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Special Teams Cost Vegas In New Jersey

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Last night the Golden Knights lost a gut-wrenching 3-2 overtime final to the New Jersey Devils. However, there’s an argument to be made that the game was lost with 10:26 in the 3rd period. Up to that point, the Golden Knights were leading 2-1 and controlled the game with strong 5-on-5 play. With ten minutes to go, New Jersey’s Brendan Smith spoiled the flow by hooking Jack Eichel and sending Vegas to the power play.

Five-on-five we did a lot of what we asked. What let us down today was probably our power play. We didn’t generate nearly enough in terms of extending the lead. We have to find a way to generate more. That’s where I thought we could have grabbed another goal for comfort. -Bruce Cassidy

Had the Golden Knights scored on their lone 3rd period power play the outcome likely would’ve changed. Cassidy’s team failed to extend their lead and barely challenged goaltender Vitek Vanecek. Instead of closing the door on New Jersey, Vegas mustered two low-percentage shots during a crucial 3rd period power play. Not only did the score remain the same but VGK’s listless PP gave life back to a dangerous Devils offense.

New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff had a sense his team would get another chance after Vegas’ ill-fated man advantage.

You have to stay around in games. You look for that opportunity. You know you are going to get two or three opportunities. If you stay with the program, you’re looking for the opportunities. In a 2-1 game we got rewarded by a 6-on-5 goal and then we finally got our power play opportunity in overtime. -Lindy Ruff, NJD coach

All combined, Vegas recorded three shots on net in four power play minutes. To make it worse, none of those attempts came from power play specialists Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel, Alex Pietrangelo, or Chandler Stephenson. Vegas generated just six total shot attempts in their six minutes of power play time and mustered up just 0.63 expected goals.

We gave up some big chances on some careless puck play. We could’ve developed more speed. We weren’t crisp with some of our passing and some of our rush execution. We turned some pucks over in our zone that we’ve been good with. Those were plays were Vitek had to make some huge saves for us. -Ruff, NJD coach

An additional moment Cassidy left out was the poorly timed tripping penalty committed by Ben Hutton in the overtime. Unfortunately, those are the risks a team faces when forced to shift a depth defenseman in a 3-on-3 situation. Don’t get me wrong, Hutton’s 2nd period dart earned him more ice time. However, he was overmatched in overtime.

Last shot was PK coverage. We thought we had a loose puck situation so we left the good ice and it squirts out. -Cassidy

Overall, the Golden Knights missed out on a golden opportunity but the team can take some positives away from their OT loss. Vegas overcame a 2nd period deficit, earned a point against a quality opponent, and thankfully gifted a point to an out-of-conference team. At this stage in the season every point exchange matters.

The Special-est Of Teams

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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.

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Power Play Variety Paying Off Early For Vegas

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Through three games the Golden Knights power play is averaging one goal per contest. A success rate that Vegas fans haven’t seen in several seasons. While it’s premature to celebrate, it’s better than shouting obscenities after failed man-advantages like fans had been used to.

You are running through different people including the more accomplished offensive defensemen here, so you may see more action from there. -Bruce Cassidy

We explained in-depth, VGK’s new look power play under coach Bruce Cassidy. One element of the strategy was getting everyone on the ice involved. The Golden Knights have three PP goals and all were scored by a different player. Not only that, seven separate players have a PP point. It’s been a cast of characters contributing on 5-on-4 situations.

VGK Power Play Points
Nic Roy (2 Assists)
Alex Pietrangelo (2 Assists)
William Karlsson (Goal)
Jonathan Marchessault (Goal)
Reilly Smith (Goal)
Jack Eichel (Assist)
Mark Stone (Assist)

Both of Cassidy’s power play units have had success, creating game-tying and go-ahead goals. Against LA, William Karlsson evened the score 3-3 midway through the 3rd period. Up in Seattle, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly stretched Vegas’ lead on man-advantage opportunities.

Another sign Cassidy’s directions are quickly catching on is the variety of ways each power play goal has been scored. Karlsson’s PPG was a deflection from a superb Alex Pietrangelo shot-pass. The sequence began with Karlsson winning the faceoff and ended with Pietrangelo using his offensive creativity.

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Power Play Tailored To VGK’s Strengths Still Working Towards Finished Product

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The power play will be a huge emphasis from Day 1 for the Golden Knights this season. After a few seasons of struggles, Bruce Cassidy was brought in to fix it. It’s currently very much a work in progress with shifting units, systems, and options through the first few weeks of Training Camp.

At yesterday’s practice, special teams were under the microscope with the power play working entries and in-zone plays against full-speed penalty killers. Unit 1 consisted of Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, Reilly Smith, Mark Stone, and Shea Theodore while the other unit was Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Phil Kessel, Nic Roy, and Alex Pietrangelo.

There are definitely some concepts to build on as the units grow more and more familiar both with each other and what Cassidy’s system is trying to accomplish, but the head coach sees room for improvement.

What I hope to see is a little more chemistry where we are playing with more pace. Moving the puck quicker, supporting it, automatic outs, things like that, that come naturally to you. When you are seeing pressure you are able to sustain O-zone play. I don’t think our pace is where it needs to be in terms of moving the puck quick to break pressure, but again some of that is not a lot of reps and live reps. -Cassidy

One of the most noticeable features of the Golden Knights power play under Cassidy is a lesser reliance on the bumper player than he did in Boston.

We detailed the Cassidy power play in-depth this summer, and we’re already starting to see Cassidy tweak the system to fit some of Vegas’ most talented players.

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Dissecting Bruce Cassidy’s Power Play System And Philosophies: Faceoffs

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Parts One and Two of this series focused on entries and in-zone play. So, we only have one place left to explore in Bruce Cassidy’s power play system, faceoffs.

**Reminder: Much of the information highlighted in this series comes from a 36-minute presentation from Bruce Cassidy on TheCoachesSite.com called Principles of the Power Play. If you are looking for more detail than provided in this article, we highly recommend you watch the video in its entirety.**

Now, if you know anything about me you are aware that I’m not a big believer in the importance of faceoff percentage. I truly believe that a terrible team at faceoffs, which wins about 45% has an equal shot of winning the game as an elite team winning them at 55%. No matter what you feel about faceoffs, the fact of the matter is that inevitably, you are going to win some of them.

When the Golden Knights are on the power play, and that happens, here’s what to expect from a Bruce Cassidy power play.

Defenseman to the center of the ice

When a draw is won cleanly back to the blue line, the first action Cassidy wants to see is the puck lugged to the center of the ice. The idea behind this is to establish the 1-3-1 setup as quickly as possible and instantly start attacking. Getting to the center of the ice gives the puck carrier multiple options that may be limited if he stays near the blue line along the boards. Finally, by bringing the puck across the zone, it forces the penalty kill to show their cards. The forwards have to make decisions on how much they are pressuring and the defensemen must decide if they want to collapse and take away the bumper and net-front players or fan out and cover the wings.

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Dissecting Bruce Cassidy’s Power Play System And Philosophies: In-Zone

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In Part One of our Bruce Cassidy power play series we focused on entries. Today, we move on to Part Two, which occurs after the zone is gained.

**Reminder: Much of the information highlighted in this series comes from a 36-minute presentation from Bruce Cassidy on TheCoachesSite.com called Principles of the Power Play. If you are looking for more detail than provided in this article, we highly recommend you watch the video in its entirety.**

Cassidy’s offensive zone power play setup is not uncommon in the NHL. In fact, it remains the most common setup across the league and was one the Golden Knights deployed under both Pete DeBoer and Gerard Gallant. However, Cassidy’s main focus on what to do inside of the system is slightly different than the previous two VGK bench bosses. We’ll start with the setup itself though.

1-3-1

Cassidy’s power play operates in a 1-3-1- setup meaning there is one player, typically a defenseman, on the blue line, three players across the middle including one in each circle and another directly in the middle of the zone, and a single player acting as the net-front presence.

Establish shot through the bumper

The most important player in the Cassidy power play system is the “bumper,” or the player directly in the center of the ice. The belief is that if the puck gets to that player it creates three advantages for the offensive team.

First, shots from the center of the house are the hardest to stop for a goalie. Most goals in the NHL are scored from the “house” or the “home plate” area which is in the shape of a house or a home plate (get it now?) drawn directly in front of the goalie. Click this if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Second, when the puck is in the center of the ice, the four penalty killers must contract to take away shot lanes and space from the bumper. This natural action from penalty killers brings them further away from the boards, which makes puck retrieval much easier for the offensive team. Shots from the circles or the high slot without funneling the puck through the bumper first often lead to 50/50 races and/or battles to loose pucks on missed or saved shots. Cassidy wants to avoid this by forcing the killers to retreat to the center of the ice giving his players the advantage in retrieval.

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Dissecting Bruce Cassidy’s Power Play System And Philosophies: Entries

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Coming off a postseason in which the Golden Knights sunk to nearly historic lows followed by a year in which they sputtered all the way through, improvement on the power play is one of the quickest ways to bring playoff hockey back to T-Mobile Arena. It’s not the only reason he’s here, but it’s certainly at the top of the list of why Bruce Cassidy is the Golden Knights’ new head coach.

Prior to the 2021-22 season, Cassidy graciously accepted the role of guest speaker as part of The Virtual Hockey Summit on TheCoachesSite.com. Cassidy’s presentation, which lasted more than half an hour, was called “Principals of the Power Play.” In the video-clip-laden presentation, Cassidy goes in-depth on every aspect of the power play including showing off a few drills to run in practice. He breaks down exactly what his units are looking to achieve and how he goes about teaching the players to get it done. It’s an absolute must-watch for anyone interested in the X’s and O’s of hockey.

(TheCoachesSite is a subscription-based site with a monthly fee of $15. The video is one of hundreds tailored towards helping coaches improve at their craft. Click here to subscribe.)

The presentation was so informative about Cassidy’s coaching vision that we are going to use it as the basis of a series of articles releasing over the course of this week and next devoted exclusively to the Golden Knights new power play.

In this, part one, of the series, we’re examining entries. What are Bruce Cassidy’s general philosophies on how to establish the zone on the power play and the systems he implements to do it?

The groundwork for Cassidy’s entire power play system is set up on a simple ideal that pertains mostly to entries but persists in every second his teams have the man-advantage.

Possession before position.

The idea is that all five players need to work together to establish possession of the puck inside of the zone before they head to their assigned positions in the power play setup. When Cassidy draws up entries, there is a role for every player that is separate from what they’ll be expected to do once the team is in the zone. He always wants players to present themselves as options to the puck carrier and work to areas that will help relieve pressure.

Not until the team has full possession of the puck and has broken any backchecking pressure are the players expected to do anything but support the entry. This bleeds into the next philosophy.

Always look to score off the rush.

Typically, we think of power play goals coming from neatly crafted passing plays, but in reality, many of them come before all five offensive players have even entered the zone. As a team comes up the ice to take on the neutral zone setup of the penalty kill, there’s typically an element of speed involved by both the puck carrier and at least one other offensive player. Cassidy’s approach is to look for scoring opportunities off these entries as there can often be a numbers advantage early in a possession.

Cassidy’s most common entry format (which we’ll get to momentarily) includes a player carrying the puck into the zone with speed, another flying down the opposite side of the ice, and a center driving the net. If the defense does not collapse to take away all of these options heading towards the goal, Cassidy wants his players to make the quick play and look to score instantly.

Next, is a simple math equation that Cassidy prefers while many other coaches do not.

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New VGK Coach, New VGK PP

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No matter who becomes the next coach of the Golden Knights they will have to address Vegas’ underachieving power play. Clearly, the man advantage was one of the reasons the organization missed the playoffs, and why Pete DeBoer was fired. It’s a cold world when your team struggles to net pucks 5-on-4. So, regardless of how it looked over the past two and half seasons the new staff will be tasked with fixing it by opening night.

Trotz has got a lot of interest there’s mo question to that. Additional to Philadelphia his list includes Winnipeg, it’s also believed to include Vegas and Detroit. There could be more. -Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night In Canada

Last season the average power play efficiency was 20.61% with teams scoring on average 49 PP goals. The Golden Knights were below the cut line and totaled ten fewer goals than the league mean. Vegas ended up 25th out of 32 clubs and missed the postseason like all but one team below them (LAK). Had the Golden Knights performed to just the league’s average we’re probably breaking down a second round series or grieving a first round exit.

Most suspect the front office will hire a coach and staff that has had special teams success. Realistically, any candidate that performs above average would net Vegas an extra ten goals. However, there is a lot of expectations and pressure for the next staff. The power play has been under a microscope for some time now and it will continue to be scrutinized. Putting in simple terms, power play success could be a quick way to win over the fanbase.

Currently, the Florida Panthers are the perfect example of how an inept power play can severely damage a team’s pursuit of the Cup. One of the league’s best man-advantage units in the regular season is coming up empty in the second round. In ten power play opportunities the Panthers have one goal to show for it. Tonight, they’re facing elimination. A few conversions may have changed the trajectory of the Sunshine State series.

No one is expecting the Golden Knights to lead the league in power play goals next season but fans are simply asking for an improvement. Letting go of Pete DeBoer was a sign the organization desired an upgrade. Maybe it’ll be a simple strategy change or new offensive weapons. All the Golden Knights need is more production from their special teams to go along with VGK’s history of solid 5-on-5 play. If not, history will most definitely repeat itself.

Chronicling VGK’s Failing Power Play Overhaul

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Heading into the offseason, 10 months ago, the Golden Knights had one area they really wanted to clean up.

The obvious one is the power play, that’s at the top of the list to fix. For me the power play isn’t a this year problem. I didn’t feel it was dangerous enough in the Bubble, I thought it was mediocre. At the most important time in the Bubble as we went through to the Dallas series it got cold at the wrong time. We shuffled some things, put a new set of eyes on it this year and it stumbled again. That’s going to be the priority moving forward. -Pete DeBoer in June 2021

The front office felt the same way and they got to work instantly as the new league year opened.

Evgenii Dadonov was a player we identified as a priority. We had him ahead of all players that were available in Expansion. That effectively addressed the need of adding one good foward. -Kelly McCrimmon in July 2021

To start the season, DeBoer urged fans and media to be patient with the power play, calling it a work in progress and even going as far as to dissuade questions until we see it for a full season.

Vegas started the season 0 for 19 on the power play and the concerns grew larger and larger.

Again, the front office did not sit and wait for it to fix itself, instead, they went out and made yet another blockbuster trade, acquiring superstar Jack Eichel. Of course, though, he was injured, so once again, patience was required.

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Vegas’ PP Shows Success Against Conference Contenders

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In training camp, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer expressed patience and urged fans and media to wait until after the season ended to evaluate his team’s success on the power play.

If we go 4-for-4, I’m not going to tell you it’s fixed. And if we go 0-for-4, I don’t want you to say it’s never going to be fixed. Evaluate this at the end of the year. -Pete DeBoer on 10/10/21

Fair enough coach, but we can’t wait that long. We need something to overanalyze for another month or so, you know when Jack Eichel’s name is written in the lineup. So, let’s ignore DeBoer’s wishes for now and examine how the power play has performed against the Western Conference’s top teams.

It’s well known how shaky it can get for Vegas’ power play. The Golden Knights have gone on multiple game runs with PP success but then quickly it can switch back to hibernation mode. Eichel will undoubtedly help that. Statistically, you could argue that the Golden Knights PP has largely improved from the early stages of the season. In the first 25 games of the season, Vegas only converted 11 power play goals. Since then they’ve added 13 more, and had a nine out of an eleven game stretch of scoring one or more PPGs.

We’re making mistakes but pucks are going in to. -DeBoer on 12/10/21

As the coach eluded, Vegas’ power play isn’t quite fixed but it’s scoring and should only improve when certain players arrive/return. With that in mind, it’s truly unfair to use only this season’s numbers. So let’s combine the 2021-22 season with last year’s 56-game shortened schedule.

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