Golden Knights looking less like world beaters after first slump in 10 months

The defending champs have won just two of their last seven games after getting out to an incredible start to the season. Is this a trend or blip for Vegas?

NHL fans are getting awfully used to watching the Vegas Golden Knights dominate their opposition.

The team is coming off a 16-6 run en route to their first Stanley Cup championship, and they started the season 11-0-1. The Golden Knights even finished the 2022-23 regular season on a tear by going 22-4-5 from February 1 until the playoffs opened.

A couple weeks ago the idea of Vegas going on an extended cold streak was nearly inconceivable — particularly after it dismantled the heavyweight Colorado Avalanche by a menacing 7-0 margin on November 4.

Yet the very next day the Golden Knights began their worst slump since January, going 2-4-1.

During that stretch the Golden Knights have scored 2.43 goals per game and been shutout twice. Their only wins have come against the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens — and they just squeezed by the Habs by a single goal. Just one of their losses came against a team that made the playoffs last season.

Those results are not encouraging. Every team has a rough stretch here and there, but the standard Vegas has set is so high that a couple of poor weeks truly stand out.

The Vegas Golden Knights are looking for answers right now. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
The Vegas Golden Knights are looking for answers right now. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

The good news for the Golden Knights is there are underlying numbers to suggest they haven't fallen off a cliff. Since November 5 the team ranks first in the NHL in shots-for percentage at 5v5 (57.77%) as well as high-danger chance rate (62.05%) and expected goal share (57.85%). They haven't been rewarded for the pressure they've put on at all with a 5v5 shooting percentage of 4.72%.

An inability to finish in 5v5 situations has been made worse by ineffective special-teams play. During their current slump the Golden Knights rank 19th in the NHL in power-play efficiency (18.2%) and 20th in penalty killing rate (77.3%). That has the look of a longer-term issue.

Since the beginning of the 2022-23 season this team has the 15th-best power-play unit (21.0%) and the 17th-ranked penalty killing unit (79.1%). Those numbers were better early in 2023-24, but it's possible this club will be at a special-teams disadvantage against some of the NHL's top contenders. However, it's tough to say that's destined to be a flaw that brings the team down when it managed just fine on the way to a Cup last season.

Considering the only major issue the Golden Knights are currently encountering is an inability to convert chances into goals, the question worth asking is whether this team has meaningful lack of finishing talent.

While fans of other Western Conference teams would like the answer to be "yes" it would be tough to make that argument. In the first 12 games of the season the Golden Knights put up middling possession numbers at 5v5 (46.24 xGF%) and produced strong results thanks in part to a shooting percentage of 11.3%.

More subjectively you can look up and down this roster and find no shortage of quality finishers including Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone and a red-hot William Karlsson.

Even guys who are off to slower starts like Ivan Barbashev, Chandler Stephenson and Brett Howden can be counted on to convert when giving the opportunity.

The stretch the Golden Knights are in the midst of is reminiscent of the Edmonton Oilers' early-season struggles where the team was playing fine, but couldn't seem to buy a win. Edmonton fired its coach despite having some of the best underlying numbers in the league, and have had better luck since.

Vegas won't fire head coach Bruce Cassidy to achieve a similar results, and the team's solid goaltending makes it less susceptible to extended runs of futility like the Oilers just experienced.

Unfortunately for every other team in the Western Conference with Stanley Cup aspirations, the Golden Knights look like they will find their way back to rag-dolling opponents sooner rather than later.