The Vegas Golden Knights are 4-4-0. Having a .500 record at this point in the season isn’t bad, especially after the 1-4-0 start the Golden Knights got off to. Now, they’ve amassed eight points and are fifth in the Pacific Division. There’s going to be a lot of change over the next six months, though, so don’t assume that’s where Vegas will end up.
Every game this season has been close, regardless of the scoreboard. The Golden Knights have dominated possession in most games, no matter the outcome. The Knights have actually been better possession-wise in the four games they’ve lost than in the four games they’ve won. So what separates those two outcomes? What decides whether the Golden Knights win or lose a game?
There are three big indicators. The first is goaltending, which is somewhat obvious. The next is the penalty kill and, to a lesser extent, the power play. Finally, there’s individual performances, though those seem to be less of a factor.
Marc-Andre Fleury (4-3-0) has four games with one or less goals allowed. Those account for his four wins. When Fleury posts a save percentage above .900, he wins. When he posts a save percentage below .900, he loses. Even his .857 save percentage against Washington wasn’t good enough to get the job done.
When Fleury is at his best, all of his save percentages—high danger, even strength, penalty kill, etc—are above .900. In his four wins, his lowest unique save percentage was .833, which was his high-danger save percentage against Anaheim. In each of the four wins, Fleury has posted a shutout on the penalty kill, and he’s had two shutouts in terms of high-danger saves against Minnesota and Philadelphia.
Malcolm Subban does not factor into this yet. He’s played one game this season, an .818 performance against Pittsburgh in which he allowed just one high-danger goal but three from out of range.
There’s two major differences between wins and losses when it comes to special teams, though the penalty kill has had more of an influence on Vegas’ success.
The Golden Knights’ penalty kill in losses this season: 63.64 percent. In wins: 100 percent. That’s right; when the Golden Knights’ penalty kill is perfect (at least when the other team has more than one opportunity, i.e., not including the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins), the Knights are 4-0-0.
That’s unsustainable; the Golden Knights have to be able to recover from some man-advantage goals against. But it shows how important the kill is for the Golden Knights. With five forwards who excel while short-handed—Tomas Nosek, Cody Eakin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson—the Knights should be set up for success on the penalty kill. After all, they already have two short-handed goals this season.
The power play is the other part of this equation. After going six games without a power-play goal—Vegas was the second-to-last team to score on the man advantage (though Florida and Vegas both broke the ice on the evening of Oct. 16, the Panthers technically scored first that night; Los Angeles didn’t get a power-play goal until two nights later)—Vegas has gone 2-for-8 over the past two games and is converting at a 14.29 percent success rate in wins. That’s not where they need to be, but it’s certainly better than the zero percent in losses.
Both power-play goals have come from the high-danger area immediately in front of the net. Generating those chances has been important all season, but the Golden Knights have just 14 on the power play, ranked 21st in the league.
It’s not good enough for something the Knights prided themselves on last year, and it’s clearly something they need to improve soon.
This one is mostly just weird trends. For instance, did you know that in the two games in which William Karlsson scored a goal this season, both were wins? Or that when Reilly Smith scores only goals, the team loses, but when he adds assists, the team wins?
Among players with one point, six have scored that one point in wins and three have done so in losses. Colin Miller, Shea Theodore, Brad Hunt, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter are the six who have only scored a point in a win; Bellemare, Nosek and Erik Haula are the ones with a point in a loss.
Then there are the performances that seem to have a larger effect on the Knights’ success.
For example, Tomas Hyka hasn’t scored a point in four games so far, but the Golden Knights are 3-1-0 with him in the lineup. That goes nicely with the eye test, which shows that Hyka has been better than Oscar Lindberg (the team was 1-3-0 with Lindberg in the lineup).
Also, Hunt has scored one point but has helped the Knights win both games in which he has played. He might be worth keeping in the lineup, especially since the pairing of Jon Merrill and Nick Holden has struggled so much this year.
Perhaps the most interesting yet most consistent individual effort this season has been from Jonathan Marchessault. He has five points in four wins and five points in four losses but has scored more goals than assists (three goals, two assists) in wins and more assists than goals (two goals, three assists) in losses. Goal-scoring Marchessault is the best form of Marchessault.
So how does Vegas win games? Goaltending, better special teams and, to a lesser extent, strong individual efforts. The better thing to read from the last one is team makeup— the team is better with players like Hunt and Hyka than without them, at least so far. So it makes sense that Hyka is set to remain in the lineup tonight despite the fact that Alex Tuch will make his season debut.