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Golden Knights Dominance In Tie Games Skewing Expected Goals Numbers

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m obsessed with the difference between the Golden Knights’ expected goals rate and the results they are achieving in spite of it. The longer it goes on this way, the more I think about it and the more I dig and dig trying to figure out what I’m missing.

If you aren’t aware of what I’m talking about, the Golden Knights are 12-3-2 in their last 17 games and they’ve outscored their opponents 57-46 in that span, yet‘s expected goals stats have them trailing 48.7-60.9 over the same timeframe. That’s a difference of eight goals for and 15 goals against, or a 23 goal delta in just the last 17 games.

Over a small sample, we see numbers like this pop up all the time, but 17 games is pushing those boundaries. Vegas has been outscored in expected goals in 14 of the last 17, yet has come out on the right side of the real scoreboard in 10 of them. At some point, it can’t be a coincidence.

The latest data set I’ve turned to is trying to understand game state’s impact on the overall numbers. One of the constants in VGK’s recent run of success has been their ability to score first. They’ve done so in 13 of the 17 and they’ve won each of the last 10 in which they have. That’s led to Vegas being ahead on the scoreboard a lot. In fact, since February 19th, the Golden Knights have led for 477 of the 1041 minutes they’ve played. That’s 28 minutes per game or nearly half of every game.

Of course, that will have an impact on the expected goals numbers. When a team is ahead, especially a Bruce Cassidy-coached team, they are expected to play a little more conservatively while the other team pushes to tie the game back up. And, while ahead, the numbers do bear that out.

When leading, VGK have been outscored 23.1-32.3 in expected goals over the last 17 games. What’s weird though is that the actual goal total mimics those numbers almost perfectly. Vegas has scored exactly 23 times when leading and they’ve conceded 30. Thus, just 2.4 goals of the 23-goal difference in expected goals come when Vegas is ahead… which is more than 45% of the game!

When they are trailing, the numbers match up as well. In 211 minutes while behind, Vegas has been outscored 10-7 in real goals and 10.9-7.9 in expected goals. As the great Mike Goldberg used to say, virtually identical.

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VGK May Break Season Scoring Record, But Scoring In The Playoffs Remains A Major Concern

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Yesterday I published a piece looking at all of the records the Golden Knights could potentially break this season. From blocks to faceoffs to road points percentage, it wasn’t terribly surprising to see how many records may fall this year.

However, there was one that did catch me a bit off guard and it made me question one of the strongest beliefs I’ve had about this team for the past few seasons.

The 2022-23 Golden Knights are 41 goals from breaking the franchise record for most goals scored in a season. With 12 games to go, they’ll need to score 3.4 per game to set the new high water mark. Considering this year’s team is averaging 3.24 per game this year, it absolutely could happen, or at the very least could come down to a goal or two difference.

Yet here I sit here with the core belief that the Golden Knights are lacking the proper level of offense necessary to win the Stanley Cup. And after doing some digging into the numbers, I still believe it.

So how can a team on pace to score well over three goals per game and possibly break the scoring record set by the legendary team that won 13 playoff games still be short offensively?

The first reason is that this year’s team is more boom or bust than the 2017-18 team.

In 82 games, the 17-18 Golden Knights failed to score three goals 26 times, or 32%. This year’s team has done it 28 times in 70 games, for 40% of the schedule. Meanwhile, this year’s team has posted at least five goals 19 times, or 27%, while the first year team also did it 19 times, but in all 82, or 23%.

That means this year’s team scores less than two or more than four in 67%, two-thirds, of games while the 17-18 team had a boom-or-bust rate a little over half of the games at 55%.

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Chasing Franchise Records Down The Stretch

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have 12 games left in the regular season, one that could go down in history as their winningest ever. Currently sitting at 92 points, VGK need to collect 17 more points to tie the 2017-18 team that finished with 109. That’s just one of many potential franchise highs the team and individuals on it can set.

Team Records

Record – 109 (17-18)
Current – 92

Need: 9 wins would clinch the most points in team history. They could also go 8-3-1, 7-2-3, or 6-1-5 to tie.

Record – 51 (17-18)
Current – 43

Need: 8 to tie, 9 to break the record.

Record – 268 (17-18)
Current – 227

Need: 41 goals requires the Golden Knights to average 3.41 per game. This season, VGK are currently averaging 3.24. The goals per game record is 3.39, which was set in 2020-21 (the 56-game season).

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VGK Must Boost Analytics To Avoid Inevitable Regression

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Since the All Star break, no one has been winning more than the Golden Knights. Their 12-2-2 record is the best in the league since the beginning of February and they’ve done it while playing one of the toughest schedules of any team.

The wins are continuing to cement VGK’s place in the playoff picture and have them as clear favorites to win the Pacific Division with less than 20 games to go. What the wins are not doing though are impressing the stat nerds (myself included).

While the Golden Knights have beaten many of the best teams in the league over this recent stretch, they are doing it in a bit of an ugly way. They’ve been outshot in 11 of the last 12, have given up at least eight high-danger chances in 13 straight games, and have lost the expected goals battle in 8 of the last 11.

Over the last 16 games, the Golden Knights lead the league in points percentage, while ranking 20th in expected goals, 25th in Corsi, and 25th in scoring chance percentage at 5-on-5. One of the main reasons for the difference in results vs. analytics is VGK’s shooting and save percentage. They rank 2nd in the league in shooting percentage and 3rd in save percentage for a wildly inflated PDO of 1.051.

So the question becomes, over the course of a larger sample size, how reliant are the Golden Knights’ results on their analytics?

The first way to analyze this is to look through a bunch of different 15-game segments the Golden Knights have played this season. There are a few awesome ones, a few poor ones, and some average ones. Comparing them to the analytics will help show the correlation or lack thereof.

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T-Mobile Arena Has Been A House Of Horrors For Calgary Flames

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There are only two teams left in the NHL who have yet to win a game at T-Mobile Arena. The only team to have never even recorded a point, the Calgary Flames, are in Vegas tonight.

Calgary’s 0-7-0 record is the worst of any team at T-Mobile Arena, followed by the Florida Panthers and their 0-4-1 mark.

The Flames have been outscored in Vegas 30-8, have been shut out by the Golden Knights three times, and have allowed VGK to score six or more times in three of the seven contests.

Maybe the most incredible stat in the series history at T-Mobile Arena is the fact that in seven games, 420 minutes of hockey, the Flames have held the lead for exactly two minutes and nine seconds. That’s 0.5% of the total time they’ve been on the ice in Vegas.

The Golden Knights have allowed just one 1st period goal in the seven meetings while scoring six. The dominance is even starker in the 3rd period too, VGK have outscored Calgary 13-2 while allowing both goals in the same game, the last time the Flames visited.

The Flames’ power play has converted on just 1 of 15 power play opportunities while the Golden Knights have scored on 5 of 20.

Tonight will mark the second time the Flames have come to T-Mobile on the second night of a back-to-back. The first time, Vegas stomped them to the tune of a 6-0 beatdown including four 3rd period goals. The Flames were also coming from Arizona on that occasion, but unlike last night where they won 6-3, they lost the prior game 3-0 to the Coyotes.

William Karlsson leads the Golden Knights with 10 points (6G, 4A) in the seven home games against the Flames. Karlsson posted a hat trick in March 2018 against the Flames and added a two-goal game in November 2019.

Aside from those two games, no other Golden Knight has scored multiple goals in the same game against the Flames. 18 different Golden Knights have scored at least one home goal against Calgary, but just four will be active tonight. There are 13 Golden Knights who have averaged at least a point per game including five who have participated in at last four games. Karlsson and Smith are the only two who will play tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been in the goal for the Golden Knights in six of the seven contests. Robin Lehner manned the nets for Vegas in the other game. On the other side, David Rittich was on the losing end of four of the seven while Mike Smith, Cam Talbot, and tonight’s expected starter, Jakob Markstrom, each played one.

No matter how you slice it, the Golden Knights have played lights out against the Flames at T-Mobile Arena. Many of the names on each side are different now, but enough still remains that the trend holds weight.

Can the Golden Knights make it eight straight? We’ll find out tonight at 6 on ESPN.

^^This is my way of telling you the game is at a different time and on a different channel tonight.^^

Golden Knights Find Themselves In First And Last In Important Connected Statistical Categories

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Any time a team leads the entire NHL in a specific category this deep into the season it tells a story. For the Golden Knights, they currently have the lead in one category and find themselves in dead last in a connected one.

After 54 games, no team in the NHL has taken fewer penalties than the Golden Knights. They’ve taken just 154 for an average of 6:38 of penalty time per game. No other team in the league is under seven minutes and just five others are under eight. They’ve taken just 140 minor penalties for an average of fewer than three penalties per 60 minutes.

On the flip side, as great as it is for the Golden Knights to never take penalties, they don’t draw them either. Vegas sits in 32nd place in penalties drawn with 169. Of course, that’s 15 fewer than they’ve taken, which is a nice plus, but it’s just over 3 per game where the league leader is at 4.67.

The Golden Knights aren’t alone though. In 2nd place behind them in both categories is the St. Louis Blues. That pretty clearly indicates the numbers are at least loosely connected, even if the referees aren’t outwardly doing it on purpose.

Referees may subconsciously say, ‘gee, I’ve only put them in the box once,’ but I think there are a lot of infractions that don’t go our way. I think it is correlated but not to the point where we’re going to make it an issue. -Bruce Cassidy

Not drawing penalties has been an issue for years for the Golden Knights too. Last year the Golden Knights came in last place as well, drawing just 262 over the 82 game season. Since Vegas entered the league, only two teams have drawn fewer per 60, Toronto and Columbus.

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Does Cassidy Mix Up His Forward Lines Too Often? (Part 2)

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Following the game on Long Island before the break, Bruce Cassidy said of his line combinations, “we’re always going to change if they don’t work.”

He walked it back in the next sentence as he remembered the plan early in the season to allow the lines a few games together, but if my high school psychology teacher taught me anything it’s that the first answer is usually the one a person believes.

This helped guide my next phase of research on this topic, which is centered around how each line’s performance has impacted Cassidy’s willingness to either keep it together or break it up. (If you missed Part 1, it’s here.)

I’ll admit now that this segment of research does not answer the question as to whether or not the Golden Knights would be more successful with less line shuffling, but it absolutely shows the practical process that has led Cassidy to switch his lines as often as he has this year.

VGK have used 46 different forward line combinations this season. I went through and compiled the stats for each trio when they are on the ice together. This includes not only games in which they started together, but anytime the three players have shared the ice at 5-on-5 this season. (A full sortable table is available at the end of this article.)

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Does Cassidy Mix Up His Forward Lines Too Often? (Part 1)

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have scored 103 goals at 5-on-5 this season. That’s 2.02 per game, ranking them 21st in the NHL. Over the past 36 games, that number drops to 1.83 per game, the 7th worst in the league.

Even-strength scoring has been a huge reason why the Golden Knights have not been winning games and recently much of the focus has turned to head coach Bruce Cassidy.

Many believe Cassidy is too hasty in his willingness to mix up the line combinations. Personally, I can see both sides of the argument. Clearly, the results were much better at the start of the year when the lines stayed consistent, however, there’s no doubt the injuries and recent poor performances of the top six have majorly forced Cassidy’s hand.

During the All Star break, I plan on putting in a bunch of research to hopefully allow us to better understand the impact of line flux on this group of VGK forwards. Today, we focus on quantity of line combinations.

Vegas has rolled out 47 different forward line combinations over the course of their first 51 games. Only three have seen more than 10 games together while 16 have been one-and-done. These numbers are actually well short of what Pete DeBoer deployed last season. DeBoer used 108 over the 82 game season, only had two that made it to 20+ games, and had 52 that played a single game together. Here are the numbers for VGK’s first five and a half seasons.

Lines UsedLines/GameForwards Used20+ Games10+1

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Eichel Must Lift Teammates With Stone Out; He Hasn’t So Far This Season

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

During the month of December, the Golden Knights had to play 13 games without their most expensive player, Jack Eichel. Vegas went 7-5-1 including wins over Boston, Winnipeg, and Colorado.

In that stretch, Mark Stone’s play was incredibly noticeable in all three zones. He posted 16 points (7G, 9A) in the 13 games, helped carry a line including Chandler Stephenson and Michael Amadio, and his pickpocketing superpower was on full display for the month Eichel was out.

Stone averaged 20:24 and was dominant in all phases of the games. He posted three even-strength goals, two on the power play, and two more shorthanded. He also scored a game-winning goal in shootout against St. Louis.

In a time of need, the captain raised his game.

Now, the time has come for Jack Eichel to do the same with Stone sidelined for an unknown length of time. In his first few attempts, that didn’t happen. In losses to Edmonton and Dallas, games in which Stone played just 3:57, Eichel was held pointless, posted a -5 rating, and recorded just two shots in 41 minutes of ice time. He was not on the ice for a single Golden Knights goal at any strength.

Eichel must improve not only his game but the play of those around him if the Golden Knights are going to have success without their captain.

While the numbers are limited that has not happened this season either.

The chart above shows four advanced statistics for the six Golden Knights defensemen with the most time on ice this season. They are all listed as “shares” meaning numbers above 50% are good while numbers below 50% are bad. The stats listed are on-ice Corsi For, Goals For, Expected Goals, and High Danger Chances and are all 5-on-5 only.

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Shift In Strategy When Leading Producing Misleading Shot Attempt Numbers

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s no secret to anyone who watches hockey, teams and players play differently depending on the score of the game. It’s true about every team sport, but the fewer goals/points necessary to win a game, the stronger the delta between how a team plays when they are ahead and when they are behind.

A lot of it comes down to human nature and no matter how hard a coach tries to guard against it, there’s no stopping its effect. Some coaches lean into it, while others attempt the opposite.

For the past two eras of Golden Knights hockey, we have heard from coaches about the importance of continuing to “play our game.” From the drop of the puck to when the horn sounds in the 3rd period, both Gerard Galland and Pete DeBoer wanted Vegas playing the same way.

They’d often get frustrated when it wouldn’t happen using a phrase like “we took our foot off the pedal” when the opposing team would push back. Both coaches wanted aggressive hockey all game long no matter how many goals the Golden Knights were up or down.

The same cannot be said about Bruce Cassidy’s Golden Knights and it can be illustrated by their shot attempt numbers in each different game state.

This season the Golden Knights have attempted 1,992 shots at 5-on-5. They’ve allowed 2,023 for a difference of -31. There are 17 teams with a positive SAT (shots attempted) count and 15 with a negative one. Of the 15 in the red, only three are currently in playoff position.

Typically, that would be a gigantic red flag for the Golden Knights, especially considering they have the worst number of the three. However, when you drill into how they got there, it’s not nearly as much of a concern.

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