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Hockey Analytics

Golden Knights' Active Blueline

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: March 19, 2020, 4:23 am ET

During a recent conversation with Rotoworld’s Michael Finewax, he pointed out that Golden Knights defensemen were producing more points under new coach Pete DeBoer than Gerard Gallant.

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Michael was correct, the Vegas blueline contributed 83 points in 49 games under Gerard Gallant, and 52 points with Pete DeBoer running the bench for 22 games.

Coach

GP

Gls with Def Pts

Total Pts

Def Pts

Gallant

49

47

158

83

DeBoer

22

25

74

52

Data for this table was contributed by the play-by-play feature on Evolving Hockey. Specific criteria (in this case, goals, shots and distances) were used to query the NHL play by play sheets that capture events that form the basis of hockey analytics. A great feature that requires being a Patron, but worth the contribution for such detailed data.

The Golden Knights defense is more active under the current coaching than under Gallant. This puzzled me, since a great strength had been Vegas’ ability to press to get pucks back from a broken play, rush attempt, or other factors in the offensive and neutral zone. The blueline was an active role here and my expectations would have set the bar higher for blueline contributions. That effort, the ‘compete’ if you will, to execute the game plan should have inherited points by being around the puck more often.

But that dwindled since the fairy tale inaugural season and the defense has contributed, but not as anticipated, and perhaps a contribution to the demise of coach, Gallant. Goaltending has taken a bit of a hit and they strengthened that position with the acquisition of Robin Lehner at the NHL Trade Deadline.

One player has blossomed under new coaching, Shea Theodore. After some failed pairing experiments, Theodore has benefited by being paired with fomer Kings rearguard, Alec Martinez and put up 18 points in the last 22 games (22-7-11-18). The former Ducks standout is ranked 25th overall among defensemen that have played 1000 minutes or more, with an IPP of 39.6% at 5v5, indicating he’s earned a point on 39% of on-ice goals scored – trailing only Nate Schmidt with a point on 41.3% on on-ice goals.

In 187.8 minutes, newly acquired, Martinez has a point on two-thirds of on-ice goals scored, with a 66.6% IPP and chipping in six points at 5v5 (2-4-6). That definitely deserves a small sample size citation, however, it’s a good start for the stabilizing blueline.

Martinez has had an overall positive effect since being acquired, on both sides of the puck at even strength. The table below outlines 5v5 on-ice contributions against (top) and for (bottom) in expected goals, shots for/against and goals allowed/scored by danger zones.

Alec Martinez and Shea Theodore Pairing

 

Vegas is getting more benefits at 5v5 in every zone, with this pairing than the shots/chances they are giving up and the experiment has been a success. Purely looking at results, the Golden Knights shot generation and suppression have performed differently under DeBoer than Gallant, but there are some warning signs.

The chart below plots out the 10-game moving average (data from Natural Stat Trick) of goals and expected goals. The dotted lines depict the moving average, while the faded values in the background show the noisy variance on a game to game basis.

The solid black line marks the coaching change. Vegas struggled to score goals at expected level, and were experiencing an uptick before the dip into the coaching change, continuing the slide after the peak in expected goals. Under DeBoer, they have been scoring more goals than expected at 5v5.

Vegas Golden Knights 5v5 Expected Goals

 

Inflated shooting percentage contributed to goals scored compared to expected. The effect is along the black dotted line in 5v5 shooting percentage, largely fueled by more success in medium danger zone goals – as high danger scoring shooting percentages are dipping recently.

Vegas Golden Knights Shooting Percentage

 

Increases in shooting percentage affect shot attempts inversely and it’s illustrated in the chart below, tracking the 10-game moving average for shot attempts (CF), high danger scoring chances (HDCF) and medium danger scoring chances (MDCF). As shooting percentage increased under DeBoer, overall shot attempts as shown by the blue dotted line cratered before picking up.

Vegas Golden Knights 5v5 Shot Attempts

 

Special teams play a part in this too. Starting with expected goals that has improved since DeBoer took over, however, unlike under Gallant, the Golden Knights aren’t outscoring their expected values. Their success under DeBoer has been influenced more at even strength, than on the power play.

Vegas Golden Knights 5v4 Expected Goals

 

Isolating shot attempts and high/med danger zone scoring chances, highlights a considerable increase in overall shot attempts, pulling dangerous scoring chances up as well.

Vegas Golden Knights Shot Attempts

 

Both the above charts contain a lot of noise in the background, which shows some of the randomness in the game. Normalizing with a moving average, the true team’s results are weighted to more recent performance. There’s enough history there now to show the effect of new coaching. They’ve activated the blueline more to contribute offensively and that’s paid off at even strength. The role of a defenseman is changing so dramatically, the trend of production under DeBoer should be noted for research into 2020-21.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey