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Golden Knights Adopting Cassidy’s Patented Early Season Success

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Before the Golden Knights hit the ice for the 2022-23 season, the veteran lineup was well-prepared for a great start. Through five games Vegas has outscored their opponents 17-10, outshot the opposition 171-158, and collected eight out of ten points. Their successful beginning shouldn’t be a shock to the players, the organization or the fans considering who is behind the Golden Knights bench.

As we pointed out in the offseason, coach Bruce Cassidy has a track record of early-season success. In Boston, his teams took care of business right out of the gate. As we know, the Bruins qualified for the playoffs in all six seasons with Cassidy in charge.

Earning early points clearly guided the way for rewarding regular seasons in Boston. Through five games the Golden Knights have adopted Cassidy’s preparation.

Cassidy’s Early Season Win %

  • 2017-18 BOS: .618 Pts%
  • 2018-19 BOS: .694 Pts%
  • 2019-20 BOS: .872 Pts%
  • 2020-21 BOS: .722 Pts%
  • 2021-22 BOS: .600 Pts%
  • 2022-23 VGK: .800 Pts%

Dating back to October of last year, after a handful of defeats there was growing concern in Vegas. The Golden Knights were 1-4-0 and looking lost. The team was struggling and the injury bug began spreading. It took 12 appearances to climb above a .500 winning percentage and weeks to catch up in the standings after a taxing start to the season. Fortunately, Vegas calmly made it through the first five game challenge. Instead of dealing with early stress, the Golden Knights are feeling good about having the best record in the Pacific Division, and the most points in the entire league.

Of course, we need to contain the excitement. The Golden Knights are five games into a long 82-game season. There are several challenges ahead on the schedule and an eastern Canadian road trip in early November. However, to conclude with more premature praise, let’s give Cassidy and his team credit for earning four wins in four different fashions. It hasn’t been flawless, even sloppy at times but picking up early points is all that matters. The Golden Knights’ opening weeks could make the difference in a late-season playoff chase.

VGK’s In-Zone Offense Must Pick Up

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the main reasons for the switch behind the bench was to help the Golden Knights generate more offense. The primary focus was on the power play, but a huge part of Bruce Cassidy’s mission in Las Vegas is to help a talented group of offensive players score more at 5-on-5.

They can no longer be completely reliant on chances off the rush, turnovers in the offensive zone, and shots from the point to generate the offense. While those tools must remain in the box for the Golden Knights, improvement on in-zone offense generation will likely be the difference between what has happened in the previous few playoff runs (and the one that came up short of the postseason), and what could happen this year.

Through four games, it’s not happening.

The Golden Knights have tallied 12 goals, which on its face is plenty for four games, especially for a team getting good goaltending and playing strong team defense. It’s how those goals are being generated that is the concern. Here’s a run-through of each of the 12 goals.

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Power Play Variety Paying Off Early For Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Through three games the Golden Knights power play is averaging one goal per contest. A success rate that Vegas fans haven’t seen in several seasons. While it’s premature to celebrate, it’s better than shouting obscenities after failed man-advantages like fans had been used to.

You are running through different people including the more accomplished offensive defensemen here, so you may see more action from there. -Bruce Cassidy

We explained in-depth, VGK’s new look power play under coach Bruce Cassidy. One element of the strategy was getting everyone on the ice involved. The Golden Knights have three PP goals and all were scored by a different player. Not only that, seven separate players have a PP point. It’s been a cast of characters contributing on 5-on-4 situations.

VGK Power Play Points
Nic Roy (2 Assists)
Alex Pietrangelo (2 Assists)
William Karlsson (Goal)
Jonathan Marchessault (Goal)
Reilly Smith (Goal)
Jack Eichel (Assist)
Mark Stone (Assist)

Both of Cassidy’s power play units have had success, creating game-tying and go-ahead goals. Against LA, William Karlsson evened the score 3-3 midway through the 3rd period. Up in Seattle, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly stretched Vegas’ lead on man-advantage opportunities.

Another sign Cassidy’s directions are quickly catching on is the variety of ways each power play goal has been scored. Karlsson’s PPG was a deflection from a superb Alex Pietrangelo shot-pass. The sequence began with Karlsson winning the faceoff and ended with Pietrangelo using his offensive creativity.

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Cassidy’s Philosophy of Using Ice Time As “The Ultimate Accountability Factor”

(Photo Credit: @vg on SinBin Discord Server)

Accountability is expected to be a hallmark of the Bruce Cassidy era in Las Vegas. That’s not to say players weren’t held accountable under the previous two regimes, they absolutely were, but with Cassidy, it just seems to hit different because of his bluntly honest style when talking about it publicly.

Like every coach though, actions speak louder than words, and while Cassidy’s words often back up his actions in a way Pete DeBoer’s and Gerald Gallant’s did not, there’s one place where his actions will always undoubtedly speak volumes throughout his tenure with the Golden Knights.

The ultimate accountability factor is ice time. That’s the one area where you can really get the attention of a hockey club. I’ve never met a player that said ‘hey coach you played me too much last night.’ That’s just not something you hear. They want to be out there in all situations. -Cassidy

Every coach in the NHL operates this way, but they all have slightly different approaches to how they do it. For Cassidy, he comes into each game with an idea of the various roles of every player and along with it a corresponding expected time on ice.

When the game goes well, everyone fills his own role and the time on ice numbers will fall in line with the pregame expectations.

Lucky for us, that happened in the Golden Knights’ first-ever game under the new head coach.

I thought the numbers in LA was really good for what our group should look like. We didn’t tax anybody. There’s always going to be the higher-minute guys when they play in all situations. But I really like the way it was divided up and it showed in the way we played the game. I thought we were the better team. That’s the way it should be if we are going. It should be fairly consistent. -Cassidy

Why I say it’s lucky is that it immediately set a precedent of where everyone’s time on ice is expected to land, and thus, set a measurable benchmark for each player moving forward.

Fast forward to Game 2 of the season against Chicago, where for the first time Cassidy used his “hammer.” (A word he admitted is a bit too harsh but “well, we’ll use it cause I already said it and you can’t go backward.”)

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Just One Game, But Golden Knights Are On The Road To Establishing Consistent Style Of Play

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last year, due to a combination of inconsistent play and players in the lineup, the Golden Knights struggled to find and maintain an identity in the way they play.

One game into the 2022-23 season, there’s already one emerging.

I thought we had really good sticks. We were knocking down a lot of pucks. That’s been an identity. We’re such a long team. If we can close in little sections, that’s when we’re able to bat down pucks and go the other way. Overall it just felt like we were in sync. -Mark Stone

Where it was most noticeable in the season opener in Los Angeles was in the neutral zone as the Kings attempted their breakouts. The Golden Knights hounded LA, constantly breaking up passes or forcing them to turn back and start over. A perfect example is the game-winning goal.

With our size on the forecheck and they don’t have a huge group of defensemen, and we can skate, when we get in there it’s always going to be a battle and when we are winning those battles it’s tough to get the puck back for the defense. I know playing against big forwards that can skate it’s hard. -Alex Pietrangelo

But it extends to the other two zones as well. In the O-zone while forechecking, VGK’s length makes life difficult on the opposition by limiting passing lanes. Vegas’ active sticks disrupted multiple exit chances for the Kings and led to quick-strike offense.

In the D-zone, the Golden Knights used their new zone defense structure to eliminate passes through the center of the ice. Their size and skating skill help keep the puck to the outside and there is almost always at least one VGK body between the puck and the goal.

A key to maintaining this identity is patience, something the Golden Knights excelled at in the opener. Rather than forcing the Kings into making mistakes by creating numbers advantages in puck battles, Vegas did it with positioning and size and allowed the mistakes to come to them. For the Kings, it had to feel like there were opposing sticks and players all over the ice. This helped feed what the Golden Knights do best offensively.

The strength of our team will be transition but you have to play the game in front of you too and I thought we did a good job of that. -Bruce Cassidy

The last piece of the puzzle is another area in which Vegas experienced challenges a year ago, puck management. A big part of what made the Golden Knights tough to play against in Los Angeles was their structure. The only way to properly set up in the neutral zone, check in the offensive zone, or defend for extended periods of time in the defensive zone is with proper structure. Step one in maintaining that is not being caught out of position when the puck is turned over. Sloppy play through the neutral zone or unforced turnovers in the offensive zone leads to rushes the other way. The Golden Knights managed the puck much better than their opponent and it bled into every other part of the game.

We bought into puck management. They play a 1-3-1 in the neutral zone so if you try to get through there and try to make pretty plays that’s where LA is very effective. So I thought tonight that we managed the puck and tried to play in behind them and take what they gave us. It really worked well. -Cassidy

It’s just one game, so we’re a long way from being able to confidently say what we saw at Crypto.com Arena is what we’ll see consistently over the course of the season from the Golden Knights. But the groundwork is there for it to become a staple of Vegas’ game this year.

Length, size, skating, and active sticks make the game hard on every team in the league no matter their talent or system. The Golden Knights achieved it and played with a clear identity in Game 1 of the season.

Next step: Repeat.

Inside Look At The Crazy Final Play Leading To Mark Stone’s Game-Winning Goal

With a little over a minute remaining in regulation of a tie game, the Kings found themselves with clean possession of the puck as the Golden Knights made their final line change of the game behind the play. Defenseman Matt Roy left the puck for his partner Sean Durzi who carried it behind the LA goal where he was poised to begin a breakout.

But, instead, Durzi waited, and waited, and waited.

I honestly didn’t know he was coming out. If he would have taken it to OT, I would have stood there and waited. There’s no sense in letting him bait me. -Mark Stone

We just assumed he was going to kill the clock and take the point. -Alex Pietrangelo

Durzi had other ideas.

I was hoping he’d come out. We want to play hockey. No one wants to stand there and watch that. We didn’t want to give ourselves up and flush him out though, that’s a sucker’s race. -Bruce Cassidy

After holding the puck for exactly 22 seconds behind the goal with the crowd urging the King to get the puck forward and attempt to win the game, he did just that. Durzi skated out to his left and fired a pass 100 feet along the ice to the red line.

Here’s what he saw as he went to make the pass.

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Power Play Tailored To VGK’s Strengths Still Working Towards Finished Product

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The power play will be a huge emphasis from Day 1 for the Golden Knights this season. After a few seasons of struggles, Bruce Cassidy was brought in to fix it. It’s currently very much a work in progress with shifting units, systems, and options through the first few weeks of Training Camp.

At yesterday’s practice, special teams were under the microscope with the power play working entries and in-zone plays against full-speed penalty killers. Unit 1 consisted of Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, Reilly Smith, Mark Stone, and Shea Theodore while the other unit was Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Phil Kessel, Nic Roy, and Alex Pietrangelo.

There are definitely some concepts to build on as the units grow more and more familiar both with each other and what Cassidy’s system is trying to accomplish, but the head coach sees room for improvement.

What I hope to see is a little more chemistry where we are playing with more pace. Moving the puck quicker, supporting it, automatic outs, things like that, that come naturally to you. When you are seeing pressure you are able to sustain O-zone play. I don’t think our pace is where it needs to be in terms of moving the puck quick to break pressure, but again some of that is not a lot of reps and live reps. -Cassidy

One of the most noticeable features of the Golden Knights power play under Cassidy is a lesser reliance on the bumper player than he did in Boston.

We detailed the Cassidy power play in-depth this summer, and we’re already starting to see Cassidy tweak the system to fit some of Vegas’ most talented players.

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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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