Pete DeBoer has had four months to scour over his roster and come up with the best combination of players in every situation. The forward lines and defensive pairs mostly match what we had seen in DeBoer’s time behind the bench before the pause, but the new power play groups have seen a bit of a shakeup.
Here’s how the Golden Knights ran out their power play units in practice on Friday, an early indication of what they’ll likely use when they get to the bubble in Edmonton.
The first unit is absolutely loaded, which leads to a key question; are these equal time units, or is the first unit going to get closer to 90 seconds of the two minutes?
Stastny at center gives a good chance to win the faceoff, then he goes to the front of the net where he’s a terrific decision-maker. Marchesseault is stationed in the high-slot where he’s deadly when he gets the puck with a bit of time. Stone and Pacioretty present two excellent scoring options in the circles and both have shown tremendous vision to move the puck. And Theodore manning the blue line and driving the entries is VGK’s best PP QB.
There’s really nothing wrong with that unit at all, in fact, it might be the best collection of players the Golden Knights have ever had on the ice at the same time. The question is what it leaves the other unit.
DeBoer is abandoning the single defenseman setup on the second unit that he’s deploying on the first and has used most of his time in Vegas. The problem, in this case, is that neither defensemen is particularly proficient on the power play. Schmidt has just 26 power play points in his career and Martinez has only reached 15 in a season once. Both are good on at the blue line and each has the ability to laser a shot from distance, but as calling them elite weapons on the power play is a bit of a stretch.
That leaves much of the load to be shouldered by the three forwards.
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Just 9% of Smith’s points have come on the power play. In fact, he had four points while playing shorthanded and played almost an identical number of minutes on both (135 PP, 134 PK). Karlsson’s numbers aren’t quite as drastic, but they are similar. Of his 46 points, just eight came on the power play while five were shorthanded.
That means Tuch is going to have to be the main scoring threat. While he has shown that he can absolutely be that, it’s a lot to ask of a player who is in the middle of a disappointing season.
It’s not all bad though. Tuch and Karlsson present major challenges for penalty kill units when it comes to entries and Schmidt, Martinez, and Smith will make keeping the puck away from this unit nearly impossible.
The power play struggled a bit in DeBoer’s tenure. They’ve scored 12 goals on 55 opportunities (22%), but four of them came in the same game against St. Louis. Take that one game out and Vegas was converting at just a 16% pace. They scored a power play goal in just eight of DeBoer’s 22 games and only scored twice in the same game once.
Personally I think special teams are going to be huge. You’ll get certain opportunities in playoff games that can change a game or even a whole series. So that’s something we’re really trying to harp on and really trying to nitpick at right now. If we can jump into these games with a good power play and a good penalty kill it’ll make a world of difference. -Reilly Smith
Vegas should be one of the best teams in the conference at even-strength, so all they have to do is make sure special teams doesn’t give games away. The first unit looks dominant on paper and might be so good that the questions surrounding the second become obsolete. If the Golden Knights find success on the power play, they could end up living in Edmonton for quite some time.