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Tag: Defense

Pietrangelo Carries Tradition Of Elite Cup-Winning Defenseman

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Much has been said about the Stanley Cup-winning Golden Knights’ defensive unit. Throughout the 82-game regular season, four playoff rounds, and five finals games, VGK’s blue line was a major reason for the team’s championship run. In fact, Vegas’ defensive wealth compares to past Stanley Cup winners. Each team over the past dozen or so years has had one of the league’s elite defensemen anchoring their backend. The Golden Knights were blessed with one D-man that will be etched into silver twice.

After the Golden Knights were eliminated by the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Western Conference Finals, the organization made a bevy of transactions. Center Paul Stastny and defenseman Nate Schmidt were jettisoned for cap room making way for one of the worst-kept secrets in team history. While the moves felt controversial at the time, the front office arguably overbid but got their man. Without publicly acknowledging it, Vegas’ front office successfully ripped Pietrangelo from the heart of the St. Louis Blues organization. It’s not a coincidence that the Blues have only one playoff series win since losing their former captain.

He was the captain of the team and been a real good player for a number of years for the Blues, won a Cup and he was a big part of it for sure. But that’s the game and people move on. -Craig Berube, STL November, 2020

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Will Vegas Solve Montreal’s Stingy Defense

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s possible in Game 1 the Golden Knights defeated a Canadiens team that didn’t play to their full identity. Clearly, Vegas executed theirs by pressuring Montreal resulting in four goals scored against goaltender Carey Price. However, things were different in Game 2 and likely for the remainder of the Semifinals series.

Everybody who was supposed to be who they are identity wise for the Montreal Canadiens played to their role. And it got Vegas uncomfortable. Where Vegas hasn’t been uncomfortable before. -Aaron Ward, Former defenseman and TSN analyst

Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry was absent for Game 1 but his presence on Wednesday allowed the Original Six franchise to clean up their endzone coverage and move the puck effectively. In their second matchup, the Canadiens pushed Vegas shooters wider than they had in Game 1. The Golden Knights had only eight low-quality attempts on net as opposed to 11 in Game 2.

This postseason with Petry in the lineup the Canadiens allow 2.20 goals per game and given up 3.00 without him.

My best asset is my legs my skating ability. Just focusing on that and closing quickly. -Jeff Petry, MTL defenseman

Tonight, Vegas will need to find ways to utilize the traffic in front of Montreal’s net. 13 of the 32 goals the Canadiens have allowed in the playoffs were from defenseman, including five in six periods from Golden Knights blueliners. Alex Pietrangelo’s goal in Game 2 was a great example how to get around Montreal’s stingy defense. The former Cup winner patiently waited for a screen to develop and slipped a shot through Petry’s legs and past Price. There’s not much an elite goaltender can do when he can’t see the puck.

The Golden Knights have scored on mobile defenseman this postseason but neither of their prior opponents were as big as the Canadiens defensive unit. To combat that, Vegas can match with their own size to jam, screen, and stuff in front of the goaltender. And of course taking advantage of rebounds, loose pucks, and all the grease that occurs in the playoffs.

Since their Game 6 loss against Minnesota, Vegas has responded well after a playoff loss. There’s no reason to believe they won’t tonight for Game 3 in Montreal. Sure, with a full deck the Canadiens will be more difficult to break through but Vegas has the creativity, size, and skill to neutralize any club’s defense. Price can’t bail his teammates out the entire series.

Defense Can Benefit From Softer Crowd Noise

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We can’t get Golden Knights defensemen to shut up about the importance of their on-ice communication. They say it’s key for a pair to be aware of one another during a game, especially defending a rush, or if one is in possession of the puck. Sure, they know where the other is most of the time but the chatter can often help to get back in position, develop a play or break out of the defensive zone safely. Come this time of year (well, not normally actually this time, but you get my point), it takes on even more significance as one broken play in the postseason can lead to the winning or losing goal.

With the Return-to-Play underway, fans were introduced to the recorded ambiance that the league will use during games. It’s interesting, to say the least. The crowd noise will be pumped through arena speakers giving some sort of fan representation. However, the volume level was lower than a normal sold-out NHL game. During yesterday’s exhibition broadcasts, you could hear the atmosphere of a typical NHL game but the natural sounds of hockey were much more defined.

Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt have three years of chemistry playing together in Vegas. It’s a luxury the young franchise has. We’ve seen the impact Shea Theodore has on the ice but he wasn’t paired with Alec Martinez until deadline week back in February. There’s no doubt the veteran Martinez won’t have a problem connecting with his pair pal, but one injury or one bad night and that can all change.

If the third pair of Nick Holden or Zach Whitecloud are struggling you might see coach Pete DeBoer shuffle his lineup, or cut some minutes. In that scenario, the lessened crowd noise might allow whatever d-pair that’s on the ice to have clearer communication. Holden even made a crack to the media about using code words because opponents will likely hear what the Golden Knights are discussing. Without rabid fans, the defensive players should have no problems picking up each other.

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Will Deryk Engelland’s Role Be Reduced in 2019-2020?

Now that the wait is over and fan favorite Deryk Engelland signed his new contract to stay in Las Vegas, it’s time to discuss his future impact. First off, let’s note that Engelland will receive less money in 2019-2020 but will have a chance to make up for it.

At 37-years-old you’d assume his overall presence would begin to drop off. After all, his time on ice dwindled from 20:17 ATOI in 2017-18, to 19:53 ATOI in 2018-19. I’m being sarcastic, that’s not much of a difference. Same can be said for his penalty kill minutes, it’s virtually equal to VGK’s first season and I could argue he was as good if not better in 2018-19.

Just take a look at Engelland’s 2019 Postseason penalty killing performance.

Game 1: 4:26 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/5 San Jose Power Plays

Game 2: 9:19 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/8 San Jose Power Plays

Game 3: 4:16 PK Minutes (Team Leader), 1 Goal/3 Power Plays

Game 4: 4:31 PK Minutes, 0 Goals/4 San Jose Power Plays

Game 5: 3:15 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/3 San Jose Power Plays

Game 6: 2:45 PK Minutes, 0 Goals/2 San Jose Power Plays

Game 7: 7:56 PK Minutes (Game Leader), *4 Goals/9 San Jose Power Plays

Total: 36:28 PK Minutes, 5 Goals/34 Power Plays, 0.13 San Jose PPG when Engelland was on the ice.

*You all know why there’s an asterisk

So just on defensive special teams alone, Engelland’s return is a positive one. However, the issue could be on even-strength. How will the Golden Knights coaching staff deploy the elder statesmen this season? Is it possible Jon Merrill, Nick Holden(if still on the roster), or Rookie d-men see more time on 5v5 than in 2018-19. That direction would balance Engelland’s minutes under 18-19 minutes a game. Which could be more beneficial for the team.

A big part of my game is killing penalties-Deryk Engelland

Another element to Engelland’s 2019-2020 usage will be who he is paired up with. Over the past two seasons, it’s been a consistent dose of Engelland and Shea Theodore. I’d assume with the uncertainty of the younger defenseman, that pairing would remain the same to start training camp and the season. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, and frankly I don’t think it will. With the possibility of a rookie in the lineup nightly, Vegas may want to break in the young blueliner with an experienced, reliable defenseman like Engelland. It worked for Theodore.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In a perfect world, Engelland would see less even-strength minutes and continue to be a rock on the penalty kill. Keep in mind the Golden Knights paid him less money to stay which could be a sign the organization sees Engelland playing a lesser role this season. Or it’s just another shrewd business move by the front office.

Either way, subtracting 5v5 minutes means fresher legs on the PK. It’s an easy, obvious approach to distribute minutes and get the most out of the 37-year-old in 2019-2020. It’s almost too obvious if a half-wit like me can figure it out. Clearly he’s valued and trusted on the ice by the coaching staff which would lead you to believe they expect the same #5 out there. And how can you fault them after two successful seasons with Vegas?

The Golden Knights Have A Top 5 Defense

Stop picking on the VGK defense, they are actually REALLY good. (Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the biggest complaints surrounding the Golden Knights this season has been about their supposedly porous defense. Check out Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or chat with fans in the stands, most people believe the Golden Knights aren’t good enough defensively to win the Stanley Cup.

However, as the title of this article says, Vegas actually has one of the league’s best defenses. Pick a metric, goals against, shots against, shot attempts against, penalty minutes taken, penalty kill, scoring chances against, high danger chances against, all of them, literally every single one, the Golden Knights are in the top five in the NHL (see all below).

It gets even better when you add offense into the mix. They are top three in Corsi For %, Scoring Chance %, and High Danger Chance %. That means they create far more shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances, than they allow.

Individually, the Golden Knights have seven defensemen with more than 1.7 point shares. All seven of them combine to have created 17.9 point shares, or in other words, the Vegas defense (and that’s defensemen’s defense only) have accounted for 28.8% of the Golden Knights’ points this season. The defense as a whole, including the forwards, have accounted for 32.3 points or 52.1% of the season total. To compare, Calgary’s defense has accounted for 31.9 points or 44.9% of the season total and San Jose’s defense has 25.7 point shares or 39.5% of their total.

Last year the Golden Knights allowed 2.74 goals against per game, this year they’ve allowed 2.67. Last year Vegas finished 8th in the league in goals against, at the break, they sit in 5th. Last year they allowed 30.7 shots against per game (7th in NHL), this year they allow 28.4 (2nd in NHL).

Oh, and many people will point to the guy between the pipes. Yes, Fleury has been tremendous, but he was actually better a year ago. His save percentage, goals against, and GSAA were all better in 2017-18 than 18-19. Team (not just Fleury) save percentage is .003 lower this year than last year. And, a majority of the stats indicating defensive success are goalie-independent.

No matter which way you slice it, the Golden Knights are better defensively than they were a year ago and they are among the best defenses in the NHL, easily top five.

Scoring is up across the NHL as each game averages 6.1 goals a game. The Golden Knights are going to allow goals, like around 80 of them, in the next 30 games, but every time it happens you don’t have to scream “This defense stinks!” because quite frankly, it doesn’t.

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If The Golden Knights Play Their Game, They’ll Win, Even Against The NHL’s Best Of The Best

There’s Lightning on the horizon, which this year means offensive thunder on the way. (I hate myself for writing this.) Lucky for the Golden Knights, they have been playing their best defensive hockey of the season over the course of the past three games.

Hockey 101: You can’t score if your face is in the glass. (Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The game against Carolina, despite being a terribly played offensive game for the Golden Knights, was a clinic in causing turnovers. They allowed 29 shots and just two goals. Then Pittsburgh came to town and Vegas put it all together making life incredibly difficult on a quick, experienced offense with superstar talent. The Penguins attempted just 21 shots and scored one goal that was heavily ref aided.

Finally came the Florida game. After a slow start, the Golden Knights put together their best 30 minute stretch of defense, and one of the best stretches any team has played all season. They allowed just two shots on goal in the 3rd period, only ten shot attempts (VGK had 28 over the same span), and not only didn’t allow a goal but didn’t give up anything resembling a high danger goal scoring chance.

Quite simply, the Golden Knights dominated the game defensively and it led to a go-ahead goal and eventually a pair of empty netters to seal the deal.

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