The Golden Knights have never been considered a particularly great defensive team, especially in their own end. They allowed 228 goals on the season, more than all but three of the Western Conference playoff teams and 26 more than their first round opponent. However, through the first two games of the series, Vegas has allowed just one goal in 155 minutes and 23 seconds and have not been scored on a single time in more than 126 minutes of 5-on-5 time.
The main reason for the Golden Knights defensive dominance over the course of the first two games has been the way they’ve defended the blue line. Stats are hard to come by on zone entry success rates, but from the eye test, over the course of eight periods, the Kings are having an incredibly difficult time gaining clean entry to the Vegas zone.
A lot of communication. Working together with your linemates and your D partner to talk to each other, work it out, find the open way, and we’ve been pretty crisp and executing pretty well in our own end. -Jon Merill
The Kings deploy the dump-and-chase style of hockey much more than the transition style of entry Vegas is more known for. Los Angeles gains the red line, then throws the puck down into the corner. The idea being they will forecheck hard and force a turnover before the Golden Knights can break out. More than often this series though, that hasn’t been the case and the Golden Knights have easily “found the open way” out of the zone.
Vegas is doing it with two main principles, speed and simplicity. First off, they get to the puck incredibly quickly. The first King to the puck is usually more than a full second behind the Golden Knight defenseman who retrieved the dump. Then, they play fundamentally sound defense taking the simplest option available.
The key to any breakout is to get back, work for each other, work for your partner, talk to each other, and everyone’s got to be the way out. I think everybody’s played fast, played competitive, wanted the puck and wanted to be involved int he game both night, that’s been the difference. -Merrill
The line “everyone’s got to be the way out” pretty much summarizes the Golden Knight’s success defending the Kings’ entries. When then first man picks up the puck, he almost always has two options, a pass across to the other defenseman or a pass up the boards to a backchecking winger. The next pass is the more important one and where it’s much harder to present options to teammates. Vegas’ positioning on this second pass has been tremendous over the first eight periods of the series. It’s a five-man (and six if Fleury can get to the dump-in first) team effort in which every single guy is working hard to “be the way out” for their teammate. Throw in the speed in which they are able to get to the right position and present the option for the man with the puck, and the Kings have no chance to make a forechecking play. It makes the game simple and it’s why Vegas has made very few mistakes in their own end.
If you see a guy open, move the puck. -Merrill
That’s really all it takes, but it’s so much easier said than done unless every single one of the forwards is busting their butts to be in the right place and be the open guy.
As great as the advanced stats look for the Golden Knights through two games, and they do look pretty darn impressive, it’s a fundamentally sound and hardworking defense that’s been the real reason they head to Los Angeles with a 2-0 lead.
The best news, that’s a style of hockey that travels.