Typically, when we think of tall, heavy teams in the NHL, we equate them with big hits, strength along the walls, and boxing out in front of the goal.
For the Golden Knights, one of the physically largest teams set to compete in the playoff this year, it tends to materialize in a different way.
Vegas ranks just 12th in the league in hits and they have only one player in the top 40 in the category. They certainly are strong along the walls but rarely will we see a game dominated by VGK pushing the opposition off the puck. And while Bruce Cassidy’s zone defense has helped with winning pucks in front of the goalie, of playoff-likely teams only the Edmonton Oilers have allowed more rebound goals at 5-on-5 this year.
Where size has helped the Golden Knights most is when they are in possession of the puck. Vegas has been one of the best teams scoring goals off the rush in the NHL, but when they spend time in the offensive zone they are not the most creative. So, instead, they rely on wearing down opponents and exposing lapses in coverage to score. The best way they’ve done this is with extended puck possession, especially by one player holding the puck for 5-10 seconds at a time.
When VGK are at their best, they begin to control games by holding the puck near the faceoff circles in the offensive zone. Jack Eichel, Nic Roy, William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault, and many other Golden Knights forwards are excellent at fending off defensemen to maintain possession of the puck. The longer they are able to hold it, the more options open up as the defense scrambles to stay in position. From low-to-high passes that bring VGK’s offensive-minded defensemen into the play to cycling the puck behind the net to let the next forward hold it, eventually, better more dangerous passing lanes become available.
This has all been especially evident in the last two games against the Minnesota Wild, and Cassidy has a theory as to why.