience any adversity (on the ice) in these playoffs, the young Canucks have been here before. In the Qualifying Round, they were pushed around in Game 1 by the Minnesota Wild, a game they lost 3-0 and trailed for 57 minutes. Then, after taking a 2-0 series lead against the Blues they dropped consecutive games and then fell behind 3-1 in the pivotal Game 5. In both cases, they got up off the mat and imposed their will on each opponent, closing out each series a game early.

This was probably our worst game so far. We’ve talked to our group a lot over the season and we’ll talk to them again. I’ve got a lot of belief in our group and that hasn’t changed. Whenever we’ve challenged them or asked them to respond they’ve always given an effort. It’s one game, we’ll meet with our group tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go for the next game. -Travis Green, VAN head coach

Luckily, the Golden Knights have some history to lean on to remind them that you can’t win a series in Game 1.

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VGK Shot Suppression Machine Must Come Alive In Round Two

(Photo Credit: Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

When this version of the Golden Knights are at their best, they have the ability to completely take over games. Most of the limelight when this happens goes to the offense as they continue to pepper goalies with shots, but the real reason why there are extended periods of living in the offensive zone is the way they defend.

Over the course of the five-game series against the Blackhawks, the Golden Knights held Chicago without a shot for a five minute stretch on 18 separate occasions. The longest was a 10:33 stretch in Game 1, while the most influential was the 6:31 run in OT of Game 2. In Game 5, Chicago went without a shot for more than five minutes five different times.

I think if you look at Chicago they make a lot of their offense off the rush so if you can kind of limit their transition, put pucks in good places, and start to wear them down that’s when you’ll have success. -Mark Stone

The Golden Knights shot suppression machine works in multiple layers. It starts in the neutral zone.

They do a lot of deep curls and a lot of different routes in the neutral zone and I think we were able to try to jam things up. -Alec Martinez

It’s true against any team, but especially against Chicago, the best way to stymie offense is to slow down entries. When teams enter the offensive zone with speed and control of the puck, it’s nearly impossible to keep them from generating at least one shot. So, when Vegas is playing well, the neutral zone becomes a minefield of forwards backchecking and defensemen standing up at the blue line. This forces the opposing team to either try to make a fancy stick handling play through traffic or dump the puck in and chase.

That leads to the next layer of defending, which is keeping the puck out of the dangerous areas.

In our own end we were quick to contact to take away their time and space. That was something that we focused on from the get-go, just playing strong defensive hockey and we knew we would get chances the other way. -Martinez

Next, it’s about breaking out of the defensive zone. Proper puck management including quick, short passes leads to simple, easy, fast exits of the zone, meaning the offensive team is headed out of the zone as quickly as they came in. Here’s an example of that entire process to show how quickly it can take place when the Golden Knights are going well.

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Sweeps Are Nice, But Plenty Of Teams Have Won The Cup Without Them

The Golden Knights looked like they were on their way to a quick, easy series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Even without playing their best, Vegas was finding ways to win and clearly displaying they are the better team. Last night, they couldn’t get the job done, missing out on the series sweep and all the benefits that come with it.

It’s widely believed that in the NHL playoffs, the fewer games you have to play, the better your chances of winning the Cup. But, all of the previous four Stanley Cup winners failed to sweep a series in the playoffs, and 11 of the previous 20 winners couldn’t win a series in four as well.

Cup Winners Without a Postseason Sweep

2002 Detroit Red Wings
2003 NJ Devils
2006 Carolina Hurricanes
2007 Anaheim Ducks
2013 Chicago Blackhawks
2014 LA Kings
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins
2017 Pittsburgh Penguins
2018 Washington Capitals
2019 St. Louis Blues

Obviously, extra rest allows an ailing team like Vegas to get healthier. Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Tomas Nosek have all missed time in Vegas’ first round series, so time off would be beneficial. A short series also gives the coaching staff more time to prepare for the next opponent. And while there’s no arguing against these added benefits, teams have proven in the past they are far from prerequisites on the quest to win 16 playoff games.

In 2018-19 the Golden Knights began their first postseason by sweeping the LA Kings. After winning in four straight, Vegas had to wait nine days until their next series. Then, after shutting down the Sharks in six, the Golden Knights sat for six days before facing Winnipeg in the Western Conference finals. After beating the Jets in five, the Golden Knights waited an additional eight days before the Stanley Cup finals began. In total, Vegas had a total of 23 days off in between series, and we know how that worked out for them.

Even without the sweep, Vegas can set themselves up for significant time off. Clinching a series in five or even six games can grants a club some extra healing time, practices, and rest. A little adversity in a series can quietly help a team’s focus as well. That’s what I suspect will happen after last night’s Game 4 loss.

Expect the Golden Knights to be at their best in Game 5, because series sweeps are overrated anyway.

Room For Improvement, But There’s Nothing Wrong With 3-0

The Golden Knights are up 3-0 in their first round series with a chance to earn their 4th series win in franchise history later today. They’ve outscored the Blackhawks 10 to 5, have scored first in every game, and haven’t trailed in the series.

All in all, life is good for the Golden Knights, but like any team with aspirations of winning the Cup, despite winning games they know they can be better.

You can ask our group, we lit into em pretty good after last game about some of our play through the neutral zone and some of our puck decisions. -DeBoer

That was after Game 2, he had similar messages following Games 1 and 3.

Yeah there’s areas we need to improve on. I didn’t like us through the neutral zone. I thought we didn’t have good support and we didn’t play fast enough and we turned pucks over. So that’s something we can clean up. I thought as the game it got better. -DeBoer after Game 1

I didn’t mind our start out thought we had a pretty good first 10 minutes but then we took some penalties. It’s the first game we really got in some penalty trouble I think we took three and really lost any momentum we might have started to build. -DeBoer after Game 3

We didn’t handle the rush real well, they gapped us out in some situations. It hasn’t been a problem finding ways to improve our game and our guys want that. -DeBoer after Game 2

Aside from the penalty issues that cropped up in Game 3, the concern has mostly been with their play through the neutral zone. In this series, Chicago’s best chance to create dangerous chances is off the rush. When they gain possession of the puck, they come through the neutral zone with speed and create chances quickly. Vegas has fed into that at times by turning the puck over, having poor gaps against the Chicago rush, and not supporting the puck as they transition from defense to offense.

The Hawks have scored multiple goals that way but have also been kept out on many Grade A chances by both Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. DeBoer has been harping on these issues not only to help the Golden Knights continue to beat Chicago, but they’ll need to clean up those areas no matter which of the much better teams they may face in the next round.

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Playoff Alec Martinez As Advertised In Game 1

When the Golden Knights acquired Alec Martinez, the first line of every article about him included his postseason successes. Prior to arriving in Vegas, he’d won two Stanley Cups, played in 64 playoff games over six different seasons, and scored game-winning goals to clinch both the 2014 Western Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s always been about the playoffs with Martinez, and just one game into the actual playoffs as a Golden Knight, it’s already evident why.

Martinez logged 20:58 of ice time, the most of any Golden Knight, and was on the ice for three Vegas goals without conceding any. He added one assist, had two hits, was responsible for two scoring chances, and had four shot attempts. His main contribution, as advertised though, was his shot-blocking.

I thought (Alec) was great. Particularly some big blocked shots on our penalty kill. He’s just so solid. You can put him out in any situation. He’s a versatile guy. He’s been a real good addition for our group. -Pete DeBoer

Martinez blocked four shots including one big one on a dangerous chance on the penalty kill.

Of the team leading 20:58, he played two minutes on the penalty kill, 1:13 on the power play, and had a 173 second shift late in the 2nd period of a one-goal game. Plus, nearly nine minutes of his ice-time came in the 2nd period, when the game was being decided.

Martinez also spent the majority of his night (more than 11 minutes) sharing the ice with the Blackhawks’ most dangerous offensive line of Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach, and Alex DeBrincat. At even-strength, the Golden Knights allowed just five shot attempts, two shots on goal, and zero high-danger scoring chances with Martinez on the ice vs the Hawks 2nd line. He and Theodore posted a 70% Corsi against the high-skilled line and held them to a dismal 0.09 expected goals.

All in all, Game 1 was everything the Golden Knights could have hoped for when they were in the market for a defenseman at the deadline, even if the price was steep.

How The Golden Knights Broke Open The Blackhawks In Game 1

The early going of any series is going to come with what is commonly referred to as a “feeling out process.” Teams usually play pretty close to the vest, not revealing their entire game plan for the series and it tends to lead to slow-moving hockey. It doesn’t always go that way, but there’s no better way to characterize the opening frame of Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Blackhawks.

Not only did neither team score in the 1st, there weren’t even many great chances. Between the two teams, there was a total of five-shot attempts from inside the “house” in the entire 1st period. Most chances came from far away and both teams did well to thwart the opposing team’s attack.

I thought they played hard and were pretty hard defensively. You could tell they were trying not to give up much either. -Pete DeBoer

As the game went on though, the Golden Knights took what was already a slow game and made it even slower. In the 1st period, they were looking to strike quickly when in the offensive zone, and with Chicago’s commitment to defend it led to short offensive possessions. In the 2nd, that started to change and the game did with it.

I think we did a better job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the 2nd period and on. They’re a rush team, so we don’t want to get into a track meet with them. Once we can get them to stop in the d-zone we can control the game a little bit more. It all came from offensive zone time and holding on to the puck behind the net. -Reilly Smith

Instead of playing the brand of fast transition hockey that helped carry the 2017-18 Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, these Golden Knights slowed the game down, controlling the puck with more purpose, and methodically broke down the Chicago defense.

All four Vegas lines followed the same pattern as the game went on, defaulting to more of a cycle game than we’re used to seeing. Where Chicago’s defense preferred to collapse into the dangerous ice in the 1st period, the controlled offense from the Golden Knights forced them to open up in the 2nd and 3rd. Playing from under the goal line drug Blackhawks defensemen to the puck opening up shot lanes from the point and half-wall.

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Where, When, And How The Blackhawks Scored And Conceded Against Edmonton

Chicago is a team with a mix of high skill, youth, and hard-working players. They’re most known for the dazzling hands of Patrick Kane and the professionalism of Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, but it’s the work rate from players like Matthew Highmore, Brendan Saad, Olli Maatta and others that helped them win the series against the Oilers.

Chicago won the series in four games while outscoring the Oilers by just one goal, 16-15. The 1st period accounted for 14 of the 31 total goals including a whopping nine from the Hawks.

I went back and watched every goal scored in the Blackhawks’ series against the Oilers to try and get a feel for how they scored their goals and what went wrong when they allowed them. Here’s what I found.

How Chicago scored

  • They liked to play the puck out to the point and set up multiple players in front of the goal to tip. The tips usually came from right around the edge of the faceoff circle and rarely did the Oilers have a defenseman covering the tipper.
  • Chicago’s forecheck was strong along the walls creating turnovers and opening up extra offensive chances. After forcing the turnover, Chicago looked immediately to make the decisive pass to set up the goal.
  • They took advantage of many defensive lapses from the Oilers, especially puck watching. They caught Edmonton with passes to wide-open players for one-timer goals on multiple occasions in the series.

How Chicago conceded

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