When Pete DeBoer came on as head coach of the Golden Knights one aspect of the game we expected to see change was the way the team was going to try and generate offense. Where Gerard Gallant teams thrived in transition and on opportunistic chances, DeBoer wanted to bring a much more reliable style of offense to the fold.
One piece of that is generating offense from the back to the front. The concept is to work the puck in deep and then send it low to high back to the defensemen. From there, the defensemen can make a number of decisions about what to do with the puck, but if a shot lane is there with traffic in front, that’s the preferred choice.
This was majorly successful with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in San Jose, it worked with Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky in New Jersey and it worked with Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe with the Panthers. Now, with Vegas, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo are among the top five players on the team in shots per game and the Golden Knights lead the West division (and the NHL) in points from blueliners.
There is one concern with this strategy though, and that’s when shot attempts from defensemen are blocked or don’t hit the net. Blocked shot attempts have a chance to quickly lead to rushes the other way while missed shots force forwards to work to recover the puck and can lead to easy breakouts.
A bit of excellent research from JFreshHockey shows us that a few Golden Knights are struggling at the skill of hitting the net from the point.
Which blueliners aren't getting their shots to the net? pic.twitter.com/cy1oVQxlE0
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) April 20, 2021
The Golden Knights have four players among the league’s Top 16 defensemen in block rate and they have three in the Top 13 in shots that do not make it to the goalie.
Brayden McNabb is the worst offender, which isn’t terribly surprising, but to see players who have shown some offensive upside appear on the list (Hague, Coghlan, and Martinez) is certainly concerning heading into the postseason for the Golden Knights.
On the flip side, while one would expect Shea Theodore and/or Alex Pietrangelo to balance this out, neither made the top 20 in either category. Theodore leads the d-men with a through percentage of 47.9%, which comes up about 6% short of reaching the Top 20 in the league.
Against stingier defenses like Colorado or Minnesota, these shot attempts need to get through more consistently. The Golden Knights will have the goaltender advantage in the first two rounds no matter which opponents they draw, but if the shots never get there the goalie won’t have to stop them.
This is not the easiest skill to correct mid-season, or even if the offseason for most players, but decision-making can change. Blocked shots by defensemen will be a huge story in any potentially evenly matched playoff series. It’s a place VGK can improve and one they should start working on now before it’s too late.