This season the Golden Knights are one of the stingiest teams in the league when it comes to allowing goals. On a nightly basis, no one allows fewer than Vegas’ 2.4 goals per game. So, it’s not surprising when you break the numbers down, the VGK defense is at or near the top in goals against in every situation.
However, there is one glaring situation that is so much worse than any other it’s almost unbelievable.
VGK goals against per 60 (NHL rank)
All Situations – 2.35 (1st)
5-on-5 – 1.93 (2nd)
Even Strength – 2.39 (6th)
Penalty Kill – 4.19 (4th)
Power Play – 0.34 (2nd)
Against Empty Net – 26.55 (32nd)
Yes, you’re reading that right. At 5-on-5 the Golden Knights allow less than two goals per 60 minutes. On the penalty kill, down at least one man, they allow 4.19 goals per 60. But, when the opposing goalie comes out, that number jumps to an astronomical 26.55.
In 11:18 of ice time against an empty net the Golden Knights have allowed five goals, the worst in the league by nearly three goals per 60 minutes. The only team even in the same galaxy are the Montreal Canadiens at 23.95 while every other team is under 17 and two-thirds of the league has allowed fewer than 10 goals per 60 against the empty net.
It’s a problem and the Golden Knights know it.
We had a meeting with our PK unit and let’s face it we need to be better in that area, it’s happening to us a lot. If that’s a playoff game those can really hurt you. We’re aware of it, we just have to keep drilling down on it. -Cassidy
You don’t want to be giving up goals but it’s better now though because you can learn from it. It hasn’t cost us yet, but it will if it’s not corrected. -Stone
Cassidy mentioned a few specific areas in which he thought the Golden Knights could be better when facing the empty net. He said it starts with entries. Vegas have to be better at denying entry at the blue line.
There’s no better illustration of this than the San Jose game. Moments before the entry that led to the game-tying goal, San Jose waltzed through the zone to get a shot off the rush that Jiri Patera held. VGK’s 1-2-2 neutral zone got caught slightly out of position as Alex Pietrangelo lagged too far into the defensive zone and Mark Stone was unable to deny the pass through the center of the ice. Then, on the play in which San Jose did score, there was a similar breakdown. On this one, the Golden Knights won the draw and instantly cleared the puck. They denied the first entry but were unable to regroup quickly enough as the Sharks started another one. At 6-on-5, it’s bad enough to let the puck be carried across the blue line once, let alone twice in 30 seconds.
The next issue is in clearing the puck along the walls. Against Calgary on Tuesday, Montreal in November, and Los Angeles in October the Golden Knights were unable to work the puck out of the zone despite being first to touch it on a dump-in. Each situation is slightly different but the same result occurs on all three.
On all three, McNabb is the first to the puck and he sends it up the wall. Either the support is not strong enough or the play is not made to get the puck out. Goals occurred within seconds of all three of these failed clearances. Cassidy said he would like to see the center work lower in the zone to give a better outlet to his teammate along the wall. In the Calgary one, Eichel is doing this well, Barbashev just doesn’t recognize the option.
Finally, it’s something the Golden Knights are typically excellent at during the rest of games, and that’s not allowing players to be left open in the low slot. The goals against San Jose, Montreal, and Washington all came from almost the same spot, a spot VGK rarely even give a shot up from, let alone three goals.
The same error occurs in all three instances. The center (Eichel vs SJS, Roy vs MTL/WSH) chases too far out of the middle of the ice to try and kill the play in the circle. Another player funnels into the low slot and no one is there to cover him. Three times, same goal.
These are all easily correctable and in many ways uncharacteristic for how the Golden Knights play in every other situation. So, as much as it seems like a systemic issue at the moment, it’s likely more a case of confirmation bias on a small sample size than a problem running rampant across VGK’s overall game.
There’s no question it’s something that must be corrected, but it’s not as worrisome as it may appear because of the game state and personnel on the ice when each two of the five goals occur. On each of them, the Golden Knights led by multiple goals late in the game. So, Cassidy was comfortable with Nic Roy on the ice. While Roy has shown to be responsible enough to handle this situation in the past, he’s clearly the third choice among centers to be on the ice at 6-on-5 behind Eichel and Karlsson and almost certainly would not be out there in a one-goal game.
Finally, the Golden Knights have gone on to win every single game in which they have conceded against an empty net. That is probably not sustainable, but there’s no doubt it softens the blow as they work to correct the glaring issue.