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The Golden Knights Have A Top 5 Defense

Stop picking on the VGK defense, they are actually REALLY good. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the biggest complaints surrounding the Golden Knights this season has been about their supposedly porous defense. Check out Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or chat with fans in the stands, most people believe the Golden Knights aren’t good enough defensively to win the Stanley Cup.

However, as the title of this article says, Vegas actually has one of the league’s best defenses. Pick a metric, goals against, shots against, shot attempts against, penalty minutes taken, penalty kill, scoring chances against, high danger chances against, all of them, literally every single one, the Golden Knights are in the top five in the NHL (see all below).

It gets even better when you add offense into the mix. They are top three in Corsi For %, Scoring Chance %, and High Danger Chance %. That means they create far more shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances, than they allow.

Individually, the Golden Knights have seven defensemen with more than 1.7 point shares. All seven of them combine to have created 17.9 point shares, or in other words, the Vegas defense (and that’s defensemen’s defense only) have accounted for 28.8% of the Golden Knights’ points this season. The defense as a whole, including the forwards, have accounted for 32.3 points or 52.1% of the season total. To compare, Calgary’s defense has accounted for 31.9 points or 44.9% of the season total and San Jose’s defense has 25.7 point shares or 39.5% of their total.

Last year the Golden Knights allowed 2.74 goals against per game, this year they’ve allowed 2.67. Last year Vegas finished 8th in the league in goals against, at the break, they sit in 5th. Last year they allowed 30.7 shots against per game (7th in NHL), this year they allow 28.4 (2nd in NHL).

Oh, and many people will point to the guy between the pipes. Yes, Fleury has been tremendous, but he was actually better a year ago. His save percentage, goals against, and GSAA were all better in 2017-18 than 18-19. Team (not just Fleury) save percentage is .003 lower this year than last year. And, a majority of the stats indicating defensive success are goalie-independent.

No matter which way you slice it, the Golden Knights are better defensively than they were a year ago and they are among the best defenses in the NHL, easily top five.

Scoring is up across the NHL as each game averages 6.1 goals a game. The Golden Knights are going to allow goals, like around 80 of them, in the next 30 games, but every time it happens you don’t have to scream “This defense stinks!” because quite frankly, it doesn’t.

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Could VGKs Lack of Defensive Scoring Be A Future Problem?

Stop worrying about 3rd line scoring, start worrying about blue line scoring. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s no secret, the Golden Knights are getting very little offense from there defense. Overall, the low production from their blue line could be a concern going forward. Sure, power play specialist Colin Miller appears ready to return to the lineup but even with him it may not be enough.

I think sometimes we’re complicated things too much. My job and Millsey’s and Schmitty’s, the guys that are back there, we have to do a better job controlling it. Instead of setting up a play and try and seam it, we just have to get pucks through. -Shea Theodore

At first glance, 97 combined points from the Golden Knights defense doesn’t look that bad, but when you look around the league it’s a very low total.

Points from Vegas defenseman in 2018-19

Theodore 21 Points (5 Goals, 16 Assists)
Miller 17 Points (2 Goals, 15 Assists)
Schmidt 16 Points (4 Goals, 12 Assists)
Holden 13 Points (3 Goals, 10 Assists)
McNabb 12 Points (1 Goal, 11 Assists)
Hunt 7 Points (2 Goals, 5 Assists)
Engelland 6 Points (1 Goals, 5 Assists)
Merrill 5 Points (1 Goal, 4 Assists)
97 Total Points from VGK defenseman
19 Goals, 78 Assists

In just the Pacific Division alone, defensemen are putting up Norris trophy type numbers.

Top 5 Defensemen in Points

Brent Burns SJ: 52 Points(9 Goals, 43 Assists)
Mark Giordano CAL: 48 Points(9 Goals, 38 Assists)
Morgan Reilly TOR: 47 Points(13 Goals, 34 Assists)
Erik Karlsson SJ: 43 Points(3 Goals, 40 Assists)
John Carlson WAS: 43 Points(6 Goals, 37 Assists)

Up in San Jose, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson’s combined offense is roughly the same as the entire Vegas defensive unit. Calgary’s captain Mark Giordano has been heavily involved all season, and on pace for a career-high offensively. When you go through the rest of the contenders in the Western Conference, Vegas has the lowest threat from the blue line.

San Jose: 143 Points (Goals, Assists)
Nashville: 125 (Goals, Assists)
Calgary: 116 Points (Goals, Assists)
Winnipeg: 104 Points (Goals, Assists)

San Jose and Nashville are loaded with blue line scoring, what’s new right? Predators have even been down one of their weapons PK Subban to injury. Like Vegas with Miller, Winnipeg’s blue line lumber, Dustin Byfuglien has also played limited games this season. So, you have to wonder if the Jets are searching for defensive help for the postseason.

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The Nate Effect

This dude is a #1 defenseman in the NHL Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s a theme floating around VGK land that goes something like this… “The Golden Knights are 3-9-0 against the top 10 teams in the NHL, are they really that good?”

Technically, this stat is correct. Aside from wins over Washington, Calgary, and San Jose, the Golden Knights have been quite miserable against high-quality competition. However, there’s an important caveat that’s missing to the theme. That caveat’s name is Nate Schmidt.

While I was in Arizona for the home game against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena, I asked Gerard Gallant when he thought his team turned the corner. His answer was when Nate came back. (I forgot to press start on my recorder so I don’t have the full quote, but I remember it wasn’t great except for the overall premise so I decided not to take the time to track it down. Just believe me, he said Nate, or something like that.)

If you use the same stat since Schmidt’s return, the Golden Knights are 3-4-0 (.429) in the same category (with a pair of wins against the Islanders, 12th, just missing the cut). Thus, they were 0-5-0 (.000) against the current top 10 in the NHL without Schmidt.

I expanded the stat to include all playoff teams. Vegas is 8-11-1 (.425) against the 15 teams currently holding playoff spots. They are 6-4-1 (.591) with Schmidt, 2-7-0 (.222) without him.

It’s not hard to see that the Golden Knights are a different team with #88 in the lineup. During Schmidt’s suspension, the Golden Knights were 8-11-1 (.425), had a -8 goal differential, and averaged just 2.5 goals per game. Since his return, they’re 20-6-3 (.741), have a +24 goal differential, and are averaging 3.34 goals per game.

They’ve beaten Calgary, San Jose, Washington, Dallas, Colorado, and the Islanders twice while falling by on the road to Calgary, Columbus, and Winnipeg and at home to San Jose. (Oh, and if you are into this sort of thing, they outplayed Winnipeg and San Jose in those losses.) Vegas is a whopping 10-1-2 (.846) at home with Schmidt and have improved their road record significantly from 3-8-0 (.272) to 10-5-1 (.656).

All the while, in the 29 games with Schmidt, VGK has missed Schmidt’s BFF Erik Haula for all 29, Paul Stastny for 13, Colin Miller for 13, Max Pacioretty for 9, and Reilly Smith for 4. Deryk Engelland, Shea Theodore, Tomas Nosek, and William Carrier have all missed time too.

Stats can always be diced up any way you wish, but the fact remains, the Golden Knights are a damn good hockey team when Nate is in the lineup… no matter who or where they are playing.

16-2-0 When Scoring At Least Three Goals

3 goals = 2 points (Photo by Brandon Andreasen)

There’s a common saying in hockey that says, “you can’t win in the NHL if you don’t score three times.” Obviously it’s not entirely true as you technically can win 1-0 or 2-1, however, the point of the sentiment is that if a team can’t score three goals consistently, they have little to no chance to be successful.

To start the year, the Golden Knights scored three or more just twice in the first 10 games and a measly eight times in the first 20. They also won only eight of those first 20 games. Since Game 20, when Nate Schmidt returned from suspension, Vegas has tallied three or more nine times in 13 games.

Rather than saying you can’t win if you don’t score three, Golden Knights fans should be thinking the team can’t lose if they score three. With the win in Brooklyn over the Islanders, Vegas pushed its record to 16-2-0 when scoring three or more goals.

One of the biggest reasons for the return to getting to three has been the production the Golden Knights have gotten from all four lines. It’s not just up to the 1st line or the 2nd line to contribute multiple goals a game, instead, the 3rd has had a goal scorer in each of the last three games and in 11 of the last 12 a goal has been scored from someone outside of the top six.

16-2-0 means winning 88% of the time. For Vegas, three is the total of goals the team aims for nightly. Call it Vegas’ lucky number.

Vegas Offensive Stats:
• 98 Total Goals (11th)
• 2.97 Goals For Per Game (17th)
• 18 Wins (6th)
• 37 Points (12th

One of the best ways for the Golden Knights to get to three goals is to score a power play goal. In their last 10 games, they’ve scored a PP goal in eight of them and won all eight; the two they didn’t score, they lost. Over the course of the year, the Golden Knights are 14-5-0 when they score a power play goal.

The offense has picked up significantly with the return of Nate to the lineup. They are now scoring at a 3.77 goals per game clip where during Schmidt’s suspension that number was just 2.50.

It’s not all that abnormal in the NHL, but for the Golden Knights, it’s very simple. Score three, add two to their record.

Max Pacioretty Is Back; Timing Couldn’t Be Better

Welcome back Max. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Key offseason acquisition Max Pacioretty has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury sustained on a pretty nasty hit. He didn’t travel with the team to Nashville and St. Louis and only re-joined practice the day of the Carolina home game. Now, on this trip East, he’s ready to re-join the lineup.

Obviously, any time would be good to get a player like Pacioretty back in the lineup, but a November game against Toronto is literally as good as it gets for Max.

 Goals per GameAssists per GamePoints per Game
October.31.25.56
November.36.37.73
December.26.30.56
January.46.28.75
February.36.39.75
March.34.41.75
April.47.561.03

For some reason, October and December are not great months for Pacioretty. In every other month, he’s about a .75 point per game player and he scores once every 3rd game. 

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4 Points Out On November 1st Is A Bad Sign For VGK

None of these odds consider the return of #88. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last season we brought awareness to one NHL benchmark backed by historical data that can predict which teams make the postseason. The (American) Thanksgiving Day playoff marker is a good measure for a team’s future success. The turkey day study suggests teams that are sitting in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving have a very high chance of competing for the Cup.

A more nail-biting trend is the November 1st, benchmark that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman often brings up. NHL teams four or more points out of a playoff spot by 11/01, have roughly an 18% chance of making the postseason. Since 2005-06, 47 of 58 teams that were 4+ points out of the postseason spot by November 1st, missed the playoffs. That’s a whopping 82% of teams that their fate was determined by the beginning of November. Unfortunately, that’s where the Golden Knights were, and still are as of this moment.

Just keep working at it. It’s the same old cliché every coach says, but that’s what it is. Keep putting pucks there, we are out chancing and more shots than most teams, but we just got to get hungrier. -Gerard Gallant

On November 1st, the Golden Knights had a record of 5-7-1 (11 points), good for seventh in the Pacific Division, and four points out of a playoff spot. Along with Vegas, Detroit, Florida, Los Angeles, and St. Louis also were 4+ points down. 82% means four of those five teams are already eliminated, while one still has a shot.

Last season, Minnesota was the one that made the playoffs after being caught in the post-Halloween vortex.

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PDO My God

Are these goals regulation size or what?!? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The stat PDO is hockey’s best indicator of a team’s relative “luck.” PDO is simply a calculation of offensive shot percentage plus team save percentage. In theory, those numbers should add up to 100%, anything above and the team is getting lucky, anything below and they’re unlucky.

The term luck can be heavily debated, and I tend to land more so on the side of saying luck is an excuse more than an explanation of what’s going wrong with a hockey team. That being said though, sometimes the numbers are so astounding that they cannot be ignored. That’s the case 12 games into the 2018-19 season for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Their shooting percentage is 6.34%, last in the league, and their save percentage is 88.78%, 24th in the league. Add them up and you get a PDO of 0.951, tied for 31st in the NHL. It gets even worse if you drop special teams and look only at even strength. Then the Golden Knights PDO is 0.942, far and away the worst in the league.

So what does this mean? Well, for starters, it means based on the number of shots taken and number of shots saved, the Golden Knights are between 14 and 20 goals short of a 1.00 (average) PDO. That’s well over one extra goal per game.

For you math nerds, the Golden Knights PDO is 2.27 standard deviations from the league average after 12 games. For those who have no clue what the heck that means, historically, teams one standard deviation away from the average are considered unlucky. Teams two standard deviations from the norm are considered extremely unlucky. The Golden Knights are 2.27 away, so they are pushing some sort of voodoo magic level of bad luck.

Of course, a 7-0 game here or there could completely swing that number back without seeing a massive impact in the standings, but if it’s a slow burn back to the 1.00 number, or anything close, we’re literally talking about a goal a game difference.

There are many reasons to explain it and there’s no question a portion of the numbers rest on the shoulders of poor play by the Golden Knights. However, there’s a difference between a couple of missed opportunities and a couple of breakdowns and a 0.951 PDO.

Since 2007-08, no team has finished with a PDO of less than 0.966. If the Golden Knights were sitting at that number right now, they’d have about five more goals. The worst shooting percentage over that span is 6.9%. Vegas’ is currently 6.34%. If they had that extra roughly 0.5% back, they’d have another three goals. And these are comparisons against the worst teams in 10 years!

However you want to slice it, the fact of the matter is the Golden Knights will not finish the season with a PDO anywhere close to what they currently have now. When it comes to shooting percentage and save percentage, things will change and in a big way. That’s not a prediction, that’s a statistical fact. (Well, as long as you don’t believe the 2018-19 Golden Knights are the one in a 34 billion to 1 situation.)

**Stick tap to our good friend Marissa (@Taxpro4gamblers) for helping with the in-depth mathematical analysis used in this article.**

Posts Have Hurt, But Something Else Has Been More To Blame For The Golden Knights Goal Drought

Through six games of the regular season, the Golden Knights have netted just 11 goals and have yet to score more than two in any game. No matter how you slice it, that’s a problem.

The first excuse you’ll hear is about the posts. Those complaints are legitimate as the Golden Knights are currently tied for the league lead in post hits with eight. Eight more goals would look great, however, that’s horribly unrealistic to expect because post hits happen to everyone. Last year, the Golden Knights hit 57 posts on 5,020 shot attempts. That’s about 1.13% of shot attempts that hit the pipes. In the 393 shot attempts they’ve had this year this year, the numbers say the Golden Knights should have hit the posts 4.46 times. So, we’re only talking 3.54 more goals over six games, and that’s if the pucks go in instead of off the pipes. More likely, and you’ll see why in a second, at least a few of those 3.54 shots were probably lucky to hit the post rather than sail wide.

But that’s only a tiny part of the story. The big part of the story has nothing to do with puck luck or goaltending or anything else, it’s simply that the Golden Knights are not hitting the net enough on their shots. In fact, they rank 2nd in the NHL with 92 missed shots (behind San Jose) and they lead the league in having their shots blocked with 108. That’s 200 shots they have taken that have not made it to the goalie. Last year Vegas averaged about 28 shots blocked or missed last season, this year the number is over 33.

Marchessault will be the first to admit it, he and the Golden Knights need to hit the net more. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Jonathan Marchessault leads the NHL in missed shots with 14. Reilly Smith and Shea Theodore both have nine, ranking them in the top 15. Erik Haula and Max Pacioretty each have seven.

Maybe worse is the Golden Knights through percentages. A “through percentage” is the percentage of shots that are taken that actually make it to the goalie. It’s specifically important for defensemen when taking shots from the point. Last year, Nate Schmidt brought up the rear with a through percentage of 40.4% on the season. Sbisa was around 42%, Miller and McNabb at about 45%, Engelland, Merrill, and Hunt near 50%, and Shea Theodore had an excellent 55% through percentage.

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Golden Knights Line Charts

Today we launched a new page on SinBin.vegas called the “Vegas Golden Knights Line Charts” page. The object of the page is to not only act reference point to show the Golden Knights lines from each game but to also display utilization rates for players and positions graphically.

The page is laid out in three sections. The easiest one to understand is the last section, the game-by-game line charts. It’s simply a list of the lineup from every game including healthy scratches and injuries.

The other two sections are a collection of pie charts to show player and line utilization rates. What they show is how often a particular player is used, what positions they’ve been used in, and which players most commonly play on which lines.

The charts and lines will update following each game and can always be found in the menu on the top SinBin.vegas on desktop computers and in the drop-down menu on mobile. Or, you can click here.

Here’s a little taste of what it looks like…

Have fun obsessing over this as much as we have and we apologize in advance to the colorblind.

Golden Knights Lacking Offense; But Why?

No stats account for missing wide open nets though, and the Golden Knights have had their fair share of those through three games. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In their first three games, the Golden Knights are outshooting opponents 104 to 72 in shots on goal. The numbers are even more staggering when you include all shots, 197-125. That’s a Corsi For Percentage of 61.2%!  Yet Vegas is 1-2-0 and have been outscored in the only category that matters, goals, 10 to 5.

So the stats seem suggest Vegas had plenty of scoring chances in Buffalo but Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant didn’t agree following the game.

Well there were a lot of shots but I didn’t see many scoring chances to be honest with you. We had a few chances in the second half of the game but the first half I thought we were sound alseep. -Gallant

Sometimes Gallant can be a little emotional, irrational even, in the pressers after losses, so we decided to take a little deeper dive to see if the Golden Knights are indeed taking harmless shots, if it’s just been a case of tough luck early, or if it’s some combination of both.

According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Golden Knights had 22 scoring chances on 37 shots. That’s down significantly from the first two games in which Vegas had 33 (PHI) and 31 (@MIN) scoring chances. 22 is very low for the Golden Knights when compared to last year. Just 13 times did they have fewer than 22, including the other time they visited Buffalo. However, the Golden Knights went 8-3-2 in the games in which they had fewer than 22 scoring chances. So, that’s not a great indicator of success.

The next stat, and this is an odd one, is Corsi or Shot Attempts. Vegas outshot the Sabres 67-35 for a Corsi For Percentage of 65.7%. Only one time all year, including the playoffs, did the Golden Knights create a higher discrepancy in shots. That was the famous night before Thanksgiving game in Anaheim where they overcame a 2-0 lead to win 4-2. Vegas hit 64% or more five other times last season and they went a winless 0-3-2 in those games. In other words, massive Corsi differences does not equal success for the Golden Knights. Instead, it likely indicates they are forcing bad shots and inflating the numbers rather than working for good ones.

That brings us to the heat charts. Where are the shots coming from?

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