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Backup Advice Is Part Of The Culture In Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

NHL coaches like to use their entire roster. Even though a coach can only play 19 players at a time, there are 20 players suited up each game when you include the backup goaltender. Former coaches have fessed up to seeking regular advice from their backups. Hoping the sitting goalie notices something different that they can relay to the players, coaches, but more importantly the starter.

There’s a lot of validity to that because we see things so differently. To me actually, that’s a mark of a really inquisitive coach doing all of his homework. -Mike McKenna, Retired NHL goaltender and VGK TV analyst

Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury was a spectator last week when Malcolm Subban got the nod against St. Louis. It was a wild, multiple lead changing game that the Golden Knights came from behind to win. With the night off, Fleury was able to watch the 6-5 goal fest from a chair, wearing his snapback hat.

I think you get a different perspective when you sit there and see the whole play develop. It’s different when you’re just watching the puck when you’re in net. You think ‘I should’ve had that one, and that one’ but other times guys get good chances with some time, or on the back door. So, it’s good to have a better view of the game. -Marc Andre Fleury

The conversation goes both ways in Vegas. When he’s in net, Fleury often chats with Subban and goalie coach Dave Prior about certain plays, goals or saves. The open discussion offers the starting goaltender a view outside of himself, and from people they trust.

Yeah, we talk a little bit. Even when I play too we usually always have a little talk about goals, little plays, weird plays. Stuff like that. -Fleury

McKenna spent plenty of time viewing the game from the bench. He felt offering information to the starter was an important part of his job, being part confidante, coach, and shrink.

By the time I was in my late 20’s I realized I was in a role that realistically I was being a goalie coach in some ways too. They would bounce things off of me a lot but I would never cross that line of providing information the player was thinking or feeling. -McKenna

That was an area that McKenna stressed over and over. The advice or information needs to be asked for and accepted. Since most goalies are rare birds, it was important to recognize early on how each individual goaltender felt about discussions in between periods. McKenna was overly careful making sure his insight was wanted.

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Buy, Sell, Or Hold, Pacioretty Trusts VGK To Make The Right Call

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The NHL trade deadline is a week away and it could be another active one for the Golden Knights. Since their first trade deadline in 2018, Vegas hasn’t been shy adding players to their already competitive roster. The first season Ryan Reaves and Tomas Tatar were acquired to give the coaching staff extra skill and muscle. On last year’s deadline day, the Golden Knights traded and signed Mark Stone who quickly became the face of the franchise. Needless to say, the players and fans are anticipating the front office to be calling and texting other general managers.

 I’ve been on every end of that situation, buying and selling, or standing put. In terms of rumors you don’t hear too many playing in Vegas as opposed to playing in a Canadian city. On trade deadline having the TV on in here, you heard about the possibility of getting a guy like Mark Stone. I’m sure once we get closer to the day maybe we’ll hear a little more. In terms of what we hear with outside noise, we don’t as a player in Vegas and that’s a nice thing. -Pacioretty

Max Pacioretty has seen his share of deadlines come and go in his 12-year career. The 31-year-old has been on both sides of the scale, teams that were buyers and teams that were sellers. Even for a veteran the trade deadline period can be a bit stressful, knowing a teammate or potentially himself could be dealt to another club.

It’s a pretty crappy feeling when you get the day off and you’re all hanging out, which has happened to me, and everyone has got their phones on. Seeing guys drop like flies getting traded to other teams because your team is selling. That’s the worst feeling in the world and you never want to be in that position.- Pacioretty

That isn’t the case for Vegas, nor has it been in team history. Pacioretty and his teammates expect the Golden Knights to be heavily involved, even if a trade doesn’t materialize.

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Goalie Rotation Plans Changing Due To Standings

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This year they vowed to be different. From the head coach (the old one) to the front office to The Creator himself, the Golden Knights said they knew they needed to use a bit more of a goalie rotation than they have in the past.

You are going to see more of Subban this year, you will. George and Kelly and the coaches have it figured out and they have games identified for Subban and you are going to see him more. It’s part of what needs to happen. We want to make sure Flower is really ready for the playoffs. –The Creator on Sportsbook Radio in October 2019

After running Marc-Andre Fleury out for 61 games last season the Golden Knights were headed for a much lighter workload this season, especially after Fleury missed a few weeks following the death of his father.

However, that plan appears to be out the window now as the playoff spot everyone expected Vegas would have isn’t as secure as they would like.

We’re in the sprint to the finish here and we’re fighting for our playoff spot. We’re going to put the best lineup and the best starter out there to give us a chance to win every night. This isn’t preseason planning where you can map out, we want so many games for this guy or so many games for that guy. That’s in the rearview mirror. -Pete DeBoer on Tuesday

This was yesterday (Tuesday) before the game in Minnesota. On Monday, appearing on the Jim Rome Show, he was asked about “load management” and his answer was a bit different.

We’ve got Marc-Andre Fleury here in net in Vegas. You know he’s a 35-year-old goaltender that’s our starter. We talk about load management with him, both about starts and in practice time. We aren’t at the NBA point where we’re scratching players yet but it’s definitely in our conversations as far as practice days and off days. -DeBoer on Jim Rome Show

Fleury has started eight of the nine games under DeBoer and has been in the goal for 15 of the last 17, with one of the two being the game he missed due to suspension. He’s now started 41 of the team’s 58 games.

The Golden Knights did not have both goalies available for much for the start season so their rotation was somewhat dictated to them through the first few months.

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Carrier’s Versatility and Awareness Makes Life Easier For DeBoer

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the better part of three seasons, William Carrier has played a role on the 4th line, and he’s played it well. His versatility, however, has allowed both coaching staffs to use him up and down the lineup. When injuries occur, his quick, forceful style has no trouble handling more minutes and shifts.

After his latest stint on the 3rd line, Carrier is heading back to the place he knows best, 4th line left wing. It’s not a problem for him though, he accepts his role on the team and enjoys his strong bond with linemates Ryan Reaves and Tomas Nosek. Also, let’s face it, the 3rd line isn’t as fun.

I had a great time playing up there but for right now I think Karly is coming back. So I’ll head back with Reavo and Nosey out there… I think our 4th line has more goals than the 3rd line. -Carrier

Carrier didn’t bitch and moan or pout. It’s an important job being a utility player that occasionally fills in for injured teammates. There’s zero ego with Carrier. He gives max effort every night, never veers from his aggressive style, and will do whatever the coaches ask.

It’s all about roles. I can go out there and play top roles but I’ll probably turn the puck over more times than I’d make the plays. Sure, I would pick up more points than I have now, but as a 4th line we can’t do that. We have to be a plus-one line every night.-Carrier

The Golden Knights recognize #28 as a hard-working, heavy forechecking type player. A better scouting report would be, Carrier’s a bull that will create an exciting scoring chance and a glass shaking check in the same shift. His nightly consistency gives DeBoer the option to use him to help pick up the tempo, or bring some life to his club.

This group of guys know what role we have. Each guy knows what they have to bring night after night. It’s working out for us. Everyone is mature and everyone’s got their role. If you don’t get your role, than those guys aren’t with us no more. I think they’re trying to keep the guys around that fit best with the team. Every guy here has their own role, and we try and fill them as best we can. -Carrier

When Carrier talks about maturity and understanding roles, you realize how dedicated he is to winning. He executes his assignments, knows everyone else’s, and is prepared for anything. He’s highly aware of the team’s objectives.

I was a point a game guy in juniors. Maybe now, I don’t try those plays the top guys make. When there’s a chance to create an offensive play I’m going to try it out. I think it’s all about poise, confidence and making plays.-Carrier

This season, Carrier is on pace for career bests. He’s already passed his mark for most games played, and will more than double his highest point total. He’ll tell you to put the statistics aside though because winning means more than any personal accomplishment.

It’s always team-first with this guy.

The Golden Knights Identity; What Is It? What Is It Supposed To Be?

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When Pete DeBoer was first hired a common term he would use in talking about his new team was “identity.” He said it in a number of ways but the refrain was always the same, that the team had a great identity and when they played with it they were almost unbeatable, but recently it had been lost and they were playing without it.

Here’s one example from five days after he was hired.

I think for me just playing aggressive, and dictating games and wearing teams down with our depth because we have the ability to roll four lines and be really hard to play against. I think we want to get back to that. Not that that slipped totally off the table but that’s something this team did better than anybody in the league for a long time and we want to try and get that type of identity back. -DeBoer on 1/20/20

I have to admit, it’s a term that’s always troubled me. Identity. I don’t even really know what it means. Everyone uses it, heck I’ve even used it, but if you pinned me down to explain exactly how it relates to a hockey team, I can’t do it. So to hear it over and over again from the new head coach as basically the primary focus on how to solve the issues the Golden Knights had been having, I couldn’t help but tilt my head the way Wiglaf and Rupert do when I ask them if they want a piece of cheese.

What is the Golden Knights identity? What’s it supposed to be? Has it changed?

I’ve spent the last three weeks pondering all of this and finally had a chance to ask a few players, and the coach, specifically about it. Take a listen to it all, in its raw form. First is Jonathan Marchessault, then Nate Schmidt, Paul Stastny, and it ends with Pete DeBoer.

I’ve listened to each of those four interviews about 10 teams apiece and I still have no clue how to define the Golden Knights identity.

It’s just a bunch of buzzwords that apply to every hockey team.

Relentless. Heavy. Fast. Aggressive. Play as a unit. Hard to play against.

Put that aside for a second though, I’ll get back to it.

However anyone defines it, it seems to have shifted. Well, sorta shifted. Actually, no it hasn’t shifted at all. It’s exactly the same, it just looks a little different because this team is more skilled, or to use a simpler term, better.

But it’s not. Or at least it hasn’t been when counting wins.

Both teams have the ability to check off all the buzzwords. The makeup of the team really isn’t that different aside from adding a new buzzword, “heavy,” which really just means “we have Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty now.”

So why aren’t they playing the same way? Why are they going through all these problems? Why was the identity lost in the middle of the third season?

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Carp: The Joy Has Returned To Nate Schmidt’s Game

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Nate Schmidt had just come off the ice after Saturday’s morning skate at City National Arena and he was wearing a big smile.

Nothing new about that. Schmidt is usually smiling. As one of the members of an exclusive club, he gets the fact that playing in the NHL is a privilege and it’s one that he embraces.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But there was something different about Saturday’s grin. I don’t know if it was an aura or a sudden uptick in demeanor, but Schmidt was really, really in a good mood. Perhaps it was the fact that after being away from home for nearly a month, he got to sleep in his own bed Friday night and that he and his teammates would finally get to skate in their own rink later that night in front of their fans.

My theory is Schmidt is a happier person these days because he is playing better hockey and he seems to enjoy playing for Peter DeBoer.

Let’s not sugarcoat it: it has been a tough year for the 28-year-old defenseman from Minnesota. He hurt his left knee on opening night in a collision with San Jose’s Logan Couture and he missed 12 games. He struggled early upon his return. Then his coach was fired as the Golden Knights went through another befuddling stretch of inconsistent play.

But lately, Schmidt has shown signs of being his old self, the guy who jumped into the play and made things happen, which is what the Knights got from him their inaugural season in 2017-18 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final.

I think one of the big things is simplifying your game. I was trying to do too much the first half of the year. You tear it down, bring it back up, sort of like a grassroots kind of thing. Schmidt

Schmidt and Shea Theodore have both been contributors to the Knights’ attack. Since DeBoer took over for Gerard Gallant Jan. 15, Schmidt has score two goals and has six assists. He has had back-to-back multi-point games and now has 26 points for the year.

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A New Type Of Tough

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights schedule came out it was impossible to not focus directly on the eight-game road trip smack dab in the middle of it. Four games before the break, four after, and a 28 day period away from home is about as daunting as it gets in the NHL.

No matter what has been going on this season, that trip was always in plain sight. Whether the Golden Knights were in 1st, 2nd, or out of a playoff trip, none of it would be real until they completed that trip.

It was like a boss in a video game, but not the one at the very end, the one in the middle that ruins your chances of ever even getting to the end. Mr. Sandman for those who played Mike Tyson’s Punchout or that damn Tubular level on Super Mario World.

And like that boss, the only thing that matters is coming out alive.

The Golden Knights tallied nine points on the eight-game trip and actually advanced up the standings in the Pacific (mostly because the division is a dumpster fire). They come back with a different coach, some different tactics, a few new faces in the lineup, but most importantly, with the trip in the rearview mirror.

The entire season has always been clouded by “yeah, but what about that road trip.”

They made it and it didn’t destroy their season (unless you are Gerard Gallant).

But the going isn’t about to get easier, yet. Despite having 10 of the next 12 games at home, the Golden Knights are playing four of the league’s top six teams and six out of seven games against teams currently in the playoff picture.

The first game home off a long road trip is always a trap game and this one especially after stealing a win from Carolina in Raleigh. Then a quick trip out to Minnesota to play the only non-playoff team, followed by home games against five excellent teams and a few repeat opponents from the road trip.

This stretch is arguably tougher than the road trip itself, just with the comforts of home-ice behind it.

Welcome home, now here’s St. Louis, Tampa, New York, Washington, and Florida.

It’s probably just what the Golden Knights need though. They beat the toughest level and can use the confidence to get through another challenging one.

They’ve had a habit of playing down to competition this year. With losses against Detroit, Buffalo, Anaheim, and Los Angeles (twice) the Golden Knights might actually benefit from a gauntlet of a schedule. When installed as a -200 or more favorite, Vegas is just 5-4-2 this season. Meanwhile, when slight favorites at home they have wins against St. Louis, Calgary (twice), Arizona (twice), and Toronto.

The tests keep coming. Some they’ve passed, some they’ve failed, but thanks to a terrible division they are alive and well. Hopefully, it’s hardened them enough to deal with the real test in April and beyond.

Mike Tyson and Bowser await.

Reaves Moves On From Bad Calls

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

No NHL player enjoys being called for a penalty. It puts their team at a disadvantage and could change the momentum of a game. While it’s frustrating for players to skate over to the box, inevitably minors and double minors are going to happen. It’s just how a physical game like hockey plays out.

It’s definitely frustrating because I pride myself on being a guy that leads the league in hits and I don’t take a lot of minor penalties. Especially, off of my hits. -Ryan Reaves

A few weeks before the break, Reaves was whistled for a tripping call that even the biggest Reaves detractors agreed was a terrible call by the officials. Not only was it a clean hit, but it also took a referee a few seconds to stop the game and lead Reaves to the penalty box. The bruising forward was livid and refused to listen to the ref’s explanation. Normally, a customary thing officials do after the whistle. This time around Reaves wasn’t having it.

I don’t think that was really a conversation at the time because I was a little fired up. I wasn’t too happy so the refs weren’t really talking to me. -Reaves

There’s a certain reputation Reaves carries around with him, and it’s only human nature for referees to lean towards calls against him. However, as he’ll constantly remind you, he’s been suspended once in 632 games.

Has he taken it over the edge a little bit? Sure, but some will note Tom Wilson is fair game. Either way, the tripping call against Reaves on January 2nd against Philadelphia was neither a vendetta or a response to a prior incident. It seemed like a routine check that resulted in a tough fall for the opponent. It was an unfortunate hit that resulted in an official away from the puck to whistle the play dead and toss Reaves out for two minutes. That didn’t sit well.

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Kelly McCrimmon Dispels Two Theories On Gallant Firing

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There have been plenty of theories surrounding the firing of Gerard Gallant and subsequent hiring of Pete DeBoer.

No matter what the powers that be inside City National Arena say, many of those will continue on, however, one of the two voices that actually know the whole truth took to the radio in an effort to dispell a couple of them.

Kelly McCrimmon went on Fox Sports Radio with JT The Brick last week to chat about the firing of Gerard Gallant, hiring of Pete DeBoer, and the team’s expectations moving forward. (It’s a terrific interview start to finish, so I’d highly recommend a listen. Here’s the link.)

The first theory surrounds The Creator’s involvement in the firing. No matter who you talk to, while there are varying degrees as to the extent, just about everyone believes he was involved in some way in the coaching change.

Bill Foley’s been a great owner. This decision went from George McPhee and myself up to Bill Foley, not the other way around as has been suggested by some. -Kelly McCrimmon

This would be the normal order of operations for an NHL team. GM decides the coach needs to go, he brings it to the owner, who signs off on it. That’s how McCrimmon says it went down, but the timing and shockwaves it sent off across the NHL has many skeptical.

McCrimmon and McPhee are an experienced pair, one that is not prone to panic or hastiness as this decision appeared to be. Thus, the new owner with ultra-high expectations would make sense to be at the center of it. According to McCrimmon, this is untrue.

The second theory is in relation to when and where the decision was made. It was not made during a seven-game homestand in which the Golden Knights were in Las Vegas for more than two weeks. Then, one game into an eight-game road trip which had the Golden Knights away from their home city for 28 days, the bomb is dropped. No local media availability has been offered from either the new head coach or the pair that pulled the trigger on the move. It feels incredibly convenient when the move was clearly going to be met with resistance.

McCrimmon insists that timing wasn’t a catalyst for the change.

The timing of a decision like this, as much as it comes as a surprise to some people, is never based on one or two games, it’s never based on where you are at in the schedule or certainly whether you are playing at home or away. It’s a decision that takes precedence over all of those things. -McCrimmon on Fox Sports Radio

Thus, the location of press conferences, the next opponent, and the amount of time before the hated (at the time, I think that’s fading) new head coach makes his debut in Las Vegas was all coincidental, or reactionary, according to McCrimmon.

If you believe that’s the best course of action for the organization than you aren’t doing your job properly if you don’t address it. That was what led to the decision being made. -McCrimmon on Fox Sports Radio

McCrimmon said they knew there would be backlash and the fan base would be “emotional” over the decision, but he’s always remained steadfast that the decision was not made in haste and that both he and McPhee “just had a feeling” that the move needed to be made.

So, they made it and dealt with everything that came with it, no matter how it looked to the outside world.

Carp: The AHL In Vegas? An Interesting Proposition

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Before the NHL accepted Bill Foley’s $500 million and let him join their exclusive club, I floated the idea to him about the possibility of putting his American Hockey League affiliate in Las Vegas.

After all, the perfect venue was right down the street from T-Mobile Arena in the Orleans Arena. It sat around 7,000 for hockey. It had free parking. The concessions were fairly priced. He probably could cut a decent deal with Boyd Gaming on the lease.

Best of all, he could get players to transfer back and forth from the parent club without having to get on a plane to do so.

Foley didn’t think it would work. He thought the franchise would be better served having its farm team in another location.

Of course, no one back in 2016 had any idea what was going to happen a year and a half later. The Golden Knights took the league and the city by storm and had unprecedented success on and off the ice. Suddenly, there were people on waiting lists to purchase season tickets. And even as the team jacked up the price of season tickets, most of the subscribers have stayed loyal.

So now there was a glut of hockey fans who go gaga over the Golden Knights but can’t get into T-Mobile Arena. It is indeed a fortress, accessible only by financial largesse to a privileged few.

What to do?

Bring another team to town. Play at the Orleans for a couple seasons until your rink in Henderson is built for the AHL team. Use the guys you already have under contract with the Chicago Wolves. Hell, the fans already know who all those guys are. It’ll be an easy transition. They could play in a division with Ontario, Bakersfield, Stockton, Tucson, San Diego, Palm Springs (when Seattle launches in a couple of years) and yes, San Jose.

Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it?

Sure does, especially If you’re Kerry Buboltz, the team’s president who continues to come up with creative ways to separate you from your money so they can pay Mark Stone $9.5 million annually for the better part of this decade.

Would this AHL in Las Vegas/Henderson idea work? My thinking to Foley was it would be an affordable alternative for those who couldn’t go to an NHL game, like the Wranglers were while cultivating more fans for the Vegas NHL team.

Yes, I knew it would cost more to go to an AHL game instead of an ECHL contest. But if you could take your family to a game at the Orleans for under $100, that would help make it work.

Where it really works is from a hockey standpoint. A defenseman goes down, an AHL callup could drive 10 minutes from the Orleans to T-Mobile. The AHL guys can live in Summerlin and practice at City National Arena or the team’s under-construction rink in Henderson. George McPhee could still pull his creative strings to clear salary cap space and the team would save a ton on travel costs. They can scout the organization’s players more often. They can regularly interact with the AHL team’s coaching staff. It would certainly streamline things.

However, would it work at the turnstiles? Could you turn a profit by owning your own AHL team? Currently, the Knights have a partnership with the Wolves, who are independently owned. The Wolves are staying put, though they’ll get a whole new roster of players from their next NHL affiliate once Vegas pulls its players out of Chicago.

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