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Identifying The Golden Knights’ Shortcomings When Defending Against An Empty Net

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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44 Comments

  1. Sorvino

    hdbiker7851, I have a question in which I would like a reply. You mentioned that as a realist that the Knights are doing fine most of the time. Those are your words.

    I am also a realist. Would you disagree with me if I said that you are incorrect and that the Knights are doing better then all of the other 31 other teams. My factual evidence is that they just won the Stanley Cup. They only hand out that trophy once a year to only one team. Also, to prove it wasn’t a fluke they currently lead all other 31 teams in points and winning percentage. In light of my indisputable factual evidence would you kindly respectfully tell me if you agree or not. If you disagree I would be interested into knowing why. It can’t possibly be a fluke that they won the Stanley Cup and currently lead the NHL in points.

    • Sorvino – Realistically speaking that is true they are doing well most of the time. What is your issue with that. Should they win every game no that is not realistic – so most of the time applies. If I recall the post was about the 6 on 5 situation which apparently is a problem as addressed by the players and the coach. I noticed you even agreed with Ken’s article on that point so not sure what your problem is. Yes, I am a realist and if, as you suggested you are also, you above all should understand that I don’t look at the situation thru rose-colored glasses. If you or anyone else perceives that as negative so be it, that’s yours and their problem not mine. I have been around hockey all my life almost learning to skate before walking with family that played professional hockey so perhaps, I look at the games differently pointing out short coming and adding success. The Knights have been a magical team from day one and Vegas is very fortunate to witness that. The misfit identity was perfect and gave each and every player something to prove and that they did. Realistically speaking my friend there, you have it my explanation as to your concern or negative perception either or I guess would apply.

      • Sorvino

        hdbiker7851, thank you for your reply. It is appreciated. My main comment and question to you was that the VGK is doing better then all 31 other teams evidenced by their Stanley Cup Championship and currently leading the NHL in points and whether you disagreed or agreed. You danced around it a bit and did not directly answer the question but you did say that the “Knights have been a magical team from day one” so I will take that as you agreeing with me. As for your comment that you look at games differently then others, I don’t quite understand because from whatever angle or perception that you are watching, we all witnessed a Stanley Cup championship and a team that is currently leading the NHL in points. These facts make it nearly impossible for it to be disputed that they have been the best team in the NHL for a lengthy period of time and perhaps it may have been unfair to ask you a question in which the answer is fairly obvious. The VGK are doing it better then all 31 other teams.

        Again, thank you for your reply and I look forward to your future posts. I will make more of an effort to read your posts as constructive criticism. Have a wonderful evening sir and Go Knights!!

        • Sorvino – pointing out the obvious winning Stanley etc has nothing to do with how they play or don’t play each game today, tomorrow or now the road, I didn’t skirt the issue they won, and they are winning so nor sure where you read into my comments that they are not, and I don’t agree with you. This sport like all others or even business in general it’s not what you did yesterday that counts it’s what are you doing today and going forward that is important. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life and the times we are living in. I don’t disagree they are a great team, but I also realize there are many a slip between the cup and the lip and anything could happen to impact their success. That’s the realist in me sorry about that – a goal here and there can make a huge difference and whether anyone feels otherwise they don’t understand the game. The 6 on 5 is an issue that needs correcting.

  2. Sorvino

    Also, hdbiker7851, can you understand why some of us would interpret comments from you as negative and not comments “from a realist.”?

    Since Vegas has entered the league they have played the second most playoff games with 88. Only Tampa has played more. They have had several long playoff runs. They just won the Stanley Cup. They have made the finals twice. They are the most successful expansion franchise in NHL history. They have done this without the benefit of having a minor league team for several years before their inception building up prospect capital. Seattle had the very same expansion rules and they are shit. They are basically doing things that no other NHL team has done in their first 6 1/2 years.

    I’m curious as to why you still appear to not be satisfied by this. I don’t have the moral authority to tell you what you should be happy and content with in regards to the success of the VGK, but I do think that you could probably understand why some of us would label you as negative and not a realist because “realistically” this team is the best team in the hockey league. Unless you think they are on a 6 1/2 year lucky streak and fluked off a Stanley Cup and current first place in points ranking.

    • Emmanuel

      Nothing ruins a hockey website faster than posters complaining that other posters are “negative”. Always improve all the time. Thats why its great having this front office, they never make the safe move always swing for a home run!

      • Sorvino

        It’s unfortunate that you think me pointing out someone being negative is ruining the site but if you keep agreeing with everything else I say it’s going to sound contradictory.

        Your last sentence regarding the front office is basically what I post at least twice a week. This is the best front office in the league. A player like Jack Eichel is nearly impossible to acquire unless you get to draft in the top five. But the VGK got it done and Eichel has been spectacular. So many fans, including people who post here were calling him a cancer.

        • Emmanuel

          Im very sensitive to the whole “negative” thing. I was a Sens fan before VGK came in to the league. The Sens had a blue line of Erik Karlsson & five 6/7/AHL D. for a decade. Every time in the preseason the “fans” predicted a Cup, wiser heads always pointed out they were in the bottom five in GA the year previously, we were met with cries of “negativity”, traffic dropped by 2/3 on that website. Some fans see everything thru rose colored glasses so im VERY touchy about that. Complain away I say!

          The whole Eichel thing was weird to me. He was a young guy drafted to score and he did just that, but bad franchises blame the good players instead of replacing the bad players.

          Its all good Sorvino.

  3. Sorvino

    Excellent article Ken. Informative as usual. The facts can not be disputed that the team has struggled at 6 on 5 situations. How can I argue with factual evidence?

    Against Empty Net – 26.55 (32nd)

    However, these numbers are taken in a small sample size. We are talking about 6 on 5 situations in less then half a season and these situations only happen when the opposing team is leading by a goal or two which just doesn’t happen often with this powerhouse team. 6 on 5 situation is similar to being on the power play in the middle of the game with the exception of having the net empty. The fact that their special teams including the powerplay has been very good this year would lead me to believe that this is not an area of concern and that the 6 on 5 numbers should normalize by the end of the season.

    We shall see.

  4. alex

    I once made fun of TS for.suggesting that we never pull our goalie…but turns out she was right!

    • TS

      Alex, I don’t recall that that it e-v-e-r benefitted us to pull our G, just don’t get why Coach keeps trying…

  5. Daniel Burns

    Maybe the VGK should spend some time practicing trying to score on an empty net. Dropping back into a “prevent defense” when 6 on 5 only prevents a win.

  6. Emmanuel

    Its a bizarre & fluky stat, nothing to worry about.

    When are we getting a trade target (scoring LW) article?

    • Sorvino

      Yup. That’s pretty much what I said.

      “ The fact that their special teams including the powerplay has been very good this year would lead me to believe that this is not an area of concern and that the 6 on 5 numbers should normalize by the end of the season.”

      Emmanuel is agreeing with me.

      • Emmanuel

        Are you sure you and me shouldnt write 30 posts about how “ghetto” and “ignorant” we are….?

        • TS

          Emmanuel, just wait for it— someone here ( guess who?)is bound to disagree with you and post those 30 complaints for you!! Lol, no worries…

  7. JB

    Defending 6-5 is one of the hardest situations. Sometimes you give up a goal, other times you don’t. All the other teams face the same and some good teams have given up these goals as well this year. It’s just part of the game. There is no strategy to use that would absolutely stop this. Knights gave up one in game 3 vs Florida, then didnt in game 4. It’s a crap shoot. It’s not going decide winning the SC! It’s a “yawn” subject! Now on to Buffalo tonight! Go get em boys!

  8. Frank

    Simply put, we’re playing way too soft on the 6-5 attempts, letting teams get clear shots with traffic in front and soft clearing attempts. They’ll clean it up. Not to worry.

  9. Vic

    The VGK style of PK obviously works well 5 on 4 with the box and allowing shots from the the point with excellent shot blocking. At 6 on 5, the other team plays more desperate cycling around and getting better chances than 5 on 4 (at least it seems that way).

    Ken, can you add face off win percentage when at 6 on 5 versus 5 on 4? Feels like the VGK are losing every face off when 6 on 5 with a rare clear and no chance to take a breath to get fresh players out there. In order to take a shot at the empty net, someone has to steal a puck. When we don’t see shots at the empty net, even with the risk of icing, the puck is winding up in the VGK net. Lately not many empty net shot attempts.

    P.S. Nice to see posts regarding hockey for a change.

  10. Jim

    I rarely comment here, watch it often. Too many experts to wade through..
    But two things on this subject, do a deep dive on these stats.
    McNabb on the ice for these goals against, and face-off percentage wins when the other goalie is pulled…..
    Two glaring errors besides the system discussion.

    • ThG

      welcome to jungle, Jim.

      puck control is not a strong point of the VGK in their d zone. They are taught to get it out of zone on 5 on 5s. And should note that VGK isn’t only team that has issue defending on 6 on 5 situations. One of the best tactics , which a team did the other night was to take a penalty. Why? Because that team didn’t have to control the puck. All they did was fire away at the open net, without fear of icing. This actually worked because when the D team went to get the puck, a player on other team drew a penalty !! Incredible !

  11. JB

    F*ck! This shit never stops. We have quite a few “keyboard cowards”, or if you like “keyboard bullies”. Anyone can set, unknown, and type shit. They don’t even realize how dumb and idiotic they look. Some lonely people here! Feel sorry for them. No life but setting all day long typing crap on a 30 person blog. Ha ha

  12. Alex

    Once The Hockey Cuck keeps.his posts to hockey, there will be no non hockey posts …but when that cuck shoves his superstitious nonsense and Trump bullshit unsolicited, then it’s on.

  13. Alex

    Love winding up the fake non Nevada types!

  14. Jose

    This is the funniest shit that I’ve heard in a long time.

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