When this version of the Golden Knights are at their best, they have the ability to completely take over games. Most of the limelight when this happens goes to the offense as they continue to pepper goalies with shots, but the real reason why there are extended periods of living in the offensive zone is the way they defend.
Over the course of the five-game series against the Blackhawks, the Golden Knights held Chicago without a shot for a five minute stretch on 18 separate occasions. The longest was a 10:33 stretch in Game 1, while the most influential was the 6:31 run in OT of Game 2. In Game 5, Chicago went without a shot for more than five minutes five different times.
I think if you look at Chicago they make a lot of their offense off the rush so if you can kind of limit their transition, put pucks in good places, and start to wear them down that’s when you’ll have success. -Mark Stone
The Golden Knights shot suppression machine works in multiple layers. It starts in the neutral zone.
They do a lot of deep curls and a lot of different routes in the neutral zone and I think we were able to try to jam things up. -Alec Martinez
It’s true against any team, but especially against Chicago, the best way to stymie offense is to slow down entries. When teams enter the offensive zone with speed and control of the puck, it’s nearly impossible to keep them from generating at least one shot. So, when Vegas is playing well, the neutral zone becomes a minefield of forwards backchecking and defensemen standing up at the blue line. This forces the opposing team to either try to make a fancy stick handling play through traffic or dump the puck in and chase.
That leads to the next layer of defending, which is keeping the puck out of the dangerous areas.
In our own end we were quick to contact to take away their time and space. That was something that we focused on from the get-go, just playing strong defensive hockey and we knew we would get chances the other way. -Martinez
Next, it’s about breaking out of the defensive zone. Proper puck management including quick, short passes leads to simple, easy, fast exits of the zone, meaning the offensive team is headed out of the zone as quickly as they came in. Here’s an example of that entire process to show how quickly it can take place when the Golden Knights are going well.
Chicago got the puck with a free exit. Marchessault challenged the pass through the neutral zone. Whitecloud was on top of the player receiving it at the blue line, forcing an uncontrolled entry. Theodore skated into the corner and pushed a short pass out to Whitecloud. He moved it up the wall to Karlsson and the Blackhawks offensive possession was over just that quickly.
That leads to the final layer, taking care of the puck in the offensive zone.
Managing the puck properly. Felt like most of the goals we got were first chance, second chance, third chance, relentless pressure it kind of forces them to come 200 feet. If you look at most of their goals, if you are turning the puck over, that’s when they are scoring. Making their lives a little more difficult these last couple games led to that. -Stone
Throughout all of the 18 five minute sections of play where Chicago was unable to get a shot on goal, the Golden Knights took care of the puck in the offensive zone. No careless turnovers leading to odd-man rushes, no poor pinches by defensemen, and proper numbers on the correct side of the puck when Chicago finally did gain possession.
When it all comes together at the same time, it leads to dominance. Vegas spends time in the offensive zone, when it’s turned over, the puck is challenged coming out of the o-zone, it’s challenged through the neutral zone, it’s challenged in the d-zone, and when the Golden Knights get it back, they take care of it.
The shot suppression machine was on display over and over again against Chicago and it’s why that series ended up looking so lopsided in the stat book. The Golden Knights have the ability to do it against every single team remaining in the playoffs, and must to defeat the Canucks in the second round. But, like we saw against Chicago, it’s not always going to be there.
Getting to that style of play, and staying there, is the Golden Knights’ path to winning round two, and it’s their only path to hoisting the Stanley Cup.