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How VGK’s Play In The Neutral Zone Has Unlocked Their Offense

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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17 Comments

  1. THE hockey GOD

    mcdavid
    mackinnon
    or
    matthews of the loser leafs

    who would you draft on your team ? no others, which on of these three.

    • Julie

      Matthews. For all kinds of reasons, including how a guy from Arizona bewilders Canadians with his skill.

      • Pretty interesting no one has said McDavid – how does your Husband feel about that.?? Hope your doing ok and ready for the big win tonight. Colorado will be tough but Minny hopefully turns out to be a good warm-up. I notice some one mention last time they were up 3 to 1 and ended up exiting

        • THE hockey GOD

          “some one mention last time they were up 3 to 1 and ended up exiting’ experience/character builder, hopefully since some say in order to win you must first get over the losses to be a real champion.

        • Julie

          Hey, HD! My husband says Matthews is definitely up there. McDavid is getting shut down these days. Hard to watch the Oilers with all that happening. :). He is rooting for Vegas if Edmonton falters, very happy the Caps are out. I feel good about the game tonight, and I am sure Minnesota will come out swinging. I hope Pacioretty comes back tonight, but if we can wrap this up and he is rested for Colorado, ok then. Hope you are doing great!

      • Mike StG

        Hg – For me it’s MacKinnon, all around great player, playmaker and great shot. Change of direction gives you whiplash, in two strides he’s full speed from a standstill, quick, and extremely strong. Absolutely terrifying when he has the puck if you’re on the opposing team. And, his defensive game is very good too. He makes everyone on the team better.

    • Blitz

      I think I am going with MacKinnon. The guy is ridiculous with speed and skill. I watched him in the memorial cup series against the Portland Winterhawks in Junior and I remember then thinking this dude is a man amongst boys and I don’t think it has changed much in the NHL. Best skater on the ice every game I have watched.

  2. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    We NEED to close out the series, TONIGHT!

    Colorado is sitting at home, waiting on us. Can’t give them any extra rest.

    Besides, Knight fans know what can happen, with a 3-1 series lead, if you don’t close it out at earliest chance.

    The boys are playing well right now and just need to keep skating hard!

  3. Blitz

    What’s up with the 7:30pm PT (9:30pm CT) game on a Monday night? Like someone is trying to screw the MIN fans back east. Hopefully that was a LV decision and not the NHL.

    • Spare them the end of their season?

    • THE hockey GOD

      with NHL it’s all about BACK EAST prime time ratings. I remember in 1993 when LA KINGS hosted the HABS in the FINALS. The LA KINGS starting times were always 7 30 PST, which is way past bed time of PRIME TIME of 10 30 pm EST. So they changed it to 6 PM, the KINGS lost one of their biggest advantages. A back east team coming out west to play games that could go past mid night, eastern time. I believe it played a part in losing the series. That and Marty McSORRY’s bone headed play with his illegal stick. One of the most bone headed plays ever next to Merkle’s boner.

      What was it you may ask ?

      Merkle’s Boner refers to the notorious base-running mistake committed by rookie Fred Merkle of the New York Giants in a game against the Chicago Cubs on September 23, 1908. Merkle’s failure to advance to second base on what should have been a game-winning hit led instead to a forceout at second and a tied game. The players on the Cubs went into the stands to find the ball , the field was flooded with crowd. The umps saw what happened and called out the Giants. Since the Giants and Cubs ended up tied in standings a few weeks later, they had a playoff game in which the Cubs won.

  4. I am sorry… But does anyone else think we are screwed with the joke that wears #7 for another 7 years??? Has to be the most over rated player just in front of #27 who is just as useless!!!
    It is so obvious why our power play sucks… Because those 2 clowns run the whole 2 minutes and they suvk at it.
    How can you pay 2 players 15 Million, give them every power play and get nothing out of it all season??? And continue to stay with them??? Use MARTINEZ as the number 1 power play D man and watch it completely turn around…

  5. I am sorry… But does anyone else think we are screwed with the joke that wears #7 for another 7 years??? Has to be the most over rated player just in front of #27 who is just as useless!!!
    It is so obvious why our power play sucks… Because those 2 clowns run the whole 2 minutes and they suvk at it.
    How can you pay 2 players 15 Million, give them every power play and get nothing out of it all season??? And continue to stay with them??? Use MARTINEZ as the number 1 power play D man and watch it completely turn around…
    THE CURSE will never be in jeopardy… Because you cannot sniff a Stanley Cup with clowns like them running the most ridiculous joke of a power play ever!

    They will always come up short as long as we have #7 and #27

    • rgangue

      STL Fans could have told you Pietro was not a great PP Quarterback. When the Blues won the Cup I believe they had the worst Powerplay in the last 20+ years to win a cup. He is very predictable with his passing and was known to miss the net as many times as he hit the target. 7 years is going to get ugly. Better win quick or that will be an anchor and his NMC means you can’t dump him.

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