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Playoff Alec Martinez As Advertised In Game 1

When the Golden Knights acquired Alec Martinez, the first line of every article about him included his postseason successes. Prior to arriving in Vegas, he’d won two Stanley Cups, played in 64 playoff games over six different seasons, and scored game-winning goals to clinch both the 2014 Western Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s always been about the playoffs with Martinez, and just one game into the actual playoffs as a Golden Knight, it’s already evident why.

Martinez logged 20:58 of ice time, the most of any Golden Knight, and was on the ice for three Vegas goals without conceding any. He added one assist, had two hits, was responsible for two scoring chances, and had four shot attempts. His main contribution, as advertised though, was his shot-blocking.

I thought (Alec) was great. Particularly some big blocked shots on our penalty kill. He’s just so solid. You can put him out in any situation. He’s a versatile guy. He’s been a real good addition for our group. -Pete DeBoer

Martinez blocked four shots including one big one on a dangerous chance on the penalty kill.

Of the team leading 20:58, he played two minutes on the penalty kill, 1:13 on the power play, and had a 173 second shift late in the 2nd period of a one-goal game. Plus, nearly nine minutes of his ice-time came in the 2nd period, when the game was being decided.

Martinez also spent the majority of his night (more than 11 minutes) sharing the ice with the Blackhawks’ most dangerous offensive line of Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach, and Alex DeBrincat. At even-strength, the Golden Knights allowed just five shot attempts, two shots on goal, and zero high-danger scoring chances with Martinez on the ice vs the Hawks 2nd line. He and Theodore posted a 70% Corsi against the high-skilled line and held them to a dismal 0.09 expected goals.

All in all, Game 1 was everything the Golden Knights could have hoped for when they were in the market for a defenseman at the deadline, even if the price was steep.

How The Golden Knights Broke Open The Blackhawks In Game 1

The early going of any series is going to come with what is commonly referred to as a “feeling out process.” Teams usually play pretty close to the vest, not revealing their entire game plan for the series and it tends to lead to slow-moving hockey. It doesn’t always go that way, but there’s no better way to characterize the opening frame of Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Blackhawks.

Not only did neither team score in the 1st, there weren’t even many great chances. Between the two teams, there was a total of five-shot attempts from inside the “house” in the entire 1st period. Most chances came from far away and both teams did well to thwart the opposing team’s attack.

I thought they played hard and were pretty hard defensively. You could tell they were trying not to give up much either. -Pete DeBoer

As the game went on though, the Golden Knights took what was already a slow game and made it even slower. In the 1st period, they were looking to strike quickly when in the offensive zone, and with Chicago’s commitment to defend it led to short offensive possessions. In the 2nd, that started to change and the game did with it.

I think we did a better job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the 2nd period and on. They’re a rush team, so we don’t want to get into a track meet with them. Once we can get them to stop in the d-zone we can control the game a little bit more. It all came from offensive zone time and holding on to the puck behind the net. -Reilly Smith

Instead of playing the brand of fast transition hockey that helped carry the 2017-18 Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, these Golden Knights slowed the game down, controlling the puck with more purpose, and methodically broke down the Chicago defense.

All four Vegas lines followed the same pattern as the game went on, defaulting to more of a cycle game than we’re used to seeing. Where Chicago’s defense preferred to collapse into the dangerous ice in the 1st period, the controlled offense from the Golden Knights forced them to open up in the 2nd and 3rd. Playing from under the goal line drug Blackhawks defensemen to the puck opening up shot lanes from the point and half-wall.

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Where, When, And How The Blackhawks Scored And Conceded Against Edmonton

Chicago is a team with a mix of high skill, youth, and hard-working players. They’re most known for the dazzling hands of Patrick Kane and the professionalism of Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, but it’s the work rate from players like Matthew Highmore, Brendan Saad, Olli Maatta and others that helped them win the series against the Oilers.

Chicago won the series in four games while outscoring the Oilers by just one goal, 16-15. The 1st period accounted for 14 of the 31 total goals including a whopping nine from the Hawks.

I went back and watched every goal scored in the Blackhawks’ series against the Oilers to try and get a feel for how they scored their goals and what went wrong when they allowed them. Here’s what I found.

How Chicago scored

  • They liked to play the puck out to the point and set up multiple players in front of the goal to tip. The tips usually came from right around the edge of the faceoff circle and rarely did the Oilers have a defenseman covering the tipper.
  • Chicago’s forecheck was strong along the walls creating turnovers and opening up extra offensive chances. After forcing the turnover, Chicago looked immediately to make the decisive pass to set up the goal.
  • They took advantage of many defensive lapses from the Oilers, especially puck watching. They caught Edmonton with passes to wide-open players for one-timer goals on multiple occasions in the series.

How Chicago conceded

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Who Are The 2020 Chicago Blackhawks? A Quick Blurb On Every Player

(Photo Credit: Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

The Golden Knights’ first round opponent is the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite being bolstered by multiple players who have hoisted three Stanley Cups, the Blackhawks are the youngest team remaining in the playoffs at an average age of 26 (VGK is nearly 29).

You probably know the names Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford but it’s guys like Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, and Dominik Kubalik who will have just as much impact on the series as the Hawks superstars.

With a little help (he literally wrote the whole thing) from Mario Tirabassi of the Blackhawks podcast “Mario on Hockey,” here’s a quick rundown of every player in Chicago’s lineup.

**Check out the latest episode of Mario on Hockey featuring me. Don’t worry, I picked VGK in 5 even on the Blackhawk centric podcast.**

Jonathan Toews – The player with possibly the most fitting nickname in all of hockey, “Captain Serious” has seen a rejuvenation in his game over the past two seasons and his performance in the Qualifying Round against the Oilers was a reminder that when the lights are brightest, the guy shows up.

Patrick Kane – Still one of the most talented players in the league offensively. Nearly on a 100-point pace during the regular season, much of the Blackhawks’ successes this season were because of him. He was “quiet” in the Qualifying Round with one goal and three assists, but still facilitated much of Chicago’s attack.

Kirby Dach – A rookie, technically, Dach has improved his game so much over the course of this season that he is now trusted with anchoring the Blackhawks’ second-line with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. His size, speed, and vision for the game are still developing, but he is quickly becoming a key factor for Chicago.

Alex DeBrincat – He didn’t record a goal during the Qualifying Round, but his shot is his most effective weapon in his arsenal. Has a habit of being invisible, not in a good way, at times. But when he’s on, he can cause problems.

Brandon Saad – His return to the Blackhawks over the past two-plus seasons has been a roller-coaster. Still counted on as a key player in all situations, Saad hasn’t shown consistently that he can be the game-breaker he showed during Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup runs.

Dominik Kubalik – What a steal for Chicago. Acquired for a new soda machine and a bag of pucks, Kubalik has developed into a key piece to the Blackhawks’ success this season. He’s going to finish third in voting for the Calder Trophy, but his 30-goal season is nothing to scoff at. He’s dangerous on the powerplay with a cannon of a shot.

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Round Robin Adjustments – vs. St. Louis Blues

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Complete series: Dallas, St. Louis, Colorado

We’ve broken down two out of the three round-robin teams (Colorado and Dallas) the Golden Knights will be facing, so let’s finish it off with the St. Louis Blues.

vs. St. Louis: (2-1) 4-2 L, 5-4 W OT, 6-5 W OT

Let’s start with this, all three games between Vegas and St. Louis were highly entertaining. It’s hard to forget former Golden Knight David Perron hugging current Golden Knight Max Pacioretty’s leg, which then led to seven different roughing penalties. Vegas was fortunate to win the two OT games because of two improbable comebacks. In both victories, the Golden Knights trailed the Blues after two periods of play. They will need some of that never-give-up mentality in the round-robin, especially with Jordan Binnington in net. However, it’s unlikely St. Louis will blow many more three-goal leads.

Areas of Adjustment

  • Keep your heads on straight

The Golden Knights will have to improve their discipline against St. Louis. Not only for the fear of the Blues strong power play, but also because St. Louis can successfully agitate teams. They pestered their way to the Stanley Cup final last season, and they clearly enjoy annoying the Golden Knights.

Against St. Louis, Vegas averaged only six minutes in penalties per game, however in their second matchup the Golden Knights spent 12 minutes in the box. Granted many were matching penalties but when the Blues power play hit the ice they took advantage. St. Louis scored the opening and overtime forcing goals on the power play. Take those away and Vegas probably wins the game in regulation. Vegas turned the tables on St. Louis in their third matchup, scoring four times on man-advantages including on in OT. Their four power-play goals were the most scored in one game for the Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are the better team at even strength so if they keep from being dragged into the muck, they should be able to handle the Blues.

  • Contain Offensive Defensmen

It’s no secret St. Louis has elite weapons on the blue line. Three of their top five season leaders in shots were defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo led the entire team with 225 shots on net. In the three meetings with the Golden Knights, the Blues got 23 shots and 10 points from defensemen. Vegas will have to get in the way of some of those shots or make it tough altogether for St. Louis’ D-men to get one off.

One way the Golden Knights can frustrate the Blues defensemen is by blocking shots and by creating high-zone pressure. Quite like the strategy Vegas used against Pete DeBoer’s San Jose Sharks in their 2018 postseason series.

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Round Robin Adjustments – vs. Dallas Stars

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Complete series: Dallas, St. Louis, Colorado

Continuing with our Round Robin adjustments, next we examine the Dallas Stars and the challenges the Golden Knights face. Dallas ended the shortened season with a solid 82 points, but a low goal differential of +4. The Stars scored the second least goals in the Western conference but also allowed the second least in the NHL. The two reasons for this are their defensive style and outstanding goaltending, both which have shown up against the Golden Knights.

vs. Dallas: (1-1) 4-2 L, 3-2 W OT

In both games this season, Dallas scored the opening goal of the contest. As mentioned above, the Stars are a low scoring team that can hold on to a lead better than most so that first goal feels like a much bigger hole against Dallas than anyone else in the Western Conference.

Record when Dallas Scores First: 23-5-4
Record when Leading After 1st Period: 17-2-1
Record when Leading After 2nd Period: 23-1-2

As you can see the Stars do a good job of locking down the opponents’ offense when holding a lead. However, the Golden Knights are also outstanding when scoring first, and lost out on a measly six points in 35 games when they held a lead after two periods.

Record when Vegas Scores First: 26-6-2
Record when Leading After 1st Period: 19-3-3
Record when Leading After 2nd Period: 31-2-2

The numbers show that Vegas is in fact a better club holding a lead, and they allow almost a half goal more goal per game than Dallas. The Golden Knights winning percentage is .764 when they score first to the Stars’ .718 which is why the game’s first goal is crucial. This is especially important if the goaltending holds an edge over the shooters in the round-robin stage which we believe it may.

Penalties were an issue again for the Golden Knights when they played the Stars back in November. Vegas awarded Dallas two power play opportunities in the first period, one in which Alexander Radulov scored the opening goal. The Golden Knights were called for three early penalties and the game was essentially lost after the first twenty minutes.

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“We’re Built To Play”; In Front Of Fans Or Not

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s going to be different. It’s going to be quiet. It’s going to be weird.

But according to Mark Stone, it’s going to be just as intense as ever when the games finally get going in front of empty seats at a hub city somewhere in North America.

No matter what the surroundings or what the setting is, I think the intensity is going to be there. -Stone

Vegas fans are so used to seeing their team play in front of 18,000 screaming fans inside of a building with a sound system that makes jet engines sound like lullabies. They’re also used to players both home and away explaining how important to fans are to the success of the Golden Knights.

But the fact of the matter is when you take it all away, as awkward as it will look visually, hockey is still hockey and the best players in the world will be competing for the same prize they’ve dreamed of winning since they were young boys.

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Round Robin Adjustments – vs. Colorado Avalanche

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Complete series: Dallas, St. Louis, Colorado

It’s only three scheduled games, but the round-robin sets up to be a difficult week for the Golden Knights. Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis are highly competitive teams that each have had their success against Vegas this season. In seven combined games, the Golden Knights winning percentage is .428 (3-4-0), and all three of their victories came in overtime. Thus, the Golden Knights collected six points in that seven-game span but gave out 11.

Over the next week, we will breakdown where things went wrong against each of the three round-robin teams and identify the areas in which the Golden Knights can adjust to correct the issues. Today we start with the Avs.

vs. Colorado: (0-2) 6-1 L, 7-3 L

Vegas was overmatched in both games against the Avalanche. In their first meeting, the Golden Knights allowed seven goals on 40 shots on net. The most goals and shot total from an opponent all season. In their second matchup, Colorado scored six goals and took 38 shots on net, the second most goals against, and third most shots allowed by an opponent.

The Avalanche’s special teams were also a problem for Vegas. The Golden Knights totaled 17 PIMs in their 7-3 loss against the Avalanche on 12/23. Putting aside Deryk Engelland’s five for fighting, Vegas was called for tripping, cross-checking, delay of game, and two high-sticking penalties. It was the Golden Knights third-most penalty minutes served all season and it hurt them. The Avs took advantage scoring two power play goals and starting 56% of the faceoffs in the Golden Knights defensive zone. It wasn’t just Colorado’s power play that gave Vegas trouble. In total, the Avalanche scored three power play and two shorthanded goals this season against the Golden Knights.

Even more concerning is in six periods of play vs. the Golden Knights, the Avalanche scored two or more goals in five of them. So goaltending will need to be a big factor for Vegas, no matter which goaltender is in net. Oh and by the way, neither Marc-Andre Fleury nor Robin Lehner were able to hold the Avalanche from scoring.

Fleury vs. Colorado: 0-2, .713 GAA, .828 SV%
Lehner vs. Colorado: 1-1, 5.59 GAA, .822 SV%

Areas of Adjustment

  • Clean it up

It all starts with the penalties. Both games against Colorado were played under Gallant, when the penalty kill was actually more successful than it has been under DeBoer. However, no matter which PK strategy Vegas uses, Colorado has a high probability of shredding it. The Avs ability to enter the zone with speed will give the passive forecheck PK fits. The simple solution is to stay out of the box, but that’s easier said than done against a high-tempo team. The key will be to avoid the foolish penalties. No offensive zone penalties, delay-of-games, or too-many-men calls. If Vegas can avoid those, the three or four they give in the D-zone shouldn’t be the difference in the game.

Maybe as importantly, when the Golden Knights have the man-advantage, they absolutely cannot concede as they have twice this season against Colorado. It’s one thing to let power plays go without scoring, but giving up shorties can and will sink the Golden Knights.

Finally, clean exits of the zone will be crucial. In the first two games, the Colorado forecheck ate up the Golden Knights breakouts at times. That turned into quick offense for the Avs and Vegas falling into holes they couldn’t get out.

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DeBoer’s Deployment Strategy

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night was the biggest game the Golden Knights have played since Pete DeBoer took over as head coach. It wasn’t a “must-win,” but it was certainly one that had a lot more consequence to lose than any of DeBoer’s previous 20.

I once heard a scout explaining why he loved scouting the OHL playoffs. It wasn’t because he wanted to see how the players would perform under pressure, but because of the information that could be gathered by how the coaches used each player. Coaches want to win and they’ll inherently do what is best to help their team do it. If that means playing the best player 28 minutes, so be it. If it means sticking someone else on the end of the bench only to see four shifts in the whole game, it is what it is. Ice time is a direct reflection of trust and trust is the best compliment a coach can give a player.

It’s an overly simplified idea, but it’s surprisingly useful and can be applied to every level of the game. That’s why last night I was so interested in usage, which ended up leading me down a rabbit hole to see how DeBoer rolls his players out on a nightly basis.

In Calgary, the Golden Knights and Flames played 54:16 of 5-on-5 time. Brayden McNabb led all defensemen with 20:58, while Nick Holden brought up the rear with 13:07. DeBoer played his top-four defensemen more than 20 minutes apiece and neither Holden nor Zach Whitecloud crossed the 14-minute mark.

As for forwards, he leaned on his top-nine. The 1st line played around 15 minutes, 2nd played about 14:30, and the 3rd saw about 14. The 4th line played about nine minutes, yet they were able to tally the all-important opening goal.

It’s not all about time though. Deployment can be even more important. Where is the puck when each player starts their shift? Against the Flames, there were 22 offensive zone draws, 23 neutral zone draws, and 12 defensive zone draws.

Remember, any time there’s a faceoff there’s a stoppage in play, so it gives a coach an opportunity to make a line change.

Nate Schmidt and McNabb were on the ice for seven of the 12 defensive zone draws. No other player was out there for more than four. On the flip side, Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore, Holden, and Whitecloud all took 10 of the 22 offensive zone draws, leaving just two for Schmidt and McNabb. Clearly, the Golden Knights have determined that Schmidt and McNabb are the go-to pair when the puck is in the Vegas end.

That’s not surprising. It’s with the forwards that it’s a bit more interesting. The 4th line of Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier led all forwards with eight offensive zone draws. 37% of the offensive zone draws went to the line least known for scoring. Meanwhile, arguably the Golden Knights best offensive players, William Karlsson, Max Pacioretty, and Nic Roy, were out there for just two of the 22 offensive zone draws. Yet, the line starting in their own zone the most created more shot attempts, more shots on goal, more high danger chances, and more expected goals, while allowing fewer across the board (weighted by minutes played) than the 1st and 3rd lines, while being basically right on par with the 4th line.

This had me wondering, is this normal? Is DeBoer constantly putting the top-six in defensive roles and the 4th line in an offensive one?

The answer is, yes he is.

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DeBoer Starting The Fourth Line To “Drag The Group Into The Game”

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Prior to the start of the game, the Coach of the visiting team is required to name the starting line-up to the Official Scorer. Then, the Coach of the home team, having been advised by the Official Scorer the names of the starting line-up of the visiting team, shall name the starting line-up of the home team.

I cleaned it up a little to make it less awful to read, but that’s directly from the NHL’s rule book, Rule 7.1. This happens about 10 to 20 minutes before puck drop and for the most part, it’s insignificant.

But every once in a while there’s a bit of a game within the game being played by one of the coaches, and that’s been the case for the new coach of the Golden Knights over the last three games.

The starts weren’t good prior to me getting here, and the first two or three games that I was here. Particularly the Boston game, I thought we didn’t start playing until the 10-minute mark. -Pete DeBoer

Last night against Tampa Bay, DeBoer sent out Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier. In Nashville, he started Nosek, Reaves, and Nic Roy. And in Carolina, he went with Roy, Reaves, and Carrier.

So, the 4th line, sorta. In all three games, the official lineup was announced as Nosek, Roy, and Reaves on the 4th line with Carrier playing on the 3rd line. Yet in two of the three Carrier was in the starting lineup with the 4th line. Both games, that was the only shift Carrier took with Reaves, Nosek, or Roy. Nonetheless, DeBoer essentially played a 4th line to start each game.

In response, Tampa Bay countered with their dominant 1st line (Kucherov, Stamkos, Point), while both Nashville (Sissons, Blackwell, Watson) and Carolina (Martinook, Williams, Fleury) came back with their 4th lines.

Vegas won the opening draw in all three games, instantly got the puck in deep, and held the opposition without a shot attempt. Against Tampa, Carrier created a dangerous chance, the only one by either team in the three opening shifts.

In all three games though, the starters did their job, exiting the ice in a better position than they started. To start the game the draw is in the neutral zone with neither team having position (obviously, that’s the point of the opening draw). When they left, each time the line of Paul Stastny, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault came on either already in the offensive zone or with a free clear from the D-zone as the opposition changed lines as well.

No goals, no shots on goal, but positive shifts all three times from the 4th line starters.

One thing about those guys is they’re ready to go, and they drag the group into the game. I think they’ve done a great job the last three games. I thought we’ve had great starts, and that’s a credit to those guys setting the tone. -DeBoer

In 22 road games this season under Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights didn’t start the 4th line, or any combination resembling it, a single time. In fact, in 118 road games coached by Gallant, his 4th line center never took the opening draw.

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