The Golden Knights have picked up right where they left off in many areas as they start their title defense, none more though than on the penalty kill.
After finishing the season with a perfect penalty kill series against the Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final, the Golden Knights have killed nine straight penalties to open the 2023-24 season including a five-minute major in the opener against Seattle.
Vegas has now killed 25 straight penalties and haven’t allowed a power play goal since May 25th in Game 4 against the Stars.
It’s not a coincidence either.
We have put more emphasis on the PK this year. It’s not so much on the ice work, it’s reminders and maybe separate meetings and more time devoted to that as opposed to 5-on-5. -Bruce Cassidy
The #PowerKill is no more. With the departure of Reilly Smith, the Golden Knights have a fairly sizeable hole to fill on their penalty kill. Not only must Vegas find a suitable partner to skate with William Karlsson, but they are replacing nearly 15% of their overall forward power play time with the loss of Smith.
Last year, only seven forwards in the entire NHL skated more on the penalty kill in the postseason than Smith. Smith was on the ice for 36:51 shorthanded minutes in the playoffs and another 102:57 in the regular season. Only Chandler Stephenson and Karlsson played more than Smith.
Bruce Cassidy did not use many players on the penalty kill over the course of the season. Just seven players reached at least 25:00 of shorthanded time in the regular season and only six skated at least 20:00 in the playoffs.
Shorthanded Time On Ice (Regular Season) Karlsson – 127:34 Stephenson – 114:03 Smith – 102:57 Roy – 80:01 Stone – 52:13 Howden – 40:36 Eichel – 26:10
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.