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Behind The Numbers

James Neal, Reilly Smith should key offense for Golden Knights

Vegas expected to be outshot often, will lean on Marc-Andre Fleury in shootouts

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

The Vegas Golden Knights had the freedom to craft their identity in any number of different ways in the NHL Expansion Draft. Based on the underlying numbers, general manager George McPhee opted for a roster that is at risk of getting outshot but that is focused on winning close games with grit and clutch scoring, and should be able to be successful in the shootout.

Among its 30 selections and the several additional players acquired through trades, the Golden Knights lineup will include top goal-scorer James Neal, do-it-all top-six forward Reilly Smith, hard-hitting defenseman Alexei Emelin, master shootout goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and a defense with below-average shot-based metrics.

Here is a breakdown of some key numbers:


Success in the shootout

Fleury has won the Stanley Cup three times and is one of the best shootout goalies in the NHL.

Since the shootout was introduced for the 2005-06 season, Fleury has stopped 199 of 269 shots, a .740 save percentage. That ranks third among active goalies who have faced at least 50 shots, behind Jhonas Enroth of the Anaheim Ducks (.753) and Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche (.752).

Fleury's success has led to a 53-29 shootout record, a .646 winning percentage which ranks third behind Varlamov (.659; 27-14) and Enroth (.647; 11-6).

Video: NYI@PIT: Fleury denies Tavares in the SO to win it


Elite goal scoring

Offensively, the Golden Knights will rely on Neal, who has been one of the League's best goal scorers since 2011-12, when he scored 40 goals, led the League with 18 power-play goals, and was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team.

Over the past six seasons, Neal ranks 14th with 165 goals and 10th with 1,394 shots. Five players have taken more shots and scored more goals than Neal in that span: Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens, Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars, Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins and John Tavares of the New York Islanders. 

Neal has also scored on 17 of 48 shootout attempts (35.4 percent). The next best goal-scorer on Vegas is David Perron. He has taken 912 shots and scored 106 goals over the past six seasons and has scored on 17 of 49 career shootout attempts (34.7 percent).

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm3: Neal banks puck in off Murray's glove


Doing it all

In acquiring Smith from the Florida Panthers, the Golden Knights received one of the most well-rounded top-six forwards.

Smith scored 87 points (40 goals, 47 assists) in 162 games in two seasons with Florida, which was preceded by 91 points (33 goals, 58 assists) in 163 games with the Boston Bruins.

At 5-on-5, Smith's teams have bested its opponents 4,080-3,410 in shot attempts over the past four seasons, for an SAT of plus-670 that ranks 34th in the NHL. Neal ranks 31st with an SAT of plus-680.

When shorthanded, Smith played a total of 324:43 minutes in his two seasons with the Panthers, which ranked second among their forwards to Derek MacKenzie (353:06) and 22nd among all NHL forwards. In this role, he likely will play with forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a defensive specialist who ranked third (418:10).

Video: FLA@MTL: Smith buries Jokinen's cross-ice dish


Shot-based difficulties

As an expansion team, Vegas likely will get outshot in its first season, but it may prove to be worse than expected for the Golden Knights. Their top four defensemen, based on NHL salary-cap charge and average ice time, each has below-average shot-based metrics.

This season, the Tampa Bay Lightning's share of all even-strength shot attempts dropped from 53.0 percent to 48.4 percent with Jason Garrison on the ice, for a relative SAT percentage of minus-4.6 percent. Luca Sbisa had a relative SAT percentage of minus-3.1 percent, Alexei Emelin was minus-2.6 percent, and Marc Methot was minus-1.1 percent.

Video: FLA@VAN: Sbisa snipes the corner with great shot


Pure grit

To address the potential shot-based shortcomings, Vegas selected plenty of hard-hitting, gritty defensemenDeryk Engelland, Clayton Stoner, and Emelin, who finished in the top 10 in the League in hits.

Emelin is one of five players to rank in the top 10 in hits in each of the past two seasons, with 256 in 2015-16 and 241 in 2016-17. He has 1,236 hits in 380 games, which ranks ninth in the NHL over the past six seasons

Video: BUF@MTL: Emelin checks Reinhart

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