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New Rule Could Affect Golden Knights Challenge Strategy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Following the disaster that was the officiating in the 2019 playoffs, the NHL has expanded their challenge system to include a third category beyond goalie interference and offside.

Coach’s Challenge of goal calls on the ice that follow plays in the Offensive Zone that should have resulted in a play stoppage, but did not. This change will allow Challenges of plays that may involve pucks that hit the spectator netting, pucks that are high-sticked to a teammate in the offensive zone, pucks that have gone out of play but are subsequently touched in the offensive zone and hand passes that precede without a play stoppage and ultimately conclude in the scoring of a goal. -NHL Public Relations

The addition of the new challenge also changed the rules on the penalty for incorrect challenges. Previously, a failed goalie interference challenge would result in the loss of a timeout and a failed offside challenge would result in a 2-minute delay of game penalty.

Now, all three challenges are subject to the minor penalty if they are unsuccessful. Thus, timeouts now return to being just timeouts, and teams are never ineligible to challenge a play. However, the penalty gets stiffer with multiple failed challenges.

Teams will be permitted to exercise a Coach’s Challenge at any time, but with escalating “consequences” for unsuccessful Challenges. The consequences of unsuccessful Coach’s Challenges will be made consistent across all three Categories of Coach’s Challenges: (1) minor penalty for Delaying the Game on a Club’s first unsuccessful Coach’s Challenge; and (2) double minor penalty for Delaying the Game for each additional Coach’s Challenge that is unsuccessful. -NHL Public Relations

That brings us to the Golden Knights, who do not exactly have a sterling record challenging goals.

Gerard Gallant has initiated 24 goalie interference challenges as head coach of the Golden Knights. He’s been successful in just three. He went 2 for 13 last year and 1 for 11 in 2017-18.

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How Important Were Faceoffs To The 2018-19 Golden Knights?

The importance of winning the faceoff battle has been a three-year reoccurring argument here at SinBin.vegas. In my opinion, it’s all about possession. When a center wins a draw his team has immediate control and should safely get the puck out of their zone. Or create an offensive push towards the opponent’s direction. Whoever wins the possession battle, should dictate the game.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Faceoffs are probably one of the most underrated stats in this league. If you can start off with the puck, your much better off. And you’ll have better scoring chances. – Nate Schmidt

On the other side of the discussion is Europa Ken.

He’s not concerned with a lost draw if Vegas’ forecheck, shooting percentage, and rebound control are positively effective. For the most I agree, but remember a forechecking attack begins with the puck, and there’s a good chance it was possessed by a winning faceoff.

2018-19 Golden Knights Faceoff Percentage Breakdown

  • Record when winning 51% or more Faceoffs: (20-11-2)
  • Record when losing 51% or more Faceoffs: (14-16-3)
  • Record when Faceoff % is 50/50: (9-5-2)

While it’s clear the Golden Knights have a better record when they win more faceoffs, the formula isn’t as simple as you’d think. At first glance the numbers support my argument, but looking deeper, the higher the FO% didn’t guarantee a Vegas victory. In five separate games, Golden Knights’ centers won 60% or more from the dot. Their record was (1-4). Even furthering the madness, Vegas was (2-2) in games they lost more than 60% of draws.

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Expect More Success Based On Expected Goals

Hockey can be a cruel sport. Sometimes a team dominates the game but a bounce here or there costs them a win. Other times a team can be getting smoked but their goalie stands on his head and keeps him in it.

It’s almost astounding how often in the game of hockey that the scoreboard and the stat sheet doesn’t match up. Whether you are looking at shots, Corsi, Fenwick, chances, PDO or anything else, from game to game, stats lie.

It’s why many times after losses Gerard Gallant steps to the podium and says something like “we played well but…” or “if we keep playing like that…” sending a positive message despite his team dropping the game.

Over the course of 60 minutes, the better team loses a lot. Over the course of seven games, it happens from time to time. Over the course of a season, or even multiple seasons, stats usually don’t lie.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the biggest challenges that #NotAMajor has thrown the Golden Knights, and its fans, is an inability to fairly compare the two teams from Year 1 to Year 2. While the 17-18 Golden Knights went to the Cup Final and nearly completed the fairy tale, there’s a strong argument that the 18-19 team was better. But, since they were bounced in the first round it’s tricky to compare the teams.

There’s a fairly new stat bouncing around the hockey world called “expected goals” which could help not only sort out the difference between the first two teams, but also predict the future of the 2019-20 team. What expected goals calculates is how often a team should have scored compared to how often they actually did. It’s based on shot location compared to the league average. The closer the shot to the net, the better chance it has to go in.

The stat is measured in “expected goals for,” “expected goals against,” and then a difference is calculated based on the actual numbers that were scored and allowed.

 17-1818-19Difference
Goals Scored175173-2
Goals Allowed157162+5
Expected Goals182.3201.218.9
Expected Goals Against175.0171.93.1
exDIFF+11-18-29

As you can see, the Year 2 Golden Knights should have scored much more, but didn’t.

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Paul Stastny Keeping Up With Father’s Legacy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Golden Knights center Paul Stastny’s father Peter Stastny retired from the NHL when he was 38-years-old. Paul is five years away from reaching that achievement. The older Stastny was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1998 after registering 1,239 points (450 goals, 789 assists) for the Nordiques, Devils and Blues. In his outstanding career, Peter Stastny averaged 1.27 points per game spanning over 15 seasons, which is seventh best in NHL history.

The upcoming 2019-2020 NHL season, will be Stastny’s 13th, totaling 874 games played. He now stands 103 contests away from his father’s 977 games played. Clearly both have/had the skill, strength and stamina to be effective for that many games. At the age of 33, both Stastny’s averaged high minutes and added close to a point a game. The Golden Knights center had his best points per game average in five seasons, adding .80 points per game. He led all Golden Knights centers, even William Karlsson, who averaged .68 points per game.

In the postseason nothing seems to change. Like his father, Stastny plays an important role even in his mid-thirties. In the seven-game series against San Jose, the veteran center averaged more than a point per game scoring two goals and six assists. Coach Gerard Gallant played his “second” line center for twenty minutes a game and used him heavily in crucial points throughout the series. Last season with Winnipeg, Stastny added 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) over 17 postseason games. He also led the NHL with three game-winning goals in the 2017-18 playoffs. The Stastny’s tend to age well.

The 33-year-old is signed with the Golden Knights for at least the next two seasons. Assuming the organization is still highly competitive, the veteran would likely consider finishing his career in Vegas. Stastny is the perfect second line center now, playing along side friend Max Pacioretty and winger Mark Stone. Also, he could be a great depth center down the road. Heck, maybe playing between Pacioretty and Stone will help Stastny get closer to his father’s legendary accomplishments.

Chances are, Stastny will never catch up to his old man’s 1,239 NHL points, but the Golden Knight can do one thing his Hall of Fame father couldn’t do. And that’s hoist the Stanley Cup. Playing with Vegas may be the best chance for the entire family. Remember, brother Yan has a job with the Golden Knights organization too.

How Often Are Golden Knights Forwards On The Ice For Goals Against

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Following season one, the Golden Knights front office made the rash decision to completely blow up their second line. That meant letting both David Perron and James Neal walk out the door, while shifting Erik Haula to the wing (for a few games while everyone was healthy).

The reasoning behind this from George McPhee was defensive inefficiency. McPhee claimed they were “dead last for second lines in the league” in goals against per 60.

The line of Perron, Haula, and Neal allowed 3.03 goals per 60 minutes of time on ice when playing together. It was the highest on the team by half a goal. This year, 3.03 would have actually been just fine for the Golden Knights. (All stats are at even strength)

LineTOIGAGA/60
71/81/19840:43402.85
26/67/61156:4972.67
26/67/89226:52174.50
21/67/89197:4392.73
21/92/40118:3484.05
21/73/8971:0600.00
41/28/75363:58101.65

To compare, here’s the same table from last season.

LineTOIGAGA/60
71/81/19722:34241.99
56/57/18554:37283.03
21/89/13261:10112.53
41/92/28152:1251.97

The most alarming number on the chart is the first line’s number. It went up by nearly a full goal per 60 minutes and it was only 0.18 away from the line McPhee decided was so bad defensively that he had to destroy it.

The dominant line of Stastny, Stone, and Pacioretty wasn’t all that much better either. You are probably thinking, “yeah, but they scored way more.” Nope. With all three on the ice together, they allowed seven while scoring nine.

Look at the “fourth” line though. They got even better this year going with Reaves and Carrier together. Also, the line of Eakin, Pirri, and Tuch never conceded in over 70 minutes of time on ice together.

However, these numbers can be a bit misleading at times as not all goals are scored with full lines on the ice. So, let’s break it down by individual forward. Remember, these are even strength numbers only.

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Alex Tuch Thrives On The Right

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This season Alex Tuch has played in 72 of the Golden Knights 80 games putting up career-high numbers across the board. 20 goals, 32 assists, a +13 rating, and just 8 penalty minutes over the course of the whole season. He was the team leader in points for a long stretch of the middle of the season and currently leads the team in game-winning goals with six.

Tuch has done all of it in while playing right wing. However, he hasn’t played right wing all season. On five separate occasions, Tuch has been utilized as a left wing, three of those coming within the last five games.

In those five games, Tuch has a total of zero goals, zero assists, a +0 rating, and zero penalty minutes. His TOI is down from his season average of 16:46 to 16:02, and in two of the five he played less than 15 minutes.

That being said, he’s been credited by NaturalStatTrick for creating 15 scoring chances individually (up from his season average). He’s taken 15 shots, or three per game (up from his season average), and he’s put up an impressive 65.1% Corsi (up from his season average).

The Golden Knights have conceded just one goal against with Tuch on the ice in the five games (.20 per game) he played on the left while they’ve allowed 46 in the other 67 games (.69 per game).

Vegas has also dominated in high danger chances for and against with Tuch on the left wing, creating 21 while allowing only six. That’s good for a 77.8%, Tuch’s season average is 60.0%.

Moving forward, it appears Tuch will have a home on the right wing with Cody Eakin and one of Brandon Pirri, Tomas Nosek, or Ryan Carpenter. Vegas will rely upon at least some scoring from that line, and Tuch will have to be a big part of that.

Whether he’s on the right or the left wing, the Golden Knights need him in the playoffs. I’d recommend they play him on the right, because results are always better than analytics.

Golden Knights Continue Dominance Over Pacific Division

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are the reigning Western Conference Champions. They were able to achieve this in large part due to their dominance against the Pacific Division. A year ago, Vegas went 20-6-3 against the Pacific en route to claiming the division title. They then defeated the Pacific Division’s Kings and Sharks to reach the Western Conference Final.

This year, the standings look a bit different with the Golden Knights firmly planted in 3rd place with 79 points through 68 games. That’s seven points short of San Jose and 10 off Calgary’s pace. However, like last year (and every year for that matter), the road to the Western Conference Final for Vegas goes through the Pacific. And while the Golden Knights are playing at just a 58.1% points percentage, they are significantly better against their own division.

vs. Pacific 14-5-2 (.714)
vs. Metro 9-6-1 (.593)
vs. Central 8-8-0 (.500)
vs. Atlantic 6-7-2 (.467)

Vegas has a winning record and/or positive goal differential against every team in the division as well.

vs. Anaheim 4-0-0 (+11 GD)
vs. Vancouver 2-0-1 (+3 GD)
vs. Arizona 2-1-0 (+2 GD)
vs. Calgary 2-1-0 (-2 GD)
vs. Los Angeles 2-1-1 (o GD)
vs. San Jose 1-1-0 (+5 GD)
vs. Edmonton 1-1-0 (+2 GD)

In the division, only the Sharks have a better record than the Golden Knights, and Vegas has the ability to flip that script with a pair of games against San Jose on March 18th and 30th.

San Jose 15-4-3 (.750)
Vegas 14-5-2 (.714)
Calgary 11-7-2 (.600)
Arizona 12-9-2 (.565)
Los Angeles 8-8-2 (.500)
Vancouver 9-10-4 (.478)
Edmonton 8-11-2 (.476)
Anaheim 7-10-3 (.425)

In two seasons, the Golden Knights record inside the Pacific Division is an incredible 34-11-5 (.730) with a goal differential of +47 (+26 in 17-18 and +21 in 18-19).

The Golden Knights have eight Pacific Division games remaining on the schedule before what is almost certainly a seven-game series against a division foe in the first round and a seven-game series against another one in the second round.

The playoff format is probably going to change at some point, maybe even as soon as next year, but while it remains the way it is, there’s no question it’s advantage Vegas.

The Golden Knights Have A Top 5 Defense

Stop picking on the VGK defense, they are actually REALLY good. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the biggest complaints surrounding the Golden Knights this season has been about their supposedly porous defense. Check out Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or chat with fans in the stands, most people believe the Golden Knights aren’t good enough defensively to win the Stanley Cup.

However, as the title of this article says, Vegas actually has one of the league’s best defenses. Pick a metric, goals against, shots against, shot attempts against, penalty minutes taken, penalty kill, scoring chances against, high danger chances against, all of them, literally every single one, the Golden Knights are in the top five in the NHL (see all below).

It gets even better when you add offense into the mix. They are top three in Corsi For %, Scoring Chance %, and High Danger Chance %. That means they create far more shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances, than they allow.

Individually, the Golden Knights have seven defensemen with more than 1.7 point shares. All seven of them combine to have created 17.9 point shares, or in other words, the Vegas defense (and that’s defensemen’s defense only) have accounted for 28.8% of the Golden Knights’ points this season. The defense as a whole, including the forwards, have accounted for 32.3 points or 52.1% of the season total. To compare, Calgary’s defense has accounted for 31.9 points or 44.9% of the season total and San Jose’s defense has 25.7 point shares or 39.5% of their total.

Last year the Golden Knights allowed 2.74 goals against per game, this year they’ve allowed 2.67. Last year Vegas finished 8th in the league in goals against, at the break, they sit in 5th. Last year they allowed 30.7 shots against per game (7th in NHL), this year they allow 28.4 (2nd in NHL).

Oh, and many people will point to the guy between the pipes. Yes, Fleury has been tremendous, but he was actually better a year ago. His save percentage, goals against, and GSAA were all better in 2017-18 than 18-19. Team (not just Fleury) save percentage is .003 lower this year than last year. And, a majority of the stats indicating defensive success are goalie-independent.

No matter which way you slice it, the Golden Knights are better defensively than they were a year ago and they are among the best defenses in the NHL, easily top five.

Scoring is up across the NHL as each game averages 6.1 goals a game. The Golden Knights are going to allow goals, like around 80 of them, in the next 30 games, but every time it happens you don’t have to scream “This defense stinks!” because quite frankly, it doesn’t.

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Could VGKs Lack of Defensive Scoring Be A Future Problem?

Stop worrying about 3rd line scoring, start worrying about blue line scoring. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s no secret, the Golden Knights are getting very little offense from there defense. Overall, the low production from their blue line could be a concern going forward. Sure, power play specialist Colin Miller appears ready to return to the lineup but even with him it may not be enough.

I think sometimes we’re complicated things too much. My job and Millsey’s and Schmitty’s, the guys that are back there, we have to do a better job controlling it. Instead of setting up a play and try and seam it, we just have to get pucks through. -Shea Theodore

At first glance, 97 combined points from the Golden Knights defense doesn’t look that bad, but when you look around the league it’s a very low total.

Points from Vegas defenseman in 2018-19

Theodore 21 Points (5 Goals, 16 Assists)
Miller 17 Points (2 Goals, 15 Assists)
Schmidt 16 Points (4 Goals, 12 Assists)
Holden 13 Points (3 Goals, 10 Assists)
McNabb 12 Points (1 Goal, 11 Assists)
Hunt 7 Points (2 Goals, 5 Assists)
Engelland 6 Points (1 Goals, 5 Assists)
Merrill 5 Points (1 Goal, 4 Assists)
97 Total Points from VGK defenseman
19 Goals, 78 Assists

In just the Pacific Division alone, defensemen are putting up Norris trophy type numbers.

Top 5 Defensemen in Points

Brent Burns SJ: 52 Points(9 Goals, 43 Assists)
Mark Giordano CAL: 48 Points(9 Goals, 38 Assists)
Morgan Reilly TOR: 47 Points(13 Goals, 34 Assists)
Erik Karlsson SJ: 43 Points(3 Goals, 40 Assists)
John Carlson WAS: 43 Points(6 Goals, 37 Assists)

Up in San Jose, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson’s combined offense is roughly the same as the entire Vegas defensive unit. Calgary’s captain Mark Giordano has been heavily involved all season, and on pace for a career-high offensively. When you go through the rest of the contenders in the Western Conference, Vegas has the lowest threat from the blue line.

San Jose: 143 Points (Goals, Assists)
Nashville: 125 (Goals, Assists)
Calgary: 116 Points (Goals, Assists)
Winnipeg: 104 Points (Goals, Assists)

San Jose and Nashville are loaded with blue line scoring, what’s new right? Predators have even been down one of their weapons PK Subban to injury. Like Vegas with Miller, Winnipeg’s blue line lumber, Dustin Byfuglien has also played limited games this season. So, you have to wonder if the Jets are searching for defensive help for the postseason.

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The Nate Effect

This dude is a #1 defenseman in the NHL Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s a theme floating around VGK land that goes something like this… “The Golden Knights are 3-9-0 against the top 10 teams in the NHL, are they really that good?”

Technically, this stat is correct. Aside from wins over Washington, Calgary, and San Jose, the Golden Knights have been quite miserable against high-quality competition. However, there’s an important caveat that’s missing to the theme. That caveat’s name is Nate Schmidt.

While I was in Arizona for the home game against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena, I asked Gerard Gallant when he thought his team turned the corner. His answer was when Nate came back. (I forgot to press start on my recorder so I don’t have the full quote, but I remember it wasn’t great except for the overall premise so I decided not to take the time to track it down. Just believe me, he said Nate, or something like that.)

If you use the same stat since Schmidt’s return, the Golden Knights are 3-4-0 (.429) in the same category (with a pair of wins against the Islanders, 12th, just missing the cut). Thus, they were 0-5-0 (.000) against the current top 10 in the NHL without Schmidt.

I expanded the stat to include all playoff teams. Vegas is 8-11-1 (.425) against the 15 teams currently holding playoff spots. They are 6-4-1 (.591) with Schmidt, 2-7-0 (.222) without him.

It’s not hard to see that the Golden Knights are a different team with #88 in the lineup. During Schmidt’s suspension, the Golden Knights were 8-11-1 (.425), had a -8 goal differential, and averaged just 2.5 goals per game. Since his return, they’re 20-6-3 (.741), have a +24 goal differential, and are averaging 3.34 goals per game.

They’ve beaten Calgary, San Jose, Washington, Dallas, Colorado, and the Islanders twice while falling by on the road to Calgary, Columbus, and Winnipeg and at home to San Jose. (Oh, and if you are into this sort of thing, they outplayed Winnipeg and San Jose in those losses.) Vegas is a whopping 10-1-2 (.846) at home with Schmidt and have improved their road record significantly from 3-8-0 (.272) to 10-5-1 (.656).

All the while, in the 29 games with Schmidt, VGK has missed Schmidt’s BFF Erik Haula for all 29, Paul Stastny for 13, Colin Miller for 13, Max Pacioretty for 9, and Reilly Smith for 4. Deryk Engelland, Shea Theodore, Tomas Nosek, and William Carrier have all missed time too.

Stats can always be diced up any way you wish, but the fact remains, the Golden Knights are a damn good hockey team when Nate is in the lineup… no matter who or where they are playing.

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