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VGK Playoff, Division, Stanley Cup Probabilities

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The Golden Knights are in the midst of a three-game slide, the first regular season losing streak since Pete DeBoer took over as head coach back in January 2020. They’ve fallen four points behind the division-leading Avalanche but have a game in hand. Meanwhile, after dropping four points to the Wild, Vegas still hold a two point advantage on Minnesota.

With a little more than 60% of the season gone we have a pretty good idea of where everyone inside of the division stands. However, due to the division-only scheduling, comparing team to team across divisions can be a bit trickier.

That’s why I like to rely on the stat geeks. I love to keep tabs on three prediction machines that use drastically different methods to come up with their probabilities. They are MoneyPuck.com, Hockey-Reference.com’s Playoff Probabilities page, and Dom Luszczyszyn from The Athletic’s Playoff Projections.

We’ll start with MoneyPuck. Their model uses a game predictor based on a variety of factors such as team strength, health, home/away, rest, and even more in-depth stats like expected goals and special teams percentages. They run 100,000 simulations daily to come up with their probabilities.

Make Playoffs
VGK 99.7%

Points Projection
VGK 75.5

West Division
VGK 24.5%

Stanley Cup
VGK 7.3%

Next is Hockey-Reference. This is is very much statistical-based. Rather than trying to guess the outcomes of upcoming games, it uses every stat possible to give a percentage chance each team has to win each game. They run 1,000 simulations daily.

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The West Division Is Essentially A College Mid-Major

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s an old saying in sports that goes something like “you can only play what’s in front of you.” The idea is that a team has no control over the level of competition on their schedule. Their job is to simply go out and handle that competition night in and night out.

The Golden Knights have been doing just that. 30 games into the season, Vegas leads their division and stands in 2nd place in the entire NHL in points percentage. They have an impressive +33 goal differential, winning streaks of four, five, and six games, and haven’t lost more than two games in a row all year.

It’s all great and would be easy to proclaim the Golden Knights among the clear-cut Stanley Cup favorites this season, but here’s the problem.

This year, due to the unbalanced shortened schedule, it does matter who you are playing.

Because each team is strictly playing teams inside of their division, strength of schedule absolutely matters when discussing the overall ranking of teams.

The West is the only division in the NHL to contain three teams (SJS, LAK, ANA) that missed the 24-team playoff last season. The East has two (BUF, NJD), while the North (OTT) and Central (DET) each have one.

All seven of those teams currently sit on the outside of the playoff picture and one of the seven represents a team in dead last in each of the four respective divisions. Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, Anaheim, and San Jose are all unquestionably terrible NHL teams. Maybe you can make the case the Kings have taken a small step in the right direction, but even that could be considered a stretch.

Thus, playing in the West offers a massive advantage to the five teams that did reach the playoffs last season. On each of their schedules, they play 24 games, or 43% of the schedule, against non-playoff teams. Compare that to teams in the East who get just 16 or those in the North and Central that get eight or nine.

In determining the best team in each division, the schedule is balanced and thus fair, but when trying to figure out how teams across divisions stack up, records and stats from the West must be taken with a grain of salt, similarly to how we do with college sports. When collegiate sports are judged in determining bowl games or the NCAA tournament, conference, and competition, matter. An undefeated team in a conference with weak competition is often considered much worse than a team with many losses in a challenging conference. This year, the West Division is the NHL’s equivalent of college football’s Big East or basketball’s Mountain West.

I went through all 31 teams to show how many points each have racked up against the seven non-playoff teams from last year, plus how many games are left on the schedule to score even more easy points in the back half of the season.

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VGK Records In Unusual Situations

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have played 264 regular season games in franchise history. That includes two full 82 game seasons, last year’s 71 game COVID shortened season, and the 29 this season. The majority of those are night games that are aired on ATT Sportsnet with the Golden Knights wearing grey jerseys at home and white jerseys on the road.

But, sometimes there are abnormal situations, like yesterday. The Golden Knights played a nationally televised game, on the road, in an early timeslot yesterday, and came out a bit flat.

A few tweeters mentioned they thought the Golden Knights struggled when the game is aired on NBC or NBCSN and they also believed early road games are a challenge as well. So, I looked it up, and they were right on both accounts.

National TV
2021: 3-3-0 (4 left)
2019-20: 2-2-0
2018-19: 3-5-1
2017-18: 2-2-1
TOTAL: 10-12-2

Early Road Games (Before 4:00 PM PST)
2021: 0-2-0
2019-20: 0-2-0
2018-19: 3-6-1
2017-18: 4-0-1
TOTAL:  7-10-2

In fact, the Golden Knights have lost five straight early road games and haven’t won one since December of 2018.

Another hot topic this season has been jersey and helmet colors. After three seasons of grey and white jerseys and helmets, the Golden Knights unveiled gold jerseys, gold helmets, and red Reverse Retro jerseys. They’ve been pretty darn good in everything but the helmets.

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Golden Knights Lead The NHL In Off-The-Ice “Stat”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of my favorite parts of media availability from coaches, players, or management is when they spit out a verifiable stat. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it gives us a little peek into how in-depth some of the metrics these guys are using. Plus, it often offers a window into where their focus has been and what they are looking at to improve upon.

Every time I hear one I like to go back and look up the number to see if the person was spot on, overexaggerating or under-exaggerating because I believe you learn something from each.

The goal isn’t to catch the person in messing up the stat because trust me, I’ve screwed up hundreds of them speaking off the cuff while covering this team the past five years, but instead it’s to learn something about their mentality on a certain subject.

If the number is spot on, they’ve probably either done the research or saw the number from someone who did. When it’s off, we learn whether they believe it’s a bigger deal or not as big a deal than it really is

Usually, it’s in-depth stuff like 2nd period face-off percentage or shooting percentage on the blocker side of the goalie, you know, specific hockey stuff. But yesterday we got one that was far different from typical hockey stats, and it came from a question on the importance of sleep.

(Getting sleep) is easier said than done particularly when we’ve got I would guess maybe the most kids in households per player than any team in the league. Petro’s got four, Reaves has got three, and Patch has five. So I think your best intentions are to get eight hours but anybody with kids has been there, you get home at two or three in the morning from a road trip, you know the kids are bouncing on your bed at 7 AM because they haven’t seen you in 10 days. It’s not easy with the family dynamic but God bless our players wives because I think they do a phenomenal job of trying to help in that area. -Pete DeBoer

The way DeBoer said it, he certainly hasn’t done the research on this himself, but the fact that he has the feeling like this team is up near the top in children per player means something… especially if it’s not right.

When I heard him say it, my first thought was, oh man this is going to really suck trying to verify, but luckily, someone has already done the research for us. Apparently, there’s an Instagram account dedicated specifically to this very topic. It’s called NHL Wags & Babies and they use the handle @hockeywags. (They are missing two teams, but I don’t feel like doing that research so we’ll ignore them.)

Here’s the list.

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Penalty Kill Success In Playoffs Set Up To Continue Into 2020-21 Regular Season

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Every time a coach gets fired special teams seem to be a focal point in evaluating the transition from one coach to the next. The move to go from Gerard Gallant to Pete DeBoer was no different in Vegas.

After the disastrous #NotAMajor penalty kill that ended the 2018-19 season, Gallant’s Golden Knights struggled on the penalty kill in 2019-20 which, at least in small, part led to his release. Vegas killed at just 78.9%, good for 19th in the NHL. When DeBoer came in, the system completely changed, and the results got even worse as the players tried to adapt on the fly. DeBoer’s VGK ended the regular season killing at a miserable 70.7%, worse than all but two teams in the league in that span.

Enter a global pandemic, the pause, the pre-playoff training camp, and a playoff run to the Western Conference Final, and the VGK PK turned elite. The Golden Knights killed at an 85.5% rate in the playoffs, by far the best penalty kill numbers the team has seen in a complete regular or post season.

If the Golden Knights continue to succeed at that rate while playing a man (or two) down, that alone would justify the coaching change. It seems unrealistic, but history shows us that it is possible. Over the past decade, 25 teams have killed at a rate of 85.5% or higher for a full season, including five who did it in the 48-game 2012-12 season.

The Golden Knights return each of their top seven skaters in shorthanded minutes from the dominant penalty-killing postseason. The only main player Vegas is losing is Nate Schmidt, who averaged about 90 seconds a game on the kill, but he’s being replaced with Alex Pietrangelo who should easily be able to fill that void.

Plus, the setup for this season bodes well for DeBoer’s pressure penalty kill. Not only does he get another training camp to further implement the system, but they only have to scout seven opponents as opposed to the normal 30. The decrease in number of unique opponents will allow the coaching staff to hone in on tendencies that should assist the penalty kill even more.

Also, the teams in the division don’t exactly boast electric power plays. Anaheim, LA, and San Jose each finished in the bottom 10 in the NHL last year, while Colorado and Arizona were both below the league average. St. Louis’ was elite, finishing 3rd in the NHL, but their leader in power play points just so happens to be on the Golden Knights now. (Minnesota was decent finishing 10th.)

The shorter the season, the more important a role special teams plays in any team’s success. The Golden Knights stack up well against the division at 5-on-5, but power play and special teams numbers could be the great equalizer. The Vegas power play needs work from last season, but if the penalty kill can continue the success they had in the bubble, this team should be in for a pretty dominant season.

Shot Attempts By Defensemen Way Up In Playoffs; Expected To Go Even Higher In 2020-21

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The change from Gerard Gallant to Pete DeBoer brought about a slightly new style of play, but more so it seemed to bring a new emphasis on how the Golden Knights would go about creating their offense.

Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, we specifically highlighted one stat that indicated the exact difference between his way of generating offense and Gallant’s. At the time it was written as an example of what Vegas needed to stop to win the series, but now, it’s what the Golden Knights need to work to be successful in 2020-21.

That stat is percentage of team shots attempts taken by defensemen. Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, his teams were consistently among the league leaders seeing about 40% of their shot attempts coming from blue liners. Vegas, under Gallant, came in with significantly less, at around 34%. Over the course of the 2018-19 season, that meant about 300 fewer shot attempts from Vegas defensemen than San Jose’s.

It didn’t take long for DeBoer to begin implementing that style of offense here in Vegas. Thanks to some dandy research by SanJoseHockeyNow.com‘s Sheng Peng, the increase in shot attempts from Gallant, to pre-Pause DeBoer, to post-Pause DeBoer was massive.

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Golden Knights Keep Up With 2020 NHL “Oddity”

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In a year where strange is normal, the NHL was no exception and did their part to add to the madness. Unusual statistical occurrences happened over the 2019-20 season, and the Golden Knights were one of those teams in on the action.

There were 125 multi-goal comeback wins, the most in NHL history through 1,082 games (the amount of games played this season instead of 1,271). This is my favourite stat here today because I came across some commentary this season about “hockey today” being less entertaining (less physical, too fast to follow, copycat styles), yet the game itself gave us great drama. The most multi-goal comeback wins EVER. When your team is down in today’s NHL, they aren’t necessarily out.-Justin Bourne, Sportsnet

It really is a remarkable statistic. Just over 1,000 games played and 125 instances where a team comes back to win from a two-plus goal deficit. Early multiple-goal leads in this league won’t always ensure a victory. I guess that’s why we’re constantly told by coaches and players the need to “play the full 60.” Damn, I miss hockey cliché speak.

To add to the oddity, the Golden Knights achieved the feat twice in the regular season, both against the same team.

VGK Comeback Wins Trailing By 2 Goals

1/4 vs. STL: VGK wins 5-4 in OT/Trailed 3-0 in 1st Period
2/13 vs. STL: VGK wins 6-5 in OT/Trailed 4-2 in 2nd Period

Then, in the playoffs, Vegas did it again to St. Louis!

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Examining Each Golden Knights Quality Of Competition Faced

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the most powerful tools to measure a hockey player’s importance to a team is by examining how often his coach puts him on the ice. The simple idea is that the coach will play his best players for the most minutes, against the toughest competition, and in the most important situations.

There are all sorts of variables that affect different players’ overall numbers which makes breaking down time on ice very challenging. It’s easy to see who plays the most overall, at even-strength, or on special teams, but who plays against the opposition’s best players, that’s a lot tougher to spot.

Luckily, there are incredibly smart people in the hockey community that dedicate insane amounts of time to figuring it out. One such person is Patrick Bacon (@TopDownHockey). Patrick derived a complex mathematical formula to calculate the quality of every NHL players’ competition using opponent’s ice time. (Here’s the formula if you are interested.)

To dumb it down, this formula uses the fundamental concept that the best players play the most. Thus, the more ice time the players you share the ice with see, the better the quality of competition you’ve faced. For example, if a player plays a majority of his shifts against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who both average nearly 22 minutes a night, his TOIQoC% will be much higher than his teammate who saw most of his ice time against Jujhar Khaira and Sam Gagner, who each average around 14.

The reason these numbers can be so interesting is that they give a peek into the minds of the coaching staff making the decisions. NHL coaches don’t always have the ability to match lines and pairs with the matchups they prefer perfectly, but they are able to get them more often than not. Despite Pete DeBoer’s weird infatuation with starting the 4th line every night, both he and Gerard Gallant were meticulous in setting up the matchups they preferred over the course of the Golden Knights first three seasons.

The numbers speak for themselves, but I’ll do some talking for them after you see the chart. You can sort each season by double-clicking the year at the top. The higher numbers indicate stronger quality of competition.

**For the entire league, check out Patrick’s Tableau page.**

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Vegas Faces Tough But Attainable Challenge After Losing Game’s 1 & 3

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

If you’ve heard it once you’ve probably heard it a thousand times on the SinBin podcast. Teams need to win odd-numbered games to clinch a series. So far, the Golden Knights haven’t done that in the Western Conference Final. While losing the first and third contests of a seven-game series isn’t ideal, plenty of teams have actually advanced in that position.

Since the 1999-2000 season, eight teams have gone on to win a conference final or Stanley Cup final after losing Games 1 and 3 of the series. Over the past 20 years it’s been accomplished four times in the Western Conference finals, three in the Eastern Conference finals, and twice in the Stanley Cup finals. Including last season’s Cup winner the St. Louis Blues, who did it twice in their championship run. Vegas is hoping to be the ninth team, starting by winning Game 4 (something all nine teams did).

Teams That Won WCF Losing Game 1 & 3
2000: Dallas Stars- won in seven (won 4, 5, 7)
2007: Anaheim Ducks- won in six (won 4, 5, 6)
2015: Chicago Blackhawks- won in seven (won 4, 6, 7)
2019: St. Louis Blues- won in seven (won 4, 5, 6)

Pete DeBoer is no stranger to the situation his current team is in. In 2012, DeBoer’s New Jersey Devils lost the first and third games of the Eastern Conference finals and stormed back to win the series in six. Seven years later he was on the other end as the coach of the San Jose Sharks. In last year’s Western Conference final, the Blues overcame defeats in game one and three to outlast the Sharks in seven.

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VGK vs CHI Series Stat Dump

It took the Golden Knights five games to put away the 12-seed Chicago Blackhawks and move on to the second round. Despite the score only favoring Vegas by just four over the five games, the Golden Knights dominated just about every other major statistical category. Here’s a look at the stats from the series.

*Stats are compiled from NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick.com**

Team Stats

Goals
VGK – 15
CHI – 11

Shots
VGK – 187
CHI – 123

Scoring Chances
VGK – 167
CHI – 117

Corsi For %
VGK – 58.1%
CHI – 41.9%

Power Play
VGK – 1/10
CHI – 1/12

Faceoffs
VGK – 49.7%
CHI – 50.3%

Giveaways
VGK – 75
CHI – 69

Takeaways
VGK – 37
CHI – 44

Hits
VGK – 184
CHI – 140

Shots Blocked
VGK – 90
CHI – 100

Expected Goals
VGK – 17.44
CHI – 10.43

Shooting Percentage
VGK – 8.02%
CHI – 8.94%

Save Percentage
VGK – .911
CHI – .920

Individual Stats

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