For the first time since becoming a franchise, the Golden Knights deployed a new system in the defensive zone. As opposed to playing strict man-to-man across the entire defensive zone, Gerard Gallant and his staff advised players to show more of a zone look, handing off puck carriers when the opposing team cycles.
(To read much more about the new system, how it works, what it looks like, how it’s different, and the benefits, check out yesterday’s article breaking it down with clips and illustrations.)
The new system was far from flawless in its first appearance as Vegas allowed multiple goals while trying to sort out plays. However, universally across the locker room and the coaches room, there’s a belief that it will eventually turn into something much more efficient than the simpler man-to-man system of the past.
I spoke about it in-depth with Paul Stastny, Nate Schmidt, and Gerard Gallant. Here’s what they had to say.
It wasn’t a big deal really. Players probably talk about it more than we do, it was a minor tweak. There were still some mistakes made but no matter what system you play there’s going to be some mistakes but I like what I saw last night. Moving forward we’ll see. Hopefully it keeps working and we’ll try it. You’ve got to change things when you are not winning. You don’t want to change a whole lot but you can do minor tweaks and hopefully, it helps. -Gallant
That’s a tough team to do it against because their D-men are so active. But the more we do it the more we’ll get comfortable. It’s like anything, sometimes you change something little, you don’t want to overthink it because when you overthink it that’s when you get in trouble. -Paul Stastny
That’s about as active as a d-group as you are going to see and I thought we did the whole ‘bend don’t break.’ We didn’t have a lot of time to practice it a lot but I thought we did a pretty good job of picking it up and going with it. -Nate Schmidt
The other, I mean I shouldn’t say the other because we haven’t completely changed, but the other stuff we were doing we found some teams were taking advantage of some stuff we were doing and giving them too much open ice so we’re hoping this works out. -Gallant
It’s definitely not man-on-man. That is the way we want to play. More support, more layers, more backing each other out, more guys helping each other out in battles. Where if a guy gets beat you aren’t scrambling to try and come off a guy. Back each other up a little more, support each if something happens. In this system, you are going to block more shots and we are going to have to communicate more. For most of the game we did a pretty good job for just picking it up and going with it. -Schmidt
It’s a combination of both if you can defend well you can get the transition going. As coaches, we look at different clips and different systems around and you say what’s going to work for our team and we are going to hope this works. -Gallant
We were giving up a little too much. We want to play less time in the D-zone and try and transition and play some offense. There were times we got hemmed in a few times, but everyone does against good teams, but there were also times we got it out quick and started transitioning real quick.-Stasnty
I think it helps everybody be more efficient. You’re not chasing guys out to the blue line after a guy activates. There are times where you are just skating around and around tracking a guy. Where last night it kinda happened where we just point them out. You aren’t going to give up those goals out on the blue line or down in the corners. -Schmidt
You always think of doing different things with your systems and different teams do different things but I think it comes down to the little things to win hockey games. -Gallant
I’ve been through this before on different teams where every day, every practice, every game you get more and more comfortable. Sometimes there might be a step backwards but it’ll be two steps forward eventually. -Stasnty
Yeah we had some mistakes but you aren’t going to see that type of pressure from a defensive corps like you will when you see Nashville. It’s going to evolve the more we do it. It was pretty black and white last night, it was rigid. It’s going to grow itself into what we want it to be as we do it more and more and as we see more situations while playing that way. -Schmidt
To summarize, it appears the new system is here to stay. Reilly Smith, Jon Merrill, and Shea Theodore all had positive things to say about the new system as well with everyone agreeing that for just picking up and trying it against one of the toughest teams in the league to deploy it against, that it went fairly well.
Arizona has some active defenseman and they’ll certainly be looking to exploit some of the cracks the Predators found, but the Golden Knights will have had a full practice and multiple off-ice sessions to continue cementing it before then.
As much as Gallant wants to downplay it, this change is significant and it very well could be the jumping-off point that turns the Golden Knights season around. If it is, Gallant and his staff will look like geniuses for adapted a quarter of the way through the season, but if it isn’t, there are going to be a lot more ugly goals allowed in the next two weeks or so.