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How The Vegas Golden Knights Can Get Back In The Playoffs

Vegas Golden Knights Playoffs

One of the greatest expansion teams ever assembled is the Vegas Golden Knights. Success followed immediately and the fan base has been blessed with playoff hockey and fun ever since. It’s a great atmosphere with the intro and theatrics, but this past season was the first time the team missed the playoffs. It is like the hockey Gods were giving the team karma for some reason. But ever since missing, can the Vegas Golden Knights get back to the playoffs? That’s the answer we’re looking for today.

How The Vegas Golden Knights Return To The Playoffs

For the first time ever, the Vegas Golden Knights missed the playoffs. Despite finishing with a 43-31-8 record and 94 points, the team fell out of the playoff picture during the final week of the regular season. Overall they were a very good team finishing 13th in goals scored (262) and 14th in goals against (244). But injuries took a toll on the team.

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Why They Missed The Playoffs

If one could sum it all up in one word, it is injuries. At the start of April, Robin Lehner would go on to miss the rest of the season. The team rode Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit the rest of the way. Captain Mark Stone missed two months with a back injury. Premiere sniper Max Pacioretty missed time on several occasions suffering setbacks. Reilly Smith also missed time with a knee injury. Even Jack Eichel had a slow start in the Sin City, only having 25 points in 34 games. That’s not bad per se, but the expectations of Eichel are high. All of these were in the second half of the season as the playoff push was down to the wire. Had these not occurred, these were players that can dictate a game.

No need to panic in Sin City. This team was built for playoff success and just had a brutal injury-plagued year which they overcame the best they could. But now they need to bounce back and try to get a playoff spot again.

The State Of The Team

Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in their existence, Vegas is heading into the season in good shape. Despite having to trade Max Pacioretty to the Carolina Hurricanes due to cap reasons, the group up front is still stacked. A core consisting of Eichel, Stone, Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault is solid. The team brought in Phil Kessel for extra scoring punch as well. As for the back end, Vegas is deep and has a good group led by Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore.

The worst news came out that goaltender Lehner will be out for the season with an injury. With the current cap crunch, they could not afford a big upgrade. The team went out and acquired Adin Hill from the San Jose Sharks. As it stands Thompson and Hill will be sharing the net. With the better structure in front of them, it could help elevate their play. Overall, the roster is in good shape despite some big names missing.

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Vegas Team Stats

Year             G/GP               GA/GP

2017-18.     3.27 (5th).      2.74 (8th)

2018-19.     3.00 (13th).    2.78 (10th)

2019-20.     3.15 (13th).    2.94 (13th)

2020-21.      3.39 (3rd).    2.18 (1st)

2021-22.      3.20 (13th).   2.98 (14th)

The team had the league’s best penalty kill with an 86% success rate in 2020-21. The team ranks sixth in win percentage with .579 over the last five seasons. They have displayed flashes of brilliance and even though they are a middle-of-the-pack team in these categories, the state of the team is in good shape. 

The New Sheriff In Town

In their short history, Bruce Cassidy will become the third head coach in team history. Gerard Gallant was the inaugural coach and took the team to the Stanley Cup Final. In shocking events, he was then replaced by Peter DeBoer after the 2020 season. Refer to the chart above and you can see what the team was like under Gallant. After the last two seasons, it is now Cassidy’s time to shine and take this team back to the promised land.

Life under Cassidy will feature a better defensive structured system. During six seasons with the Boston Bruins, the team finished in the top 10 in GA/GP

2016-17: 2.55 (9th)

2017-18: 2.57 (4th)

2018-19: 2.59 (3rd)

2019-20: 2.39 (1st)

2020-21: 2.39 (4th)

2021-22: 2.66 (4th)

The Golden Knights have always been a middle-of-a-pack team in this regard, under Cassidy this team will be better defensively making them more lethal in that regard. With a stout blue line that features Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, and Alec Martinez there’s optimism for a better structure given the talent.

No shade at Pete DeBoer, Bruce Cassidy is a great head coach and has one of the highest winning percentages of the last five seasons. As good as the Golden Knights were under him, Cassidy will elevate this team in the little areas of the game.

Areas Of Improvement

To summarize, special teams play needs to improve. Vegas was a very good team in terms of possession at even strength, ranking 8th in Corsi For Percentage (52.58). But for a team that has the firepower that it does, improvement is needed in the special teams department. 

Power Play

Vegas finished 26th in the league in power-play goals (36) and allowed six goals with the man advantage. The team’s that finished below them were all high draft selections in this past draft. A first unit power play unit consisting of Eichel, Stephenson, Stone, Marchessault, and Pietrangelo should be doing more damage than none. As a result, the team finished 25th in the league with an 18.4% success rate.

Under Cassidy, the Bruins also finished in the top five for the power play except for the 2021-22 season. The Vegas Golden Knights are coming off back-to-back seasons where they finished 20th and 22nd in the league. The Bruins’s power play was disastrous to end the year, but with the arsenal at his disposal for a power play, Vegas should improve in this area.

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Penalty Kill

Despite finishing 21st with a 17.7% success rate on the penalty kill, the team made you pay while shorthanded. The Golde Knights finished fifth in the league with nine short-handed goals. Problem is, they were middle of the pack allowing 46 power-play goals.

Under new head coach Cassidy, this should improve in both areas. The Bruins also finished in the top four in goals against as a team this past year. His penalty kill demonstrated that with the league-best PK in 2016-17, Ranked third in 2017-18, and Second best PK in 2020-21.

The X-Factor

Even though there are areas of improvement, however, there is an X factor here. It may make or break the season but good play in goal can go a long way for this team. Lehner is out for the season and the tides have turned toward Thompson, Brossoit, and Hill. Hill will most likely compete with Brossoit, but the organization is high on Thompson and rightfully so.

The 2021-22 season was his first real dose of NHL medicine. Thompson was stellar down the stretch finishing with a 10-5-3 record. The netminder posted a .914 save percentage and 2.68 goals against average. He was stellar in the high danger area posting a .830 save percentage. Thompson posted .856 in the medium danger and .966 in the low danger. His high danger save percentage ranked first among goalies who played 10 games. The workload will be heavier than this past year, but he will be up to the task. It was a small sample size, but you saw flashes of brilliance in his play.

The team is deep up front and on the blue line, but life after Fleury and now Lehner will be the x-factor for the Vegas Golden Knights to make the playoffs.

Closing Thoughts

The Vegas Golden Knights will make the playoffs this upcoming season. Bruce Cassidy will play a large part in getting them there. They are too talented of a team not to. With the star power on that team and the balance shown in all three areas of the ice, getting back to the big dance should not be a tall task. They missed by three points, not 10. Is the goaltending situation not ideal considering it used to be Golden Knights legend Marc-Andre Fleury? Yes, it is. But with the team in front of the goaltending and better structure from Cassidy, this team will challenge for not only a playoff spot, but the Pacific Division crown.

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