Golden Knights’ Analytics Showing Bruce Cassidy’s Positive Impact

The Vegas Golden Knights have started the 2022-23 season with a bang, putting together an 8-2-0 record through the opening 10 games of the season and sitting second in the league standings behind only the Boston Bruins. After an electric 2-1 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets at home on Sunday, Oct. 30, the Golden Knights are heading on a five-game Eastern Conference road trip starting Tuesday against the Washington Capitals. 

With a variety of lineup changes and acquisitions throughout the offseason, there are a number of factors that can be attributed to their hot start, but arguably none more important than the impact that head coach Bruce Cassidy has had on their style of play, particularly in the defensive zone.

The Bruce Cassidy Effect

When watching the Golden Knights play, Cassidy’s defensive system is most noticeable in how they limit transition offense and how they cover the interior part of the defensive zone. They rarely give up odd-man rushes, consistently force teams to dump the puck in, and do a great job of covering up passing lanes in the middle of their own zone. 

Golden Knights Through Opening 10 Games of the Season

SeasonRecord SA/60HDCF/60 at 5v5HDCA/60 at 5v5xGA/60 at 5v5xGF/60 at 5v5
2021-225-534.33 (32nd)11.56 (9th)14.48 (31st)3.11 (32nd)2.55 (9th)
2022-238-228.22 (7th)16.19 (2nd)9.69 (4th)2.25 (5th)3.30 (2nd)
Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

A great indicator of how good they have been at protecting the interior part of the defensive zone is where they rank in high-danger chances against per-60 minutes (HDCA/60). Even in times when the Golden Knights have been pressured in their own zone for extended periods, they rarely break their defensive structure and keep the majority of the shots they concede from farther out in the zone.

Related: Golden Knights Opening Win Shows Cassidy’s Value

It is also worth noting that these aspects have played a major role in the early success of both Logan Thompson and Adin Hill, as they continue to thrive in their expanded roles early on. Thompson currently sits third among starters in save percentage (SV%) with a .943, and second in goals-against average (GAA) with 1.69, while Hill sits just behind him with a .940 SV% and 1.72 GAA. While the analytics show that they haven’t had to face many dangerous chances, or even many shots in general (SA/60), watching them play will show you that they’ve both come up with massive saves when their team needed them to, and that’s all you can ask for.

In previous seasons it felt like the Golden Knights were playing in a defensive system that prioritized pressuring the opposition extremely early. This style of play forces teams to make quick decisions and inevitably make mistakes, but also leaves huge openings in the neutral zone, making them vulnerable to a lot of dangerous rush chances.

Cassidy’s Boston Bruins

Another big reason why Cassidy’s defensive system has been so effective with this Golden Knights roster involves their commitment to blocking shots. Over the past two seasons, Vegas has ranked first and second in the league in blocks per-game, and currently sit first in that category throughout the opening 10 games with an average of 20.60 per game. Looking at the Bruins over that time frame, they ranked 26th in the 2020-21 season, and 25th in the 2021-22 season. 

This massive distinction between both teams makes it even more impressive when looking at how Cassidy’s Bruins were able to maintain a similar defensive performance during the opening 10 games of the past two seasons.

Boston Bruins Through Opening 10 Games of the Season

SeasonRecordSA/60HDCF/60 at 5v5HDCA/60 at 5v5xGA/60 at 5v5xGF/60 at 5v5
2020-217-1-222.05 (1st)8.24 (26th)6.97 (T-4th)1.6 (1st)2.09 (20th)
2021-226-426.81 (3rd)9.19 (19th)7.55 (1st)1.84 (1st)2.45 (15th)
Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

When comparing both teams, the defensive numbers remain consistent and the offensive numbers get a boost with the benefit of coaching a deeper Golden Knights team. All things considered, this seems to be a match made in heaven so far.

The Boston Bruins under Cassidy were also known for their ability to pump shots on goal. The Bruins ranked second in the NHL last season with an average of 36.12 shots per game, and third in the 2020-21 season with 33.32 per game. While shot averages are inflated based on the limited amount of games played this season, the Golden Knights are hovering around 34 shots per game, which shows more than anything just how well this offensive core has been able to replicate that style of play.

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins
Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy with the Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He seems to just have a better understanding of this group of players than former head coach Peter DeBoer ever did. He’s constantly looking for ways to put his forwards in positions where they’re going to be able to succeed, and while confident in his systems, isn’t afraid to make adjustments where necessary.

Final Thoughts

Cassidy clearly recognizes that their offense will naturally sort itself out over time with a team as talented as Vegas is, particularly in regards to their power-play struggles, but the defensive habits need to be made early on, and that’s exactly what has happened.

While all of these statistics are restricted to the opening 10 games of each season, the most important thing to take away from all of this is that this team is buying in to these new systems. It isn’t easy for an entire team to make major adjustments to their game, but the Golden Knights are showing that they are committed to doing anything they can to take this team to the next level.

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