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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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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Gear Up For A Lot Of Shea

From here on out the games matter, and once the 1st round starts, the games really matter. For Pete DeBoer, when the games matter, he rides his best players much more than Gerard Gallant did.

Last year, in the series between the Sharks and Golden Knights, in all but one game of the series a Shark led in TOI. Most games, multiple Sharks did.

Game 1
Burns – 28:25
E. Karlsson – 26:25
Theodore – 24:00

Game 2
E. Karlsson – 29:08
Burns – 28:36
Pavelski – 25:35
McNabb – 25:10

Game 3
Burns – 25:10
Braun – 22:34
E. Karlsson – 20:54
Engelland – 20:11

Game 4
Schmidt – 23:39
Burns 23:16

Game 5
Burns – 26:10
Vlasic – 23:43
E. Karlsson – 22:20
Hertl – 21:14
Pavelski – 20:59
Couture – 20:27
Dillon – 20:25
Theodore – 20:03

Game 6
Burns – 42:04
Vlasic – 37:14
E. Karlsson – 36:40
Braun – 36:12
McNabb – 35:34

Game 7
Burns – 39:37
E. Karlsson – 33:46
Hertl – 30:22
Kane – 29:30
Stone – 28:53

Game 4, where Vegas won 5-0, is the only game in which a Golden Knight led the game in TOI. In Games 2, 5, 7, there was a Sharks forward with more time than any Golden Knight.

This continued throughout the playoffs for DeBoer and he’s expected to do the same with his top guys now that he’s in Vegas. Which means get ready to see a lot of Shea Theodore.

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Goalie Out; Great

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Any time the Golden Knights lead the league in a statistic, it’s worth noting (usually with a tweet). When they lead the entire NHL by a 2:1 margin in that stat, it’s worth a full article.

Despite playing the most games in the league (tied with seven other teams), the Golden Knights allowed the fewest empty-net goals of any team. Vegas conceded into a goalie-less net just three times during the entire 2019-20 season. Columbus came in 2nd with six and then a group of nine teams finished with nine or fewer.

There were just two teams with a Goals For Percentage above 50% with their net empty, Vegas and the New York Islanders. The Golden Knights came in with five goals for and just the three against for 62.5% while the Islanders had eight for and seven against for 53.3%. Every other team in the league conceded more goals than they scored with their net empty.

Vegas did finish with the second to lowest total time without their goalie (ahead of Boston), but when the stats are adjusted for time, it remains incredibly impressive for the Golden Knights.

Vegas ranked first in goals against per 60 with 5.65 while the next closest team, Carolina, came in at 9.25. Only four teams were under 10.0.

They also finished in the top five in Shots For/60, Corsi For/60, Scoring Chances For/60, and High Danger Chances For/60 and the top 10 in Goals For/60. This all indicates that not only were the Golden Knights terrific at keeping the puck out of their own empty net, they were also putting massive amounts of pressure on the opposing goalie and chased down crucial 6-on-5 goals on five separate occasions.

You probably remember most of the Golden Knights’ handiwork with the net empty too. The most memorable goal is Max Pacioretty’s 0.3 seconds remaining equalizer in Nashville which started a four-game winning streak. There was also Nick Holden’s game-tier at Chicago, and Vegas scored twice with their net empty in one game this season, a game in Montreal. Pacioretty and Reilly Smith tallied in the final two minutes to help earn a much-needed point at the Bell Centre.

So, when the games finally get back underway and the Golden Knights trail late, don’t give up, they’ve got a better chance than anyone in the league to tie it back up.

Regular Season Team Stats Compared After Year 3

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the return to play format set and the league moving straight into the playoffs, the Golden Knights have now completed three NHL regular seasons. Here’s a statistical look at each season in relation to each other.

**Of course, because this season was 11 games short, stats are listed “per game” if necessary**

Points Percentage

2019-20: .606 (8th)
2018-19: .567 (16th)
2017-18: .665 (5th)

Goals For

2019-20: 3.12 (13th)
2018-19: 2.98 (13th)
2017-18: 3.23 (5th)

Goals Against

2019-20: 2.91 (13th)
2018-19: 2.76 (10th)
2017-18: 2.71 (8th)

Shots For

2019-20: 34.1 (1st)
2018-19: 34.1 (2nd)
2017-18: 32.3 (11th)

Shots Against

2019-20: 29.0 (2nd)
2018-19: 29.0 (5th)
2017-18: 30.4 (7th)

Power Play

2019-20: 21.99% (9th)
2018-19: 16.81% (25th)
2017-18: 21.37 (11th)

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Season “End” Stat Leaderboards Lacking Many Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When, how, or if the NHL season picks back up will probably remain a mystery for a while longer, but every day that ticks off the calendar it becomes clearer and clearer the regular season will not be completed in its entirety.

They may come back and play a few games or they may even eliminate a few games and backdate the season to the 68-game mark to make it even. Either way, the stats on the board currently are likely to be pretty close to what ultimately goes down in the record books for the 2019-20 regular season.

Despite playing 71 games, with most of the rest of the league playing fewer than 70, the Golden Knights have a player listed in the top 10 of just two standard offensive statistical categories. Max Pacioretty’s 307 shots on goal have him ranked 3rd behind Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Reaves led the NHL in hits with 316.

But that’s it. No one’s in the top 10 in goals, assists, points, +/-, shooting percentage, PIM, TOI, blocks, faceoff stats, or even point shares.

Here’s a look at the Golden Knights’ highest ranking in each statistical category.

Goals
Leader – David Pastrnak: 48
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 32

Assists
Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 67
VGK – Mark Stone: 42

Points
Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 110
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 66

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