Because of the Pause, it feels like ages ago, but one of the Golden Knights’ final games of the regular season was a 4-1 loss to the LA Kings. In that game, the Golden Knights outshot the Kings by a margin of 43-17, and at even strength it was 40-8. Vegas created 10 more high-danger chances, they owned 75% of the game’s shot attempts, and the expected goals pointed to a nearly three-goal victory.
Instead, the Golden Knights lost the game 4-1 and never led. That night, Cal Petersen stopped 42 shots and ended Vegas’ eight game winning streak. The only Golden Knights goal was scored on an individual effort by Shea Theodore.
Sounding a bit familiar?
Last night the Golden Knights peppered the exact same number of shots, 42, at playoff debutant Thatcher Demko. They led in shots by 26, they created 24 more scoring chances, and finished the game with a Corsi of 67.5%. The only goal was a magical individual effort by Shea Theodore.
It’s easy to sit back and say, “well, they ran into a hot goalie” and if this was a rare occurrence, it would probably be a fair statement. But with this version of the Golden Knights, it’s not, even if the previous instances happened eight to ten months ago.
If you rank every game by even-strength shot share, that Kings game is atop the regular season and last night’s Canucks Game 5 leads the playoffs. Both losses for the Golden Knights.
Go a little further and you’ll see that games ranked 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10 are all losses for Vegas as well. Thus, the 10 best games for the Golden Knights in regards to outshooting their opposition, six of them are losses. In the playoffs, it’s games ranked first, second, and fifth of the 13.
This can’t be simply attributed to the Golden Knights falling behind and the other team sitting back trying to hold the lead.
Last night, after the 2nd period, Vegas led the shot chart 28-10. The game was tied for all but 24 seconds of those 40 minutes. In the Chicago game, Vegas trailed for a majority of it, but only for more than a single goal for just 18 seconds (another game in which the only goal was scored by Theodore).
This is an issue that has plagued the Golden Knights all season long. I can specifically remember sitting in the bowels of the Staples Center (those were the days) asking myself, how can this team constantly dominate on the stat sheet but keep losing hockey games.
That game was the last of a five game losing streak which included consecutive losses to Detroit, Chicago, and LA. Vegas had more shot attempts in all three games.
Now, this isn’t to say the Golden Knights are better off when they don’t shoot, cause that makes no sense theoretically and historically when you sort the schedule by VGK shots, you’ll find most of the losses towards the bottom (13 of the bottom 19 are L’s). Instead, it’s to say the Golden Knights have at times made a habit of falling for quantity over quality.
Jesse Granger of The Athletic dug up one clear reason why the Golden Knights have fallen into this trap.
The Golden Knights were 14th with only 37 deflected shots on net and 23rd with only four goals off deflections. -Granger
Other reasons include an inability at times to create second and third chances, a willingness to take shots from the outside rather than continue to work the offense between the dots, a lack of elite shooters aside from Max Pacioretty, and maybe most importantly a sudden lack of odd-man rushes in transition.
In Game 5 against the Canucks, the Golden Knights did not have a single 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 chances could be counted on one hand. The same was the case in Game 4 against Chicago when a majority of the offense came from sustained offense-zone time.
Of course, it’s never bad to spend heaps of time in the opposing team’s end putting pressure on them, but when you can’t create rebound chances and don’t get that perfect shot or play from an individual, games can end up looking like they did against the Canucks.
Vegas had 72% of the shot attempts, yet three of the four most dangerous were part of the Canucks’ 28%.
It’s an area that has plagued this team all season long and it’s now cropped up in two of the last seven games against lesser opponents.
Don’t get me wrong, Thatcher Demko and Corey Crawford both played well in those games helping to stymie the Vegas offense, but if the Golden Knights want to win nine more playoff games and lift the Cup, they’re going to have to find a way to make sure this issue is kept to a minimum. While it didn’t kill them in the series against Chicago, and it likely won’t here against Vancouver, dropping a game in which you dominate in the Western Conference Final or Stanley Cup Final could be the difference between an unceremonious end to an unforgettable season and immortality.