Over the first three games of the second round against the San Jose Sharks, the Vegas Golden Knights have taken 20 penalties. Through the entire first round against the Los Angeles Kings, the Golden Knights had 13. In Game 2 alone, the Golden Knights took 11 fouls.
The problem is, the Knights are much better at full strength, especially against the Sharks. While their penalty kill has played well, the Sharks have converted on 3-of-16 power plays. That’s an 18.75 percent conversion rate.
Of the Sharks’ seven goals in this series, five have come when the Golden Knights have just four skaters (at 4-on-4 or on the penalty kill). That goes to six if you count Evander Kane’s goal in game 3, which came just four seconds after a Vegas penalty expired.
That’s not the only problem the Knights are having when not at full strength.
With five skaters on ice, the Golden Knights have seized control of both series. Their Corsi numbers over the postseason with a full squad: 482-352 (57.8 percent). With four or fewer skaters: 28-128 (17.9 percent). That includes 4-on-4 hockey.
That’s not where the noticeable differences end. Shots are 213-179 with five skaters (54.3 percent), 20-3 in terms of goals (87 percent), 89-51 in high danger chances (63.6 percent).
With four or fewer: shots are 14-71 (16.5), goals are 1-7 (12.5), and 1-24 in terms of high danger chances (four percent).
The Golden Knights are a dominant possession team, but they have to keep everyone on ice. This postseason, when the Golden Knights take the same or fewer penalty minutes than the opponent, they’re 5-0. They’re 1-1 when taking more. Their one win came in game 4 against the Kings, a 1-0 victory.
Staying out of the box has never been more important to the Golden Knights. This isn’t the regular season when Vegas can go 21-10-4 while taking more penalties than the opponent. No matter how good the penalty kill is, the Sharks are going to get good chances with more open ice.
That’s why six of their seven goals have come with the Golden Knights down a man. It’s why they’re outplaying Vegas on the power play and at 4-on-4. It’s why San Jose is still hanging around in this series.
The Golden Knights have to be the more disciplined team, as they were for much of the series against Los Angeles. If they can do that, and stop taking reckless penalties, then they can get the series back on their terms, under their control. That’s how they win.