Why the home-ice advantage has disappeared for the Golden Knights
After a 14-10-3 start to the season, it’s fair to say Vegas is different at home this season, but why?
Mark Stone, asked after a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team on the brink of the playoffs, on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, said that the team had been “too comfortable” at home this season. A 14-10-3 start to the season is a far cry from their previous home records, 29-10-2 in 2017-18 and 24-12-5 in 2018-19.
So what makes this season different? If it’s not just comfort, what explains this slow start?
Well, most of it lies in the goaltending. The Golden Knights skaters are actually playing some of their best hockey at home in franchise history. Through the first 27 home games, the Golden Knights have their best home even-strength Corsi, shot share, expected goal share, and their 57.51 high-danger share is very high (although not as high as their 2018-19 mark of 58.08).
The power play has been the best it has ever been at home so far, with the most goals per 60 (11.3) and shots per 60 (62.15) the Golden Knights have had on the man advantage. Their expected goals rate is lower than 18-19, but they’re finding ways to score, and it’s likely because of Max Pacioretty’s return to form, Mark Stone’s full-season help, and Shea Theodore finally finding ways to put up points.
The penalty kill has been good as well. They’ve allowed the most goals per 60 (8.30) but have their second-best expected goals against rate after 17-18 and have allowed the fewest high-danger chances at home in a season.
But the home goaltending for Vegas has been... well, a .895 save percentage really says all it needs to. Marc-Andre Fleury has a .898 save percentage in 12 games, Malcolm Subban has a .878 in four, and Garret Sparks’ .857 in 20 minutes of action isn’t helping either. This is a situation where playing Subban more might help — he’s started just two games within a week of another start at home, and those were Nov. 29 when he put up a .972 against Arizona and Dec. 8 against the Rangers (.800).
Historically, Subban has not been far behind Fleury at home. Subban has a .912 save percentage to Fleury’s .913, has saved -5.84 goals below expected to Fleury’s -16.6 (albeit in many more games) and has a .839 high-danger save percentage to Fleury’s .789. The thing is, in those 13 games in a Golden Knights jersey within a week of a start at home, Subban has a .920 save percentage, .38 goals saved above expected, and .850 high-danger save percentage.
Subban, if he can get the third game instead of the fourth and get more home games, could be the difference to a better record down the stretch for Vegas. It would leave Fleury rested for the playoffs, and Subban would gain confidence from getting more starts. He’s clearly better when used often than when missing nearly two weeks as he did before Jan. 9.
Everything else is luck — the Golden Knights have a 8.99 shooting percentage at home, but 18.18 on the power play (those could switch over the remaining 14 games) — but if the Golden Knights figure out their goaltending (and something as simple as playing the younger Subban more could do the trick) then they could be dangerous down the stretch.