Remember when the storyline surrounding the Golden Knights was a scoring drought spanning over three series in two postseasons? Well, that appears to be over, or at least on hold, as Vegas has exploded for 12 goals in the last 8 periods and won three straight with a chance to close it out tonight.
A huge reason for the turnaround offensively has been the way the Golden Knights have played in the neutral zone. Since Pete DeBoer took over in Vegas, the ability for the Golden Knights to shut down teams through the center of the ice has been excellent. When they are scoring at a high rate, much of the offense comes from play in the center third of the rink.
In Game 4, Vegas utilized two plays where they used their speed and offensive-minded decision-making in the neutral zone to score goals and eventually help them win the game.
Here are the two plays.
The first one, keep an eye on Keegan Kolesar (VGK #55). He glides through the neutral zone constantly presenting his stick. Nic Roy’s (VGK #10) ability to hold onto the puck forces Zach Parise (MIN #11) to challenge which leaves Kolesar open. Kolesar’s decision to chip in, and then the perfect execution of it, turns what is a 2-on-3 rush into a breakaway chance.
The second one is a trio of Golden Knights making perfect plays in the neutral zone. First, Zach Whitecloud (VGK #2) hops up across the blue line to quickly get the puck going in the right direction again for Vegas. Then, the gorgeous little drop-off pass by Chandler Stephenson (VGK #20) unlocks Alex Tuch’s (VGK #89) speed to send him in against two flat-footed Wild defensemen.
We like to play fast, we have to play fast. Our D are head-manning the puck really well and our centers are skating really well too through the center of the ice. You look at Roy’s goal or Tuch’s goal they are flying through the middle of the ice. We have guys middle-lane driving and that’s just transitioning the puck quick. Not letting them set up, because when they do they are tough to get through. -Mark Stone
Catching the Wild before they set up has been a massive part of the Golden Knights offense in this series. Minnesota is a team that likes to get out into transition and they’ll commit numbers forward if they see a rush materializing. So, Vegas constantly winning pucks in the neutral zone and turning them right into offense has not only stifled the Wild’s attack but also fed VGK’s offense.
I think it’s been huge. The defensemen try to play up ice so if we can play with speed, we are going to create a lot of stuff. -Nic Roy
Here’s one where the Golden Knights use a neutral zone play to turn an exit attempt by the Wild into a chance and eventually a goal for Vegas.
Whitecloud’s (VGK #2) decision to hack the puck back up the boards turned what should have been a nothing play into a rush chance for Vegas as Reilly Smith (VGK #19) carried the puck in. I cut the video off, but the Golden Knights scored the game-winning goal on this play.
Throughout the series, just put the pucks into good spots where you can get it back either for chances to score or to get in on the forecheck, that’s where we’ve had most of our success in the series. -Mark Stone
It was happening earlier in the series as well, just not quite as often. One play in particular in the 1st period of Game 1 fits this mold brilliantly and had it been finished could have changed the way we think about the beginning of the series as well.
Shea Theodore (VGK #27) makes a perfect read to single-handedly thwart a rush the other way, and then his instincts playing inside of the VGK system told him to get the puck up quickly. He did, hit William Karlsson (VGK #71), and in he went for a Grade A chance.
A lot of Vegas’ offense has been born out of the rush since its inception. It’s still a huge part of the DNA of this team, but at times it has disappeared during the postseason.
It’s about an aggressive mindset playing in the neutral zone which has defensemen not only thinking about breaking up plays but then turning them into chances for the forwards immediately. Vegas has done that incredibly well in this series against the Wild and it’s why they now hold a 3-1 series lead. If they do it again tonight, we’ll be talking about the Colorado Avalanche tomorrow.