Christmas has come early for the Golden Knights’ special teams. A pair of units that have been under massive scrutiny for the last few years (months for the penalty kill) have kicked it into high gear and are now carrying the team.
Over the past 11 games, since December 1st, the Vegas power play has converted on 12 of 30 opportunities. The 40% success rate is good for 2nd in the NHL in that span, behind only the Edmonton Oilers, and it’s on pace to be the highest power play percentage of any month in VGK history.
Over the same span, the penalty kill is sitting at just 77.8%, a touch above the team’s season-long number of 75.6%. However, in the past seven games, the Golden Knights have killed 10 of 11 power plays they’ve faced. And, they’ve scored twice on the penalty kill, meaning they’ve outscored the opposition on their power play 2-1 since the Philadelphia game, seven games ago.
For both units, it goes beyond the numbers though. On the power play, the puck is moving much quicker in the zone, the entries have been much more consistent, and puck retrieval has been stellar. The top unit of Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, Reilly Smith, and Alex Pietrangelo are zipping the puck around with a diversity of options that’s never been seen on a Golden Knights power play.
Obviously, it’s led to a bunch of goals, 12 in the last 10 games, but it has also meant opportunities for everyone. Look at the list of power play goal scorers and who has collected the assists since December 1st.
Since Pete DeBoer took over as head coach of the Golden Knights, one aspect of the game they’ve been consistently excellent at is penalty killing.
In today’s film breakdown, we show how VGK’s commitment to taking away a single pass on the penalty kill limits the amount of space the Golden Knights must defend, neutralizes one player on the opposing power play, and leads to VGK having one of the strongest penalty kills in the league.
As the Golden Knights head into the 2021-22 season there’s not a lot they want to change. They’ve been to the conference finals in back-to-back seasons, they tied for the President’s Trophy last year, and they’ve been consistently one of the winningest teams in the NHL since their inception.
But, since they haven’t reached the mountaintop yet they know they can’t stand pat and expect things to be different this time around.
Speaking with the media on the first day of Training Camp, head coach Pete DeBoer clued us in to one such place he’s looking for change in his forward group.
What we saw last year was I felt we overplayed some of our top guys, especially penalty killing situations. When we talked in the summer about building this team out with Kelly and George, I’m a big believer that we’ve got to have at least a couple penalty killers in the depth of the lineup so that you’re not overtaxing the top guys, you can save them a little for offensive situations. -DeBoer
Last season, the Golden Knights’ primary penalty killers were William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Mark Stone, and Chandler Stephenson, all top-six players.
Regular Season PK TOI Total (Per/game)
William Karlsson – 99:29 (1:47) Reilly Smith – 91:02 (1:43) Mark Stone – 74:12 (1:21) Chandler Stephenson – 69:47 (1:22) Tomas Nosek – 51:04 (1:21) Alex Tuch – 41:24 (0:45) Nic Roy – 41:14 (0:49)
Playoffs PK TOI Total (Per/game)
William Karlsson – 24:21 (1:17) Reilly Smith – 26:09 (1:23) Mark Stone – 25:48 (1:21) Chandler Stephenson – 23:14 (1:27) Tomas Nosek -4:04 (0:41) Alex Tuch – 11:36 (0:37) Nic Roy – 10:16 (0:32)
With Tomas Nosek off to Detroit and Alex Tuch injured for the first few months, this concept of using depth players to penalty kill opens the door for a number of guys. The chief among them is newly acquired Brett Howden.
Howden has averaged 1:44 of penalty killing time per game over the past few seasons for the Rangers and has been reliable doing it. This could be a hint that Howden has an inside track into the Golden Knights’ lineup early in the season.
Every time a coach gets fired special teams seem to be a focal point in evaluating the transition from one coach to the next. The move to go from Gerard Gallant to Pete DeBoer was no different in Vegas.
After the disastrous #NotAMajor penalty kill that ended the 2018-19 season, Gallant’s Golden Knights struggled on the penalty kill in 2019-20 which, at least in small, part led to his release. Vegas killed at just 78.9%, good for 19th in the NHL. When DeBoer came in, the system completely changed, and the results got even worse as the players tried to adapt on the fly. DeBoer’s VGK ended the regular season killing at a miserable 70.7%, worse than all but two teams in the league in that span.
Enter a global pandemic, the pause, the pre-playoff training camp, and a playoff run to the Western Conference Final, and the VGK PK turned elite. The Golden Knights killed at an 85.5% rate in the playoffs, by far the best penalty kill numbers the team has seen in a complete regular or post season.
If the Golden Knights continue to succeed at that rate while playing a man (or two) down, that alone would justify the coaching change. It seems unrealistic, but history shows us that it is possible. Over the past decade, 25 teams have killed at a rate of 85.5% or higher for a full season, including five who did it in the 48-game 2012-12 season.
The Golden Knights return each of their top seven skaters in shorthanded minutes from the dominant penalty-killing postseason. The only main player Vegas is losing is Nate Schmidt, who averaged about 90 seconds a game on the kill, but he’s being replaced with Alex Pietrangelo who should easily be able to fill that void.
Plus, the setup for this season bodes well for DeBoer’s pressure penalty kill. Not only does he get another training camp to further implement the system, but they only have to scout seven opponents as opposed to the normal 30. The decrease in number of unique opponents will allow the coaching staff to hone in on tendencies that should assist the penalty kill even more.
Also, the teams in the division don’t exactly boast electric power plays. Anaheim, LA, and San Jose each finished in the bottom 10 in the NHL last year, while Colorado and Arizona were both below the league average. St. Louis’ was elite, finishing 3rd in the NHL, but their leader in power play points just so happens to be on the Golden Knights now. (Minnesota was decent finishing 10th.)
The shorter the season, the more important a role special teams plays in any team’s success. The Golden Knights stack up well against the division at 5-on-5, but power play and special teams numbers could be the great equalizer. The Vegas power play needs work from last season, but if the penalty kill can continue the success they had in the bubble, this team should be in for a pretty dominant season.
Call it a mulligan. Call it an extra life. Call it whatever you’d like, the Golden Knights got it in Game 7.
After having a season defined by a 5-minute major penalty in which they allowed four goals, the Golden Knights faced the same beast a year later when Ryan Reaves was assessed a match penalty for a hit to the head.
The stakes were actually even higher this time around. Rather than having a cushion, the game was tied with three and a half minutes left in the 2nd. If Vegas faltered again trying to kill off five minutes, their season would be over and the stigma would live with them forever.
Instead, Vegas got to try the “level” again, and this time they passed with it flawlessly, albeit with a lot of help from their opponent.
In the five minutes against the Canucks, the Golden Knights allowed just one shot on goal, foiled seven Canuck entry attempts, blocked multiple shots, and played just 1:36 inside of their own zone.
All in all, on the 11 minutes of power plays for the Canucks in Game 7, they got just two shots on goal, had a measly five scoring chances, had seven shots blocked, miss the net on five more, went 10 for 25 on entry attempts and allowed three shots on goal to the shorthanded Golden Knights.
Vancouver’s power play was without answers. Nothing illustrated that more than the image of Quinn Hughes on an empty bench during the 2nd intermission staring at an iPad searching for a solution.
In the series, the Golden Knights killed 23 of the 26 Canuck power plays including each of the final 14. Vegas was on the kill for 44 minutes in the series and allowed just 30 shots on goal. They consistently stood the Canucks up at the blue line and they took away cross-ice passes with ease. Literally the only place in which Vancouver has success was in the faceoff circle.
Prior to Game 6, after the Golden Knights had killed off three straight penalties in Game 5 and six overall, I asked Pete DeBoer if his penalty kill system was completely where he wanted it to be after taking over mid-season and implenting changes. I was a bit surprised when the answer wasn’t a resounding yes.
Since the calendar flipped to 2020 the Golden Knights penalty kill has been… how do I put this politely?… a steaming pile of horse… let’s just say it’s been bad, very very bad.
Vegas had allowed a power play goal in seven straight games, they had killed off just nine of 18 over a seven-game stretch, and thanks to some research from AT&T Sportsnet, we know they ranked dead last in killing penalties over Gerard Gallant’s final seven games. It’s probably not the only reason, but there’s no question the Golden Knights poor penalty kill lent a hand in his firing.
In comes Pete DeBoer, who just two years ago was the coach of the NHL’s 2nd best penalty kill unit. In DeBoer’s four full seasons in San Jose, the Sharks killed penalties at a rate of 81.7% and his teams never finished the year below 80%. Vegas currently sits in 22nd place at 78.9% and their 52.6% over the last eight games is downright appalling.
One of the first things DeBoer worked on with the Golden Knights was making a change to their style of penalty killing. In fact, using just a few practices and likely some video work, there are two already significant changes that have been implemented in the way the Golden Knights kill penalties. Both were used against Montreal and both involve puck pressure.
Well, for the first change, it’s actually a lack of pressure.
Under Gallant, the Golden Knights would always send at least one forechecker, sometimes two, into the attacking zone to rush the opposing team’s breakout. It was an aggressive style of penalty killing hoping to force a mistake up the ice and lead to an easy shorthanded chance. The drawback to this style is that if the breakout beats the forecheckers, the Golden Knights are heavily outnumbered at the blue line leading to easy, sometimes even unchallenged, zone entries.
Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights will not send any forecheckers up when killing penalties. Instead, they’ll deploy three players across the blue line and one slightly further up to force challenged entries (which looks like this or this). This was a staple in the Sharks penalty killing system under DeBoer, and in the game against Montreal, the Golden Knights used it to successfully kill the one penalty they took.
Here’s how that looks in action.
Eakin does not chase into the offensive zone. Instead, he circles back to set up in the neutral zone.
The moment Smith loses the puck, he backs out and resets to the neutral zone.
The idea under DeBoer’s system is to make the entry across the blue line as difficult as possible while foregoing any chance to steal the puck in the offensive zone and score a cheap shorthanded goal.
But, of course, eventually the team on the man advantage will gain the zone. That’s where the second change in system comes in.
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.
Deryk Engelland has re-signed with the Golden Knights for the league minimum of $700,000 with performance bonuses which could reach as high as $1.5 millon.
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.
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 numbers on the VGK penalty kill against Washington were staggering. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
In a year of inconsistency, there has been one constant in the Golden Knights game throughout the first 29 games. It’s the league’s 2nd ranked penalty kill which just so happens to be the #1 PK at home and has killed 20 straight penalties at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights have killed penalties off at an 85.2% clip and are well over 90% on home ice, but never, and by that I mean in the history of the franchise, has the PK shown up bigger than it did on Tuesday night.
Following the Ryan Reaves ejection, the Capitals, who already had a 2-1 lead, went on the man-advantage for five minutes spanning over two periods. Not only did the Golden Knights kill it off, they barely even allowed a scoring chance. Vegas went on to kill two more penalties in the 3rd amassing a perfect 5 for 5 kill against a team scoring on more than 25% of their power plays.
It was big. Obviously, we had killed one of the best power plays in the league tonight. The guys responded because they were trying to pick up Ryan. They did an outstanding job. I think there was two more in the third period that they had to kill. I think we killed nine minutes of the 15-minute span there between the second and the third period and we did outstanding. -Gerard Gallant
Despite spending just short of 11 minutes at 5-on-4, the Capitals mustered up just three shots on goal. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Washington had just one scoring chance on their five power plays and not a single high-danger chance.
That’s a lethal power play there, I think we did a really good job of forcing pressure down ice and kind of rattling them and when they got into the zone they were kind of tired or mishmashed or not enough guys up on the ice. That was big for us momentum-wise, big for our penalty kill, big for our team. -Eakin
Aside from one shot from Ovechkin’s office and another from nearly the same spot that John Carlson missed, the Capitals PP spent most of the time trying to enter the zone, changing players, or struggling to fan the puck around to Ovechkin. It was essentially the perfect game penalty killing for the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights power play king. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
The Golden Knights continue to be one of the most disciplined teams in the NHL. Vegas is one of the least penalized teams allowing 7.5 penalty minutes per game (PIM). Players have committed the fourth least PIMs in the league, and opponents have only 82 Power Play opportunities against (PPOA) the Golden Knights. For comparison sake, Nashville has allowed 114 PPOA.