As we watched over the weekend, the Golden Knights easily dominated the basement-dwelling Anaheim Ducks in two straight games. It’s clear Vegas is the much, much better team. This season the Golden Knights are 6-1-0 against the Ducks and have dictated the season series except for an earlier 1-0 defeat.
They’ve done the same against pretty much every other inferior team in the division as well. It’s been that type of campaign for the Golden Knights. They mop up on inferior opponents, winning games by an average of 1.5 goals per game.
VGK vs. ANA, ARI, LA, SJ, STL (Combined record: 87-104-28) 119 Goals Scored 69 Goals Allowed 3.71 Goals For Per 60 2.15 Goals Allowed Per 60 48 Goal Differential 53 out of 64 Points (26-5-1, .828)
It’s no secret the Golden Knights have had an easy path to a postseason berth. Same goes for the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. All three have built strong records by defeating the teams they should. So, it’s unfair to solely mock the Golden Knights for their weak schedule.
Points Percentage vs West Division Teams Colorado .744 PTS% Vegas .727 PTS% Minnesota .663 PTS%
Realistically, that’s what contending teams need to do. Vegas, Colorado, and Minnesota were all handed a light schedule before the season began and have done their job gathering as many points as possible. It shouldn’t matter what level of competition they face. There’s no secret formula for beating and taking advantage of lesser opponents. However, that’ll end in early May when the regular season concludes and they have to exclusively play each other.
The Golden Knights are regarded as one of the better teams in the league. They’ve been described as elite, highly-skilled and loaded. Vegas backs that up with the third best points percentage (.786) in the NHL. However, there is one glaringly obvious area the first place Golden Knights will need to improve.
Since the start of the shortened 2019-20 season, the Golden Knights are 19th in the league with 40 5-on-4 goals. When coach Pete DeBoer took over on January 16th, 2020, Vegas dropped even lower to 28th. In that timespan the Golden Knights squeaked out an underwhelming 12 5-on-4 goals in 79 opportunities.
The 2021 Golden Knights have only scored three times on the power play, the second least in the league. One on a two-man advantage, and two on a 5-on-4. Overall, Vegas’ power play efficiency is 11.5% good for 28th in the NHL.
2021 VGK Man-Advantage Breakdown
27 Man Advantage Opportunities Power Play Goals (3) 5-on-4 Goals (2) 5-on-3 Goals (1) 6-on-5 Goals (1)
On the other hand, signs show that Vegas’ deficiencies won’t hurt them in the long run. Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights have the third-highest points percentage (.741) behind only Boston (.774) and Philadelphia (.750). Impressively enough, Their inability to score in 5-on-4 situations rarely cost them regular season points.
The Golden Knights had just one power play in their first game, but those two minutes were the perfect illustration of the challenge facing the coaching staff in creating their power play units this season.
With two elite power play quarterbacks on the team, the Golden Knights knew they needed to find a way to ice two units both stocked with scoring talent.
The first looks like a normal dominant #1 power play unit. Alex Pietrangelo is the lone defenseman with Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and PP wunderkind Cody Glass. It’s the kind of stuff that gives opposing teams’ penalty kill nightmares.
It’s the second unit where things get interesting. Shea Theodore plays alongside Alec Martinez with a trio of forwards including Alex Tuch, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. It has the potential to be a great unit, but for one issue, there’s no one to take the draws.
Well, I don’t know if we’re comfortable (not having a center on the unit). It’s not the optimum situation obviously. Right now we’re trying to put our two best units together. We love the feel of the two units when they get the puck and get set up so we’re willing to give up a little in the faceoff department to get started. -Pete DeBoer
On that single power play last night, the concern came to the forefront immediately. After a strong 45 seconds by the first unit including a few shot attempts from Pietrangelo, the second group came out for an offensive zone faceoff. Tuch lost the draw and the Ducks quickly cleared the zone. The Golden Knights took a bit of time trying to re-enter the zone, never fully did on three tries, and an offside call forced another draw outside of the zone.
At that moment, with 30 seconds left on the PP clock, the Golden Knights flipped right back to the first unit.
It was an area of emphasis for us in the offseason and adding Pietrangelo definitely gave us the option of having two elite quarterbacks, two units, rather than a 1A and 1B. It’s critical, especially the deeper you go in the playoffs and the better the opponent those little details, the special teams, faceoffs, separate the teams at that point. -DeBoer
The Golden Knights have two bonafide #1 units, but without a reliable option to win faceoffs, it’s likely they will be forced into situations similar to the one they faced last night where they have to default back to the first unit on any draw.
In practice today, the second unit was moving the puck around with ease, even scoring one of the nicest tic-tac-toe goals you’ll ever see. So, clearly, when they have the puck, they have a real chance to be dangerous. But, how long will DeBoer put up with it if they don’t?
We’re hopeful the faceoff situation, guys will dig in, guys will help each other, some guys will become better at it and it won’t become an issue but it’s something that if we can’t get fixed with the personnel we have we might have to look at some different options. -Deboer
Maximizing the power play talents of both Theodore and Pietrangelo will be crucial in the long-term success of the Golden Knights this season.
There’s reason to believe these units could offer just that, but there’s also reason for concern that they won’t.
It was the play of the game, if not one of the biggest plays of the season (feels like we’ve said that a lot, hopefully this one actually sticks). Having given up a 3-1 lead, Vegas could have easily skated out the period and secured at least a point in Carolina. However, the Hurricanes gave the Golden Knights one more chance to come away with a win. And that’s exactly what they did.
The late-game power play allowed Vegas to execute a perfectly set up game-winning goal. The beautifully designed tic-tac-toe sequence by Shea Theodore, Paul Statsny and Alex Tuch clinched a wild game for the Golden Knights. Not only was it a big goal for Tuch, but for the new coaching staff as well.
It was a good play by Theo and Stas, something we were kind of looking to do and we were able to execute. I just put my stick on the ice and made sure I hit the net. -Alex Tuch
The play began with a faceoff won by Stastny, purposely to his left, which Mark Stone jumped on and fed out to Theodore. Instead of taking his own shot, giving the puck back to Stone or Max Pacioretty to his right, the defenseman walked the blue line with the puck, opened up the seam and then used a little shot pass to feed the puck through an incredibly tight window to Stastny.
Theodore’s stutter-step/fake shot shifted the defense and goaltender just enough to find an open passing lane to Stastny who was waiting on one side of the net.
Knowing the puck was coming to him, he quickly directed the pass across the crease and on to the stick of Tuch, who tapped in the game-winner.
From the initial pass by Stone, to Theodore’s shot fake, to Stastny’s quick touch pass, each player knew exactly where the others would be. You’ll even notice Pacioretty charging in behind Tuch ready to scoop up any rebounds in case the puck was blocked. Or perhaps as a secondary option. Either way, all five players did their job and the execution paid off.
Over the first month of the season, the Golden Knights went (8-5-1) standing in 3rd place in the Pacific Division. Vegas finished October with 17 points and held a (+5) in goal differential. For the most part it was a good opening 31 days for Vegas but clearly they have a lot more to prove in November.
Here are some statistics I find crucial to a successful season, and some interesting trends the team built over the opening month.
The Golden Knights power play was much maligned last year. They finished the season 25th in the NHL, converting on just 16.8% of their chances.
To make matters worse, it didn’t improve with the addition of one of the most dangerous power play weapons in team history, Mark Stone. After the deadline, Vegas hit on just 7 of 45 power-play opportunities or 15.6%. They picked it up dramatically in the postseason, running at a 27.5% clip, but it was all against the same team, and it fell off a cliff in Games 6 and 7 when they went 0 for 5 and gave up a shorthanded game-winner.
This year, the Golden Knights have connected on 6 of their 20, 30%, which has them in 6th place in the NHL through 6 games.
Last game in Los Angeles, the power play looked unstoppable, going 3 for 3 and creating opportunities consistently. I set out to figure out what, if any, differences there were on the power play between now and last year (especially in the playoffs when the personnel was most similar).
The first thing to focus on is the entry. Vegas consistently uses a drop pass which leads to a puck carrier with speed brinign the puck through the neutral zone. He then brings it in himself or drops it off to one of the two wingers standings at the blue line. The Golden Knights strayed from this entry for a bit in the playoffs, but returned to it by the end of the series. So, for the most part, that’s completely unchanged.
The units are not far off from what they were against the Sharks in the postseason. The better unit includes Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Paul Stastny, Shea Theodore. The other unit includes Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and William Karlsson. The difference that Cody Glass in now in for Alex Tuch on the first unit, and Nic Hague and Valentin Zykov are in for Colin Miller and Cody Eakin on the second.
What this has done has created a small difference in the default layout the Golden Knights use once they enter the zone and are completely set up. It’s literally the only difference I can find, but there does seem to be a contrast in how the units operate due to the change.
To illustrate it, we head to the grease board!
Power Play setup last year with Tuch
Power Play setup this year with Glass
As you can see, the only difference is where Glass and Tuch play. Tuch is set up directly in front of the net with the idea of screening the goalie and picking up rebounds, while Glass is under the goal line as an extra passing option.
The main difference is the options that are presented for the two guys in the circles when they have the puck (Pacioretty and Stone).
One of VGK’s best PP guys has been struggling to score, but the chances have been there. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
The Golden Knights are one for their last 24 on the power play. They matched their longest stretch of the season by not scoring a PP goal in six straight games and have dropped to 12th in the league at 18.8% on the season.
So, the obvious question is, what’s going wrong that’s keeping the Golden Knights from converting?
The answer, and please don’t want to hurt me when you read this, is nothing. The power play has actually been quite good except for the end product. They’ve been successfully entering the zone with regularity, they’ve won a majority of face-offs, they’ve spent most of their man-advantage time in the offensive zone, and they’ve created a ton of chances, many Grade A+.
In the 24 power play opportunities, the Golden Knights have created 46 scoring chances, 24 of them high danger (according to NaturalStatTrick.com). That’s almost two chances per PP and at least one of them either in the blue paint or right around it.
I watched all 24 power plays and counted just two that I would consider below average. More than 15 were what I consider good or great.
Here are four examples of great chances that aren’t converted into goals.
The PP that led to this goal was a beaut. Unfortunately, it’s one of just two all year. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
It’s the question that’s going through the mind of every Vegas fan nine games into the season, what in the flying (expletive) is wrong with the Golden Knights power play?
We are getting better on the power play. Obviously it’s difficult when you are mixing guys in and out, guys have been hurt and come back from injury. I thought tonight we had a couple chances to score, I had one Hyka had one, so I thought it’s getting better. You want power play to be a difference. -Max Pacioretty
We’re not talking about it too much, we just try to bear down and work harder every day. We work on it a lot and I think it’ll come over time. We just have to work out a few kinks in the breakout and a little bit different work in the zone. Couple more pucks on net and need more traffic in front. Sometimes the puck just doesn’t bounce your way. -Alex Tuch
Just one of those things, just get back to basics. We had lots of chances, so it’s not like we didn’t have chances or anything. We just have to put the puck in the net we’ve got to put it in the net. There’s no reason to think we took a step back though. -Brad Hunt
The Golden Knights are now 2 for 28 on the power play good for a miserable 7.1%. That number would lead any sane human being to believe there’s something majorly wrong with what Vegas is doing when playing a man up. However, every player and coach seems to disagree. So, we dove into the numbers to see if there’s something wrong with the process or not.
We start with one of the most important stats when it comes to scoring goals, how often are you getting chances? According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Vegas has 37 scoring chances on the 28 power play attempts. For comparison we picked teams at the top, in the middle, and near the bottom of the pack in power play success.
Here at SinBin.vegas we’ve purposely shied away from freaking out about the disastrous Golden Knights power play over the last month or so. The reason behind our hesitancy was the simple fact that it wasn’t affecting whether or not Vegas would win the game. However, over the past two games, things have changed in the results column, but seemingly not much changed on the ice.
Hunt said he was so excited after his goal that he almost fell celebrating. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
The Golden Knights were 0 for 19 with a man advantage from January 4th to the 19th. They were 1 for 32 if you go back to December 23rd. Then over the past two games, Vegas struck four times in seven opportunities. Among those four goals, Brad Hunt has one goal and two assists and Colin Miller has one goal and one assist. That’s five points on the power play between two players.
The eye test told me that Hunt’s return to the ice was sparking Miller’s offense, as well as the rest of the Golden Knights. However, upon a deeper dive into the numbers, the Hunt-effect has really only been seen when Vegas is a man up. But when Hunt is on the ice during the power play, boy does it make a difference. Look.
Colin Miller has played 67:07 of power play time without Brad Hunt. In that time, the Golden Knights have scored 3 goals on 53 shots.
Goal every 22:21
0.79 shots per minute
Colin Miller has played 60:09 of power play time with Brad Hunt. In that time, the Golden Knights have scored 9 goals on 61 shots.
Goal every 6:41
1.01 shots per minute
The Golden Knights have played 129:41 of power play time with neither Miller nor Hunt on the ice. In that time, they scored 12 times on 104 shots.
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.