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.