It’s a bold statement to assert that one specific area of a team’s game was what not only eliminated them from the playoffs but also cost them a real chance to win the Stanley Cup. But that’s exactly what happened to the Vegas Golden Knights because of a lack of power-play production, and the numbers prove it.
Let’s dive right in. When it comes to goals-for overall in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning (3.26 GF/G) was almost a half-goal per game better than Vegas (2.79 GF/G). Tampa Bay had the best goal-against per game (all situations) in the playoffs at 1.97, while Vegas clocked in at 2.42. Again, roughly another half-goal per game difference. That makes Tampa Bay a full goal better than Vegas each and every game.
How did Tampa Bay score its goals during the playoffs? Boasting a 32.4% success rate, the Bolts scored 22 power-play goals on 68 chances. Vegas struggled mightily with the man advantage, finishing last among all 16 playoff teams with a 9.3% conversion rate. Vegas scored just four power-play goals on 43 chances over the course of three rounds. There is no stat that illustrates the difference more than the Bolts scoring 18 more power-play goals. Divide that by the four series Tampa played, and it’s just over four more goals in each series thanks to special teams. Tell me Vegas couldn’t have used that extra scoring.
To put it another way, Tampa Bay scored 75 goals in all situations over the course of its playoff run. Divide 22 by 75 and you see that 29.3% of the Lightning’s goals came via the power play. The Bolts scored 10 more power-play goals than any other team, with Boston and Colorado trailing behind with 12 each (although both played two fewer rounds).
When it comes to five-on-five production, believe it or not, Vegas was better on average than Tampa Bay. Total five-on-five goals saw the Bolts with only a slight 47-44 edge despite having played four more games than the Golden Knights. At all even-strength situations, the gap remains three goals at 51-48 in favor of Tampa Bay.
Of course, the Golden Knights tended to score goals in bunches. There were games they failed to generate offense, but every team goes through that in a long playoff run. What would have helped on a more consistent basis is special teams, specifically power-play goals.
If you crave a slightly deeper look into the numbers, we can do that. Vegas’ Corsi-for was second in power-play situations behind Tampa 168-153, and the Golden Knights produced a 92.17% Corsi-for rate which was second in the league behind St. Louis at 95 percent. Vegas’ Fenwick-for trailed only Tampa Bay 134-104 and Tampa was fifth in Fenwick-for percentage at 89.33 and Vegas sixth with 88.89 percent. Vegas even had a slightly better expected Goals-for percentage than Tampa Bay with the man advantage. But Tampa’s expected Goals-for was a massive 12.03 to Vegas’ (still pretty good) 8.24.
Looking at the numbers, it seems like Vegas’ power-play unit should have been right there with Tampa or at least close, not dredging the bottom in single-digit territory. This is where we talk about execution.
High-danger chances aren’t my favorite stat when used across all four lines and six defensemen. Let’s face it, a scoring chance on the stick of a pure shooter like Brayden Point or Connor McDavid is completely different than one on the stick of Zdeno Chara. But when it comes to a team’s power-play units, you’d expect that the club puts out the players with the best chance to score goals and I think the focused use is more applicable.
The most glaring stat is High Danger Goals-for, which Tampa Bay led with nine. Vegas had one. Tampa also led in High Danger Chances-for 35-24. It was something I talked about ad nauseum during the playoffs, but Vegas simply did not get the puck to the interior at all when it was up a man. Watch any power play from any series and the pattern is the same: move the puck around up top, occasionally get a pass through the box. Occasional jam play at the post. But as far as movement off the puck? Little to none. Ability to penetrate the box carrying the puck? Nope. Essentially getting into a high-danger area was not something the Vegas power play ever did.
Yet for reasons unknown, Vegas didn’t change what it was doing or really even personnel. There was no shakeup, just repeated head-butting of a brick wall. The worst part is that the head coach, the person whose job it is to figure out a strategy and employ it, couldn’t figure it out. He even cited the power play as a problem going back to the previous playoffs and still not figuring it out. Well, I hate to tell you coach, but that’s your job. And if you’re not able to figure it out, there’s a real need to find someone who can.
These are the numbers. The numbers say the Vegas Golden Knights were a tremendous team at even-strength in the 2021 playoffs. They also say the power play had the potential to be one of the best, yet fell far short when it came to the critical overall measure: goals. If you’re looking for the primary reason the Vegas Golden Knights fell short of a Stanley Cup this season, start with the power play.