For the first time in a long time, the Golden Knights are entering the season without a clear picture of exactly where they stand in the Pacific Division. There’s an easy argument for making them remain among the top contenders, but it’s also not hard to point to the runners as a reason why that didn’t happen.
Let’s stay on the positive side today and take a look at what must happen to the Golden Knights to raise the Third Division banner in six years. If Vegas hits every one of these marks, they’ll not only cruise the playoffs, but win the Pacific.
Brett Howden, Nic Roy, or anyone else with less than 100 career points score 60
Depth is one of the biggest questions for the Golden Knights this season. While they have a group of seasoned NHL players to play in the bottom six, there aren’t many proven scorers among the lot. Howden and Roy are the obvious candidates to take a huge step forward, but names like Paul Cotter, Brendan Brisson, Sakari Manninen, Jonas Rondbjerg or a few others could make the leap as well.
For the Golden Knights to truly act as the dominant force in the division, they would need an unexpected surge of scoring from someone. It doesn’t matter where that happens in the lineup either. If a player does this on a streak with Jack Eichel or Mark Stone, it will leave a more established scorer to boost the third streak. Or, if it happens on the third or fourth line, Vegas will be able to load the top six.
Don’t miss the combination of Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, William Carlson, Jonathan Marchesault and Alex Petrangelo 30+ games combined
No team can lose their best players for long, but some are able to withstand it better than others. The Golden Knights were not well prepared to stop the flow of any of their biggest lost assault rifles. Vegas needs to score goals out of these five players and they will all have a huge responsibility to defend against the best opponents. If one or more is missing for longer than a week here or there, the slate shuffling that needs to be done will leave an already shallow slate with big holes in it.
VGK is slightly better prepared defensively to hold out if Pietrangelo goes out, but the minute carry on his shoulders and his importance in transitional attack cannot be dispensed with by the likes of Ben Hutton, Kaedan Korczak or Daniil Miromanov.
The team that the Golden Knights bring to camp on paper is surely good enough to win the division, mainly because of the roles everyone falls into with full health. Stocked in the middle, they have a top six, boast an eclectic mix of defenders, and have enough depth to fill a full roster of 18 skaters. They’ll hold up just fine if they miss one or two players not mentioned above, but even just a month without any of the top players would be costly.
VGK finishes in the top ten in the fewest number of high-risk chances allowed at 5-on-5
Bruce Cassidy’s “goalkeeper friendly” system is based on keeping the disc away from the center of the ice and winning loose balls in front of the net. During his time in Boston, the Bruins were always one of the most difficult teams to create high-risk scoring opportunities against. Last year, and at times during the first three seasons, the Golden Knights failed in this category.
If Cassidy’s defensive system suits Vegas as well as Boston does, it will allay the goalkeeper’s fears as at least one Logan Thompson, Adin Hill or Laurent Prosuite will be able to take over the fort. The scoring problems that plagued the Golden Knights would also ease because it would only take two or three per night to win most matches.
The Golden Knights have done it before and still have several players who have led the team to the Jenning Cup, but they fell behind last year, and getting them back is the only way to return to the elite of the National Hockey League.
The strength play percentage plus the penalty kill percentage add at least 106%.
The last piece comes on special teams. Cassidy is well known as a wizard in the power game and it is widely expected that VGK will improve on its clip by 18.4% a year ago. The question lies more in the death penalty. Last year Vegas ended the murder penalty at just 77.4%, which was good for the top 21 in the NHL.
Therefore, combined, the Special Golden Knights teams finished with only 95.8%. Only seven teams were worse, and six of them finished in the bottom ten in the standings last year. 106% requested a lot, but six different teams did so a year ago. All of them had a kill penalty of at least 82% or the top ten in the league.
For the Golden Knights to do so, it would take a drastic improvement by both units. If they did, almost all other problems with the team would be gone because dominating special teams would be a goal of the night.
So there you have it. Do these four things and the Golden Knights should blast off a 105-plus season and crush the rest of the field in the Pacific.
Tomorrow, we’ll do the opposite, figuring out what must happen to the Golden Knights so that they miss the playoffs in consecutive years.