Of course, we know about the power play and we’ve detailed a bit about the new “goalie-friendly” zone defense structure the Golden Knights will run under Bruce Cassidy, but today we got another tidbit into the changes we can expect to Vegas’ systems under the new bench boss.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Jesse Granger, Cassidy expounded a bit on why he believes his defensive system helps goalies. One of his explanations actually starts before the puck ever gets near the blue paint.
When I say goaltender-friendly, we want to protect the high danger and slot chances that are more difficult stops. So we’re going to try to minimize those opportunities. Some of those are odd-man rushes, breakaways, two-on-ones. We’ll take less risk in our game through the neutral zone. –Bruce Cassidy to The Athletic
As different as the Golden Knights are expected to look with the man-advantage and when defending their own zone, this might be the biggest change to the way they will play.
Defensively, under both Gerard Gallant and Pete DeBoer, Vegas were aggressive in the neutral zone. They did it in different ways under each coach, but each demanded high pressure through the center of the ice.
Last year, DeBoer adopted the popular 1-1-3 neutral zone “trap” that helped the Tampa Bay Lightning hoist back-to-back Stanley Cups. The idea was to make entries incredibly difficult against the Golden Knights while also baiting opposing teams into turnovers that would feed the Vegas rush. The year prior, most notably in the Colorado series, Vegas hounded puck carriers at both the center (red) and defensive (blue) lines to force the other team into skating through players or dumping the puck in. Under Gallant, odd-numbered pressure in the neutral zone forced uncomfortable, or in some cases unwinnable, situations for opposing forwards leading to turnovers and a feeling of Vegas pressure coming in waves.
Typically, because VGK boast a collection of both a strong defensive group and above-average backchecking forwards, the neutral zone turned into a bit of a minefield against the Golden Knights. When teams navigated it, it could lead to chances in on goal, but when they didn’t, the Golden Knights made them pay going the other way. In all three neutral zone systems, a lot of offense was generated by capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes and quickly turning them into offensive chances.
On the flip side, the Golden Knights have always preferred an aggressive style of play offensively through the center-third of the rink. Dump-and-chase has been a last resort for Vegas as they normally look for controlled entries first. Whether it’s been a forward or defenseman carrying the puck, the Golden Knights put their faith in proper decision-making to help generate quick strike offense off the rush.
Cassidy’s plan appears to call for a much more passive style in the neutral zone, likely both when the Golden Knights have the puck and when they are defending it.
In Boston, Cassidy’s systems were tailored toward two objectives.
First, keep the puck to the outside. Whether we’re talking about in-zone defending, neutral zone play, or even forechecking, the idea that when the puck is on the boards it’s further away from being in our net was paramount.
Second, attack and defend with numerical advantages. In breakouts, he preferred the puck to head towards the strong side so there was defensive cover in the event of a turnover. In the neutral zone, Cassidy used a passive 1-2-2 system that kept four players in between the puck and the goal as often as possible. And, when the team was holding a lead, a 1-4 neutral zone system would even be deployed stacking four of the five skaters on the blue line to force dump-ins time and time again.
This is definitely a divergence from what the Golden Knights are used to. That’s not to say they were some crazy run-and-gun team that completely ignored the possibility of odd-man rushes heading the other way (see the Gretzky-era Oilers), but a lot of what Vegas did well both offensively and defensively originated from the neutral zone.
A more passive system will likely make life easier on the goalies, but how much effect will it have on the way the Golden Knights generate offense?
Yet another aspect of the game to keep an eye on starting from the very first preseason game, which is now just 11 days away.