The Golden Knights power play is, how do I say this politely, a… work in progress. They currently sit 30th in the NHL, connecting on 13.5% of their chances this season.
It’s one aspect of the game Vegas’ front office and coaching staff specifically targeted as an area for improvement this offseason. So far, improvement is not what we’ve seen, but recently, we’re starting to see some changes which could lead to a breakthrough.
Aside from numerous shifts in personnel, mostly due to injury, the Golden Knights have begun to mix up their entry strategies. Previously, basically since DeBoer took over, the Golden Knights have been reliant on the drop pass entry. One player, usually a defenseman, takes the puck from behind the goal, skates hard into the teeth of the penalty kill’s neutral zone set up, then wheels and drops the puck off to a teammate coming up behind him. Here’s what it looks like.
The idea is to first back off the defense, basically forcing them to either stand still on the blue line or retreat into the defensive zone. Then, the puck is laid off to a puck carrier with forward momentum and options spread across the ice. It’s a much maligned power play entry tactic by fans and media alike, but historically it’s proven to be the most consistently effective strategy both in gaining the zone and scoring directly off the rush on the power play.
The Golden Knights have implemented a few different wrinkles to the drop pass entry including having multiple options to drop to, quickly advancing a pass to the red line only to drop it back, or even occasionally using a double drop pass. But for the most part, this style of entry has been the primary style of attack the entire DeBoer era and most of the time before him. Here’s an example of a double drop pass entry that works brilliantly.
Recently though, we’ve started to see some new entry methods mixed in and it’s helped the power play tremendously. One of the most commonly used new entry styles is a stretch entry. Instead of waiting for everyone on both teams to set up, the Golden Knights are looking for the quick pass up the ice to catch the penalty kill before it is ready.
Another similar option is the quick entry. In this one, the Golden Knights hit a shorter pass and take the ice given to them to just skate it right in. It won’t always be there, but when it is, it makes the hardest part of the power play look way too easy.
Finally, when those two faster options aren’t available, the Golden Knights have started to default to a five-across carry option. One player skates up with the puck with two players fanned off to both his right and left. He can either take it all the way himself (unlikely) or move it off to any of the four options, all moving forward, coming with him.
The new found variety in entry seems to be helping the power play quite a bit. Since the Detroit game on the road, the Golden Knights have been much more varied in their entry styles. The drop pass is still included from time to time, but it no longer appears to be the clear number one option as it was prior. Since that game, Vegas has hit on three of their 16 power play chances, good for 18.8%. Before that, they were just two for 21 (9.5%).
The VGK power play still has a long way to go before it can truly become a threat that scares opponents, but seeing meaningful changes for the first time in a long time is a step in the right direction.