The power play. What a beautiful thing it can be when it is humming along scoring goals at a 30% clip, but oh what a nightmare it can become when it stumbles to an 0 for 15 mark in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
The Golden Knights’ power play will be under the microscope all season long and that lens will zoom in much further when we reach the playoffs. Obviously, it didn’t start out well with Vegas failing on each of their first 19 attempts but it’s come on strong in the month of December clicking at an impressive 34% (12 for 35) pace.
For me though, the eye test did not match the numbers as of late. There’s clearly no denying the fact that the pucks are going in the net a third of the time, but it still looked like a paltry power play to me at first glance.
So, I decided to go back over all 12 goals to see exactly what was there. How are they scoring them? Where are they coming from? Who is scoring them? The goal was to see if this is a fleeting run of success or not. The answer, of course, comes out somewhere in between.
Of the 12 power play goals the Golden Knights have scored in the month of December, three were scored by Max Pacioretty; all of which he shot the puck from the circle to the left of the goalie and all of which he received a pass from Shea Theodore in the high-slot.
These goals are definitely replicable, but also predictable, and thus much easier to defend when a team has a complete focus on stopping an opposing teams’ power play as they do in the playoffs. Nonetheless, Pacioretty’s shot is so dangerous, that even when you know it’s coming, he can still beat you with it. So, it’s definitely a weapon the Golden Knights have in the bag and one that absolutely can and will be a factor moving forward (when he’s healthy again).
Moving on, four of the 12 were scored by a player with either with a skate in the crease or within a few feet. It’s an old cliche, but it’s an accurate one, that to score goals in the NHL you have to go to the crease. Here’s the bad news, one was scored by the extra skater when VGK had their net empty on a 6-on-4 power play, and another was scored because a Kings defenseman seemingly forgot what position he was playing and completely abandoned the front of the goal to chase the puck. The goals are scored by a player standing in the right place (Reilly Smith both times), but they are reasonably unlikely to be something the Golden Knights can lean on due to circumstances. The other two in the crease came from Mark Stone, both of which are picture-perfect replicable power play goals.
The rest were scored from the slot area, two up top from defensemen, and two much closer in by forwards receiving passes from below the goal line.
I graded out the goals using a three-pronged option set. Each goal could be “very” replicable, “semi” replicable, or “unlikely” to be replicated.
Of the 12, there were three in the “very” category, five in the “semi” and four in the “unlikely.”
The “very” replicable ones had me excited that the power play is indeed heading in the right direction. The prettiest of them is this one from Stephenson to Stone to Dadonov. It’s a beaut.
This is what an elite power play looks like when it’s working. Quick puck movement, stretching out the penalty killers to set up a dangerous shot from a good player in close. The speed in which both Stone and Dadonov get the puck off their sticks should give anyone hope that this team is not reliant on unforced errors or fluky bounces to score goals.
The other two in the “very” category both included passes through the seams. These types of passes are the ones the Golden Knights have been majorly lacking in their power play. Unfortunately, on the nearly 40 passes made in the leadups to the 12 goals, just four times did the puck get passed through the penalty kill’s defensive shape or “box.” The rest were all made around the outside as part of the VGK PP “umbrella.”
While those three goals had the passes in them, one goal had two, the lack of penalty kill shredding seam passes was alarming. To score consistently on the power play, especially in the playoffs, it’s imperative to get goalies moving with lateral passes through the seam of the penalty kill. Despite operating at 34% efficiency this month, the Golden Knights are still not making these passes with any consistency. That is cause for concern.
Next, we have shots from the high slot, which were a huge part of the disastrous penalty kill that sent VGK packing against the Canadiens last year. The most important takeaway in these was that when they were going in, two things were happening.
First, the Golden Knights had not just one, but two screeners in front of the goalie. The bumper player (usually Dadonov or Roy), who normally operates in the mid-slot area in between all four penalty killers, migrated directly in front of the goal and was right in the goalie’s eyes joining the standard net-front player. This is a replicable “play” the Golden Knights can run and have defensemen like Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, and Dylan Coghlan who are accurate enough to fit the puck through the traffic and on goal.
The second is that on both of the goals from the high slot during this stretch, the penalty killers were stretched out leaving just one (if that) player with a reasonable chance of blocking the shot. In the postseason, VGK faced two or even three players in the way of these shots and couldn’t even fit them through. If Vegas’ passing was the reason these lanes were open, it would look much better, but in both instances, the plays came off battles in the corners which saw the penalty killers commit too many numbers to win. When VGK won the puck, a simple pass to the slot led to first-time goals without players to block them in front.
If the opposing team stays compact, it’s highly unlikely those goals will come for the Golden Knights with any regularity. In the regular season, maybe we see more of them as teams work on their own systems instead of tailoring to beat Vegas. But in the playoffs, relying on that type of goal will be a futile effort.
The final piece of the puzzle is movement, something we still see very little of. On all of the 12 goals every player involved is standing in the exact spot we expect them to be in on the power play. Rarely, if ever, do we see player movement on the power play. Interchanging is an effective tool to confuse penalty killers and open up passing lanes. The Golden Knights simply do not have it in their toolbag and it’s something that would go a long way to improving their power play if they did.
All in all though, there was quite a bit more good than bad in watching the 12 power play goals scored this month. They’re at least starting to show more willingness to hit seam passes, they have a bonafide weapon in Pacioretty that has to be respected even if he doesn’t shoot (Martinez is the same when he’s in there), and they been able to take advantage of any opening an opposing penalty kill presents them.
Don’t get used to 12 for 35 though, because the process of how they got there involved a lot more luck than truly elite power play moments. But, the days of 0 for 19 in the regular season and 0 for 15 in the playoffs should be waning as there are definitely steps being taken in the right direction.