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Why The Golden Knights Have Had So Much Success With Their Net Empty

On Sunday afternoon the Golden Knights were in a situation they’ve admittedly found themselves in too often this year. Down a goal late, Pete DeBoer called Laurent Brossoit to the bench with just under two minutes left in an attempt to score the game-tying goal.

For the sixth time this year, the Golden Knights found the back of the net with their goalie on the bench and a sixth skater on the ice. That’s the fourth most of any team in the NHL this year and ties most by a Golden Knights team in a season ever.

In fact, in just 35 games, the Golden Knights have scored more goals with their net empty than they did in the last 100 regular season games.

The question becomes, why?

We’ll start with the coach-speak answer, but one that certainly has quite a bit of validity.

There’s never any panic with our group in those situations, there’s a calmness which you need. If you are running around trying to make something happen you can’t enter with possession. You’ve got to have a calmness to your group to get organized, to get set up, and to know that we’re getting the goalie out early enough that the clock is our friend, and we don’t have to rush or force anything. I think our guys get that concept. -DeBoer

Along with calmness, there’s definitely a sense of belief that shines through. As DeBoer says, panic rarely, if ever, sets in, which allows the Golden Knights to continue stacking up chances until one goes in.

As for the player reasoning, it’s a bit more specific.

We’ve talked about a few things systematically that have worked. From up top we are setting up with good shooting opportunities for me and Theodore and whoever else is at the top with us whether it’s Pacioretty or Marchessault or whoever. And if you look at all the success we’ve had at 6-on-5, it’s because we have guys standing in front of the net. You’ve got two people in front and us shooting up top it’s obviously pretty difficult for the goalie to see it. Also, you want to create those scrums so you can get those second opportunities because you have the extra guy out there. -Pietrangelo

If you look at a still frame from the shot that led to the goal on Sunday, it’s pretty clear what he’s is talking about.

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Dissecting VGK’s Recent Run Of Power Play Success: Is It Sustainable?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The power play. What a beautiful thing it can be when it is humming along scoring goals at a 30% clip, but oh what a nightmare it can become when it stumbles to an 0 for 15 mark in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

The Golden Knights’ power play will be under the microscope all season long and that lens will zoom in much further when we reach the playoffs. Obviously, it didn’t start out well with Vegas failing on each of their first 19 attempts but it’s come on strong in the month of December clicking at an impressive 34% (12 for 35) pace.

For me though, the eye test did not match the numbers as of late. There’s clearly no denying the fact that the pucks are going in the net a third of the time, but it still looked like a paltry power play to me at first glance.

So, I decided to go back over all 12 goals to see exactly what was there. How are they scoring them? Where are they coming from? Who is scoring them? The goal was to see if this is a fleeting run of success or not. The answer, of course, comes out somewhere in between.

Of the 12 power play goals the Golden Knights have scored in the month of December, three were scored by Max Pacioretty; all of which he shot the puck from the circle to the left of the goalie and all of which he received a pass from Shea Theodore in the high-slot.

These goals are definitely replicable, but also predictable, and thus much easier to defend when a team has a complete focus on stopping an opposing teams’ power play as they do in the playoffs. Nonetheless, Pacioretty’s shot is so dangerous, that even when you know it’s coming, he can still beat you with it. So, it’s definitely a weapon the Golden Knights have in the bag and one that absolutely can and will be a factor moving forward (when he’s healthy again).

Moving on, four of the 12 were scored by a player with either with a skate in the crease or within a few feet. It’s an old cliche, but it’s an accurate one, that to score goals in the NHL you have to go to the crease. Here’s the bad news, one was scored by the extra skater when VGK had their net empty on a 6-on-4 power play, and another was scored because a Kings defenseman seemingly forgot what position he was playing and completely abandoned the front of the goal to chase the puck. The goals are scored by a player standing in the right place (Reilly Smith both times), but they are reasonably unlikely to be something the Golden Knights can lean on due to circumstances. The other two in the crease came from Mark Stone, both of which are picture-perfect replicable power play goals.

The rest were scored from the slot area, two up top from defensemen, and two much closer in by forwards receiving passes from below the goal line.

I graded out the goals using a three-pronged option set. Each goal could be “very” replicable, “semi” replicable, or “unlikely” to be replicated.

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Film Breakdown: 1-1-3 Neutral Zone

The Golden Knights entered the 2021-22 season with a goal of creating more turnovers in the neutral zone to feed their dominant rush offense. Stealing an idea from a pair of teams that have knocked them out in the playoffs (Dallas and Washington), VGK implemented a 1-1-3 neutral zone setup.

In today’s film breakdown, we explain how the 1-1-3 works and display the strengths and weaknesses it offers the Golden Knights.

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Coach vs Coach: How Does Pete DeBoer Stack Up With Western Conference Opponents?

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Pete DeBoer has been a head coach in the NHL since 2008. He’s stood behind the bench of four different teams while coaching 965 regular season games. He’s brought two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, has been to the Conference Final five times, and has coached 123 playoff games.

Add it all up and it’s fair to say DeBoer has seen and done pretty much everything as a coach except for that one ultimate thing.

The plan this year is for him to tick that final box and to do it he’ll have to guide another stacked Golden Knights team through the rest of this regular season and then past four different opponents in the playoffs. It’s that last part where he really becomes the focal point.

But let’s start with the regular season, where DeBoer has been nothing short of dominant as the coach of the Golden Knights. He’s led VGK to a 75-31-4 record good for a .700 points percentage or a 115 point regular season pace.

Thanks to some help from MoreHockeyStats.com, we can see that DeBoer has not only dominated most Pacific Division coaches while in Vegas, but over his entire career (except for one).

Dallas Eakins (ANA): 12-4
Bob Boughner (SJS): 9-3
Dave Hakstol (SEA): 8-2
Darryl Suter (CGY): 14-10
Todd McLellan (LAK): 20-18
Dave Tippett (EDM): 11-12
Bruce Boudreau (VAN): 14-24

Eakins, Hakstol, and Boughner are the coaches he’s been most successful against in the Pacific, but they all pale in comparison to DeBoer’s 9-win advantage on Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. This brings us to the postseason.

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Islanders’ Barry Trotz On VGK: “They’re Legit”

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It was the perfect road trip for the Golden Knights last week along the Eastern Seaboard. Winning in Boston, New Jersey, and two in New York sent a loud message across the league. Vegas’ four-game sweep had some hiccups but collecting eight points was all that mattered. Three of their opponents were openly impressed by how the Golden Knights found ways to win.

They’re a legit, deep, big, fast, well-coached hockey team. A good sign for us. We measured up against a pretty good hockey team. -Barry Trotz, NYI coach

The Cup-winning coach knows Vegas well, and has had some success against them. We’re all aware of Trotz and the Capitals eliminating the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals but the results have been different in the regular season.

Outside of the postseason the current New York Islanders coach is 2-5-1 against Vegas. However, most games were tight and Trotz’ players were always prepared.

We played composed, we played with some urgency when we were down a goal to come back like this against a team like Vegas that keeps pressing. I thought we did a really good job tonight to come back and get the lead. It’s unfortunate to give up a goal at the end like this and lose that point. -Jean-Gabriel Pageau, NYI forward

The Islanders forced the Golden Knights into a hard-fought 60 minutes. Vegas’ skill and speed stood out to the Islanders, and specifically some of their quicker players.

You watch [Stephenson] play now, there’s no governor and he realizes it. He’s got himself to the next level. And he’s a good player. -Trotz

Vegas was sharp for several periods in New York and were hampered in others, but it never cost them in the end. Against the Rangers, the Golden Knights were completely in control of the game after the opening 20 minutes, but the remaining 40 were challenging.

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Analyzing The Golden Knights Through How Often They Ice The Puck

Rule 81: Icing – Should any player of a team, equal or superior in numerical strength to the opposing team, shoot, bat or deflect the puck from his own half of the ice beyond the goal line of the opposing team, play shall be stopped.

Icing is a simple rule that is really designed to keep the game moving and avoid the classic soccer “anywhere will do” type of clearance.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It happens multiple times per period and most of the time has little effect on the outcome of a game. In the NHL this season, icing has been called 3,688 times. A goal has been scored within 30 seconds of the ensuing faceoff just 181, or 5%, of the time.

But that doesn’t mean icing should be taken lightly, because it absolutely shouldn’t. How often a team ices a puck themselves and the frequency in which they force their opposition to ice it is an excellent illustration of a team’s success rate in the attacking zones. It puts a numerical value on things like forechecking, exiting the zone, and pressure.

Thanks to the great folks over at MoreHockeyStats.com, we know that the Golden Knights are terrific in some of these categories.

This season, the Golden Knights have forced their opponent to ice the puck 119 times in 29 games, about 4.25 per game. Despite losing 60% of the ensuing draws (see, I’ve been telling you faceoffs don’t matter), the Golden Knights have scored 10 goals, drawn four penalties, and forced the opposing team to ice the puck again 23 times within 30 seconds of the original icing call.

The 10 goals is second in the league behind Anaheim’s 15. In other words, 8.4% of the time a team ices the puck against the Golden Knights, it ends up in the back of their net in 30 seconds or less.

On the flip side, Vegas ices the puck a lot, like, a real lot.

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Early And Late Period Goals Sign Of A Championship Drive

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Last night in Boston the Golden Knights performed like a Stanley Cup contender. Jonathan Marchessault’s late score with 0.6 seconds left in the opening period fueled a multi-goal period and eventually win.

Late goals are starting to become a trend this year for the Golden Knights. Along with scoring early, last night was the 23rd time in which either Vegas or their opponent scored in the first two minutes of a period or the last two minutes of a period. Most coaches would call them back breakers, goals that shouldn’t have happened with little time off the clock or remaining.

Vegas earned 25 goals in those situations this season and it’s positively effected their record. The Golden Knights are 13-5 when scoring in the first or last two minutes of a period. Excluding empty netters, this season the Golden Knights have scored 21 early or late period goals.

Early/Late Period Goals

  • First Two Minutes: 8 Goals
  • Last Two Minutes: 13 Goals
  • Last Two Minutes Empty Net: 4 Goals

Scoring early can deflate an opponent in lengthy competitive periods and a late goal can carry momentum through an intermission. Naturally, Vegas has been the victim as well. Some opponents have been fortunate to come back to win games because of early/late period scoring situations. Overall, Vegas is 13-10-0 when a goal occurs by either team in the first two or last two minutes of a 20 minute frame.

VGK’s Record Scoring Early/Late Period Goals

  • Scoring First Two Minutes: 4-3-0
  • Scoring Last Two Minutes: 10-2-0 (4 ENG)

In cases like yesterday’s game in Boston, one late goal at the end of the 1st period essentially sealed the game. The Golden Knights used every second in the opening 20 minutes to put them in a position to wisely run out the remaining 40. By no means did Vegas let their foot off the gas but being up 3-0 after the first intermission allowed them to play differently. Plus it crushed any confidence the Bruins had to catch up.

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Pacioretty’s Commitment To Improving Himself Paying Off Early This Season

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Max Pacioretty is known as a streaky scorer. When he gets hot, the goals come in bunches. But never before has he been as hot as he is right now.

Pacioretty has scored in six straight games and has 10 goals and 17 points in his 10 games this season. He’s tied for second on the team in goals despite playing 12 fewer games than Jonathan Marchessault and he’s only behind Chandler Stephenson, Reilly Smith, Alex Pietrangelo, and Mark Stone in points, despite playing at least five fewer games than all of them.

Sometimes they go in and you’ve got to be prepared for when they don’t. Playing with great players always helps and getting the opportunity to score always feels good but you want to win. -Pacioretty

This isn’t the coincidence he’s making it out to sound though. Pacioretty is a hockey junkie and he never stops trying to improve his game.

I live and breathe training, nutrition, any little advantage I can get by making the right decisions. As I get older in my career this is an area I have to try and explore to try and last as long as I can and keep my speed as best as I can. –Pacioretty on Agent Provocateur podcast

Recently he’s spoken about working on his game with Golden Knights’ skills coach Misha Donskov in an effort to fit more into Pete DeBoer’s offensive system.

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32nd In Penalties Drawn, DeBoer Explains Why And What Must Change To Improve It

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the Golden Knights the biggest cause for consternation this season has been their inability to score on the power play. However, there’s something directly related to scoring power play goals that the Golden Knights are actually worse at; that’s drawing them.

Vegas currently sits in dead last in the NHL with just 60 penalties drawn in 21 games. That comes out to an average of 2.84 penalties drawn per game. Every other team draws at least three per game.

We’ve got to draw some more penalties, that’s been an issue here for a long time. For the amount of time we have the puck when we are playing well we should draw more and that’s on us to attack those holes a little harder. -Pete DeBoer

Since 2017-18 when the Golden Knights came into the league, only five teams have drawn fewer penalties. VGK have sat in the bottom 10 in the league three of their four completed seasons, and have never drawn more than 3.6 in a season.

As a group I just think using our speed and our size to put teams in uncomfortable situations more. That’s a mindset we’ve got to get better at. -DeBoer

The good news for the Golden Knights is that they aren’t a highly penalized team themselves. Despite being near the bottom of the league in drawing penalties, only once have they finished the season taking more penalties than drawing them, and it wasn’t that far off at -18.

This season though is heading for their worst yet. VGK have taken 73 penalties while just drawing 60. That puts them on pace to finish the season around -50 in net penalties. The last time the NHL played a full 82-game season, in 2018-19, the Anaheim Ducks were the only team that eclipsed 50 in that category. In fact, since 2012-13, only three teams have finished above 50, the Ducks twice and Columbus in 2014-15.

DeBoer believes it’s fixable though, and in a couple times discussing the topic he did not mention refereeing a single time. He puts the blame on his players, not the guys with the whistles.

We have multiple opportunities a game where we have defensemen flatfooted or there’s a hole that we can attack and this group is getting a little better at it but we have to attack those situations more and put teams in bad spots with our speed. We tend to look at the hole and then look for a play instead of racing through it. -DeBoer

Of course, health has been an issue for the Golden Knights this season, which is a major contributor to any negative stats against Vegas. Playing without Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Shea Theodore for extended periods of time will obviously have an effect on penalty generation. As the team starts to get people back, DeBoer is hopeful things will pick back up.

We haven’t had the puck much this year because of our health. As we have the puck more and those guys who score and attack those areas come back into the lineup, I’m sure we’re going to draw more. Even then, I think we need to find another level than we have here in that area. -DeBoer

Film Breakdown: Denying Pass At Blue Line On Penalty Kill

Since Pete DeBoer took over as head coach of the Golden Knights, one aspect of the game they’ve been consistently excellent at is penalty killing.

In today’s film breakdown, we show how VGK’s commitment to taking away a single pass on the penalty kill limits the amount of space the Golden Knights must defend, neutralizes one player on the opposing power play, and leads to VGK having one of the strongest penalty kills in the league.

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