Golden Knights’ Poor Penalty Kill Hurting them Against the Avalanche

The Vegas Golden Knights find themselves in a less than ideal spot to start the second round of the playoffs. They are currently down in their series against the Colorado Avalanche after losing the first two games in Denver. Although Vegas has seen their leading regular-season goalscorer Max Pacioretty return to the lineup, they have unfortunately found a new problem this postseason: the penalty kill.

From the Best to the Bottom

The Golden Knights’ postseason penalty kill struggles are hard to comprehend when looking at their regular season stats. In 2020-21, Vegas led the league in penalty kill percentage with a success rate of 86.8%. Over the course of the season, the Golden Knights hounded teams with relentless pressure. This actually saw the team record five shorthanded goals in the shortened season. 

Tyson Jost
STATELINE, NEVADA – FEBRUARY 20: Tyson Jost #17 of the Colorado Avalanche attempts to take the puck past Zach Whitecloud #2 of the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period during the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort on February 20, 2021 in Stateline, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Now, as the Golden Knights are two games into their series against the Avalanche, they hold the second-worst PK% of all the remaining teams. Sitting at a success rate of 72.7%, Vegas finds themselves in unusual territory. This is especially concerning for the team as Colorado currently holds the best power-play percentage in the playoffs at 43.5%. 

As of this writing, the Golden Knights have killed off 63.6% of their penalties against the Avalanche, Although this may seem like they are having success against the juggernaut power play of Colorado, this is far from their regular-season numbers against them. In the 2020-21 regular season, Vegas was dominant over the Avalanche power play as they had a success rate of 95.2%.

Lack of Discipline

The lack of success can come from multiple different factors. However, the main one stems from an overall lack of discipline by the Golden Knights. In the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, Vegas has recorded 93 total penalty minutes. This number places them as the third most penalized team in the postseason. This is vastly different compared to their regular-season numbers, as they were ranked 23rd in this category.

After Game 2 against the Avalanche, the Golden Knights have been shorthanded 22 times in just nine games. This is causing the team problems, as the more time that is spent in the box, the less time they have to attack the opposition. This problem has been highlighted by the Colorado series as in just two games Vegas has already been shorthanded 11 times. Also, Vegas has had Ryan Reaves suspended two games after he attacked a defenseless Ryan Graves late in Game 1. 

Ryan Reaves Vegas Golden Knights
Ryan Reaves will not be available for the Golden Knights until Game 4. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This lack of composure is rarely seen by Vegas. It could be possible that the speed and skill of the Avalanche could be frustrating the Golden Knights. Players such as Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen have tremendous skill and require a great deal of energy to contain. Also with Vegas coming off an intense seven-game series against the Minnesota Wild, it could make these players even harder to contain.

Missing Players

Another reason why the Golden Knights are struggling on the penalty kill at the moment is due to the absence of two key players. Both Brayden McNabb and Tomas Nosek have not been available to the team. McNabb has found himself on the COVID-19 list, while Nosek is battling an injury that he has not been able to fully recover from. Both of these players are main staples on the Vegas penalty kill as they are known for their defensive zone abilities and skill. 

Without both of these players, the Golden Knights have found themselves going further down the depth chart in order to kill off penalties. This, however, means that more of their top players are logging more minutes per game. In turn, this is actually a detriment to the team as these players now may be more tired at the end of the game. 

Vegas Golden Knights Alex Tuch
Players like Alex Tuch are seeing more ice time with key penalty killers out of the lineup. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Golden Knights must improve upon their discipline if they wish to have a chance at beating the Avalanche in this series. They cannot afford to be in the box an average of five and a half times per game against the top power-play team and expect to win. With a depleted roster, Vegas cannot continue their current style of play if they wish to win the Stanley Cup.