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1st Periods Continue To Be A Strength For Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

So far, the Golden Knights have played three exhibition games and one particular aspect has stood out through their first 181:48 minutes. Under new coach Bruce Cassidy, Vegas has clearly been the better team in the 1st period of all three preseason contests. The Golden Knights have been the aggressor from the opening faceoff, and it’s resulted in early leads.

When the puck is on your stick get moving. When you receive a pass in the O-zone you’re shot ready or pass ready. It’s on your stick, heads up — like that Karlsson goal. It’s a great play. -Bruce Cassidy

While the crisp starts have generated offense, VGK’s defense could be the main reason for their 1st period success.

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VGK Returning To Familiar Neutral Zone Setup Under Bruce Cassidy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Entering last season, Pete DeBoer opted to make a fairly dramatic shift in his systems in hopes of challenging opposition entries more consistently and baiting teams into turnovers that could feed the Golden Knights’ deadly transition offense.

After defeating the mighty Colorado Avalanche by stimying them in the neutral zone and then watching it fall apart against the more patient Montreal Canadiens, DeBoer opted to swap out that system for the one that helped the Tampa Bay Lightning hoist consecutive Stanley Cups.

Vegas shifted to a 1-1-3 neutral zone setup where a forward drops back to the blue line along with the two defensemen. (We did a video detailing the 1-1-3 and what it was supposed to achieve.)

This year, with the new boss behind the bench, the Golden Knights plan on returning to the system they ran for almost all of the first four seasons of the franchise’s existence.

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Cassidy Plans To Have Golden Knights Take Fewer Risks In The Neutral Zone

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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“Feels Like We’ve Been Down 2-0 For A Month”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are no stranger to the playoffs. They’ve been there every year in the history of the franchise. But they’ve never been in a true playoff chase before and have really never been in a position in which there’s a true chance they don’t qualify.

While the cliche states “the playoffs have already started for us” the fact is it’s not quite the same. Due to the nature of the schedule and compounded by the mathematic oddity that comes with the loser point, simply winning games isn’t always enough when you are hunting down a playoff spot.

Vegas has found themselves in the win column in eight of the past 12 games and have picked up a total of 17 points since March 24th. The previous 21 games they picked up the same total of 17 points. The climb from these 17 has not matched the fall from the previous 17 though.

On February 8th, the Golden Knights led the Pacific Division in points and points percentage. 34 days and 17 points won later, they had fallen to 4th in the Pacific, 12 points out of 1st, and on the wrong side of the playoff cut line. It was a drastic fall and it happened in the matter of just over a month.

On March 24th, the Golden Knights were still a point out of a playoff spot and beginning a stretch of the schedule that looked very winnable. They did just that and have continued by beating playoff caliber teams like Calgary, Nashville, and Washington. Last night’s OT victory pushed them to 8-3-1 yet they haven’t moved an inch in the playoff standings. 28 days later, Vegas still sits on the outside looking in, now two points behind Dallas who has a game in hand.

Simply put, winning alone isn’t good enough, and it’s an unfamiliar feeling for the Golden Knights.

It feels like we’ve been down 2-0 in a playoff series for about a month here. We’ve been doing a good job and winning games but you don’t get that much closer, you don’t get to 2-2 if you win two in a row. -Mattias Janmark

It’s the perfect analogy and you can tell it’s wearing on the Golden Knights players. They’re doing their part, but it still hasn’t been good enough.

Yet.

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Inaccuracy Plagues Golden Knights At Wrong Times

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In two of the most important regular season games in franchise history, the Golden Knights attempted 159 shots with 83 of them reaching the net. They’ve scored just twice including a puck that was kicked in by an opposing team player and a 6-on-5 goal to cut the deficit from two to one with not much time left.

A year ago, in Games 5 and 6 of the Conference Finals, the Golden Knights attempted 121 shots, saw 66 reach the goal and scored just three times.

The year before that, again in the Conference Finals, the Golden Knights attempted 134 shots, 69 reaching the goal, and again scored just three times.

Six crucial games, a total of eight goals, and six losses that all resulted either directly or indirectly in the end of Vegas’ season.

We have to look in the mirror. This has been a historical problem here, going dry at the wrong times. There’s no excuses this time of year. You have to find a way to win and step up in the most important moments. -Pete DeBoer

The inability to score has been a problem that has plagued each of the past three Golden Knights’ seasons. It’s a problem that confuses many from both the eye test and the advanced analytic perspective as Vegas appears to be dominating games, handling their opponents, and yet time and time again, when the games mean the most, they end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

This season, Vegas has attempted the 7th most shots in the league and they’re 8th in shot attempts. However, they’ve scored on just 5.1% of those attempts and 9.2% of shots on goal. Those numbers are good for 20th and 24th in the NHL..

There’s a fine line between wanting to put everything on net and at the same time you’re making the goalie feel good if you are just throwing it on net from everywhere. It’s about having the confidence and making the extra play to make the goalie get out of position, make him go lateral and give yourself a better chance to score. -Max Pacioretty

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Chronicling VGK’s Failing Power Play Overhaul

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into the offseason, 10 months ago, the Golden Knights had one area they really wanted to clean up.

The obvious one is the power play, that’s at the top of the list to fix. For me the power play isn’t a this year problem. I didn’t feel it was dangerous enough in the Bubble, I thought it was mediocre. At the most important time in the Bubble as we went through to the Dallas series it got cold at the wrong time. We shuffled some things, put a new set of eyes on it this year and it stumbled again. That’s going to be the priority moving forward. -Pete DeBoer in June 2021

The front office felt the same way and they got to work instantly as the new league year opened.

Evgenii Dadonov was a player we identified as a priority. We had him ahead of all players that were available in Expansion. That effectively addressed the need of adding one good foward. -Kelly McCrimmon in July 2021

To start the season, DeBoer urged fans and media to be patient with the power play, calling it a work in progress and even going as far as to dissuade questions until we see it for a full season.

Vegas started the season 0 for 19 on the power play and the concerns grew larger and larger.

Again, the front office did not sit and wait for it to fix itself, instead, they went out and made yet another blockbuster trade, acquiring superstar Jack Eichel. Of course, though, he was injured, so once again, patience was required.

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First Goals Matters Even More For Low-Scoring Golden Knights

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In a sport where the victor usually only needs to score three goals, it’s not terribly surprising that the team who scores first tends to win the game more often than those who concede. But, for the Golden Knights, it appears scoring first goes much further than simply putting them one step closer to three.

The first goal is a difference-maker for our group. Early in the season, we were getting it all the time, then we went through a stretch where we weren’t and we were playing from behind and that’s tough for our group because we aren’t scoring easily. -Pete DeBoer

During the five-game win streak, the Golden Knights have scored the first goal in all but one of the contests. In fact, not only have they gotten the first goal, but they’ve even scored the second in four of the five games as well.

What has happened for the Golden Knights when they get the lead is that they seem to settle into the game and play the style that makes them most dangerous. That style includes mucking up the neutral zone, taking safe possession-seeding exits out of the defensive zone when under pressure, and making good decisions with the puck to limit transition chances going the other way.

This season when scoring first, Vegas has posted a record of 29-10-2. When they don’t, the record dips to 10-18-2. It’s even more important on the road where the Golden Knights are 15-5-0 when netting the first goal compared to 4-10-1 when they allow it.

The team that has scored first has won 13 of the Golden Knights’ last 15 games with the two outliers both resulting in Vegas wins.

It’s the second goal that has been even more telling though. In each of the last eight games, the team to score first has also scored second. When Vegas gets the first goal, they tend to play a much safer style that makes life difficult on their opponent. Then, when mistakes are made, the Golden Knights are excellent at capitalizing.

On the flip side, if the Golden Knights concede first, their own transition chances dry up which often leads to the issue that has plagued this team for years, ineffectiveness with extended offensive zone time.

Down the stretch, the Golden Knights are going to need to win a majority of the games left on the schedule. The number of times they score first will likely have a huge impact on whether or not it happens.

Logan Thompson Earns First Shutout, Fires Back At “Goalie Interference” Critique

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

From going undrafted to not being offered a contract out of Development Camp to becoming the AHL Goalie of the Year and still not being trusted to be the Golden Knights’ backup, Logan Thompson is used to being doubted.

Logan Thompson is also used to stopping pucks, at every level, no matter what situation he’s placed in. With that comes an air of confidence that is undoubtedly a key trait in why he’s having success a the game’s highest level.

Following last night’s game, Thompson joined Dan D’Uva on the postgame of the radio broadcast. He was asked about his emphatic glove saves throughout the game and he took the chance to clap back at a critique SinBin readers may have heard before.

If you listen to McKenna’s goalie scout on me it’s my low stance (that could be a problem) so I’ve got to have a quick glove. I think that makes up for it by taking away the top of the net. -Logan Thompson on FOX Sports Las Vegas

On a recent episode of Goalie Interference, former NHL goalie Mike McKenna expressed conern over Thompson’s stance in the net.

Not many pucks hit Thompson in the chest and are retained, because his chest isn’t available. His goalie posture is so far forward, he’s so bent at the waist, that he plays incredibly small for someone his size. –McKenna on Goalie Interference

Thompson is well aware of the perceived issue in his stance and has had goalie coaches point it out in the past. But in the end, playing goalie is a results oriented business. As long as you stop most of the pucks flying at you, no one is going to ask how you are doing it.

And that’s exactly what Thompson has been doing during his stint as the starter with the Golden Knights. He stopped all 22 shots last night on his way to his first career shutout in the NHL and he’s now up to a 6-4 record as the starter, helping keep the Golden Knights’ playoff chances alive.

Time will ultimately tell if McKenna’s concern will slow Thompson down, but for now, Logan’s clearly getting the first laugh.

Iole: Enough Bang For His Buck?

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Kevin’s back today to take a look at a position of depth, one that’s been notoriously thin in years past.

As a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, I’ve often longed for a team that was aggressive in free agency, pursued the best players with vigor regardless of cost, and had ownership that almost seemed insulted if it didn’t win the championship.

But now, I have that in the Vegas Golden Knights, where owner Bill Foley has focused only on winning. He’s allowed his staff to trade for the big names who were available on the market. He’s permitted them to go after the elite free agents.

Like the late Jack Kent Cooke, the former owner of the Washington Redskins once said about his coach, George Allen, “He was given an unlimited budget and he exceeded it.”

Foley has to feel that way as Season 5 winds down with a Detroit Lions Super Bowl championship looking about as likely in a few months as a VGK Stanley Cup title.

Foley’s spoiled the fan base, and no doubt his hockey operations department, by his seeming eagerness to spend any sum, make any signing, in pursuit of that elusive championship.

Goaltender Robin Lehner is sidelined now with upper-body AND lower-body injuries, you say? The fan base simply calls for Foley to spend the millions it would take to bring old friend Marc-Andre Fleury back to town.

These are real dollars, people, that Foley is spending, not just Monopoly money that has no impact. Foley has done everything reasonably expected of an owner, and then some. Hell, he’s even sat down for an interview with Ken on multiple occasions!

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In addition to the trades for Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and Jack Eichel, and the free agent signing of Alex Pietrangelo and the extensions for Lehner, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch (Remember him?), Nate Schmidt (Or him?), Foley went so far as to purchase an AHL team and build a new rink for it. The benefit? So the NHL club could fill fourth-line, third-defense pairings and backup goalie spots a bit easier.

He’s laid out an inordinate amount of cash — to be fair, the Golden Knights are also a pretty profitable franchise — and what does he have for it? Well, no Cups, and so they’re a failure if that’s the only standard you measure by.

But that’s not fair. The Golden Knights have become one of the destination franchises in the NHL and you don’t see any of the players, past or present, complaining about the way they’ve been treated while they’re here.

They’ve won two division titles, one conference title and have been among the league’s Cup favorites every year since the second season.

Foley’s done his part.

Now, do we blame McPhee or McCrimmon for what is going on here? Does Pete DeBoer, as coaches so frequently and so often unfairly do, pay for it with his job?

Do we simply blame the injuries and say, “Things will be better when everyone is healthy?”

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Film Breakdown: Why VGK Are Stagnant In The Offensive Zone

This season (and each of the last two postseasons) the Golden Knights have struggled to score goals when playing against a compact defensive setup.

In today’s film breakdown, we show a single shift that displays some good aspects of what Vegas is doing in-zone and quite a few bad ones.

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