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Golden Knights Deployed New Defensive System Against Nashville

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

They’ve changed personnel, it didn’t work.

They’ve changed lines, it didn’t work.

Now, they’ve changed a system, and while it also didn’t work, they won and you can’t say the Golden Knights aren’t trying whatever they can to turn this season around.

We played a little bit different system in the D-zone and we’re trying to strike fast. -Reilly Smith to ATT Sportsnet in 2nd intermission

The change came when all 10 players were in the Golden Knights defensive zone. Rather than playing straight-up man-to-man like they normally do, Vegas went to a zone system similar to how they defend power plays.

We made some changes a little bit. At times we were a little confused but we didn’t hang our heads. We didn’t sulk when we got scored on we just kept playing with it. -Paul Stastny to ATT Sportsnet after game

Before we show exactly where things went wrong in Nashville, let me illustrate exactly how the change looked. To the greaseboard!

Here’s how the Golden Knights normally defend in their own zone.

The idea here is that the winger (in this case #61 Mark Stone) stays with his man (#59 Roman Josi), while the center or defenseman (#26 Paul Stastny) stays with his man (#19 Calle Jarnkrok). No matter where each player goes, or whether the puck goes with them or not, the Golden Knights stay with their player. It’s like man-to-man defense in football or basketball.

Last night, they went with a zone.

This time, #61 Stone hands-off #59 Josi to #26 Stastny as he activates off the blue line and heads down towards the goal. Stone stays at the point while Stastny stays down lower and picks up Josi.

Here’s what it looks like in reality.

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Inability To Win Loose Pucks Asks Questions Of Effort And “Fire” Vs. Edmonton

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There’s not much worse in sports than when a team loses and the reasoning behind it is described as a missing intangible. Not enough effort. Didn’t play hard enough. Didn’t want it. Weren’t hungry.

None of those descriptions have any actual meaning. They aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are vast generalizations used in place of showing the real problems.

Unless you can show it where it impacted the game, any claims of lack of effort, missing hunger, or an absent will to win are hollow.

Personally, I try to stay away from mentality based criticism because it’s nearly impossible for me to prove my point. Against Edmonton, the proof was there. Whichever intangible phrase you want to use, the Golden Knights lived up to it, and the examples were plentiful and didn’t discriminate based on line, position, or skill level.

Quite simply, the Golden Knights were dominated in puck battles. Whether it was loose pucks, 50/50 pucks, battles on the walls, stick battles, or anywhere else, the puck did not move the correct way for Vegas far too often.

I charted the entire game and counted a total of 37 times the Golden Knights failed to win a puck that they could have. That includes 15 in the first period alone, which I cut up and put together in this horrifying video.

Watch how much the puck moves away from the Golden Knight’s attacking zone. Notice how often players are outmuscled and fall to the ice. See how many times Vegas skaters get to the puck first and still don’t win it.

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The Stick Lift: One Of The Many “Little Things” Cody Glass Does Well On The Ice

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When you watch Cody Glass play, you aren’t often going to see highlight reel dangles, top-shelf shots, or flashes of skill that will wow you. Instead, you really have to watch closely to see the things Glass does best on the ice.

His positioning as a center is basically flawless. His ability to see the game at such a high-level has him making the correct pass most of the time. And the way he skates allows him to cover massive amounts of ice making him a spectacular defensive player.

You’ll hear announcers, analysts, and writers refer to these skills as “doing the little things,” mainly because instinctively they know he’s a solid player, but it’s easier to use a cliche than to actually point out a tiny piece of the game when there are 100 other things going on. This often leads to these skills get overlooked, especially the most minuscule of them. That’s why today, I’m here to illustrate something Cody Glass constantly does on the ice that creates turnovers, opens up space for himself and teammates, and frustrates the heck out of opponents along the way.

It’s a skill he mastered while picking on unknowing defensemen while playing in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks, and it’s called the stick lift.

(Zooming in on your computer or phone makes these much easier to see.)

 

It’s kind of a force of habit. I don’t even notice it anymore so it’s cool that you guys are noticing it. -Glass

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What The Hell Actually Happened On The #NotAMajor Penalty Kill?

Yeah, I feel that way too, Will. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Buffalo Sabres have the kicked “No Goal,” the Oakland Raiders have the “Tuck Rule,” and the English national soccer team has the “Hand of God.” Those moments will live forever for the fan bases of each respective team, and unfortunately three months ago the Golden Knights joined the club.

The controversial #NotAMajor call on Cody Eakin opened the door for the San Jose Sharks to recover from a 3-0 deficit to score four goals on a phantom five-minute penalty call. There’s no debating it, the call was wrong and without it, the Golden Knights would have won Game 7 and been off to the 2nd round of the playoffs.

But, as easy as it is to say that, it’s just as easy to say, “or they could have not allowed four goals inside of the same penalty kill.”

Understandably, Golden Knights fans are probably not rushing to the film room to take another look at exactly what happened, and admittedly I wasn’t either. But, after 88 days, it was finally time for me to figure out what the hell actually happened. How in the world did the Golden Knights, a team that had never allowed two goals on the same power play, a team that has killed penalties at an 81% clip, and a team who killed 26 of 29 (90%) in the series, allow FOUR on the same power play?

Let’s start from the top.

**For the sensitive and/or squeamish, I did my best to cut the clips as tightly as possible to avoid watching the puck go in the net and the celebration. You’re welcome.**

Goal #1 (0:06 of PK elapsed)

Paul Stastny loses a draw clean to Tomas Hertl who wins it directly back to Erik Karlsson. However, the Golden Knights get into their penalty killing shape pretty quickly and take away any dangerous shot lane for Erik Karlsson. Nonetheless, Erik Karlsson rips a shot directly into the legs of Stastny and Hertl. It’s a terrible shot, it could have easily bounced somewhere else and Vegas cleared it, but, it didn’t. Instead, it bounced directly to a Shark. Stastny couldn’t find it quickly enough to stop the cross-ice pass. Then, the only line of defense is Deryk Engelland. He kneels down for a block, but Logan Couture shoots high. Marc-Andre Fleury never fully gets across. He’s made that save before and it would have been a hell of a save, but on that one, it snuck through.

Really, there’s no one to blame on this one. Maybe you can make the argument Engelland could have done more to block the shot. Maybe you can argue Fleury could have made the save. Both are fair, but harsh. For me, this is a bad bounce on a well-defended shot that leads to a team playing a man down looking like they are a man down.

Goal #2 (0:55 of PK elapsed)

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Cody Eakin Talks About What He Went Through Following The Major That Wasn’t

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It took nearly two full days, but finally, it was time.

Moments before heading into his final meeting with the media, Gerard Gallant spoke to Cody Eakin for the first time following the penalty that changed the series against the San Jose Sharks.

We left him alone. To be totally honest with you, I talked to him five minutes ago in the lunchroom and I said, ‘Cody’ and he said ‘Turk, I’m fine.’ -Gallant

With just over 10 minutes left in the game, Eakin was given a five-minute major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct, therefore ending the night for him, and eventually sinking the Golden Knights season. The NHL has since admitted the call was incorrect by informing, separately, George McPhee and The Creator via phone. They’ve pulled the referees who made the call from the playoffs, ending their seasons as well, and the process of changing the rules on how a penalty like that will be handled in the future are already underway.

He said ‘I know I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m fine.’ He said ‘I can move on and go from that.’ So, you know, you felt bad for Cody but he’s fine and he’s ready to go. And again, nobody is blaming Cody Eakin, obviously. -Gallant

And while no one is blaming Eakin, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have to live through what can only be described as one of the worst nightmares the sport of hockey has ever dolled out to an individual player.

Actually when they called me out of the box I thought, okay they reviewed it and realized it wasn’t a penalty and I was going back to the bench, but they said no you are gone.

They said get off the ice and that’s pretty much all that was said. There were no arguments or disagreements because really at the time I wasn’t quite sure what happened. I saw him on the ice but I know I didn’t cross-check him in the face or make him bleed personally. It was just accidental, so when he was on the ice bleeding I was kinda shocked I said what the heck just happened. -Eakin

That was pretty much the response of everyone on the in the arena, including the officials. What the heck just happened?

The only thing everyone knew was the San Jose Sharks Captain was laying on the ice, out cold, bleeding from the head and his only participation in the play was a face-off. He must have been seriously injured by Eakin, it’s the only thing that makes sense with this outcome, or at least that’s what the referees thought.

Everyone now knows that’s not what happened. But the referees went off script, didn’t follow the protocol laid out in the NHL Rulebook, made up a penalty they thought must have happened. It changed a series, the future of two franchises, and the night (and probably life) of Cody Eakin.

So I went right to the room where the extra guys were watching it. I watched the replay and figured out pretty quickly exactly what happened. I watched it about 20 times and then went to the locker room, sat there, and watched the rest of the game. -Eakin

What happened was a standard cross-check following a faceoff, which happens on just about every faceoff in the NHL. The result caused a player to lose his balance and incidental contact with Paul Stastny caused Joe Pavelski to fall dangerously onto the ice and hit his head. It’s not a major penalty, it’s probably not even a minor, it’s more so an unfortunate play in an intense Game 7 that is taking place on a surface made of ice, which at times can be slippery.

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A Tough Way To End

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

On April 16, the Golden Knights held a 3-1 series lead over San Jose. Everyone was making plans for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Whether it was how you were going to pay for your playoff tickets, where you would attend a watch party or merely rearrange your schedule to watch or listen, you had every reason to believe your team was going to be playing hockey in May.

Problem was, no one bothered to tell the Sharks.

And while it will be part of the team’s and the NHL’s history that the third-period call on Cody Eakin which resulted in a five-minute major penalty that led to the Sharks scoring four times and ultimately eliminating the Knights 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night at SAP Center, the fact remains the Knights failed to seal the deal.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

They got outplayed in Game 5. They failed to capitalize on numerous Grade-A chances in Game 6. They had a 3-0 lead in Game 7 with just under 11 minutes to play.

You want to blame the referees? I’m not going to dissuade you. The call wasn’t only egregious, it was on the wrong player. Yes, Eakin cross-checked Joe Pavelski. But it was Paul Stastny who hit Pavelski and caused him to fall to the ice. If anyone deserved to be sent off, it was No. 26.

Obviously the decision to assess a major rather than a two-minute penalty had a tremendous impact on the game. In addition to having played well Tuesday and scoring the second Vegas goal, Eakin was one of the Knights’ top penalty killers and with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare not even playing, that’s the team’s top two front-line killers missing.

Yet the Knights still had enough quality people on the ice to kill off the penalty. Reilly Smith, Tomas Nosek, Will Karlsson, Mark Stone, Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb — all took regular turns killing penalties this season and had been effective doing so.

The penalty kill essentially evaporated as the Sharks took full advantage of their man advantage to take the lead.

You still give up four goals on a power play, that’s just too many. Whether or not it’s a penalty or not, you still can’t do that. -Nate Schmidt

To the Knights’ credit, they found a way to respond with Jonathan Marchessault tying the game with 47 seconds left in regulation and forcing OT.

That said, the Sharks deserve credit for their resiliency, going back to Game 5. They never gave up and whether or not they deserve to advance against Colorado can be debated given the call. But no one can question San Jose’s resolve.

It was a hell of a series, one that will be memorable for numerous reasons.

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It’s Not Over – Yet

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

The stunned silence inside T-Mobile Arena Sunday evening was deafening.

Tomas Hertl’s shot from the high slot had managed to elude Marc-Andre Fleury and the San Jose Sharks remain very much alive in this opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Golden Knights following their 2-1 double-overtime win.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Watching from the press box as the Sharks celebrated, I couldn’t help to think what was going through the minds of virtually all of the 18,458 who had come to watch their team advance to the next round, were expecting handshakes but instead left wondering if this was their last visit to their beloved Fortress.

After all, it had been a strong effort by the home team. They had unleashed 59 shots on the other team’s goaltender. They had dominated play for good portions of the contest. They had spotted the visitors a 1-0 lead with 6.5 seconds left in the first period only to come back to pull even.

So why aren’t we talking about the Knights playing the Colorado Avalanche this morning? Why is there still unfinished business with San Jose?

The Sharks deserve the lion’s share of credit for extending this series to a deciding Game 7 Tuesday. They are a tenacious, opportunistic bunch. Their goaltender, Martin Jones, has rediscovered his game and his coach, Peter DeBoer, stuck with him when everyone was demanding he start Aaron Dell in net for Game 5.

Jones has played great in his last two games and it starts with him when looking for any explanations as to why this series is still ongoing.

I think our group has never lost faith in him. I think we knew he was capable of this and we needed him tonight and he was our best player. -DeBoer

Jones said he’s just trying to play the right way and not overthink things. It’s working out pretty well of late.

I’m sticking with it and just trying to read the game and play loose for the last few games. Trust my game and trust our team. -Jones

The Knights tipped their cap to the San Jose goalie. What else could they do?

Yeah, we were all over them. We had great pressure and forced a lot of turnovers. Martin Jones was pretty good tonight; you have to give him credit. -Jonathan Marchessault

But it’s not just San Jose’s goalie that has the Knights in this position. Hertl and Logan Couture, two players I had said before the series that the Knights had to contain, have dominated. Couture got the first goal and he has four in the series. Hertl has five goals. As a team, the Sharks have 18 goals, so that’s two guys generating 50 percent of the offense.

Yes, both are tough to play against. But if the Sharks advance beyond Tuesday, they’ll be the reason why.

(Hertl’s) confidence is as high as he wants it. You can see that, and you feed off him. He’s been a huge piece for us -Joe Pavelski

How has this series flipped in the last 72 hours? In the first four games, the Knights’ top line was Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Combined, they had 12 goals and 28 points. The last two games? Zilch. Stone had a gift 1:25 into Game 6 as he had an empty net to shoot at. His backhand was wide. If he scores, it changes the entire complexion of the game.

Pacioretty also had an open net and it took a great play by Pavelski to deny him as he managed to get his stick on Pacioretty’s at the right post before he could score.

Tomas Nosek and Reilly Smith also had Grade A chances in the opening 20 minutes and both failed to convert. If any of those go in, we’re probably talking about Colorado.

But hockey is as much mental as it is physical. And as we head to Game 7, the onus is on the Golden Knights to reboot mentally and emotionally.

You could see those seeds being planted immediately after the game from Gerard Gallant and his players.

You get ready to play, you forget about tonight, it’s over with now and you move on and get ready for the next one. We played a heck of a game tonight. I’m proud of our guys. The way that they competed; 59 shots on net. It wasn’t our night, but there is still another day for us, fortunately. We will get ready for Game 7 and be ready to go. -Gallant

And this from Marchessault:

We’re confident in the group we have here. We’re a confident group and a great hockey team. Just have to keep going and stick with it. I think if we keep playing the right way, like we did tonight, I think we’ll get rewarded. -Marchessault

What it boils down to is the Knights’ best players have to show up and outplay San Jose’s best. That has not happened in the last two games. Fleury has to play better. The Stastny line has to play better. The Knights’ entire defensive corps has to play better.

And while it is encouraging to see Marchessault and his line starting to generate some offense, it may not be enough. The bottom six need to help with the heavy lifting. Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch have only a goal apiece. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves have been kept off the scoresheet the entire series.

There’s nothing you can do when flukey things happen. Shea Theodore tried to prevent Hertl from scoring in the second OT and he got his stick on Hertl’s stick a split-second too late. And yes, maybe Fleury should have stopped that one, but that play all started by the Knights’ failure to maintain possession while on a rare OT power play. So if you’re looking to assign blame, you can point to all six players on the ice for Vegas.

But what’s done is done. As the players said afterward, you turn the page and you move on. But the stakes are obviously raised at this point. There’s no more cushion to fall back on. No more house money to play with. It’s one game, winner take all.

So why will the Knights win?

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Game 7 Mentality For Game 6 Reality

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are one win away from advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Although it’s not an elimination game for Vegas, many players are mentally preparing as if tonight’s contest is a series-deciding Game 7.

We’ve got to play like it’s our last one.-Cody Eakin

Yesterday, several Golden Knights expressed having a Game 7 mindset. Jonathan Marchessault has been a part of every clinching game in franchise history. The forward knows how crucial it is advancing in less than seven games. Something Vegas never faced during last season’s Cup chase.

This has to be the biggest game of the series. We need to close it out. It’s hard to do but we need to want it more than them. -Jonathan Marchessault

Golden Knights veteran Max Pacioretty has played in a handful of deep series over his eleven-year career. His focus for tonight’s game is the same as if it were an elimination game.

There’s really no excuse when you come home and you have a day off, and then a practice day the next day. No matter what, you should feel one hundred percent. You get a day off you really need to use it to your advantage. Sure, both teams have it but at the same time we feel that being at home in front of our crowd… we’ve found ways to get them to be the difference maker in home games. -Max Pacioretty

Eakin is only concerned about winning because he’s aware of the edge San Jose would gain if they were to force a Game 7.

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What’s The One Thing Vegas Must Be Better At In Game 6

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights dropped their first closeout game in franchise history in Game 5, falling in San Jose 5-2. It was far from a perfect game for either team, but the Golden Knights certainly didn’t play a terrible game (like they did in Game 1).

So, the difference between winning and losing is minuscule. I asked six players and the head coach the exact same question, “If there’s one thing that you think needs to change from Game 5 to help you win Game 6, what would it be?” Here are their answers.

I think we’ve got to get more people going to the net, more scoring chances inside. I thought we stayed on the outside a little bit too much last game. I think we’ve got to get more pucks to the net, more people to the net looking for rebound goals and more ugly goals. -Gerard Gallant

Play more shift-by-shift, a little bit more urgent. Bring the intensity to them rather than waiting to see what they are going to do. Bring the game to them. -Alex Tuch

The first 10 minutes of the game, they were buzzing early. We didn’t play a terrible game, but we didn’t play a game you need to play to close out a series. Every night it’s whoever wants it more. -Jonathan Marchessault

I’m not sure it’s something that needs to change. I liked that we were disciplined, we stayed out of the box a lot more. I think that’s a big part of it. That part I’d like to continue and a good start would be nice. -Nate Schmidt

I wouldn’t say change that much, just be a little bit sharper. Our execution wasn’t perfect last game. I thought we had the right mindset in a lot of areas however no sustained o-zone time. Could be the forecheck, could be holding on to pucks, it’s probably different in every scenario, but we know we have a bit better in all areas. -Max Pacioretty

You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate and vice-versa, if it goes against you, you have to keep going. For us it’s just to keep playing the same way. Come out playing well and try to be the aggressors at home. Plus, they were probably a little more desperate than we were and now we’ve got to match that. -Paul Stastny

I would say it’s forechecking. We’ve got to put more pressure on them and need to forecheck as a group of five. -Shea Theodore

It’s a wide range of answers, but they all have merit. My answer is a bit of a combination of Theodore’s and Pacioretty’s. In this series, it starts and ends with the Golden Knights ability to put pressure on the Shark’s defensemen. The best place to do it is in the offensive zone with a good forecheck, but it applies in the neutral zone and defensively at the blue line. The Golden Knights need to be tighter to the Sharks players as well as a bit more connected as a unit when they are trying to get the puck back.

This being said, it’s not like the Golden Knights were bad at it in Game 5, they just didn’t capitalize on the mistakes they created. There were five or six terrific chances that if Vegas converts just one, we may not even be talking about the Sharks anymore. So the biggest piece that needs to improve for me is the final one. When the chance is there, bury it.

At home, they’ve been able to do it against San Jose, especially early in games. It has to happen again in Game 6.

Marchessault: “Maybe They Should Start Giving Out Fines And Guys Will Think Twice About It”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the exception of last night’s Game 5, at the end of games in this first-round series I catch myself having the same thought, how do players have the energy to beat each other up after a playing a grueling 60-minute playoff game?

Come to find out Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault has had the same concern.

Yeah we were actually talking about this. I think the league should start giving out fines when games are out of hand… it’s just stupid stuff that happens. It’s not only our series. -Marchessault

Of course we can’t let the Golden Knights off the hook but San Jose was out of control up until last night. Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen and others have created several barroom brawls at the end of their three losses. Causing multiple game misconducts, and unnecessary injuries. Vegas got a quick scare when Cody Eakin was bloodied up wrestling with Meier after Game 3.

With little consequence why would a losing team stop instigating when the game is out of hand? If a penalty is assessed it won’t matter to an angry player because penalties don’t carry over. In a strange way, physical scrums late in one-sided games can benefit the losing team.

There’s a time and a place for it. When you’re up 5-0 last thing you want to do is give them any advantage. That’s all extra stuff. At the end of the day, you just want to win games. That’s what we’re all here for. -Brayden McNabb

Mucking it up after the whistle is one thing, but intent to injure another player when a game gets out of hand is beyond the code.

Maybe they should start giving out fines and maybe guys will think twice about it. They had Meier clearing the puck on Miller on purpose. It’s just stupid. We don’t need this. You really want to injure a guy? I think it’s something they should look into.”-Marchessault

Last night’s game was tight down the stretch so neither team could risk a minor or a severe penalty. Both teams played more disciplined and kept it clean after the horn. With two elimination games left I’d expect Vegas and San Jose to control their emotions and focus solely on winning, but if a game gets out of hand in the third, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the extracurricular stuff comes back.

That being said, don’t worry about the end of series handshake line, both teams respect the game and their opponent enough to forgive the insults, elbows and left-hooks.

In the immortal words of Omar Little, “A man must have a code.”

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