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Location Of Minnesota Wild Goals Should Raise Red Flags For Golden Knights

Tonight will be meeting six of the eight scheduled this season between the Golden Knights and Wild. So far, the Wild hold a slight edge having won three of the five games and have amassed seven points in the matchup compared to the Golden Knights’ five.

The Wild are currently the team Vegas has had the least amount of success against, especially defensively. The Golden Knights have allowed a total of 82 goals in 35 games, good for 2.34 goals against per game. Against the Wild, that number shoots up to 2.80 per game, about a half goal worse than their average and the highest of any VGK opponent.

One of the main reasons for this is the style of goals the Wild have been scoring against the Golden Knights. Unlike what we’ve seen from many other Vegas opponents this year, the Wild have harassed the Golden Knights goal crease, specifically at 5-on-5. Of their 10 5-on-5 goals, six of them have come with the puck sitting in the blue paint. Contrast that to Vegas, who have just one.

MIN goals vs. VGK

VGK goals vs. MIN

Minnesota likes to play a transition-style game in which they trade chances with their opponent, a style the Golden Knights deployed under Gallant the first season but have pivoted away from. That style usually leads to rush goals, which are typically scored a bit further away from the goal crease. But against Vegas, they’ve lived in the goal crease. When contrast to where the Golden Knights have gotten their goals, this is a bit concerning for not only tonight but a potential playoff series next month.

Quite simply, the Wild have scored from more replicable places on the ice than the Golden Knights have in the first five meetings.

Both sides of the ice are issues. It’s the defensive side that’s of bigger concern to me though.

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Film Breakdown Of VGK’s Dominance When The Opposing Team Pulls Their Goalie

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This season the Golden Knights boast one of the best penalty-killing units in the NHL. That’s a stat that’s highlighted every single night. “Killing” against the empty-net is not thrust into the spotlight nearly as much, but it’s a place the Golden Knights are equally as good.

It starts with having great personnel to get the job done, which the Golden Knights do. They have used 13 players for more than four minutes in 5-on-6 situations. They are also committed to blocking shots and exiting the zone rather than hunting the empty net goals. Beyond all that, they are structurally excellent, which I break down here…

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Stopping Perron And O’Reilly #1 Obstacle For Golden Knights Against Blues

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To say the Golden Knights are haunted by David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly would be putting it lightly. In the three seasons since Perron left Vegas as a free agent, the pair have scored 8 goals, registered 11 assists, and combined for a +14 rating in just eight games against the Golden Knights.

Why can’t the Golden Knights stop them? The answer, as it is for most questions in hockey, comes down to time and space.

O’Reilly’s a great player in the middle of the ice and Perron, as Flower can attest, is a great shooter (Fleury nods in agreement). When he gets his time and sapce in shooting areas that’s where he capitalizes. -Mark Stone

In just 72 minutes of ice time together at even-strength against the Golden Knights, the pair have been on the ice for eight goals while conceding just twice. Oddly, the advanced stats such as shot share, expected goals, and high-danger chance numbers with them on the ice skew majorly in Vegas’ direction but the results haven’t matched.

On the power play, they’re even more deadly, as was the case last night. They’ve shared the ice for just 13 minutes on the man-advantage against Vegas and have accounted for four goals.

For us moving forward we have to do a better job of taking away that time and space and keying in on Perron’s shot a little more. -Stone

The key for Perron and O’Reilly, and the reason the advanced metrics don’t tell the whole story, has been their ability to create chances quickly. Any giveaway or even just a small mistake such as stick position of a defender can instantly turn into a goal scoring chance against Vegas.

A small seam can lead to Perron releasing one of his wicked one-timers or his nasty toe-drag shots that helped him each 66 points in a Golden Knights uniform. Meanwhile, O’Reilly is a pest forechecking against Vegas. Not only can he take the puck away himself, he’s crafty enough to fool defensemen into making mistakes.

The Golden Knights must have a keen eye on that pair any time they are on the ice, especially on the power play. Matchups are crucial and can be the difference in a game the Golden Knights should win and one they let slip away.

In the game last night, one Vegas unquestionably outplayed the Blues in for a majority of the night, St. Louis stole a goal from Vegas on a single shift in which they got Perron and O’Reilly out against the Vegas 4th line. Perron literally shared the ice with Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Reaves for less than a minute, and it resulted in a goal. On the power play Reilly Smith and William Karlsson were able to limit Perron and O’Reilly, but the 19 seconds they got against Tomas Nosek helped lead to another goal.

It’s tricky on the road, because the Golden Knights must declare their line and pair first at every stoppage, but being mindful of Perron and O’Reilly is quickly becoming a prerequisite to beating the Blues for Vegas.

Golden Knights Need More From Blue Line, Specifically Theodore

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Goal scoring has been a bit of a chore the last few weeks for the Golden Knights. In their last 13 games, they are averaging just under three goals a game, but they’ve racked up seven goals on the power play, three in overtime, two with their goalie pulled and one into an empty net. That leaves just 23 goals in the last 13 games that have been scored under “normal” circumstances, less than two a night.

A big reason for this is the lack of scoring from the blue line. Last night, Dylan Coghlan exploded onto the scene scoring his first, second, and third career goals all in the same night. Amazingly, Coghlan is now tied for the team lead in goals by defenseman. We’re more than 40% of the way through the season, and Coghlan passed Alec Martinez, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, and Alex Pietrangelo, and matched Shea Theodore in goals.

The VGK defense now accounted for 13 of the team’s 73 total goals, or 18%. That number is not too abnormally low across the landscape of the NHL, but for a team built on the shoulders of a strong defensive forward group, they need heavy contributions from the blue line to keep up offensively. It’s something they got last night, but hasn’t been over the past two months.

Theodore hasn’t scored since January 22nd, 15 games ago for him. Pietrangelo has just one goal in that same span. Martinez has one goal all season. Hague’s tallied one in his last 15 games and Whitecloud is goal-less in his last 13.

On the power play, the Golden Knights have yet to get a goal from a single defenseman despite Theodore and Pietrangelo receiving more than 50 minutes of power play time a piece and Martinez nearing the 30 minute mark.

With Pietrangelo likely out for a significant amount of time, it’s going to be up to Theodore to really shoulder the load for the Golden Knights, something he hasn’t been doing recently. In the first seven games of the year, Shea averaged more than four shots per game. In the last 13, he has hit four just twice and has seen his average dip to two per game.

In the last 10 games, Theodore is seeing about 24 minutes of ice time per night, nearly 20 of which has come at even-stength. Vegas has allowed more goals than they’ve scored at even-stength with Theodore on the ice over that span.

Quite simply, the Golden Knights need Theodore’s offense, and they haven’t been gettting it recently. Since his injury, his point production has been cut in half (from a point per game to 0.5 points per game), and defensively he’s making more mistakes than we’ve seen from him since his rookie season.

His role is set to increase even more with Pietrangelo sidelined for the foreseeable future. Theodore’s offense must return or the Golden Knights will continue to struggle to score consistently.

Nic Roy’s Success Playing With Alex Tuch Film Breakdown

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Nic Roy has had an up and down year going from the 3rd line to the 4th to even being a healthy scratch a few games recently. Roy has just one goal and one assist in 19 games played, but he’s looked like a different player when matched up with Alex Tuch than he has anywhere else.

Tuch and Roy first found themselves together last year and it clicked instantaneously. Here’s my film breakdown showing why these two have been so good together and why they need to stay together moving forward.

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4th Liners Failing Despite Benefit Of Unbelievable Offensive Opportunities

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19 games into the 2021 season, William Carrier and Ryan Reaves have combined for a total of two points while being on the ice for 372 minutes.

The two have a combined -7 rating, have cost the Golden Knights 0.7 points in the standings according to Hockey-Reference.com’s point shares stat, and each post an expected goals share of less than 43% (the team number is over 52%).

To put it politely, they haven’t been good offensively to start the season. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but this should. No player on the Golden Knights has started a higher percentage of shifts in the offensive zone than Ryan Reaves. Reaves has started a massive 57.6% of his shifts in a positive position while his linemate, Carrier, isn’t far behind at 55.3%, good for 4th on the team for forwards.

So, Reaves and Carrier start closer to the opposing goal more often than anyone on the team, yet have failed to score a single goal, have been on the ice for just four goals (three for Carrier), and have allowed seven. They are below 50% shares in every advanced metric including Corsi, Fenwick, shots, expected goals, scoring chances, and high danger chances. In other words, they give up more than they create, by every measurable, despite starting in more advantageous positions than anyone else on the team.

But wait, there’s more! It gets worse… WAY worse, when we look at the seven most important games of the season.

Vegas has played St. Louis, Colorado, and Minnesota a combined seven times in the first 19 games. In those games, Carrier and Reaves have combined to go scoreless and pointless, while registering a -5 rating and allowing three goals while being on the ice for zero goals for. Again, not good.

In those games, the pair started an absurd 81% (Reaves) and 84% (Carrier) of their shifts in the offensive zone. The Golden Knights took 91 defensive zone draws in those seven games, Reaves and/or Carrier were on the ice for six of them. That means one of those two was on the ice for just 7% of defensive draws while they accounted for more than 20% of Vegas’ offensive draws.

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Golden Knights Buck The Trend Against The Wild

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The Minnesota Wild came into last night’s matchup with the Golden Knights winning six straight games. Their streak ended when Max Pacioretty scored the game-winner for Vegas in overtime. The victory at home and in front of 2,600 fans was dramatic but also a rarity for the Golden Knights. It was only the third time Vegas beat Minnesota in nine tries. Maybe the tides have changed after last night’s heroics.

It seems like every time you play in Vegas whether you have the lead or they have the lead they come out in the 3rd. They really come at you and it’s tough to play against them. -Nick Bjugstad, MIN forward

Since the inaugural 2017-18 season, no other Western Conference team has given the Golden Knights more of a headache than the Wild. In nine meetings, Vegas has lost six and won twice in overtime or a shootout. The Golden Knights had struggled so much that their second-worst points percentage (.333) in team history came against the Wild.

What makes Minnesota such a difficult opponent for Vegas?

I think they got caught up in the rush game to a certain extent. It went both directions. Minnesota had chances, Vegas had chances. The difference was that Minnesota was still able to play well in their defensive zone when it called for it. Vegas was not really tight in the 2nd period. -Mike McKenna, AT&T Sports Analyst

Maybe, it was the pace of the game. The Wild can really move and they make quick decisions. From accurate stretch passes to their ability to collect and convert rebounds, Minnesota presents a problem for Vegas. Last night’s 2nd period was the perfect example. The Golden Knights were challenged with pressure and speed in their own zone, and couldn’t hold on to the puck in the Wild’s zone for very long.

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Where Has All The Offense Gone?

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For the first time in 2021, the Golden Knights have lost consecutive games. After racing out to an impressive 10-2-1 record in their first 13 games, Vegas has dropped two in a row to the Colorado Avalanche. The Golden Knights are also 2-3-0 in their last five games and have scored just eight goals.

Before the recent skid, the Golden Knights had been averaging 3.7 goals per game. Over the previous five, that number has plummetted to 1.6. The even-strength scoring numbers look even worse. First 10 games, Vegas scored 31 goals at even-strength. Since, they’ve mustered just four in five games.

We need to find ways to generate offense especially at 5-on-5. A big part of our game is to produce and try and play offense without giving up much defensively so we need to find out how to get better in that area. -Max Pacioretty after 2/14 win vs. COL

So, what happened?

First, it starts with the most basic concept when it comes to scoring, shooting. The Golden Knights reached 30 or more shots in six of their first 10 games. They’ve failed to reach 30 in any of the previous five and haven’t even made it to 25 twice (their two lowest performances of the season).

They’re 27th in the NHL in shots on goal per game with 25.8 since February 10th. Before this stretch, they were 5th in the league with 32.3.

It goes beyond shots actually on goal too. The even-strength Fenwick numbers (unblocked shot attempts) are poor as well. Vegas has allowed more unblocked shot attempts than they’ve created in just six games of their first 15. Four of the six have come in the last five.

The Golden Knights have had 80 even-strength shots blocked in the last five games. That’s an average of 16 blocked shots against. In the first 10 games, Vegas saw 122 shots blocked or 12.2 per game; a difference of almost four more blocked shots per game.

First 10
37 goals (3.7 per game)
32.3 shots per game
6 games with 30+ shots (60%)
55.5% Fenwick
12.2 shots blocked per game

Last 5
5 goals (1.6 per game)
25.6 shots per game
1 game with 30+ shots (20%)
46.1% Fenwick
16 shots blocked per game

The next one is a confusing one. In Vegas’ first 10 games they recorded 45 takeaways while giving the puck away 54 times. In the last 10, they’ve more than exceeded their takeaways (59) in half the number of games, while seeing their giveaway number (23) drop by about one a game. Thus, the Golden Knights are up more than seven takeaways per game over the last five than they were in the first 10.

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Zach Whitecloud’s Offensive Instincts Film Breakdown

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When the Golden Knights signed Zach Whitecloud as an undrafted college free agent out of Bemidji State, the hope was for him to turn into a defense-first option at the NHL level. During his early stint with the Golden Knights and a couple of years with the Chicago Wolves, that’s exactly what he was.

But, since Pete DeBoer took over and Whitecloud has become a staple in the lineup, he’s starting to show some offensive flair. Here’s my film breakdown showing his excellent ability to read and react to plays.

Vegas Taking Advantage Of Early Schedule

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Give the Ducks credit because last night’s 1-0 victory over the Golden Knights was a rare occurrence. Through 11 games it’s clear, the NHL (and a COVID pause) presented Vegas with a golden opportunity to start off strong.

The Golden Knights have largely preyed on weaker opponents. Their overall opponents’ combined record is 23-21-9. If you subtract the single game with St. Louis, the record drops to a sluggish 16-17-7.

The 5-4 win over Anaheim on Tuesday earned Vegas their 17th point of the season. Ten of those points, or 70% were earned by beating the same two bad teams.

vs. Anaheim & LA
VGK (5-1-0) 10 Points
VGK Goal Differential 21-13
VGK 3.5 Goals Scored Per
VGK 2.1 Goals Allowed Per

There’s also the home-ice factor. Of course, without fans, that is surely muted at least a little bit, but the rigors of traveling in the COVID landscape offer some challenges to the road teams.

The Golden Knights have traveled just one time the entire season and they suffered one of their two losses on that trip. In the two road games, they scored just three total goals.

At 8-2-1, Vegas has succeeded by dominating periods, getting hot goaltending and playing a lighter schedule. It’s not a knock on the Golden Knights, take em where you can get em. They play in a below-average division and as long as they clinch a playoff berth, it doesn’t matter who they beat or where they beat them. It was important for Vegas to jump out and build a cushion in the standings against easier competition and they’ve done just that.

Despite last night’s 1-0 loss to Anaheim, history tends to repeats itself when a Southern Californian team faces Vegas. Going back to the inaugural 2017-18, the Golden Knights have a combined total of 42 points in 31 games against the Ducks and Kings. Vegas has earned points in 22 of 31 games. It’s been a lopsided affair to say the least.

Vegas vs. Anaheim & LA History

vs. Ducks
16 Games Played
13-3 Record
26 Of A Possible 32 Points
55-29 Goal Differential
.843 Win%

vs. Kings
15 Games Played
7-6-2 Record (4-0 in Postseason)
16 Of A Possible 30 Points
42-46 Goal Differential
.533 Win%

Vegas will play Anaheim and LA 10 more times this season. Historical data projects the Golden Knights will earn around 13 points in their remaining games against the Ducks and Kings. If the forecast is accurate, Vegas will collect a whopping 23 of 32 points against the SoCal duo.

It’s possible the Golden Knights can build their path to the postseason from these two opponents alone. That success sets Vegas up nicely even if they happen to fall to better competition.

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