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Is Jonathan Marchessault Out Of His Slump?

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

January has not been particularly kind to Jonathan Marchessault.

The Golden Knights’ right wing had spent most of the month frustrated and being thwarted by opposing goaltenders and the net which they protect.

Great saves. Hit posts and crossbars. Missed opportunities. They all contributed to a stretch that saw Marchessault kept off the scoresheet for six of the team’s first seven games in the opening month of 2019.

You could see the frustration on his face. But to his credit, Marchessault never stopped working, never stopped shooting. The good ones never do. He’s like a basketball player whose jump shot eluded him but he doesn’t stop taking jumpers. Eventually, they’re going to go in.

And that’s what is happening to Marchessault. He had a hat trick last Saturday in the 7-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Monday, he picked up an assist in the 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. That’s four points in his last two games.

So, is Marchy out of his slump?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We’ll get a better idea tonight when the Knights host Nashville at T-Mobile Arena in what is a very important game heading into the All-Star break. Marchessault may be reunited with linemate Reilly Smith, who has been out since Jan. 8. He has been skating with Brandon Pirri the last couple of games and that may have had something to do with his getting back on the scoresheet.

But getting Smith back would be big, not just for Marchessault and William Karlsson, the other member of the team’s top line, but for the Knights themselves.

You saw what defenseman Colin Miller’s return has meant to the team. Getting Smith back improves the power play, improves the penalty kill and make the other lines stronger. It also helps get the Knights closer to normalcy in terms of having the roster they envisioned at the start of the season.

Marchessault has not missed any time in 2018-19. He is one of four Knights to have played all 51 games to date (Karlsson, Brayden McNabb and Nick Holden are the others). Despite the early January drought, he still leads the team in goals with 17 and is second on the team in overall points to Alex Tuch with 35.

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What Colin Miller’s Return Means To The Golden Knights – Both Short-Term And Long-Term

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

The return of Colin Miller to the Golden Knights’ lineup should lift the spirits of every VGK fan.

Even if you don’t think he can save the Knights’ listless power play, getting the 26-year-old defenseman back on the ice is huge, both in the short term and especially long-term.

Miller missed 13 games after being injured Dec. 17 at Columbus. He confirmed after Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins that he had a concussion and given the length of time he was out, that makes sense. As we learned with Marc-Andre Fleury last year, you don’t cut corners with concussions. You let the brain heal, you get your bearings back and only then, when you are ready, do you return to the ice.

It’s crazy, four weeks feel like a year off. It’s definitely a different injury. It’s one of those things you have to deal with. It’s my first one in the pros. It’s a frustrating process because it’s such a slow process sometimes. You just have to make sure your body’s right. -Colin Miller

It was a very good performance. He logged just under 19 minutes of ice time, had two assists, was a plus-3, took six shots though only one was a shot on goal, blocked a shot and had a couple of hits. Best of all, he had no issues after the game.

Yeah. It’s just that when you’re off for that long you’re going to have a little bit of hiccups getting back into that. You know then the game starts to come together. -Miller

Yes, Jon Merrill and Brad Hunt did a good job filling in for Miller for more than a month while he recovered. And for Merrill, it appears he’s going back to the press box as a healthy scratch for now. He’ll handle it professionally and he showed he is worth keeping around.

So why is it really important that Miller is back?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He is one of the team’s best skaters and can move the puck out of his own end with his wheels. He also knows where his forwards want the puck and he is adept at getting it to them in the right spots.

He also brings some continuity back to the blue line. Gerard Gallant paired Miller with Nick Holden and that means he’s part of the third defensive pairing and it means he doesn’t deal with the opposition’s top forwards as often as Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb do. Though with the Penguins, he found himself dealing with Geno Malkin and Phil Kessel, two top forwards. So with Miller’s return, the third pairing has bolstered the overall lineup.

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The Prelude To The Sequel?

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Watching Tuesday’s first meeting between the Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets reminded me just how good the hockey is when these two teams get together.

It’s a fast-skating, hard-hitting, opportunistic kind of game. The atmosphere at the Bell MTS Place is amazing, just like it is at T-Mobile Arena. You can see both teams have a mutual respect for each other.

And they should. Both have been smartly built by their general managers. Both are well-coached. Both are always prepared. Both are playing at a high level despite key injuries.

Which begs the question: If you’re a Golden Knights fan, would you sign up right now for a sequel of last year’s Western Conference Finals?

Damn right you would. Ditto if you’re just a fan of the sport.

Tuesday may have been a prelude for what could happen this spring. The Jets prevailed 4-1 on the strength of a short-handed goal and pair of final-minute empty-netters. The Knights, despite a team-record 26 second-period shots and seven power-play opportunities, managed to get just one of their 43 shots by Jets backup goalie Laurent Brossoit. He is 10-0-1 as a starter this year and has won seven straight.

You know what, I like periods like that. I like games like that where I’m tested early and often. The second period was definitely one of those and it got me into the game. There’s not a lot of rest in between. I like that. -Brossoit

Yeah, the Knights ran into a hot goaltender. It happens. Think of all the opponents who mutter to themselves on the bench when they face Marc-Andre Fleury. But the Knights can take solace in the fact they went into a tough building, fell behind 2-0, kept battling, made it a one-goal game thanks to you-know-who (more on him in a moment) and had plenty of chances to gain a point or two.

If there’s a postseason rematch, will the Knight cut another Jet in half? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But that’s what makes things so compelling when I watch the Knights and the Jets. The matchups are great. The coaching battle so acute.

These two teams have two more meetings left in the regular season, both in Las Vegas — Feb. 22 and March 21.— and I would anticipate it’ll be more of the same. Hopefully, it leads to another meeting in the postseason.

By then, I would like to think Jonathan Marchessault will have scored again and William Karlsson will have registered a point. The team’s No. 2 and 3 scorers are trying to battle through some tough times. Marchessault has just one goal in his last 10 games while Karlsson has just one point since Christmas and has been held off the scoresheet for eight straight games, his longest drought as a member of VGK.

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The Jon Merrill The Golden Knights Hoped For Has Finally Arrived

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When the Golden Knights took Jon Merrill in the NHL expansion draft from New Jersey a couple of years ago, they basically were betting on the come.

Merrill had a little NHL experience. But the former University of Michigan defenseman could do a lot of things. He could skate. He could move the puck. He could take the body. He had good size. Basically, there were enough tools in the box for general manager George McPhee to take a shot.

And he didn’t cost a lot either. According to CapFriendly.com, Merrill was scheduled to make only $1,137,500 for 2017-18, so it was well within GMGM’s budget.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But Merrill didn’t get a chance to show he was ready to be an NHL regular. In 34 games last season, he averaged just over 16 minutes of ice time, had one goal and two assists. Many fans thought he wouldn’t be back for 2018-19.

However, he had a lot going for him. There was the salary. He was only 26. He was a good soldier and was liked by his teammates and coaches. It was more a matter of opportunity.

And when Nate Schmidt was suspended for the first 20 games of the season, Merrill got his chance. Coach Gerard Gallant paired him with Nick Holden, the free agent the Knights had acquired over the summer and who had essentially replaced Luca Sbisa.

But the pair struggled to find chemistry early. They were vulnerable in their own end. They made questionable decisions in when to pinch to keep the play alive in the offensive zone. And the skeptics figured Merrill would be the scapegoat and would be sent to the minors or just waived outright.

Yet, he stuck around after Schmidt returned Nov. 18. He didn’t see a lot of ice time and was a healthy scratch for 17 games of an 18-game stretch. But he never stopped working and assistant coach Ryan McGill, who works with the defensemen, kept Merrill engaged and didn’t let his confidence sag. At some point, another opportunity would present itself.

And it did. On Dec. 17, Colin Miller sustained an upper body injury against Columbus. He has been out ever since. But unlike Schmidt’s suspension where Merrill may have played somewhat cautiously, he has been aggressive and sharp. Gallant reunited Holden with Merrill as the third D pairing (Schmidt and Brayden McNabb are the top pair with Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore the second pairing) and voila! They’ve connected and have been a big part of the Knights’ recent success. The team won seven straight and have won eight of their last 10. The Knights have 60 points, one less than second-place San Jose and two behind first-place Calgary.

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The Golden Knights Keep Finding Ways To Win, Even Without Key Pieces

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Remember when I talked to Bill Foley a few weeks ago and asked him about Colin Miller? Remember his response?

But he’ll be back pretty quick. I just talked to him and he should be back soon. -Foley

“Pretty quick” has turned into “Quite a while” for the Golden Knights’ defenseman. He is an important part of this team and for him to be out of the lineup taxes everyone else on the VGK blue line.

Yet the Knights continue to win. They beat the New York Rangers 4-2 Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena for their seventh straight win. They’re tied for first place with Calgary in the Pacific Division and are at the top of the Western Conference race with 58 points heading into Thursday’s huge game with San Jose at T-Mobile. The Sharks trail the Knights by a point.

And it’s not just Miller that VGK has been missing. They’ve had to do without Max Pacioretty, William Carrier and Reilly Smith along with Miller. Pacioretty is back and he has taken Smith’s spot on the top line with William Karlsson (Happy belated 26th birthday Wild Bill!) and Jonathan “Bleepin Spider Monkey” Marchessault. Who knows how long Smith will be out? So let’s see how Patches fares with his new linemates. He looked pretty good Tuesday, working hard as always, standing up for Karlsson after he was hit from behind by Tony DeAngelo in the second period.

And while Smith’s absence is big, the Knights have enough depth to compensate for his stint on IR. My bigger concern is Miller. He is missed on the power play. He is missed when it comes to joining the rush. He is one of the team’s best skaters and he can recover for his partner, or himself and get back in the play.

Miller has not played since sustaining an upper-body injury Dec. 17 at Columbus. Tuesday was the 10th game he missed. He has skated sporadically on his own at City National Arena in the last week but there’s nothing to indicate he’s close to rejoining the lineup.

When you see him taking a turn in practice in a grey defenseman’s practice sweater, that’s when you’ll know Miller is close to getting back to playing in games.

Yet it feels like he’s not missed. So how are the Knights winning without a valuable cog in their lineup?

It begins and ends with Marc-Andre Fleury.

No. 29 continues to play at an elite level and he can cover for his teammates’ miscues. He’ll tell you he’s just doing his job. But it’s more than that. He’s inspiring confidence in his teammates. They know they can screw up occasionally and have Fleury cover for them. It has been that way since Day One of the franchise.

Even backup Malcolm Subban has done very good things when he’s between the pipes. When your goalies are playing well, it gives everyone a little more boost of energy because you don’t want to let them down.

And let’s give some credit to Jon Merrill and Brad Hunt, who have alternated filling in for Miller. Merrill has played in seven of the team’s last eight contests and he has proven to be relatively reliable playing with Nick Holden. The two struggled together when they were paired together early in the season when Nate Schmidt was sitting out his 20-game suspension.

But Schmidt has played extremely well since his return in late November and having him out there logging the heavy minutes he normally does helps the entire defense corps. Merrill and Holden are back together and they seem more comfortable as a pairing and maybe the fact Holden has settled in has something to do with it.

Deryk Engelland said it’s all about everyone just doing their job. If you’re inserted into the lineup, whether you’re a defenseman or a forward, you’re expected to fit in.

I think we’ve kept things simple and playing as a five-man unit, like we did last year. The guys have done a really good job filling in (for Miller) and we’ve done that all season. When guys have gone out, it’s given other guys a chance to step up and play more minutes. -Engelland

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Las Vegas Is An NHL Town; Can It Be A College Hockey Town?

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Late in my chat with Bill Foley a couple of weeks ago, we got around to briefly talking about high school hockey in Las Vegas and how it was important to launch the sport in town to help grow the game.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to talk college hockey.

This weekend, four NCAA Division I teams — Western Michigan, Connecticut, Air Force and St. Lawrence played at T-Mobile Arena in the 2nd annual Ice Vegas Invitational which was won by WMU, 4-1 over Air Force (Uconn beat St. Lawrence 6-3 in the third place game). It was a nice event and even though it was sparsely attended (Just 1,800 on Saturday), it will hopefully be a forbearer for the future.

My hope is we’ll have the NCAA Frozen Four championship here and perhaps UNLV will one day be a participant once it goes Division I.

Pipe dream you say? A realistic possibility, says me.

Let’s start with bringing the Frozen Four to Vegas. With the NCAA willing to host championship events in cities that have legalized sports betting — Yeah, Vegas qualifies! (LOL) — the possibility exists that a Frozen Four could land here.

With the hotels, casinos, restaurants, clubs, shopping and temperate weather, Las Vegas would be a great host city. Fans would love to come here for the weekend and root their teams to the title. The locals, at least the smart ones, would be part of a likely sellout crowd. The Golden Knights would obviously be on the road for what would correspond to the final week of the NHL regular season. But that’s easily done.

Who doesn’t love a major sporting event in Vegas? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Unfortunately, they would also be out of town the second week of March as the Pac-12 basketball tournament takes over the T. So two of the final four weeks would see the Knights on the road, and if they are in a battle for a playoff spot or division title, being away from home could potentially prove problematic.

But the overall good of the game would trump any inconveniences. College hockey has been a proven breeding ground for future NHL players. Just look at the Golden Knights’ current roster — Nate Schmidt and Erik Haula (Minnesota), Alex Tuch (Boston College), Max Pacioretty and Jon Merrill (Michigan), Brad Hunt (Bemidji State) and Paul Stastny (Denver) all played collegiately. Having the Frozen Four would no doubt motivate local kids to pursue the game at a higher level and try to get to the NHL through the college route.

Which brings me to UNLV.

As most of you know, the Rebels have been skating as a club program for over 15 years. They currently play at the Division I level of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. They sell out City National Arena and they have a strong following, both on campus and in the community.

You may also know the program is aspiring to go varsity, and do it soon. They were making some headway with then-president Len Jessup and then-athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy. They had secured some of the $15 million the team thought it would take to go varsity, including providing funding for a women’s sport, most likely lacrosse, though hockey wasn’t completely out of the question.

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The Real Paul Stastny Has Arrived

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When James Neal opted not to re-sign with the Golden Knights back in July, the team lost one of its smartest players.

But not to fret. The Knights acquired a player with a very high hockey I.Q. when they signed Paul Stastny.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The veteran center knows how to play the game. He does things the right way. He understands the subtleties of hockey and he makes his linemates better, which is what any playmaking center is supposed to do.

But when he got hurt in Buffalo back on Oct. 8 and missed 30 games, everyone forgot all those characteristics. He was out of sight and out of mind.

He has been back for 10 games now and with his return, the Knights have returned to the top of the Pacific Division standings. He is centering the second line and despite an ever-changing cast on his flanks, Stastny is producing as are his linemates.

The initial plan was to have Stastny center for Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch. But he has also played with Erik Haula, Reilly Smith and Brandon Pirri. Currently, the line is Stastny, Tuch and Pirri. Pirri has six goals and three assists. Tuch, who has 14 goals, the latest an empty-netter to seal Tuesday’s 2-0 New Year’s Day shutout of the Los Angeles Kings, has registered at least one point in five of his last six games.

Stastny said it’s all about communicating.

It’s not that hard to adjust (to playing with different players). You talk on the bench and make sure everyone is on the same page. -Stastny

Pirri, who has bounced around the NHL and has played with a lot of good players, said Stastny is really good at adjusting his game to fit his linemates’.

His character is so good. He makes my life and Tuchy’s life so much easier. He tells you where he’s going to be and he gets you the puck. He’s a playmaker and all you have to do is get open and he’ll get it to you. -Pirri

But it’s not just the obvious that makes Stastny so effective. It’s the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that he does over the course of a game.

Here are two examples:

Midway through the first period Tuesday, the Knights had lost possession in the Kings’ zone. No big deal, right? You try and win back the puck and you start over. Stastny did just that by getting to a loose puck, then making a subtle but sweet backhand pass to Ryan Carpenter who turned it into a quality scoring chance.

Jack Campbell made the save on Carpenter. But because Stastny knew where to be on the ice, he was able to get to the puck, then knew what to do with it.

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The Approaching New Year Doesn’t Mean A New Start For The Golden Knights

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

LOS ANGELES — The calendar turns the page to 2019 on Tuesday and for most of us it’s a chance for a fresh start, an opportunity to change our lives and routines and improve our overall lot.

However, if you’re an NHL team, it doesn’t quite work that way.

By now, the 31 teams have already made their bed, so to speak. And barring collapses or rebirths of epic proportions, the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom of the standings figure to remain in place over the second half of the season.

The idea that Tampa Bay is going to crater seems highly unlikely. The Lightning have dealt with their fair share of injuries yet they remain the NHL’s elite team. Toronto, which is second overall in the NHL and has the misfortune of playing in the same division as Tampa Bay, also doesn’t appear to be in any danger of an imminent collapse. But boy, wouldn’t it be something if the Maple Leafs did indeed nosedive and somehow miss the postseason? The reaction from Leafs Nation would be insane.

Instead, the most rabid fans are already planning a Stanley Cup parade down Yonge Street in Toronto.

What about the Golden Knights, you ask? Patience, SinBinners. I’ll get to your beloved team in a moment.

At the other end of the spectrum, the likelihood the improved Kings can rally and make the playoffs is slim. Even with the better effort they’ve given Willie Desjardins since he took over for John Stevens, the Kings appear to have dug too deep a hole to climb out of. Especially since Calgary continues to play at a high level and the Flames have responded well to first-year coach Bill Peters.

Ok, so now let’s talk about the Golden Knights.

Vegas is weathering the storm of injuries and have positioned itself to be a postseason participant. They have been doing it with key pieces missing (you know who they are) and the fact is the Knights are managing to fill the void with some very nice individual efforts.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Cody Eakin had a strong first half as he filled in for Paul Stastny and Erik Haula on the second line. Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves have given the bottom six some unexpected scoring. Alex Tuch has emerged as a quality power forward. William Karlsson has found his mojo after a slow start.

The return of Nate Schmidt helped the entire team. Nick Holden’s play has gotten better as he has gotten more comfortable.

Brandon Pirri is making the most of his opportunity since being called up from Chicago (I’m not counting the Christmas “demotion” which was basically George McPhee using the rules to his advantage).

And of course, Marc-Andre Fleury is playing like an All-Star, which he should be when the rosters are announced in a week or two.

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Do The Golden Knights Miss Colin Miller? You bet!

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When Nate Schmidt returned to the Golden Knights’ lineup last month after serving his 20-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, everyone assumed everything would be fine in the VGK universe.

Of course, everyone was assuming that Colin Miller would always be in the lineup too.

That was a safe assumption considering Miller had never missed a game, regular or postseason. He, along with William Karlsson, were the Knights’ Iron Men. Gerard Gallant could put their names in the lineup in indelible ink and not worry.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But Miller got hurt Dec. 17 against Columbus. He sustained an upper-body injury and he hasn’t played since. The Knights lost to the Blue Jackets that night and have struggled with Miller sidelined since. They didn’t look good in beating the Islanders last Thursday, squandered third-period leads to Montreal Saturday and Los Angeles Sunday and in doing so, left two valuable points on the table. Those two points would have looked pretty good this morning as you peruse the NHL standings.

Vegas has 44 points, one behind second-place San Jose and just three behind Pacific Division-leading Calgary. Yes, they’d be in the postseason if the playoffs started today. But given the way things are shaking out, every point matters. And those two points are going to have to be made up on the road somewhere — maybe at Nashville or Winnipeg — where the Knights will not be favored by the oddsmakers.

So what’s the point?

This team needs Colin Miller back on the blue line, pronto.

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The Creator Speaks – On A Load Of Subjects

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Bill Foley looked tired. And indeed, he was.

The chairman and CEO of the Golden Knights and the man who brought the NHL to Las Vegas had gotten home late from Thursday’s exhilarating 4-2 come-from-behind win over the New York Islanders at T-Mobile Arena.

He was about to spend 90 minutes outside “The Arsenal” team store at City National Arena Friday afternoon, signing copies of the team’s official book that recapped its magical inaugural season. And the line was long. After all, how many fans get to meet the owner of the team they root for?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But that’s what makes the man Ken refers to as “The Creator” so special. He loves interacting with the Golden Knights’ fan base. He’s so down-to-earth that even though he’s a billionaire, he can relate with those who sit in the balcony at the Fortress and who have invested more than money in this team.

I found that out early on when I first interviewed Foley back in 2014. Friday, we sat down in a conference room adjacent to his office at CNA, an office, which by the way, is fairly spartan. Not a lot of memorabilia or pictures. Very simple, perhaps an ode to his West Point days in the 1960s.

We talked for just over 16 minutes (you can listen to the entire audio of our conversation below) and we touched on a wide range of topics.

Remember, this is a man who had to bury his son in August after 31-year-old William died. He is still grieving and he admitted he’ll never get over his loss.

You can replace an injured player or a player who is under-achieving. But you cannot replace a family member who died way too early.

But he said hockey and the Golden Knights have been cathartic. And for those couple of hours when the Knights are playing, he can allow himself to focus on the team and the game.

It’s a great distraction. -Bill Foley

Normally, this would be a regular column. But Foley had so many interesting things to say, I figured why not let you hear and read everything?

So here’s my Q&A with the Top Knight from Friday afternoon:

SinBin: How would you assess the state of the Golden Knights on the ice at the moment?

Bill Foley: “Honestly, I believe we’re in a really good spot. We’re 22 away and now 15 at home. It’s the biggest split in the league. I think the next closest is the Avalanche who are 20 and 15. So we got through that horrendous period of five at home, 17 away.

“One of the goals was to get a point a game. We needed 17 points and we got 20, so we got through that. And we did it with a lot of injuries. (Max) Pacioretty is out again for a bit. (Erik) Haula’s month-to-month …”

SB: Did you see that brace on his knee?

BF: “Yeah, it’s terrible.”

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