Through 16 games, the Golden Knights have been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. They’ve won 13, they’ve been the better team in almost all of them, they’ve yet to be shutout, haven’t allowed more than four in a game, and all three of the losses have been by a single goal.
Quite frankly, there’s not much more you can ask for out of a start to the season from a results perspective.
Inside of games, however, the Golden Knights haven’t been quite as steady. They’ve been the best 1st period team in the league scoring 21 (most in NHL) and allowing just eight (T-3rd in NHL). They’ve also been excellent in 3rd periods netting 21 (6th in NHL) while allowing 14 (T-6th in NHL). The middle frame hasn’t been as kind to Vegas though, and it’s potentially a reason for concern moving forward.
The overall goal numbers aren’t terrible. 14 goals for (T-20th in NHL), 15 goals against (T-11th in NHL). It’s the chance numbers that jump off the page.
On the five-game road trip in which the Golden Knights won all five games, they allowed 14 high-danger chances in both the 1st and 3rd while allowing 29 in the 2nd period.
Then, in the first game home, the trend continued. Vegas allowed just one high-danger chance in the 1st and didn’t allow a single one in the 3rd, but, they allowed seven in the 2nd, a period that ultimately cost them a chance to match the franchise’s longest winning streak ever.
Scoring chances, Corsi, expected goals, you name the stat, they are all far worse in the 2nd than the 1st and 3rd for the Golden Knights.
The question is, why?
Head coach Bruce Cassidy has a pretty strong theory on it.
We’ve had the lead a lot and when you are on the road especially teams are going to push back, so that’s perfectly normal. -Cassidy
This concept holds a lot of weight. Vegas has scored first in 11 of their 16 games. They’ve held the lead at the end of the 1st period in eight and have only trailed at the end of 20 minutes in one game all year. There’s no doubt teams have used the 2nd to regroup and push back against these Golden Knights.
It was especially significant in Ottawa where Vegas jumped out to a 5-1 lead before allowing a few goals. The Senators had seven high-danger chances in the 1st and 3rd combined, and seven in the 2nd. It was pretty clear in that game that the Golden Knights let their guard down and it led to a flurry of chances.
But, the same cannot be said about the most recent game against St. Louis, the games in Toronto and Washington, or the most representative one, the loss in Calgary.
Beyond that, it’s not just the 2022-23 Golden Knights that have experienced this issue. Last year’s Bruins gave up more shots and goals in the 2nd than the 1st or 3rd. And, in all six years Cassidy coached the Bruins in Boston, his teams allowed more shots in the middle frame. Meanwhile, under DeBoer, Vegas’ highest shot total against period was always the 1st.
The next theory is long change. In the NHL, the 2nd period is played with the defending goal of each team further away from their bench. Because of this, often times teams find themselves having a tougher time changing. It leads to longer shifts and often extended time in the defensive zone.
We’re pretty patient in our D-Zone. Sometimes you get a little hemmed in and we can probably kill plays a little quicker in that period. Maybe as forwards we can help our D get off the ice by putting pucks in better spots. -Stone
Looking into shift times, the Golden Knights average shift time for forwards is around 47 seconds while defensemen are just shy of 50. In the 2nd, those numbers jump a little bit on average, but the bigger problem is extra long shifts. Against Toronto the Golden Knights had three different players who had been on the ice for more than two minutes when the Leafs scored the game-tying goal. Then, on the go-ahead goal, Alec Martinez got stuck on the ice with the goal going in at exactly two minutes into his shift.
Maybe our changes can be a little cleaner, we’re getting hemmed in a little too long and then we ice the puck. -Stone
The Golden Knights have iced the puck 79 times this season, the fourth most in the NHL. On the subsequent draw, they’ve won just 47% of the faceoffs. Yet, only twice has the opposing team scored a goal before the Golden Knights changed at least one player. They currently have the 3rd best “Icings Quality Score” according to MoreHockeyStats.com.
In other words, the Golden Knights are icing the puck a ton but they aren’t paying the price for it. Typically, that would be majorly concerning as regression to the mean is almost guaranteed. However, over the past few seasons, VGK have consistently been among the league leaders in icing quality score. So, as the sample grows, it may not necessarily come back to haunt the Golden Knights as it likely will with other teams experiencing the same issue.
Finally, the last theory relates to the style of game being played. Cassidy’s system stresses strong defensive zone coverage and limiting odd-man rushes. Vegas has been spectacular at both early and late in games, but it has slipped in the middle.
Sometimes you just get caught into that game a little bit. You get a lead and all of a sudden they are pushing and they give up a chance then we give up a chance and it turns into a track meet. Can we win those games? Yeah, we just won about four of them, but we don’t want to hang our hat on those types of games. -Cassidy
All teams are more susceptible to odd-man rushes in the 2nd period due to long change, but for the Golden Knights it appears to show up a bit more. The most likely reasoning behind this is that they’ve been so darn good in the 1st and 3rd that it’s more jarring when it happens with higher frequency in the 2nd.
2nd period lapses have not hurt the Golden Knights this season on the whole, but they certainly stand as one of the biggest areas in which the team can improve. In all three losses, they were outscored in the middle frame and two of the three 2nd periods in those games stand among the worst periods of the season for Vegas.
Despite it, the Golden Knights stand at 13-3-0. Imagine how good they can be if this issue is cleaned up.