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Dissecting VGK’s Underperforming Penalty Kill System

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the few sore spots for the Golden Knights to this point in the season has been their penalty kill. Operating at just 75% efficiency, the Vegas kill has allowed 10 goals and some important ones.

Similar to the defensive structure, a system overhaul was put in place this season on the penalty kill with assistant coach John Stevens taking the reins.

The Golden Knights play a much more passive system than they had been deploying under Pete DeBoer. It’s also multiple, meaning it doesn’t look the same against every single opponent.

In DeBoer’s highly aggressive system, the Golden Knights would take away the pass across the blue line in an effort to contain the puck to one side of the ice. Then, they’d use angles and stick position to find numbers advantages in order to take away the puck. In the new system, there’s a set plan in place, but it can change from game to game. Head coach Bruce Cassidy gave a pair of examples from recent games.

When there’s a true elbow shooter like (Tage) Thompson in Buffalo we would rather avoid that one. They ended up getting the shot they wanted and scored. When Toronto was here with (Auston) Matthews and (Mitch) Marner on the elbows, we would rather give (Morgan) Rielly the shot from the middle and deal with the screen and tip in front. -Cassidy

When they identify a particular strength of the team, they look to alter the system slightly in order to take away that option. Regularly though, the plan is to make sure the shots come from outside of the faceoff dots.

The Golden Knights play with the standard penalty kill box shape that has two forwards high and two defensemen directly beneath them. As the puck moves to the high slot, one forward activates to force the puck to Vegas’ preferred side (if possible) and the other funnels in behind him to discourage the shot. Then, as the puck heads into the circles, the Golden Knights typically passively pursue the puck while always making sure to have sticks taking away anything through the seams. They are comfortable allowing a shot from the elbow with full confidence in the goalie’s ability to stop it.

There’s always going to be something (that you have to give up). A lot of teams give up that drop-off play in front of the net. San Jose does that and we were not able to expose it last night and there were a couple of opportunities we could have and we didn’t execute. -Cassidy

This system has its benefits and some of them have shone through to this point. Tip plays are nearly impossible against this penalty kill style because there is always at least one (sometimes as many as three) player between the puck and the goal when it is high in the zone. It also takes away passes through the seams. If the unit is set up properly and not scrambling, a pass would have to go through at least two sticks to get directly to the other side of the ice. Also, it allows goalies to anticipate where the shot is going to come from.

Vegas has allowed 132 shot attempts in just over 62 minutes of shorthanded time with 69 of them making it to the goalie. That’s the 2nd highest number of shorthanded shot attempts against per 60 in the NHL and 4th most shorthanded shots on goal against per 60.

It will change in certain circumstances, but we don’t want to change too much of our structure because I think players get used to the rhythm and how to kill and they work well in sync. We were not in sync on the winning goal (against San Jose). We got caught too far outside the dots but I think it does matter from team to team what your focus is on. -Cassidy

There’s definitely room for improvement, both in how they operate against most teams and in the specialized setup against teams with extraordinary weapons.

However, they have done the most important aspect of penalty killing very well. Avoiding it.

The Golden Knights are 2nd in both the fewest number of penalties taken and time spent on the kill per game, both trailing St. Louis.

Allowing a goal on 25% of power plays against won’t cut it. But, when there’s only one or two a night to kill, it certainly minimizes the impact.


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  1. Canada

    Not much to say other than they had no jump . Soft goal few coff ups and you lose by a goal they will recover . On the road they were focused and had one job to do . At home they have to get their testosterone levels back in line along with other responsibilities. Old guys like Petro need more than a day before the legs are strong again 🙂 . Nothing much Cassidy can do but work on the small things . He could try for Team Celebecy for 6 months that could get him the Jack Adams award 🙂 . Mother nature usually wins .

  2. Pistol Pete

    Excellent dissection Ken. Sounds a little like just 17 games into a new PK system they are still getting used to it.

    • Pistol Pete

      Definitely an improvement vs. ARI tonight. 4-0 and that was against the league’s 7th ranked PP coming in.

  3. knights fan in minny

    one thousand for the iron maN tonight

  4. Frank

    Too soft on the PK. I understand what they are trying to do in terms of moving shots to the outside and taking away passing lanes…. however, they are giving up far too much zone time and don’t put enough pressure on the puck. I for one would be pressuring at the points all the time as our boys have a knack for scoring shorties (Here’s looking at you Smith and Karlsson 😉

  5. Jailbird

    How about a 5-2 win for the boys tonight? Play hard boys!

  6. It seems some learning moments are in order. Check out teams that are in the mid 80s to 90 range penalty kill. There is nothing that says you can’t adjust – when broken fix it when not leave it alone. You know definition of insanity – doing the same thing that isn’t working well nd ecpecting different results satisfies that definition. They can’t afford to leave it broken – these guys are professionals and know what has to be done.

    • Pistol Pete

      4-0 tonight vs. ARI’s coming into the game 7th ranked PP.

      14-4-0. Plenty of time to hone the special teams. Cassidy is nobody’s fool.

  7. Tim

    Will Arizona beat us tonight if so what do you make of losing 3 home games to teams who have struggled? It tells me one there goalies have been good and getting 2 goals in a game with our talent is an issue. I thought reasonably we’d win two out of three at home go on the road probably lose to Edmonton and then beat Vancouver now who knows. Truthfully hockey’s just to frustrating there’s no rhyme or reason why you can’t beat bad teams and then the excuses.

  8. Pistol Pete

    VGK 4-1 vs. ARI—snaps mini losing streak.

    Worth noting ARI came into this game ranked 7th in both PP and PK!

    They have beaten some good teams:

    @ TOR 4-2
    vs. FLA 3-1
    @ NYI 2-0

    Also beat Caps and Sabres on the road.

    No game is a gimme!

    Around the league:

    Devils win 11th in a row. My goodness.
    Flames lose to Lightning (lose 8 of last 10)!
    Kraken beat NYR at home OT

    What’s up with Flames?

    Are Kraken for real? Will find out upcoming home-stand.

  9. THE hockey GOD

    what happened to Ken ???

    )they killed kenny ????(

  10. Jim

    article is totally missing the point……the Vgk forwards that they use on the PK are not the shot blocking, pass deflecting, big, aggressive, long reach, defensive minded, puck clearing, board battle winning, puck retrieval, blue line zone entry denial types.

    they are fancy, shorthanded goal minded, offensive minded, transition minded, pokecheckers who avoid going down to block shots, and who don’t have the long reach to deflect cross-ice passes to the onetimer shooter waiting at the opposite circle.

    Smith, Karlsson, and Stephenson are fine players, but not the kind of guys who are going to throw themselves face first in front of pucks.

    also, the dmen they use on the PK are shot blockers, but not good at retrieval and icing the puck.

    and there seems to be no communication between the goalies and the dmen as to the strategy used…iow the dmen take away the long side of the shooting lane from the guy in the circle, and the goalie is supposed to cover the short side on shots. but I see the goalie staying too much in the middle of the crease and not covering the short side properly, thus not working in concert with their dmen.

  11. THE hockey GOD

    my no 1 star for last nite game was
    no. 23

    he was incredible on D !

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