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Vegas Doesn’t Do Much Of What Makes A Team Hardest To Defend

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Brayden McNabb is among the best defense-first defensemen in the NHL, and certainly one of the best on the Golden Knights. He’s played more than 600 regular season and playoff games in the NHL, so it’s fair to say he’s seen just about every type of player, offensive system, and situation a defenseman can face.

Following the season, I asked McNabb a question that generated an answer I found telling, even if he didn’t mean it to be taken the way I’m about to take it.

The question was simple, “what makes a team hardest to play against for you as a defenseman?”

If they play fast. If they are putting the puck in and forechecking us and you are getting slammed into the boards every time they do that I don’t care who you ask no one really likes that. Teams that move around in the O-zone, make it difficult by making you make hard reads and making it confusing. -McNabb

It all makes perfect sense and nothing in his answer should be surprising to anyone.

But it made me think…

Do the Golden Knights do any of it?

“Play fast.” At times, sure, I’d argue that the Golden Knights played a fast brand of hockey this season, specifically in transition. When they were turning pucks over in the neutral zone or defensive zone, they sprung into the attack quickly and would often demolish teams on the rush.

In the offensive zone though, fast is not a word most would use to describe the VGK offensive style. They were much more methodical, placing a high preference on puck possession as opposed to quick passing.

Next is forechecking with physicality. This was rarely a part of the Golden Knights’ game this season at all. Vegas was not a heavy dump and chase type team and when they were forced to do it, throwing bodies was not exactly the preferred method of retrieval. Instead, Vegas would send the first player into the zone trying to force the puck along the boards to where the second forechecker would usually be. They’d then try to turn the puck over and hit their third forward coming through the center of the ice, or recycle the puck to eventually generate shots from the point.

Vegas ranked in the bottom third in the NHL in dangerous shot attempts generated directly off the forecheck this season.

Now, this isn’t to say the VGK forecheck was ineffective, it’s just showing that what McNabb described as the hardest to play against was not what the Golden Knights were doing offensively. Instead, Vegas finished the year as one of the most effective cycle teams in the league and a huge part of that was their ability to retrieve the puck in the offensive zone and turn it into sustained pressure.

This shows up most in the 2nd period of games when the defensive zone is further away from each team’s bench. Vegas outscored teams by eight in the 2nd and outshot their opponents by more than 100.

All in all, I’d call the Golden Knights’ forecheck effective, if not highly effective, but, it was not causing defensemen to be “getting slammed into the boards every time.”

Finally, “making it confusing.” This is where I believe the Golden Knights were at their worst. Vegas’ offense was extremely predictable and it lead to few goals set up from defensive disorganization. Activating defensemen was about the only creative tool Vegas had in the bag.

Colorado consistently runs a play where the center (usually Nathan MacKinnon) retreats to the high slot to collect the puck. This creates tough reads for defensemen who have to decide whether or not to chase the center to the blue line or sit back and allow a dangerous forward time and space. Tampa uses a system that constantly attempts to find 3-on-2s. Whether by overloading a side of the ice with all three forwards or using a pinching defenseman, they are looking for numbers advantages that force defensemen to make tricky decisions.

Vegas’s system puts heavy stress on defensemen’s skating as they are often chasing the puck around for upwards of a minute in the defensive zone, but there are rarely situations where a player has to make a choice of who to defend. A simple man-on-man style will keep up with the Golden Knights, as long as fatigue doesn’t set in.

As I mentioned before, McNabb was not asked about the Golden Knights’ offense, nor do I believe his answer was in any way directed at shortcomings in the way Vegas attacks. Really, it could have been any defenseman on any team answering the question and I’d be breaking it down the same way. However, the three examples he gave instantly set off alarm bells in my mind.

Vegas isn’t exactly fast, they aren’t physical on the forecheck, and they don’t confuse defensemen. What makes life hard on one of the better defense-first defensemen in the league, a 10-year veteran, the Golden Knights do very little of.

Brayden McNabb isn’t saying it’s a problem.

But I am.

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51 Comments

  1. Daryl

    VGK had Reavo, Engo, Carrier, Tuch (maybe), and McNabb as players who could use their body. For whatever reason Carrier is not using his physicality much, Engo retired (1 season too early IMO), Reaves and Tuch were traded. Kolesar had potential, but I think more as a fighter than a heavy hitter. Whutecloud was going to be my favorite as he started out fkying all over but that completely changed. Basically, VGK doesn’t have anyone left besides McNabb to abuse players.

    As for the speed aspect, VGK used their speed only in transition. Once they gained control in the offensive zone, you didn’t see a lot of quick passes or movement.

  2. Galdom

    What Daryl said.

  3. Coyote

    For any of you who haven’t seen this on Youtube from Urinating Tree:

    • Coyote,

      That was funny and sad but thanks.

    • Stephanie

      That was depressing but true ! Hard to understand why everyone else sees the coach and FO or someone needs to go except for Foley

    • SCATHING REVIEW OF THE TEAM’S MGMT DECISIONS…AND SO DAMN TRUE. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PLAYERS ARE DISREGARDED, DISRESPECTED AND DISCARDED LIKE TRASH.

  4. Galdom

    Coyote,

    That video was fantastic.

  5. Galdom

    Who is impressed by the Pittsburgh Penguins? They don’t give a FUCK about injuries and never make excuses. They have had to use their third string goalie and now without Crosby and I don’t know if they’re gonna pull it off because the Rangers are a great team but they are putting up quite a fight.

    • Daryl

      They are missing 6 starters including starting Goalie, Crosby, another 1 line, and a 1st pair Dman. They may not win this series, but I’ve been impressed with them

    • THE hockey GOD

      wait until series is over
      and if they lose

      Coach Sullivan “we have a lot depth”

      something VGK does not have.

    • THE hockey GOD

      i guess you missed this

      Sullivan was asked about the incident during the postgame press conference and if he felt Trouba did it with intent.

      “Did you see the hit? You probably have the same opinion I do,” Sullivan said.

      • Daryl

        Trouba has knocked out 4 players this year with high hits. I don’t know what his intent was but he has a history of it. Heck, he took Stone out a couple years ago with a high hit.

        And Sullivan isn’t making excuses, he was asked a question on the hit

  6. They have a couple of fast players but not enough like they did in years 1 and 2.

    Also, they are very lazy on the deep forechecking, very lazy. Almost never first to the puck.

    This is why, they are NOT a 2022-2023 playoff team next year. They’re just not.

    • Stephanie

      I will say Gallant had them buzzing around and forechecking like crazy yr 1

  7. Stephanie

    That was depressing but true ! Hard to understand why everyone else sees the coach and FO or someone needs to go except for Foley

  8. THE hockey GOD

    If they play fast. If they are putting the puck in and forechecking us and you are getting slammed into the boards every time they do that I don’t care who you ask no one really likes that. Teams that move around in the O-zone, make it difficult by making you make hard reads and making it confusing. -McNabb

    said this months ago, every time Whitecloud went back to get puck he was slammed in to the boards, yet VGK forwards hardly touched anyone. Slamming takes a toll on body.

    ( Especially in a seven game playoff series, note how when you get to game 7s (especially later on as second season drags on), hardly anyone has energy to hit. And those that do are usually large hits. )

  9. Tim

    Personal is an issue and it all plays into why we don’t have a PP. It hasn’t changed in DeBoers two and a half years and is they any reason to think it will change next year. They can keep the same crew and if they think they’ll get different results time will tell. Personally I’m wore out with all the drama we’ll just have to see what kind of team Kelly puts together.

  10. Henderson's Finest

    Watching the Carolina/Boston Game 7 and both teams are finishing their checks HARD. That is what is missing from the current group of Knights.

  11. THE hockey GOD

    Loser Leaf tradition continues, despite a stacked line up. Lesson learned: it’s tough to win in SC playoffs. Mathews didn’t come through in the last two games.

    From NHL site:

    TORONTO — These were not the same old Toronto Maple Leafs, but they got the same old result in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    In some ways, that makes it worse.

    The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series since 2004. They’ve been eliminated in the opening round the past six seasons, including losing a deciding game in each of the past five.

    This time, they went toe-to-toe with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.

    “This one hurts more, because this was a really good team that really played hard,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “And the fact that you come that close against that team.

    “You can debate the merits of any sort of credit that you might give our team, but I don’t know if you can debate anything you give the Tampa Bay Lightning and who they are and what they stand for and what they’ve accomplished. We’re right there standing with them.”

    Keefe said based on the fact that the Maple Leafs were so close against the Lightning, who knows what might have happened had they been able to win the series.

    “This one’s tough,” Keefe said, “because I feel we’re a lot closer than it appears.”

    The Maple Leafs blew away team records for wins (54) and points (115) in the regular season, finishing fourth in the NHL standings. They had their first 60-goal scorer in center Auston Matthews.

    But they played in such a difficult division, the Atlantic, that they finished second to the Florida Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team.

    As a result, their reward was a first-round matchup with the Lightning, who are trying to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three straight seasons since the New York Islanders won it in four straight from 1980-83.

    The series was back-and-forth, with the teams alternating wins through the first six games, and Game 7 was a coin flip.

    In situations like this, attention often turns to a team’s top players, especially the offensive forwards. It’s true that Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares did not score in Game 7. They didn’t come up big when it mattered most.

    But neither did the Lightning’s top players. Tampa Bay’s two goals came from forward Nicholas Paul, a seven-year NHL veteran who had never scored in the playoffs until Saturday night.

    Matthews finished with nine points (four goals, five assists) in the series, Marner had eight (two goals, six assists), Nylander had seven (three goals, four assists), and Tavares and defenseman Morgan Rielly each had six (three goals, three assists).

    “At the end of the day, we’re trying to go all the way, and we haven’t been able to get past this hurdle here,” Tavares said. “We work all year long to build our game, to put ourselves in a good spot and to be ready for these opportunities, and I think we were. I think it’s just a fine line.”

    If you’re looking for reasons the Maple Leafs lost the series, they’re little things, like two turnovers and a penalty that led to Lightning goals in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 6, like a penalty that nullified a goal by Tavares in Game 7, like missed opportunities against a tough opponent.

    The shot attempts were 73-45, Toronto, in Game 7. Tampa Bay blocked 26 shots.

    “Lots of reasons to be proud, yet lots of reasons to be devastated and upset,” Keefe said. “Feel good about the effort that they put forth, that they gave us everything that they had, but you come up short. We’re in the winning business.”

    So what now? The Maple Leafs don’t need to make major changes to management, the coaching staff or roster.

    Not long ago, the Lightning couldn’t break through in their own way.

    They lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2016. After missing the playoffs in 2017, they again lost in the conference final in 2018 before being swept in the first round in 2019.

    But they didn’t overreact. They stuck with their core and stuck with it.

    “It’s not easy at this time of year,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We talked about it as a group before. We’ve had some failures in the past, and you just move on. You just got to get over that hump. That’s the thing. Sometimes it becomes mental, but it certainly wasn’t because [the Maple Leafs are] not worthy of it. They are.

    “That was one of the toughest series we probably played. They’ve got the star players. They’ve got the goaltender. They’ve got some solid defensemen. You go down the list, they have everything. It’s just, we believed in ourselves, too.”

    Still, the Maple Leafs do need to make tweaks, and they do need to keep growing to find the other side of that fine line.

    Marner said it starts with everyone needing to train harder in the offseason to come back stronger, faster, quicker.

    “We’re getting sick and tired of feeling like this,” Marner said. “So we’ve got to make sure we’re ready for this upcoming season.”

    • THE hockey GOD

      “hey lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2016. After missing the playoffs in 2017, they again lost in the conference final in 2018 before being swept in the first round in 2019.

      But they didn’t overreact. They stuck with their core and stuck with it.”

      • Daryl

        Maybe they should look at switching up coaches

      • Stuck with their core? The VGK is shuffling shiny new toys like they are strippers with cash in a shopping mall. There’s no core anything in Vegas. The only thing consistent with the VGK is inconsistency and reckless insane chasing of player statistics on paper.

  12. Yessss..
    Kings eliminated!
    GO RANGERS!! Home ice, and Reavo is PUMPED UP!!

  13. Henderson One

    Gallant demonstrates that coaching does matter and it is just not about X’s and O’s. The Rangers have the grit passion and determination of the misfits. Something that the VGK are sorely lacking. There needs to be a change in the Coach.

  14. Obvious

    Gallant and Reaves headed to round 2!!!

    PRICELESS !!!!

  15. Pistol Pete

    With the firepower they have and that goaltender who would expect anything less than the second round. VGK has done the second round 3 in 5 years so it’s not that big a deal imo.

    • Pistol Pete

      I do like GG however and Reavo. Best of luck to both of them. I will always be appreciative of the chemistry Gerard brought to this team that amazing first season. It faded quickly unfortunately but l’ll always be grateful for what he was able to give.

    • Coyote

      Well, honestly, getting to the second round in the Pacific isn’t too much to brag about. Different story in both eastern conferences.

  16. Pistol Pete

    As far as I’m concerned what was most determinative of this season’s outcome was Stone 37 games Pacioretty 39 games. End of story. Forget continuity, chemistry, defending, forechecking, zone formations and all the rest of it, we were without two of our top line forwards for more than half the season and even when Stone was playing, although he averaged exactly a point an game going into the most recent return from injury, he was never 100 %.

    I am concerned about getting Stone’s back fixed. Brush aside shedding a couple key pieces to get under the cap. Stone’s health is my biggest concern.

    I actually feel bullish on Pacioretty however. His two injuries this season were bone related which is neither age related nor chronic. With any luck he’ll remain injury free next season.

    • Tim

      Pistol Pete, I’m glad you have such confidence in Patch coming back healthy next year. This year was a disaster oh and by the way last year was a disaster how many games he missed plus the Wild playoffs until game 7. If he’s what your counting on good luck in my opinion we paid to much and the sooner he leaves Dodge the better. Say what you want but he got us two years in a row but next year he’ll magically turn it around. This thinking is why were going father and father away from contention. Once again may I state the obvious we are to old and to slow and that is not a recipe for winning.
      On a happier note I like many other Vegans were happy to see the Rangers win the series. We still have a soft spot in our hearts for Gallant and Reeves and the win was two fold one it stuck it to our management and what a mistake they made firing him. Gallant can make it in the Big Apple but couldn’t make it in the land of the tumbleweeds. One of the many mistakes made by management in there 5 year tear down.

  17. Blitz

    PETER shown the door. Pete De door. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass!

  18. LVsc

    DeBoer fired !!!

    good first step

  19. vgk21

    The Vgk gave up more odd man rushes than any team in the Nhl, except Columbus.

    That horrible defensive performance is enough right there to fire PDB…. not even counting all the other reasons, like the miserable PP, and the poor forechecking system.

    • Daryl

      The problem is, that leads to poor defense from a team that shouldn’t have poor defense. It shows that it was more the system than bad play from the players

  20. Galdom

    Golden Knights coaching history:

    Gerard Gallant: 118-75-20 in 2.5 seasons (.601 points percentage)

    Pete DeBoer: 98-50-12 in 2.5 seasons (.650 points percentage)

    Who will be the next VGK head coach

    • Daryl

      Again, here’s the problem with using stats… Gallant was in charge of a team that was supposed to finish dead last while PDB was in charge of a team that was supposed to contend for the Cup. If you ask any of the experts, they will tell you talent wise PDB had better talent

      • Galdom

        I’m not against or for DeBoer. The stats I provided were intended to generate discussion.

        • Daryl

          I wasn’t trying to imply anything… ibwas just showing how stats taken out of context aren’t exactly accurate

      • Obvious

        Who’s in the 2nd round of playoffs?

        It ain’t dedumdum. Last year rangers didn’t even make the play offs. This year it’s off to the second round after coming back from being down 3-1

        Every team dealt with covid and every team dealt with injuries. Some a little more. Some a little less

        Let’s not forget last years playoffs. The big guns were on the ice in good health. And they absolutely shit the bed.

        This year injuries and covid only have served to buy the 2 McClowns another year screwing things up even more

        Cant wait to hear what the excuses are next year

        As long as tickets sell 2 faced foley laughs at those he’s fleecing

  21. Galdom

    This predictable front office could do one of two things. Get the shiny new toy that’s available, (Barry Trotz) or get the last coach that beat his team. (Claude Julien)

    Anything else might require actual thought.

  22. Galdom

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fCeRSl6P6sY

    Press conference.

    I’m confused. If Kelly McCrimmon says they fired DeBoer it must mean that they gave him a contract extension

  23. Obvious

    …. And next year’s excuses are????

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