Down the stretch of the regular season, there was a common refrain from most hockey fans, (four-letter word) the Golden Knights.
It seemed like everyone outside of the Vegas fan base was openly, and strongly, rooting against the Golden Knights, almost finding the adversity VGK were facing to be comical. Whether it was tweets directly from other teams or Twitter accounts banding together, it was definitely in vogue to cheer for anyone else in the Western Conference.
The Golden Knights took notice.
Everyone does, everyone roots against us, but it’s all about the guys that we have in that locker room, the ones we battle with. There’s nothing much else you can do. -Shea Theodore
But they still aren’t exactly sure why.
It’s a great question, I have no idea. -Theodore
I’m sad to think of (how the perception has changed.) We would see the last few games that the whole NHL was rooting against us. It’s sad to think that but it’s not necessarily because of one person that it happened like that. It’s just an accumulation of a few things that people were just irritated with us. -Jonathan Marchessault
Usually it’s something players shrug off as uncontrollable and in many ways unimportant, but when you look at the shift in perception from the Expansion team that reached the Cup final to the Year 5 team that miss the playoffs, it’s impossible to ignore.
The question becomes, is it healthy, is it helpful, and can it be harnessed?
In two of the most important regular season games in franchise history, the Golden Knights attempted 159 shots with 83 of them reaching the net. They’ve scored just twice including a puck that was kicked in by an opposing team player and a 6-on-5 goal to cut the deficit from two to one with not much time left.
A year ago, in Games 5 and 6 of the Conference Finals, the Golden Knights attempted 121 shots, saw 66 reach the goal and scored just three times.
The year before that, again in the Conference Finals, the Golden Knights attempted 134 shots, 69 reaching the goal, and again scored just three times.
Six crucial games, a total of eight goals, and six losses that all resulted either directly or indirectly in the end of Vegas’ season.
We have to look in the mirror. This has been a historical problem here, going dry at the wrong times. There’s no excuses this time of year. You have to find a way to win and step up in the most important moments. -Pete DeBoer
The inability to score has been a problem that has plagued each of the past three Golden Knights’ seasons. It’s a problem that confuses many from both the eye test and the advanced analytic perspective as Vegas appears to be dominating games, handling their opponents, and yet time and time again, when the games mean the most, they end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
This season, Vegas has attempted the 7th most shots in the league and they’re 8th in shot attempts. However, they’ve scored on just 5.1% of those attempts and 9.2% of shots on goal. Those numbers are good for 20th and 24th in the NHL..
There’s a fine line between wanting to put everything on net and at the same time you’re making the goalie feel good if you are just throwing it on net from everywhere. It’s about having the confidence and making the extra play to make the goalie get out of position, make him go lateral and give yourself a better chance to score. -Max Pacioretty
Last night in Alberta the Golden Knights were dominant. Despite falling behind 1-0 on a power play goal, Vegas slowly but surely dismantled one of the best teams in the league, the Calgary Flames.
They did it by playing the way that has made them successful each of the past few seasons. Even though they tallied six goals in the game, it was the defensive game that led the charge. Starting with the coverage in the defensive zone, extending to the gap control at the blue line, and finishing with consistent responsible play through the neutral zone and in the offensive zone, the Golden Knights made life difficult on the Flames all over the ice.
No matter the roster, the best versions of the Golden Knights since Pete DeBoer took over have been defensive stalwarts. They snuff out chances before they ever happen and in doing so it feeds a transition game that is one of the most deadly in the NHL. Far too often this year, mistakes have led to breakdowns all over the ice which leads to goals against and struggling offensive consistency. Last night, while not quite mistake-free, was as close to a perfect effort as you’ll find in a road game against a division-leading opponent.
By playing that way, Vegas was able to draw multiple penalties which led to a pair of goals on or right after the ensuing power play, and it caused a usually under control Flames team to press for offense, leading to loads of turnovers and excellent chances going the other way.
But it’s just one game, and at this point, it remains an outlier among a 75-game season that has been marred by inconsistency. Vegas has played excellent defensive games in the past, including recently against Nashville, a March game against Los Angeles, and probably the best defensive output of the year a game at Washington in January. Unfortunately, Vegas backed each and every one of those games up with a letdown the following time out.
As expected, the moment Jack Eichel stepped into the Golden Knights lineup, certain things would change.
The most obvious was his role as top-line center which left Chandler Stephenson in need of a new position. At first, that was on Eichel’s left wing, but the last two games it’s been as 3C.
The next spot was on the power play. Eichel stepped right in on the half-wall to the goalie’s right on Vegas’ #1 unit. He’s played with a few different groups of players, and it appears they have found the right mix after Eichel’s game-winning snipe with 5.2 seconds left on the clock last night.
But one spot that may go under-recognized is the shift in usage that Eichel’s introduction to the lineup has caused. In his nine games as a Golden Knight, Eichel has seen just 30.3% of his shifts begin in the defensive zone. He’s taken 29 of his 115 faceoffs in the defensive zone, which has led to an increase in defensive responsibility for others.
The main group of “others” who have been shouldering that load has been The Misfits, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault.
Karlsson leads the team with 65 defensive zone draws taken since the Colorado game on February 16th, Eichel’s first. In fact, no one else is even close to Karlsson as Eichel, Stephenson, and Nic Roy, the next three in line, have combined for 81.
Prior to Eichel’s arrival, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith each started about 54% of their shifts in the offensive zone. With it, they each posted a Corsi right around 55%. In the nine games with Eichel, The Misfits are all under 45% offensive zone starts (Karlsson’s is 43%), with their Corsi numbers staying about the same as a group.
Simply put, they’ve been asked to take on the brunt of the defensive work and they’ve still been able to thrive offensively, especially in the second game against Colorado, the two against San Jose and one in Anaheim.
It’s also heavily affected Alex Pietrangelo’s usage. Instead of spending most of his time playing with the top-six as he did prior to Eichel’s arrival, he’s seeing more time with the depth group. To this point, it has had a pretty significant effect on his production as he’s been on the ice for just five goals in the previous nine games, which equates to 1.85 per 60 minutes. In the 46 games before Eichel, Pietrangelo was on the ice for 2.69 goals per 60 minutes, nearly a full goal more.
Eichel and Pietrangelo have shared the ice for 47:43 in the nine games they’ve played together and the Golden Knights have yet to score or be scored against with the pair out there. In Eichel’s 83:48 without Pietrangelo though, he’s been on the ice for six goals for and just two against.
In the time they’ve played together, they’ve taken 24 offensive zone draws compared to just 11 defensive, yet they have been outshot significantly (23-15), have allowed eight high-danger chances while creating just three, and have a 41% expected goals share. All of these numbers are better for both Eichel and Pietrangelo when they’ve been away from each other.
Obviously, it’s only been nine games, so the sample sizes are limited across the board. But the early returns have shown that Pete DeBoer has taken an approach of lessening Eichel’s defensive responsibilities early on in exchange for upping the pressure in different areas on Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, and Pietrangelo.
The NHL is a wins and losses business, and with that comes the harsh reality that most players are judged by one single measurement of production, goals.
Simply put, the more a player is paid, the more he’s expected to put the puck in the back of the net. When they do, everything is great. It’s when they don’t that things start to get a lot more complicated.
For the Golden Knights, this is amplified even further as they have crashed out of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in large part because of their inability to score, and more specifically, the best players’ inability to score.
I think we have these conversations every day and someone is always riding a goal drought. That’s just how it is. It was Reilly Smith for a while. It was Max Pacioretty after he got back from injury. I just think that’s the NHL today. If you look around the league, there’s very few guys that score consistently all the time, or lines. -Pete DeBoer
The Golden Knights have just five players with at least 10 goals this season, and all of them have had at least some sort of drought.
The most consistent of the bunch, Jonathan Marchessault, is currently riding his longest goal drought of the season of five games. Max Pacioretty, the team’s second-highest scorer just busted an 11-game drought. The aforementioned Smith has gone 10 games between goals twice this year with the most recent spanning the entire month of January. Evgenii Dadonov hasn’t found the net in any of the team’s last 11. Even Chandler Stephenson, in his breakout offensive season, had a stretch of seven games scoreless.
Everybody wants to score, everybody wants to contribute, everybody wants a good stat line. You can talk all you want about the details and intangibles but those guys, especially the guys we’re talking about, measure it by those statlines. -DeBoer
Managing those droughts is a huge part of keeping a team together over the course of a season.
I think everybody handles it differently but I think guys start to wear it for sure. You can see their frustration come out the longer it goes. It’s trying to minimize those droughts to shorter periods and not let it snowball into something gigantic. -DeBoer
That’s been a challenge for both this season and in previous postseasons for the Golden Knights. Injuries have certainly compounded the issue as well this year.
The team’s attitude seems to be pretty good about it though. They’ve mentioned a “natural frustration” that sets in when individuals or the team is not scoring, but as a whole, it hasn’t affected their ability to win games. Unlike many teams that rely on top scorers to contribute the lion’s share of the team’s goal production, the Golden Knights have gotten it throughout the lineup, and especially from defensemen.
When you are winning games it’s a lot easier than when you are losing. -DeBoer
Individually, the droughts will continue for certain players at times during the rest of the season, but as long as the collective keeps chipping in as they have all year, they too shall pass.
Last night Vegas took a season-high 53 shots on net last night, their 11th game with 40 or more shots. It sounds like a positive achievement but in reality, it’s bitten them in the rear on most occasions. After last night the Golden Knights are 4-6-1 this season when taking 40+ shots on goal in a game. It may seem like a minor detail, but it’s a trend that’s severely hurt them in the past especially when it counted the most.
I thought we put in the right amount of work to deserve two points tonight. This league shows you, you don’t always get what you deserve but I thought we worked hard enough to earn two points tonight.-Pete DeBoer, VGK coach
Vegas’ coach gave the proper response to a fortunate, uneventful win. DeBoer’s team stole two points from a non-conference opponent and it really doesn’t matter to him matter how it happened. Putting aside Shea Theodore’s game winning two-step beauty, the game was largely disappointing and looking beyond the victory, it was another dull performance from Vegas this month.
VGK In 2022: (2-4-2)
01/02 vs. WPG: 5-4 OT Loss 01/04 vs. NSH: 3-2 Loss 01/06 vs. NYR: 5-1 Win 01/08 vs. CHI: 2-1 Loss 01/11 vs. TOR: 4-3 SO Loss 01/17 vs. PIT: 5-3 Loss 01/20 vs. MTL: 4-3 OT Win
Since the New Year, the Golden Knights are 2-3-2 and have allowed 3.29 goals per game. Of course, there have been injuries and COVID interruptions, but realistically the organization could use a light roster as an excuse for almost every game this season.
We may not have pegged Stephenson as the Golden Knights’ top-line center or leading goal scorer when the season started. But here he is, having a terrific year. He’s averaging a point per game and the most ice time of any Vegas forward. On a team that stumbled out of the gate, Stephenson has been an irreplaceable player helping to keep the Golden Knights afloat.- ESPN.com
It’s hard to argue Stephenson’s value this season. The seven-year veteran is having a career season, leading Vegas in points, shooting percentage (50 shot minimum), and faceoff wins. Overall, Stephenson has been essential to the team’s turnaround since their early 1-4 start.
As a point-per-game player, the highly productive center anchored the top six when Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and William Karlsson were on the mend. In the games that his two linemates were absent, Stephenson emerged as Vegas’ go-to for much-needed offense. Since the season began the Golden Knights are 7-3 when he scores.
As steady as Stephenson has been, ESPN is way off. Here are players more indispensable than Stephenson.
Most Golden Knights fans are in agreement that Pietrangelo became Vegas’ most impactful player since last postseason. The former captain led his new team in postseason time on ice, shots, power play points, and is second in total points behind William Karlsson. In 31 appearances this season, the Golden Knights are 13-4 when the defenseman registers a point. Since the postseason, much of Vegas’ offense flows through the experienced defenseman.
To be fair to the critics, Pietrangelo is frequently on the ice for goals scored by the opposition, but it’s inevitable when he skates 25+ minutes per game. The alternate captain has been on the ice for 32 even-strengthened goals which is 9th worst in the NHL. However, Pietrangelo is 4th best in the league for being on the ice when his team scores. You know which Golden Knight follows Pietrangelo in those columns? You guessed it, Stephenson.
It’s December and once again the Golden Knights are red hot. They’re coming home from a four-game road trip with eight points in hand, wins in eight of the last nine, and the top spot in the Pacific Divison.
Here’s the crazy part… they still aren’t playing close to as well as they can, and they know it.
It was a big road trip. We got some lucky bounces. We didn’t necessarily play our best games the past few games, but tonight I thought we played pretty well. It was probably tonight and that game in Boston that were our best two games of the trip. -Jonathan Marchessault
The Golden Knights used 3rd period comebacks to rescue both games against the teams from New York and then won each game in shootout. They struggled in the 2nd period in each of the games, fighting turnover problems which led to much less puck possession than they prefer.
However, the resilience of this group continues to shine through.
Throughout the course of this season the Golden Knights have been in survival mode. Whether the reasons have been self-inflicted or not, this version of the Golden Knights hasn’t looked anything like the ones we’ve grown accustomed to watching in the past.
Often times we hear coaches talk about the process over the results. Basically saying that over a long season it’s more important how a team is playing than whether or not they get a win on any given night. This season, the process for the Golden Knights hasn’t been great. They’re allowing far too many chances, the power play is pushing historically bad levels, and they aren’t finishing the opportunities to the same degree they are capable of. The results have been ok, but everyone’s aware they could be much worse.
There is one place where the process has been stellar, if not elite. It’s when the Golden Knights have trailed late in a game and have been forced to remove their goalie to push for the comeback goal.
Vegas has spent 11:40 with their net empty this year which has resulted in just one goal for and three against. Not exactly the results a team is looking for with the goalie pulled, but not terrible. However, the process has been excellent, and there was no better display of it than last night.
Trailing by two, Pete DeBoer opted to pull Laurent Brossoit from the goal with 4:08 left in the final period. At that moment, Vegas had Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Nic Roy, Reilly Smith, Chandler Stephenson, and Jonathan Marchessault on the ice. With the help of a timeout 68 seconds in, all six of those players put in more than three minutes of ice time in the final four, and Pietrangelo and Theodore were on the ice for a three minute and 47 second long shift.
Give me Alec Martinez. I've never seen him throw a football, but if you grow up in Michigan and then go to Miami of Ohio, you better be able to throw a football better than a bunch of Canadians. https://twitter.com/Patrick_VGK/status/1530396251119755264