More than 30 games into the 2019-20 season, the Vegas Golden Knights are still scratching and clawing as they attempt to remain in a playoff spot.
Entering Wednesday night the club sits in the final wild-card spot in the Pacific Division. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks are just three points back of Vegas with two games in hand.
This season has been a bit of a rollercoaster. After suffering a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the New York Rangers on Sunday, the Golden Knights bounced back with a 5-1 drubbing of the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
So what is going wrong, and what is going right? Let’s have a look at some of the team’s underlying statistics and try to uncover where Vegas can make improvements to their game.
Power Play Is Clicking (22.5 percent success rate)
With a stacked roster with the likes of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, and more it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Golden Knights’ power play ranks as one of the best in the NHL.
The team has converted on 23 of their 102 opportunities with the extra skater, good enough for eighth in the league. Stone leads the way with five goals with the man advantage, while Paul Stastny has potted four of his own.
Golden Knights’ Penalty Kill (83.6 percent success rate)
One thing is quite clear about the Golden Knights this season, they are not being weighed down by their special teams. The team’s penalty kill ranks ninth in the NHL with an 83.6 percent success rate.
In addition, the Golden Knights have also been lethal on the opposite side of the puck when killing penalties. Their six shorthanded goals tie them for the most in the NHL.
Starting Quick with First-Period Goals (33)
Only the Colorado Avalanche and the Carolina Hurricanes have scored more than Vegas’ 33 first-period goals. The Golden Knights have regularly been able to get on their opponents quickly into games. It is also for this reason that the Golden Knights have held the lead after the first period 12 times this season, tied for the second-most such occasions in the league.
Where things go a little south for Vegas is the fact that the team ranks 23rd in second-period goals and 17th in third-period tallies.
What’s Not Working?
Falling Victim to Vegas Flue
It might not seem that bad at first glance, but given that in years past Vegas was deemed such a hard place to walk out with two points – even coining the phrase “the Vegas flu” – this season’s record of 8-6-3 through 17 games is quite underwhelming.
The Golden Knights are currently on pace for 45 points at home, which would be a drop of eight points from last season and 15 fewer than their inaugural season in 2017-18.
Struggling to Score at Even Strength
While the Golden Knights might be able to connect with the extra skater with some regularity, the same can’t be said at even strength. The Golden Knights have scored just 58 goals at 5-on-5 through 33 games, which ranks 22nd in the league.
What is even more troubling is the fact that the Golden Knights have also given up 68 goals at 5-on-5, the seventh-most in the NHL.
Backup Goalie Struggles
Now in his third season with the Golden Knights, Marc-Andre Fleury remains the cornerstone of the franchise. The veteran netminder has once again amassed impeccable numbers through the first third of the season. In 21 games Fleury has posted a 12-6-2 record along with a .921 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average.
Where things fall off drastically for the Golden Knights is when the team starts anyone not named Fleury. Be it Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk, or Garret Sparks, the Golden Knights backup goaltenders have not been able to provide the kind of play needed to give the team a chance to win most nights.
The three netminders have combined for a record of 4-6-3 in 14 games with a .894 SV% and a 3.16 GAA. To put that into perspective those numbers would rank eighth-last and seventh-last respectively among all goaltenders to play at least 10 games this season.
The Golden Knights’ backup goalies don’t have to be perfect, but averaging more than three goals against per game, while stopping fewer than 90 percent of the shots they face a night just isn’t acceptable.
For the Golden Knights, everything is not doom and gloom or at least not yet. The club remains very much in the playoff race and with strong special teams and the ability to get on their opponents right out of the gate, there is a lot to like about this team. However, if they continue to take their foot off the gas in the second and third periods, they don’t improve their home record or get stronger play from their backup goalies, things could quickly snowball out of control.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.