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Leading Division On New Year’s Day Bodes Well For Future

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For the 2nd time in three seasons when the fireworks went up over the Strip, the team that calls Las Vegas home was sitting in 1st place as the calendar flipped to the new year.

January 1st essentially marks the halfway point of the NHL season, give or take a few days, and while plenty of hockey is still to be played the standings when the year changes are significant in predicting the future.

Since the lockout killed the 2004-05 season, there have been 66 teams that have led their division on January 1st (four divisions from 2012-13 to 2018-19, six divisions from 2005-06 to 2011-12).

Of the 66 who led the division on New Year’s Day, 61 made the playoffs, including all 12 since Vegas has been a franchise.

Just 7.6% of teams with a hold of the division title on New Year’s Day have failed to reach the postseason and only one team (4.2%) has done it since the league went to the four division format it currently uses now (2015-16 Montreal).

39 of the 66 division leaders on January 1st went on to win their respective divisions for a nearly 60% success rate. Since 2017-18, eight of the 12 New Year’s division leaders (66.7%) raised a division champion banner that season, including the 2017- 18 Golden Knights.

31 of the 66 teams went on to win at least one round and 21 of the 66 went on to reach the conference finals.

In the 13 years since the lockout, there have been eight teams to win the Stanley Cup that held their respective division’s number one spot on New Year’s Day. That means 61.5% of Stanley Cup Champions since 2006 led their division on January 1st.

All in all, leading the division on New Year’s Day is significant. It means you have a 92% chance of making the playoffs, a 59% chance of winning the division, a 47% chance of winning a round, a 32% chance of reaching the conference finals, and a 12% chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

As I say every time I walk up to a craps table, “I like these odds.”


2018-19

Tampa Bay – Won Division, 1st Round
Washington – Won Division, 1st Round
Winnipeg – 2nd Place, 1st Round
Calgary – Won Division, 1st Round

2017-18

Tampa Bay – Won Division, ECF
Washington – Won Division, Cup
Winnipeg – 2nd Place, WCF
Vegas – Won Division – SCF

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Golden Knights Need More From Paul Stastny

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In 92 games as a Golden Knight, center Paul Statsny has a total of 58 points (23 Goals, 35 Assists), 0.63 points per game. In the 46 wins Stastny participated in, the 34-year-old compiled 43 points (20 Goals, 24 Assists), averaging 0.93 points per game. Pretty significant impact.

On the other side, when Vegas loses, Stastny rarely shows up on the score sheet. In 21 total losses this season, he has only two points. His points per game drops to an alarming 0.095.

Ken wrote why he thinks the numbers are down, which may be fair, but the fact is since the organization committed 7.6% of their payroll to Stastny they simply can’t afford to his numbers to be where they are, no matter what the excuses are.

One thing is clear about the 2019-2020 Golden Knights, they’re offensively inconsistent, and Stastny is one of the main reasons why. He’s had 4, 5, and 8-game goal droughts this season and a 21 game assist drought to go along with other 5 and 6 game assist droughts. In a three-game span in November, Stastny had no shots on net, no points, and played less than his average TOI in each game. It was during a stretch when the club desperately could’ve used his offense.

Vegas is 4-4-2 in games when Stastny doesn’t register a shot. He’s posted a -7 rating with only one assist in those games.

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Attempting To Explain Paul Stastny’s Down Season

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Halfway through the season, Paul Stastny is on pace to have the worst statistical year of his career. The 34-year-old center is a career 0.77 points per game player meaning he should be pushing 60 points per season if he plays all 82 games. Instead, this year he has just 15 points in 41 games and is staring at a career-low 0.37 points per game season, less than half his career average.

However, the eye test to me doesn’t really match the drop in production. Watching Stastny carefully (which I went back and did during the holiday break) he still looks like the exact same player. His vision is still there, he’s still an excellent passer, he’s defensively responsible, and he’s still dangerous in front of the goal on the power play. He’s never been a high-end skater, so while he may not look like the fastest guy on the ice, he certainly doesn’t look any slower than he did last year, or even while in Winnipeg or St. Louis.

So, I went to the numbers, which confused me even more. The first numbers you look at on the page of any hockey player are goals, assists, and points. For Stasnty, the goals are right where they should be midway through the season. He has nine, on pace for 18 which would be in line with his last five years or so. But then there’s the assists, six. That’s not right. He should be a 40-50 assist guy and he’s on pace for 12.

How can a player be 15-20 assists off where he should be 41 games into the season? The easiest argument is age has led to a slip in production, but I’m not ready to make that case because I simply can’t see it anywhere but in one column on the stat sheet. Instead, I tried to find other underlying causes, which I did, and for the most part, they aren’t controllable by Stastny. So, I’m here to make the argument today that Paul Stastny’s down season is not his fault.

Here, let me show my work.

First off, Stastny’s time on ice is at an all-time low this year. Having “fallen” into a 3rd line role with the Golden Knights attempt at a balanced lineup (I’d argue they’ve put him there to help the team cause not as a demotion to the player), Stastny is playing 16:44 per game. Over the course of his career, he’s never played less than 17:38 and in only six of his 13 completed seasons has he been under 19 minutes per game. Three minutes less per game is a 16% decrease in time on ice. Thus, if he would be expected to get 0.77 points per game, or 63 points a season, his lessened TOI alone lowers that to 0.65 points per game or 53 per season. POINT DIFFERENCE: 10 points or 0.12 PPG

The next biggest detriment to his production this season has been shooting percentage. The Golden Knights are shooting just 7.6% with Stastny on the ice. The Golden Knights as a team are shooting 8.8% and they shot 8.7% last season. Shooting percentage tends to find its way back to the norm over time, thus it can be expected that Vegas will shoot at least 1.2% better in the next 41 games with Stastny on the ice (they’d actually have to shoot around 2.4% better to get him back to the norm, but we’ll ignore that for now). The Golden Knights have attempted 424 shots with Stastny on the ice, scoring on 32 of them. If the shooting percentage was just that 1.2% higher, they would have scored five more goals. So, now we need a calculation as to how many points Stastny would have if he were on the ice for five more goals. To solve that issue we’ll go by Stastny’s career with the Golden Knights. He’s put up 57 points in the two seasons with 45 of them coming at even strength. The Golden Knights have scored 66 even-strength goals with Stastny on the ice. Thus, he factors in on 68.2% of even strength goals while on the ice. 68.2% of five goals is 3.41 points for Stastny. Multiply it by two for the goals he’s already missed and the points he may get the rest of the year and we’re looking at a seven point difference. POINT DIFFERENCE: 7 points or 0.85 PPG

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Where Do The Golden Knights Rank?

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Christmas has come and gone and with it, we sit basically at the midway point of the season. 40 games down, 42 to go before the real season starts.

With every team off for the last three days, meaning the stat sites are all up to date with every game played, it’s a good time to dive into the numbers to take a look at exactly where Vegas stands in comparison to the rest of the league.

Starting with the most important number, the Golden Knights have accumulated 46 points, good for 8th most in the NHL. However, do to games in hand (no one has played more hockey than Vegas and Edmonton), the Golden Knights sit in 14th in points percentage at .575.

They rank 10th in goals for with 119, but 18th in goals per game with 2.94. As for goals against, Vegas comes in at 20th place with 118, or 13th with 2.91 per game.

For every other stat, I’ve broken it down by where the Golden Knights rank. We start with what the Golden Knights lead the league in, then where they are great, good, average, bad, and finally what they are worst at. Every stat is “per 60” which normalizes the numbers with teams having played different numbers of games.

Lead the League

Takeaways – 9.6 (1st)
Scoring chances (Natural Stat Trick) – 30.9 (1st)
Offensive zone faceoffs – 22.1 (1st)

Great (Top 5)

High-danger chances (Natural Stat Trick) – 12.2 (2nd)
Shot attempts – 60.8 (3rd)
Shots on goal – 33.6 (3rd)
Expected goals – 2.94 (3rd)
Hits – 26.4 (4th)
Icings against – 4.9 (4th)
Shorthanded goals – 0.15 (5th)

Good (Top 10)

Giveaways – 8.9 (8th)
Corsi for percentage – 51.9% (9th)
Penalty kill percentage – 82.6 (9th)
1st period goals – 0.975 (T-9th)

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Golden Knights Utilizing Zone Starts To Deploy Right Defenseman At Right Time

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One of the most overlooked stats in hockey is zone starts. NHL coaches go to great lengths to get the correct players on the ice at the right times, but when examining stats, very rarely will you see a nod to a player’s zone starts.

When judging defense we like to use stats like +/-, Corsi, goal percentage, and defensive point shares. However, it’s important to consider deployment when taking all of this into account.

It’s become especially crucial when breaking down the statistical seasons of the Golden Knights blue liners. Looking at the numbers without zone starts involved it appears as though Shea Theodore has emerged as Vegas’ best defenseman. He leads all defensemen in goals, assists, points, shots, offensive point shares, defensive point shares, Corsi, Corsi relative, expected goals, expected goals percentage, and expected +/-.

There’s no question that Theodore has become the Golden Knights’ most effective offensive weapon from the blue line. That’s why the coaching staff have used him in a role much different than that of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb.

The Golden Knights are 2nd in the NHL in percentage of faceoffs in the offensive zone. In Golden Knights games this season, 35.6% of draws have been in the offensive zone, 32.7% in the neutral zone and just 31.7% in the D-zone. Vegas has taken 648 offensive zone draws to only 577 in the defensive zone. That means the Golden Knights baseline zone start percentage is 52.9%.

In other words, any player getting less than 53% offensive zone starts is being deployed in a defensive role, while anyone above is in an offensive role. Here are the Golden Knights primary defensemen’s offensive zone start numbers this season.

oZS%
Hague 65.5%
Theodore 58.0%
Engelland 54.9%
Merrill 51.8%
Holden 49.8%
Schmidt 47.7%
McNabb 47.3%

The difference between the top of that list and the bottom is massive. Hague and Theodore are drawing offensive zone shifts more than 6% more than the team average while McNabb and Schmidt are finding themselves starting in the D-zone around 6% less than the average.

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Golden Knights Thrive At 4-on-4

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It’s not a terribly common situation in an NHL game anymore, but when the Golden Knights find themselves in a 4-on-4 spot, they’ve made the most of it.

Vegas has played 32:35 of 4-on-4 time this season, the 6th most in the NHL, yet no one has scored more goals with both teams short a man. The Golden Knights have tallied five goals and have not allowed any while playing 4-on-4 hockey.

Small sample size aside, the Golden Knights are almost more dangerous at 4-on-4 than on the power play.

 G/60S/60SA/60xGF/60
5-on-52.4 (19th)32.3 (8th)30.4 (16th)2.8 (T-1st)
4-on-47.4 (3rd)31.0 (11th)15.2 (3rd)4.7 (T-1st)
3-on-34.2 (23rd)37.3 (15th)53.9 (31st)4.5 (19th)
Power Play8.4 (6th)67.4 (1st)7.0 (1st)8.5 (2nd)
Penalty Kill1.5 (T-4th)12.3 (T-10th)57.8 (23rd)1.0 (T-8th)
All2.9 (T-17th)35.5 (2nd)30.8 (13th)3.3 (2nd)

Vegas is one of seven teams to have a 100% goal percentage, they are 2nd in expected goals for per 60, 2nd in goal differential per 60, 3rd in goals for per 60, and 3rd in Corsi for per 60.

The key for Vegas in 4-on-4 has been the defensemen. Both Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt have two points and Jon Merrill and Nick Holden also each have a point. Between them, that’s six points in less than 60 minutes of combined ice time. The Vegas blueline only have a total of 60 points in 38 games, yet they have six in less than one game at 4-on-4.

As far as the forwards, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and William Karlsson all have at least four individual shot attempts despite none of them playing more than 12 minutes.

Vegas has an xGF% of 75.3% at 4-on-4. At all even-strength situations, no team has an xGF% better than 54.4% (Carolina). Vegas’ 75.3% at 4-on-4 is almost as strong as the Sabres (81.7%), Blues (81.9%), and Red Wings (83.1%) on the power play. The Golden Knights shooting percentage is 23.5%. They only shoot 8.8% in all situations and 12.4% on the power play.

No matter how you slice it, the Golden Knights are dominant at 4-on-4. Anyone else up for a petition to change the overtime format back?

Pacific Division Dominances Continues Into 2019-20

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It doesn’t matter which team sport you are talking about, every coach, player, and analyst will tell you the easiest route to the playoffs is by winning division games. While the Golden Knights have had a rocky start to 2019-20, the franchise history of dominating the Pacific has continued.

Vegas currently sits in 2nd place in the division with an 18-13-5 record good for 41 points in 35 games. Against the Pacific Division, they are 8-3-1 or 17 points in 12 games. The Golden Knights started the season winning five of six against the division and have rebounded to win two straight after a 1-2-1 skid.

8-3-1 is a .708 points percentage which translates to 116 points over an 82 game season. Vegas is 10-10-4 against everyone else for a .500 points percentage or an 82 point pace. These numbers are even more drastic over the course of the franchise’s history.

 17-1818-1919-20Overall
vs. NHL51-24-743-32-718-13-5112-69-19
vs. Pacific20-6-318-8-38-3-146-17-7
vs. Everyone Else31-18-425-24-410-10-466-52-12
vs. NHL Pts%.665.567.569.608
vs. Pacific Pts%.741.672.708.707
vs. Everyone Else Pts%.623.509.500.554
vs. NHL Pace1099393100
vs. Pacific Pace122110116116
vs. Everyone Else Pace102848291

Maybe the biggest reason for this is the play of the Golden Knights 1st line.

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Vegas Point Streak Overshadowed by OT Losses

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For the most part, fans only care about wins and losses, but they must remember an NHL season is a marathon, not a race. I know, blah, blah, blah.

Over the past five games, the Golden Knights have won just two of them. Many fans are up in arms screaming about blown leads, consistency, and scoring issues, but they should be happy with that stretch as their team earned at least one point in five straight games. Look at it as a competitive team finding a way to earn a point, even in a losing effort. Last night in Toronto was a perfect example of a well-earned point.

Somehow the Golden Knights found themselves in a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation against one of the better offensively skilled clubs in the league. With their backup goaltender in net, let’s face it the odds were stacked against them. Vegas held a team that averages 3.35 goals per game to one score in 60 minutes. Even more notable was the Golden Knights penalty killers allowed only one goal in six power play opportunities. That lone Leafs goal was scored 48 minutes into the game. The Golden Knights defensive plan, on purpose or not, worked and earned them a point.

A loss isn’t a loss in the NHL. Overtime losses are half a win, and that’s how I’m looking at the Toronto game. Same goes for Vegas’ overtime losses against Montreal and Winnipeg even though those are understandably tougher pills to swallow. Sure you can look at Vegas’ three OTL’s as late-game failures or you can see it as a step closer to a playoff berth.

This season, the Golden Knights have earned an average of 1.23 points per game. That’s a pace that would give Vegas 102 points by the end of the regular season. Remember, no team with at least 100 points has missed the playoffs. Over the past five games of “inconsistent” play, they’ve racked up seven points, which is good for 115 over an 82 game season.

Everyone, including the head coach, knows the Golden Knights have more to give, yet here they sit right in the thick of the playoff chase early in the season. Their PDO is 97.9, which is the 5th worst in the NHL. (For those new to PDO, read this.) They’ve scored seven fewer goals than the “expected goal” rates show and yet they’ve overcome it. The other teams with negative actual goal vs expected goal rates have all struggled mightily (SJS, DET, NJD, LAK). And, they have the league’s 4th worst shooting percentage at even-strength at just 6.47%. The last two years that number was 7.75% and 8.38%.

Put all of that together, and it all points to the same thing. The best has yet to come for the Golden Knights.

Of course, we can’t sit here and celebrate overtime losses for the whole season because eventually, they will have to start earning two points a night rather than one. But as long as they keep pace, an occasional OTL isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s getting them closer to the century mark.

It might sound too simple, and something you’d hear from a coach, but it’s true. Good teams find a way to earn a point. Actually, I’m pretty sure we’ve heard a coach say that.

Golden Knights Stats and Trends For October

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Over the first month of the season, the Golden Knights went (8-5-1) standing in 3rd place in the Pacific Division. Vegas finished October with 17 points and held a (+5) in goal differential. For the most part it was a good opening 31 days for Vegas but clearly they have a lot more to prove in November.

Here are some statistics I find crucial to a successful season, and some interesting trends the team built over the opening month.

Vital Statistics

Primary Assists

  1. Pacioretty: 6
  2. Karlsson, Marchessault: 5
  3. Stone: 4
  4. Theodore: 3
  5. Glass, Smith, McNabb, Carrier: 2
  6. Eakin, Stastny, Nosek, Pirri, Engelland, Holden, Schmidt: 1

First VGK Goal of the Game

  1. Stone: 4
  2. Karlsson, Statsny: 2
  3. Carrier, Theodore, Nosek, Smith, Marchessault, Holden: 1

Game Winning Goals

  1. Stastny: 2
  2. Smith, Marchessault, Carrier, Roy: 1

Power Play Goals

  1. Stastny: 4
  2. Stone: 3
  3. Pacioretty: 2
  4. Karlsson, Marchessault, Holden: 1

Shootout Goals

  1. Theodore, Marchessault: 2
  2. Pirri: 1

Points Per Game (Top 10)

  1. Stone: 1.21
  2. *Tuch, Roy: 1.00
  3. Pacioretty, Karlsson: 0.86
  4. Smith: 0.79
  5. Stastny: 0.64
  6. Marchessault: 0.57
  7. Glass, Schmidt: 0.50
  8. Theodore: 0.36
  9. Nosek, Carrier: 0.28
  10. Holden: 0.21

Power Play Points

  1. Pacioretty, Stone: 7
  2. Stastny: 6
  3. Theodore, Glass, Marchessault: 3
  4. Karlsson: 2
  5. Smith, Holden, Hague: 1

Shootout Goals

  1. Theodore, Marchessault: 2
  2. Pirri: 1

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T-Mobile Arena Aiding Golden Knights To Massive League Lead In Team Stat

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Every NHL arena has a group of five people who sit in the press box collecting “advanced” stats. They’re tracking things like time-on-ice, shots on goal, missed shots, blocks, faceoff wins and losses, hits, takeaways, giveaways, penalties, among others.

At T-Mobile Arena, they sit in the booth press box and they are constantly yelling out things like “Block by 15!” or “Hit! 28 on 44,” as they enter the information into the NHL’s proprietary data tracking system.

Because these people are humans, there tend to be discrepancies in how certain stats are judged. Though the league has strict set standards, in practice there will be differences from rink to rink. What qualifies as a hit? Who won the stalemate faceoff? Was that shot actually blocked? There are humans making these decisions, and they are doing it in a split second while the action is going on.

One of those discrepancies has seemingly aided the Golden Knights to lead the league in a stat that is one of the few which allows us to quantify defense.

The stat is takeaways, and after 11 games the Golden Knights lead the league by 30. Vegas has 121 takeaways, while the next closest is Colorado with 91. Toronto has 88, and Calgary 87. Comparing it to the bottom of the league, Buffalo brings up the rear with 40, or a difference of seven takeaways per game from Vegas.

There’s no question the Golden Knights are proficient at stealing the puck from opponents. Mark Stone is arguably the best in the league at it. Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, and Brayden McNabb are all good at it too. But, the stat really comes into focus when you compare Vegas’ takeaways at home vs on the road.

Home
vs SJS 15
vs BOS 15
vs CGY 14
vs NSH 18
vs OTT 19

Away
at SJS 9
at ARI 4
at LAK 3
at PIT 8
at PHI 6
at CHI 10

The Golden Knights average 16.2 takeaways per game on home ice. They average just 6.7 on the road. That’s nearly 10 takeaways per game difference between home and road. Something is clearly amiss.

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