The Golden Knights have scored 103 goals at 5-on-5 this season. That’s 2.02 per game, ranking them 21st in the NHL. Over the past 36 games, that number drops to 1.83 per game, the 7th worst in the league.
Even-strength scoring has been a huge reason why the Golden Knights have not been winning games and recently much of the focus has turned to head coach Bruce Cassidy.
Many believe Cassidy is too hasty in his willingness to mix up the line combinations. Personally, I can see both sides of the argument. Clearly, the results were much better at the start of the year when the lines stayed consistent, however, there’s no doubt the injuries and recent poor performances of the top six have majorly forced Cassidy’s hand.
During the All Star break, I plan on putting in a bunch of research to hopefully allow us to better understand the impact of line flux on this group of VGK forwards. Today, we focus on quantity of line combinations.
Vegas has rolled out 47 different forward line combinations over the course of their first 51 games. Only three have seen more than 10 games together while 16 have been one-and-done. These numbers are actually well short of what Pete DeBoer deployed last season. DeBoer used 108 over the 82 game season, only had two that made it to 20+ games, and had 52 that played a single game together. Here are the numbers for VGK’s first five and a half seasons.
|Lines Used||Lines/Game||Forwards Used||20+ Games||10+||1|
Cassidy and DeBoer certainly mixed up the lines a lot more than Gerard Gallant did in his time with the Golden Knights. Amazingly, the first season, which had the most uncertainty around it, led to the fewest number of line combinations per game while using 30 different skaters.
An important year to look at is 20-21 when VGK played just 56 games. They only used 18 players yet rolled out 53 different line combinations. That team fought through COVID, injuries, and salary cap gymnastics the entire season, but ended up tied with the best record in the NHL. Of course, they did play one of the easiest schedules in modern-day NHL history.
To me, there’s more to glean about coaching styles than actual impact on performance by switching the lines around from these numbers. Cassidy and DeBoer mix them up a lot, Gallant didn’t. As far as team results have gone, all three have similar regular season numbers, though Cassidy is going to have to pick it back up to stay on track with his two predecessors.
Individually, it sure looks a little clearer that the more consistent a player is on his line, the more consistent performances he’ll give.
|Games Played||Different Line Combos||Single Game|
Obviously, Jack Eichel jumps to the forefront here. Of his 42 games, 21 of them were played with Stephenson and Stone, another six were with Smith and Kessel and three more with Stephenson and Amadio, the rest were all single-game lines. Despite playing with eight fewer line combinations than Phil Kessel, Eichel has seen his line disintegrate after one game more often than Kessel.
During the current cold streak in which he has one point and zero goals in his last eight games, Eichel has played with five different lineup combinations. That being said, Cassidy did stick with one (Stephenson-Eichel-Amadio) for three consecutive games, and Eichel went pointless.
Kessel’s 18 different combinations are certainly staggering as well. His season has been up and down as has his usage on those lines. Typically he’s used in an offensive role, but many of those 18 combos have leaned more defensive. That will clearly impact any player’s performance and it certainly has for Phil. Again though, his most consistent lines have not necessarily translated into the most success. He has three lines with which he played six or seven games and his numbers mimic his season averages in those games.
Amadio, Cotter, Stephenson, Rondbjerg, and Leschyshyn are all in the top 10 in most different lineup combos, and unsurprisingly, each of their seasons have been inconsistent as well.
All in all, there’s definitely data here to say the more change a player sees the more inconsistent they become. But, there’s a massive chicken or the egg scenario at play that must be considered. Is the performance poor because the coach keeps changing the lines or does the coach keep changing the lines because the performance is poor?
As of right now, I don’t have that answer, but the research on this topic is far from done. (But it is done for this article.)