One of the common phrases from Golden Knights throughout the course of the first three seasons has been that they want to play the same way no matter the score of the game. If it’s tied at 0, they want to play the same way as if they are up 4-0 or down 4-3.
It’s one of those sayings that sounds like a cliche rather than something that can actually be implemented in real life though.
Much like the saying “we roll four lines,” which is unequivocally not true about the Golden Knights. Vegas’ top-six forwards play about three minutes more even-strength time than their 3rd line and five minutes more than the 4th line. Quite simply, over the course of the whole game, the Golden Knights don’t “roll four lines” and they never have. (The numbers are essentially identical in all three years.)
However, the “play the same way” mantra is surprisingly accurate and the Golden Knights are on pace to do it at a historical rate.
The way this is calculated is through Corsi or SAT%. Corsi is a horribly imperfect stat but until we have accurate puck tracking data, it’s the best we’ve got. The idea is to gather up all the shot attempts to try and figure out which teams spend the most time in the offensive zone. In theory, a team with a 50% Corsi spends the same amount of time defending as they do attacking. 55% Corsi means you spend more time in the o-zone than the d-zone, and 45% Corsi means more time in the d-zone than the o-zone.
Again, it’s not perfect, but the numbers for the Golden Knights are astounding.
Vegas’ overall Corsi this season when the game is at 5-on-5 is 53.3%. That’s good for 4th best in the NHL, behind Carolina, Los Angeles, and Montreal.
When the game is tied, the Golden Knights Corsi is 53.2%, nearly identical to their total. When Vegas is ahead, the number is 52.8%, half a percentage point under their norm. When they are behind, the number is 53.8%, half a percentage point over their norm.
This is to be expected. When they are down as they protect the lead, they shoot less, when they are up they shoot more as they try to tie it up. However, the disparity is essentially nothing, which is incredibly rare for an NHL team. Over the course of a game, we’re talking about a difference of about one shot per situation. If Vegas gets 53 shots for and allows 47 when the game is tied, they’d get 52 and allow 48 when they are up, and get 54 and allow 46 when they are down. A one shot attempt swing is basically inconsequential and when compared to the rest of the league, unbelievable.
The difference between Vegas’ Corsi when leading vs. when behind is just 1%, while no other team in the league is under 2%. The league average is a 5.8% difference and the Carolina Hurricanes lead the league with an 11.6% difference.
The NHL has been keeping Corsi as an official stat since 2009-10. In that time there have been a total of 333 seasons played (including teams playing this year). No team has ever finished a season below 1.9% and no team has ever finished an 82 game season below 2.1%.
Again, the Golden Knights are currently at 1.0% through 46 games.
The NHL average difference in shot attempt rate between when a team is leading to when they are trailing is 6.7%, that’s 5.7% more than the Golden Knights this season.
Despite preaching it for three years, this is a new phenomenon for the Golden Knights. In their inaugural season, the difference between leading and trailing was 5.4% while last year it was 5.8%. Better than the average, so technically correct when spewed as a manta, but nothing compared to this year.
What does it actually mean? It means they are achieving a goal they’ve set out for themselves. No matter the score, Vegas plays the same way. They don’t chase games when they are behind, they don’t give them away when they are ahead, and they don’t crumble when the game is close.
And it should mean long term success. Nine teams in the past 10 years have finished a season with a differential of less than 3%. Two of the nine won the Stanley Cup (2013 Chicago, 2017 Pittsburgh), fix won the division or won a round, and six made the playoffs.
Most of the time coaching cliches are bogus, this time, it’s not.