Anytime there’s a change in regime it takes time for the new person in charge to make the adjustments before the world sees results. For Presidents, we give them 100 days. For NHL head coaches, let’s go with 10 games.
Pete DeBoer’s 10th game behind the Golden Knights bench was on Thursday where he led his team to a crazy overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. It moved the team’s record under DeBoer to 5-3-2. They’ve scored 37 goals while allowing 34 with the power play operating at 22.6% and killing at 75%. Their shot share is a whopping 58.5% and the PDO has remained steady under 100 at 98.3.
Let’s start by comparing this all with Gallant, who coached the Golden Knights for 49 games before being let go.
GF per game
GA per game
The numbers show DeBoer up a bit in most categories, but the changes are far from significant.
There have been 8 head coaching changes in the NHL this season. One is Gallant, one just happened yesterday, so we’ve got six others to work with. How did their teams stack up over the first 10 games you ask? We head back to the table!
For the better part of three seasons, William Carrier has played a role on the 4th line, and he’s played it well. His versatility, however, has allowed both coaching staffs to use him up and down the lineup. When injuries occur, his quick, forceful style has no trouble handling more minutes and shifts.
After his latest stint on the 3rd line, Carrier is heading back to the place he knows best, 4th line left wing. It’s not a problem for him though, he accepts his role on the team and enjoys his strong bond with linemates Ryan Reaves and Tomas Nosek. Also, let’s face it, the 3rd line isn’t as fun.
I had a great time playing up there but for right now I think Karly is coming back. So I’ll head back with Reavo and Nosey out there… I think our 4th line has more goals than the 3rd line. -Carrier
Carrier didn’t bitch and moan or pout. It’s an important job being a utility player that occasionally fills in for injured teammates. There’s zero ego with Carrier. He gives max effort every night, never veers from his aggressive style, and will do whatever the coaches ask.
It’s all about roles. I can go out there and play top roles but I’ll probably turn the puck over more times than I’d make the plays. Sure, I would pick up more points than I have now, but as a 4th line we can’t do that. We have to be a plus-one line every night.-Carrier
The Golden Knights recognize #28 as a hard-working, heavy forechecking type player. A better scouting report would be, Carrier’s a bull that will create an exciting scoring chance and a glass shaking check in the same shift. His nightly consistency gives DeBoer the option to use him to help pick up the tempo, or bring some life to his club.
This group of guys know what role we have. Each guy knows what they have to bring night after night. It’s working out for us. Everyone is mature and everyone’s got their role. If you don’t get your role, than those guys aren’t with us no more. I think they’re trying to keep the guys around that fit best with the team. Every guy here has their own role, and we try and fill them as best we can. -Carrier
When Carrier talks about maturity and understanding roles, you realize how dedicated he is to winning. He executes his assignments, knows everyone else’s, and is prepared for anything. He’s highly aware of the team’s objectives.
I was a point a game guy in juniors. Maybe now, I don’t try those plays the top guys make. When there’s a chance to create an offensive play I’m going to try it out. I think it’s all about poise, confidence and making plays.-Carrier
This season, Carrier is on pace for career bests. He’s already passed his mark for most games played, and will more than double his highest point total. He’ll tell you to put the statistics aside though because winning means more than any personal accomplishment.
When Pete DeBoer was first hired a common term he would use in talking about his new team was “identity.” He said it in a number of ways but the refrain was always the same, that the team had a great identity and when they played with it they were almost unbeatable, but recently it had been lost and they were playing without it.
Here’s one example from five days after he was hired.
I think for me just playing aggressive, and dictating games and wearing teams down with our depth because we have the ability to roll four lines and be really hard to play against. I think we want to get back to that. Not that that slipped totally off the table but that’s something this team did better than anybody in the league for a long time and we want to try and get that type of identity back. -DeBoer on 1/20/20
I have to admit, it’s a term that’s always troubled me. Identity. I don’t even really know what it means. Everyone uses it, heck I’ve even used it, but if you pinned me down to explain exactly how it relates to a hockey team, I can’t do it. So to hear it over and over again from the new head coach as basically the primary focus on how to solve the issues the Golden Knights had been having, I couldn’t help but tilt my head the way Wiglaf and Rupert do when I ask them if they want a piece of cheese.
What is the Golden Knights identity? What’s it supposed to be? Has it changed?
I’ve spent the last three weeks pondering all of this and finally had a chance to ask a few players, and the coach, specifically about it. Take a listen to it all, in its raw form. First is Jonathan Marchessault, then Nate Schmidt, Paul Stastny, and it ends with Pete DeBoer.
I’ve listened to each of those four interviews about 10 teams apiece and I still have no clue how to define the Golden Knights identity.
It’s just a bunch of buzzwords that apply to every hockey team.
Relentless. Heavy. Fast. Aggressive. Play as a unit. Hard to play against.
Put that aside for a second though, I’ll get back to it.
However anyone defines it, it seems to have shifted. Well, sorta shifted. Actually, no it hasn’t shifted at all. It’s exactly the same, it just looks a little different because this team is more skilled, or to use a simpler term, better.
But it’s not. Or at least it hasn’t been when counting wins.
Both teams have the ability to check off all the buzzwords. The makeup of the team really isn’t that different aside from adding a new buzzword, “heavy,” which really just means “we have Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty now.”
So why aren’t they playing the same way? Why are they going through all these problems? Why was the identity lost in the middle of the third season?
Prior to the start of the game, the Coach of the visiting team is required to name the starting line-up to the Official Scorer. Then, the Coach of the home team, having been advised by the Official Scorer the names of the starting line-up of the visiting team, shall name the starting line-up of the home team.
I cleaned it up a little to make it less awful to read, but that’s directly from the NHL’s rule book, Rule 7.1. This happens about 10 to 20 minutes before puck drop and for the most part, it’s insignificant.
But every once in a while there’s a bit of a game within the game being played by one of the coaches, and that’s been the case for the new coach of the Golden Knights over the last three games.
The starts weren’t good prior to me getting here, and the first two or three games that I was here. Particularly the Boston game, I thought we didn’t start playing until the 10-minute mark. -Pete DeBoer
Last night against Tampa Bay, DeBoer sent out Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier. In Nashville, he started Nosek, Reaves, and Nic Roy. And in Carolina, he went with Roy, Reaves, and Carrier.
So, the 4th line, sorta. In all three games, the official lineup was announced as Nosek, Roy, and Reaves on the 4th line with Carrier playing on the 3rd line. Yet in two of the three Carrier was in the starting lineup with the 4th line. Both games, that was the only shift Carrier took with Reaves, Nosek, or Roy. Nonetheless, DeBoer essentially played a 4th line to start each game.
In response, Tampa Bay countered with their dominant 1st line (Kucherov, Stamkos, Point), while both Nashville (Sissons, Blackwell, Watson) and Carolina (Martinook, Williams, Fleury) came back with their 4th lines.
Vegas won the opening draw in all three games, instantly got the puck in deep, and held the opposition without a shot attempt. Against Tampa, Carrier created a dangerous chance, the only one by either team in the three opening shifts.
In all three games though, the starters did their job, exiting the ice in a better position than they started. To start the game the draw is in the neutral zone with neither team having position (obviously, that’s the point of the opening draw). When they left, each time the line of Paul Stastny, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault came on either already in the offensive zone or with a free clear from the D-zone as the opposition changed lines as well.
No goals, no shots on goal, but positive shifts all three times from the 4th line starters.
One thing about those guys is they’re ready to go, and they drag the group into the game. I think they’ve done a great job the last three games. I thought we’ve had great starts, and that’s a credit to those guys setting the tone. -DeBoer
In 22 road games this season under Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights didn’t start the 4th line, or any combination resembling it, a single time. In fact, in 118 road games coached by Gallant, his 4th line center never took the opening draw.
It was the play of the game, if not one of the biggest plays of the season (feels like we’ve said that a lot, hopefully this one actually sticks). Having given up a 3-1 lead, Vegas could have easily skated out the period and secured at least a point in Carolina. However, the Hurricanes gave the Golden Knights one more chance to come away with a win. And that’s exactly what they did.
The late-game power play allowed Vegas to execute a perfectly set up game-winning goal. The beautifully designed tic-tac-toe sequence by Shea Theodore, Paul Statsny and Alex Tuch clinched a wild game for the Golden Knights. Not only was it a big goal for Tuch, but for the new coaching staff as well.
It was a good play by Theo and Stas, something we were kind of looking to do and we were able to execute. I just put my stick on the ice and made sure I hit the net. -Alex Tuch
The play began with a faceoff won by Stastny, purposely to his left, which Mark Stone jumped on and fed out to Theodore. Instead of taking his own shot, giving the puck back to Stone or Max Pacioretty to his right, the defenseman walked the blue line with the puck, opened up the seam and then used a little shot pass to feed the puck through an incredibly tight window to Stastny.
Theodore’s stutter-step/fake shot shifted the defense and goaltender just enough to find an open passing lane to Stastny who was waiting on one side of the net.
Knowing the puck was coming to him, he quickly directed the pass across the crease and on to the stick of Tuch, who tapped in the game-winner.
From the initial pass by Stone, to Theodore’s shot fake, to Stastny’s quick touch pass, each player knew exactly where the others would be. You’ll even notice Pacioretty charging in behind Tuch ready to scoop up any rebounds in case the puck was blocked. Or perhaps as a secondary option. Either way, all five players did their job and the execution paid off.
According to a reliable SinBin.vegas source, former San Jose Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott will join Pete DeBoer’s staff in Vegas following the bye week.
Spott was added to DeBoer’s staff in San Jose a few months after DeBoer took over in 2015.
Spott ran the sharks power play for most of his time in San Jose. The Sharks posted the 6th overall power play last year converting at 23.7%. They were also #3 (22.6%) in 2015-16. Overall, the Sharks operated at 21.6% under DeBoer/Spott while the Golden Knights sit at 18.7% in franchise history.
Prior to joining DeBoer’s staff, Spott was the head coach of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. In one season he led the Marlies to the Western Conference Final. Before that, Spott worked under DeBoer as an assistant for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers from 2002-2008. When DeBoer left to take the head coach position in Florida, Spott stayed on as head coach of the Rangers for 5 seasons. Spott and DeBoer first worked together in 1997 with the Plymouth Whalers and the two have worked together for 16 out of the last 23 years.
Since the calendar flipped to 2020 the Golden Knights penalty kill has been… how do I put this politely?… a steaming pile of horse… let’s just say it’s been bad, very very bad.
Vegas had allowed a power play goal in seven straight games, they had killed off just nine of 18 over a seven-game stretch, and thanks to some research from AT&T Sportsnet, we know they ranked dead last in killing penalties over Gerard Gallant’s final seven games. It’s probably not the only reason, but there’s no question the Golden Knights poor penalty kill lent a hand in his firing.
In comes Pete DeBoer, who just two years ago was the coach of the NHL’s 2nd best penalty kill unit. In DeBoer’s four full seasons in San Jose, the Sharks killed penalties at a rate of 81.7% and his teams never finished the year below 80%. Vegas currently sits in 22nd place at 78.9% and their 52.6% over the last eight games is downright appalling.
One of the first things DeBoer worked on with the Golden Knights was making a change to their style of penalty killing. In fact, using just a few practices and likely some video work, there are two already significant changes that have been implemented in the way the Golden Knights kill penalties. Both were used against Montreal and both involve puck pressure.
Well, for the first change, it’s actually a lack of pressure.
Under Gallant, the Golden Knights would always send at least one forechecker, sometimes two, into the attacking zone to rush the opposing team’s breakout. It was an aggressive style of penalty killing hoping to force a mistake up the ice and lead to an easy shorthanded chance. The drawback to this style is that if the breakout beats the forecheckers, the Golden Knights are heavily outnumbered at the blue line leading to easy, sometimes even unchallenged, zone entries.
Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights will not send any forecheckers up when killing penalties. Instead, they’ll deploy three players across the blue line and one slightly further up to force challenged entries (which looks like this or this). This was a staple in the Sharks penalty killing system under DeBoer, and in the game against Montreal, the Golden Knights used it to successfully kill the one penalty they took.
Here’s how that looks in action.
Eakin does not chase into the offensive zone. Instead, he circles back to set up in the neutral zone.
The moment Smith loses the puck, he backs out and resets to the neutral zone.
The idea under DeBoer’s system is to make the entry across the blue line as difficult as possible while foregoing any chance to steal the puck in the offensive zone and score a cheap shorthanded goal.
But, of course, eventually the team on the man advantage will gain the zone. That’s where the second change in system comes in.
But DeBoer said he was hesitant to adopt too many changes too quickly fearing information overload.
My biggest fear coming in was to overwhelm them with information, which slows you down, you’re thinking too much. So when I initially came in and got the job I said I’m not going to do that. –DeBoer on SLGND Podcast
DeBoer has been a head coach in the NHL, for a long time, 12 years to be exact, but he’s never taken over a team in the middle of the season. So, he’s leaned on the advice of his friends who have, one of which being Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
In doing so, DeBoer decided it would be best to use the first three games to observe. After one game and one practice, there’s already by a shift.
I’ve given them a little bit more than maybe I’d planned a couple days ago because the group has impressed me with their intelligence and their ability to pick up on some things, so that’s something that’s moving on the fly. –DeBoer on VGK Insider Show
Over the course of the first three years, the Golden Knights systems have remained essentially the same. Under Gerard Gallant, line changes were common, but the style of play never changed.
Save for one key moment earlier this season when the Golden Knights introduced their new zone defensive scheme (VGKD 2.0). According to all accounts, that system change was implemented in a single day and without ever even practicing it on the ice. It wasn’t perfect but they were able to put it into action and ended up winning the first game using it in Nashville.
I think every coach has some tweaks and some beliefs they want to instill. Coming in mid-season it’s going to be a little slower process and take some time. -Pete DeBoer
DeBoer has been tasked with taking over a team that knows it’s good but haven’t quite been able to sustain it consistently. The Golden Knights started out the season with two big wins against DeBoer’s Sharks, then dropped 15 of their next 24. Next, they hit a hot streak winning 13 of 19, but things quickly took a turn for the worse with Vegas losing four straight, costing Gerard Gallant his job.
Now, DeBoer is in charge and he has to figure out how much needs to be changed and where he needs to implement those changes.
From a systems point of view, there will be some tweaks but this is a well-coached team, I’m not coming in here to change everything. -DeBoer
Those tweaks will come eventually, but don’t expect to see them in the next three games.
We’ve got to take it a little bit slower for me. These games until the break I’m going to use to get to know the guys and the team. The players, I want them to play, show me what you can do, what you are capable of, and hopefully coming out of the break we can start to establish some of those things. -DeBoer
However, DeBoer did outline a few things he says he won’t wait for, those he calls, “non-negotiables.”
I was a coach have some non-negotiable things we’re going to stress and that’s attacking and playing north, stopping and defending hard, tracking back, keeping our shifts short, playing four lines. Those are the non-negotiable items for me that we’re going to try and instill right away. -DeBoer
For the most part, it’s all standard coach speak and things the Golden Knights were already doing with Gallant. But, there’s one “item” among the non-negotiables that will require a change from Vegas’ players.
“Keeping our shifts short.”
The average shift length of all players in the NHL is 45.5 seconds. 47.1 seconds for defensemen and 44.6 seconds for forwards. (as of 1/21/20)
Under Gallant Golden Knights came in way above the averages, while DeBoer’s Sharks teams have been below.
Vegas’ shifts are on average over five seconds longer than San Jose’s and four seconds longer than the league. The difference mostly comes down to forwards, where the Golden Knights 49.1 seconds per shift. While Gallant was at the helm, that was tied with Washington for the highest in the league. (Games through 1/14/20)
San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture isn’t being offered free drinks in this town any time soon. Neither will his coach Pete DeBoer, but they’re not bitter. Couture had no issues complimenting the level of skill in Las Vegas.
We’re not going to out-skill them. Their lineup compared to ours has a little bit more skill up front. -Logan Couture
After their 2-1 OT victory against the Golden Knights, Couture explained why the win felt better than most.
For sure. We only dressed eleven… then we were down to ten forwards and six d, and found a way. I thought we kind of defended, just defended the last ten minutes to try and get that to overtime. -Couture
The Sharks captain scored the OT winner, picking up their first points against Vegas this season. Couture knows the Golden Knights lineup better than most NHL players. In eleven regular season games, Couture has 8 points (4 Goals, 4 Assists) with a plus/minus of -10. Also, add in the 13 postseason games and it’s fairly obvious he’s aware of his opponent.
Anytime we play these guys it’s going to be tough. They’re a very good team. At the end of the year they’re going to be near the top of the division. -Couture
He’s on a shortlist of players Golden Knights fans like to heckle most but overall it doesn’t cloud his vision. Same goes for the Sharks coach.
Big character win for us. A lot of things stacked against us with done of the injuries in the lineup. Obviously, with what’s happened the last couple of times we’ve been here.- DeBoer
DeBoer referenced the past poor performances his team has had in Las Vegas.
There’s a lot of fire in this rivalry, but the biggest reason it’s such a great rivalry is that both teams are so good, and when they are chirping at each other, they aren’t afraid to say it.