The Vegas Golden Knights are on a cold streak. They lost a game to the Detroit Red Wings, who were 5-12-1 going into the game and who had lost three of their previous four games. If that loss to a team who is more interested in Quinton Byfield than the playoffs wasn’t bad enough, the Golden Knights are on a three-game losing streak, including an embarrassment against Washington and a close loss to Toronto.
The Golden Knights have now lost, either in overtime or regulation, five of their last six games. Their last victory was against the Columbus Blue Jackets. So how do they fix it, and what’s gone wrong? How do the Golden Knights climb out of this hole they’ve dug for themselves? Here’s the problems with each of the aspects of the Golden Knights’ game and how to fix them.
It’s the offense
The offense has scored 14 goals in their last six games. The Golden Knights now have 54 goals on the season, 13th best in the NHL. Their expected goal rate is eighth best in the league. So why does Vegas have this difference in their expected results and their actual results?
The third line is a huge part of this. Cody Eakin has started collecting points, but he has not scored a goal. His offensive numbers are not great, his defensive numbers are not great, it’s not like the Golden Knights don’t have other options on the penalty kill. Eakin is second-last in individual expected goals per 60 at even strength on the Golden Knights roster and the other two, Brandon Pirri and Valentin Zykov, are still battling for spots.
The thing is, the Golden Knights continue scratching more deserving players from the fourth line. Tomas Nosek is first on the team in individual expected goals/60 at even strength with 1.16. The four members of the fourth line, including Nosek, Ryan Reaves, William Carrier and Nicolas Roy all drive high-danger chances more than anybody else. Roy, Carrier and Nosek are all over five individual high-danger chances per 60. The closest Knight is Mark Stone at 4.97. All four are in the top eight in that individual expected goals per 60 stat, up there with elite teammates in Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson and Alex Tuch.
At this point in time, there’s no reason for any one of those four players to be scratched. What the fourth line looks like is up to the discretion of Gerard Gallant, but the other member should be on the third line — either centering it, in the case of Nosek, or being one of the driving wingers in Carrier as Cody Glass, a better player without Eakin than with him, reverts to center.
High-danger chances have been a harder thing to come by for the Golden Knights than expected. While they’re 11th in both Corsi and shot share, they’re 19th in expected goal share and 13th in high-danger share this season. Why not keep the guys who drive those stats out there?
It’s the defense
Look, this is not easy to admit, but Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb, at this point in time, does not work. It’s that simple. They have 3.03 expected goals against per 60 at even strength in addition to a 47.43 percent Corsi, 43.68 percent shot share, 48.01 percent expected goal share, and 54.55 percent high-danger share. While that high-danger share is good, both of those players are better than those stats.
The Shea Theodore - McNabb pairing the team rolled out to start the season had better possession stats in every category while starting more of their shifts in the defensive zone. They handled greater responsibility, against top tier talent, and drove play. There’s also this:
Besides his bad luck, Theodore has outplayed Schmidt in every way possible this season. That’s not to say that Schmidt can’t return to being a productive part of the Golden Knights lineup, he’s still one of their three best defensemen. But it’s probably safe to assume that the eventuality Vegas was prepared for has been reached. Theodore is better than Schmidt.
Maybe it’s time to let Schmidt bring along the young ones, starting with Hague, and let Theodore assume the mantle of the 25-minute guy.
That’s not to say all the blame for the Golden Knights being the 22nd-best defense, with 2.53 expected goals against per 60 at even strength (not nearly good enough). No, some of that blame lies with other pairings like Deryk Engelland and Nic Hague (3.03 xGA/60) and Jon Merrill and Theodore (2.9 xGA/60).
A return to having McNabb will also help out Theodore. While he’s an aggressive forechecker and somebody who moves the puck incredibly well, he still needs a more stable defensive presence alongside him (although Theodore - Hague hasn’t been bad at all, with a 1.34 xGA/60 rate).
The defensive lineup has the talent down the roster to help. Merrill and Nick Holden can be a perfectly suitable third pairing if Schmidt and Hague work as a second pairing. But right now, the most important pairing must be reunited in Theodore-McNabb.
It’s the non-tangibles
There’s two things the Golden Knights need that they don’t currently have going for them. One is luck. The other is consistency. The Golden Knights need to get better from both of those categories if they’re going to get back to how they should be playing.
The Golden Knights’ even-strength PDO is 26th in the league. Where their lowest possession stat is 19th (expected goal share), they should be getting much better results than they are both in the shooting percentage category and from their goaltenders. Both should improve as the season continues.
Right now, nobody has a great on ice shooting percentage save those who have played precious few games (Schmidt, Roy, Tuch). Nobody else is over 10. That’s something that should change over the season. Just look at Theodore’s mark above. He’s one of the best play-driving forces on the team, and he can’t get a goal in the net when he’s on the ice.
The other missing factor is consistency. In wins, Vegas has a 54.42 percent Corsi, 53.79 percent shot share, 53.81 percent expected goal share, and 56.25 percent high-danger share. Those are all top-five possession marks if they were how the Golden Knights played the whole season.
But in losses, the Golden Knights have possession marks of 47.7 Corsi, 47.71 percent shot share, 43.91 percent expected goal share, and 46.46 percent high-danger share. Across the board bottom-10 marks. That’s a... whole range of potential outcomes (the overtime losses stray closer to these marks as well).
The Golden Knights have it within them to be one of the best possession teams, but they haven’t been able to do it consistently. If they’re able to nail it down more as the season continues, they can become the team they’re supposed to be.
A lot of things are going wrong. There’s bad parts on offense, defense and in the non-tangibles that need to be addressed. Goaltending has been an issue at times as well. But there are ways to fix this, if the Golden Knights are willing to address them.