The Golden Knights have hit a bit of a snag after getting off to a torrid start to the season. Following the record-setting 11-game point streak to open their Cup-defending season, Vegas has dropped five of their last seven games.
In many of the games they’ve lost, the same problem has cropped up. Finishing. The Golden Knights generate plenty of dangerous looks, but just can’t seem to convert enough of them to get on the right side of the scoreboard. For a team as talented, and with a history of success, as the Golden Knights, there is not much room for concern when that is the issue. Eventually, as long as they keep generating those chances, they’ll start going in again and Vegas will return to their winning ways.
There is however one particular portion of the game in which the scoring chances have not been there, and it has been a significant contributor to why the Golden Knights have not been able to erase deficits late in games.
This season the Golden Knights have been forced to pull their goalie for the extra skater at the end of a game on four separate occasions. In all four instances, the same two results have occurred. First, the Golden Knights did not land a single shot on goal, and second, the other team scored into Vegas’ empty net.
In those four games, the Golden Knights have played 3:44 of time with an extra skater. They have generated just four shot attempts and amassed a measly 0.09 expected goals. To illustrate how poor these numbers are, if you extrapolate them to a 60 minute game, that would mean 64 shot attempts and 1.45 expected goals. Those numbers would be rough at 5-on-5, let alone with a 6th skater on the ice.
So, what’s going on? Why is it so bad?
I shut off all the lights in my house and fired up replays of the games to find out. (I’ve watched enough NFL Hard Knocks to know watching film must be done in the dark.) Here’s what I found.
There have been two main issues that have plagued the Golden Knights with the extra skater on the ice.
First, the timing of the goalie pull has not worked for Vegas. In three of the four games, the timing on the goalie pull has worked against the Golden Knights. Against Pittsburgh, the Penguins instantly shot the puck into the empty net. Against Anaheim, the Ducks had a shot but missed it. And against Washington a desperation stick check at the offensive blue line broke up what would have been an instant goal as well.
It appears the reason for this is that the Golden Knights are supremely confident both in their entries and their forechecking. It makes perfect sense to have this belief as at 5-on-5 the Golden Knights are an excellent forechecking team, especially when the puck is dumped into the zone. And on the power play, Vegas’ entries have been consistently strong all season. However, at 6-on-5, neither has come through. In just less than four minutes of 6-on-5 time, the Golden Knights have attempted five zone entries and have been successful in establishing true offensive possession in just one.
Next, the Golden Knights have not been clean on the puck at 6-on-5. In the Anaheim game, a lost stick battle led directly to the empty net goal. In Washington, the forechecking got beat along the walls on three separate occasions leading to easy exits for the Capitals, and against Pittsburgh, a puck rimmed around the wall was not controlled and allowed the Penguins to exit the zone before the extra skater was even on the ice.
The good news is both issues are easily correctable. As for the timing of pulling the goalie, because they’ve struggled with their entries, they likely need to fully establish offensive possession before calling the goalie to the bench. It will surely lead to less 6-on-5 time, but it’s better to have some quality time than a large amount of time spent chasing the puck. The other issue is about staying connected as a six-man unit. In all four of the extra skater situations, the Golden Knights defensemen have been too far away from the forwards. VGK defensemen have not had enough time to get up into the play and it has led to a lack of puck support allowing easy exits and eventually shots at the empty net.
It took until Game 13 of the season for Vegas to even have had to be forced to pull their goalie chasing a late equalizer. They’ve had to do it four times in the last seven games though and the results haven’t been pretty. It’s one of the very few issues they must correct as the season progresses. Knowing this team though, that shouldn’t be a problem.