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Built Through Adversity, It’s Time For These Golden Knights To Prove They’ve Learned What Last Year’s Team Didn’t

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Last year when the Golden Knights needed to win a game, they got it pretty much every single time. Whether it was off a bad road trip, following a tough few losses at home, or even through the playoffs when they were in danger of falling well behind in a series, they always rose to the occasion and got the job done.

With the exception of one time.

Vegas fell behind 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, couldn’t get a puck to go early in Game 4 and faded away to the darkness in Game 5. That team was used to it all going right, and then it didn’t, and they crumbled.

This year, it hasn’t gone quite that way. Big periods, big games, big moments, the Golden Knights haven’t come out successfully every time.

You reset your team. It happens all the time, during a game, between games, you just get ready for the next one. Last night was a heartbreaker, but you get home last night and everything’s fine, you just get ready for the next one. -Gerard Gallant

The 2018-19 Golden Knights have faced real adversity. They started out poorly at just 8-11-1. They were out of the playoff picture as late as the middle of December. Things looked like they were headed down the drain prior to the deadline. But every time, they responded. It wasn’t always pretty, but they always fought through it and that’s exactly what they trying to do heading into Game 7 after failing on two previous tries to end the series.

Heck, just inside of this series it’s already happened. The Golden Knights needed Game 2 after dropping the opener. They came out on fire scoring three times in the first seven minutes. But then, disaster struck as they gave up three before the period was out. What did they do? They went to the locker room, regrouped, and came out and played 40 minutes of solid road hockey to win a game. Again, it wasn’t pretty, but they eventually found a way.

We’ve had ups and downs all season, it’s like a regular normal season. To come up short in this one was tough, but that’s a good team over there. We’ve got to come out with an effort that’s a little better. -Deryk Engelland

This team isn’t perfect like the 2017-18 Golden Knights seemed to be. They didn’t always have the answer, at least not right away. The hope now is that it’s all been a warmup for the most important moment of the year tonight at the SAP Center.

They are battle tested and have the scars to remember that this has been far from the fairy tale of a year ago. That fairy tale ended abruptly, and horrendously because that team wasn’t ready to deal with the peril that came with the final boss.

This team should be looking at the fact that 3-1 has turned into 3-3 and saying, “no big deal.” This team should be able to overcome what looks like a daunting task of winning a Game 7. This team is built for this moment.

60 minutes (or maybe more) will say a lot about the second year Golden Knights. Did they harness the adversity, learn from it, and use it to avoid a monumental collapse. Or was it all just a glimpse of the future. That this has been, still is, and will forever be remembered as, flawed.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or at least that’s what my favorite Kelly Clarkson song says (well, really it’s like my 8th favorite, but we’ll save my love for Kelly Clarkson for another day).

So far, nothing’s killed the Golden Knights. The question is, are they actually stronger. We’ll know in a few long hours, and it’s either going to be agony or bliss.

Welcome to Game 7. It’s the worst best thing in sports, and there’s no stopping it now.

VGK’s First Line Owns San Jose

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

20 goals, 37 assists, and a +35 rating in 14 games. Those are the combined numbers for William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith against the San Jose Sharks since joining the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the playoff series last year, the Golden Knights top line went off, scoring eight goals and racking up a total of 25 points. One of the three scored a goal in every game of the series save for Game 4 when Vegas was shut out. They all posted a 54% Corsi at even strength, owned 55% of the scoring chances while playing against the Sharks top players, and scored six goals while allowing just one.

Nothing has changed this season either. Karlsson has scored three times in four games against the Sharks, Smith has a goal and six assists, Marchessault has two goals, and all three are at least a +4.

All in all, the Golden Knights top line have averaged 1.43 goals, 2.64 assists, and +2.5 per game against San Jose.

This must continue as we head into the first round series with the Sharks. San Jose has one of the most balanced forward units in the NHL, but what they don’t have is a truly dominant first line, either offensively or defensively. Therefore, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith should have a favorable matchup each and every time they step on the ice.

Well, I mean, we wanna be there every night producing, right? That’s a challenge, I think. San Jose is a great team so we gotta be there every single night and every game counts. -William Karlsson

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Since the Trade Deadline, when the Golden Knights added Mark Stone and the Sharks picked up Gustav Nyquist, the Sharks have deployed Nyquist (with Timo Meier and Logan Couture) primarily against Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith. It has not gone well for the Sharks… to say the least.

In about seven and a half minutes against the Golden Knights top line, Nyquist has been on the ice for five goals while scoring just one, his Corsi is 33%, and his team has landed just three shots with him on the ice. It’s not much better for Meier or Couture either as both have also been on the ice for at least three goals against as well.

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Golden Knights Have Struggled To Stay Healthy, But Are At The Right Time

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

A major part of this season for the Golden Knights has been battling through injuries and the suspension of Nate Schmidt. With just one game left on the schedule, Vegas has played just 26 of the 81 games (32%) with their top-six forwards and top-four defensemen intact.

12 of those games have come since the trade deadline when Mark Stone was acquired and the Golden Knights have won 10 of those 12 games. Prior to the deadline, Vegas was healthy for just 14 of the first 63 games (22%).

By healthy, I mean not missing any of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch (or Erik Haula), Nate Schmidt, Brayden McMabb, Deryk Engelland, and Shea Theodore.

In those 14 games, the Golden Knights won just five. They’ve played 48 of the 81 games without a top-six foward, and have won 26 of them. They’ve been without at least one of their four primary centers 38 times and won 19 of them. And they’ve been missing a top-four defenseman nine times and won four.

Going into this exercise (because of these two tweets), I was expecting to see a team that thrived when healthy and floundered when not. But that’s simply not the case. Instead, the Golden Knights have been basically the same under any circumstance. Except for one… since the beginning of “The Stone Age.”

They have a winning record when missing at least one top-six forward and are above a point per game when missing either a center or a top-four defenseman.

Looking at the roster, the Golden Knights appear to be fairly deep. Lose a top-six forward, you can plug in Brandon Pirri, Tomas Nosek, or hopefully Erik Haula. Lose a top-four D and Nick Holden, Colin Miller, or Jon Merrill can take the place. Go without a center and Tomas Nosek or Ryan Carpenter can fill the void.

This is all good news heading into the postseason, where injuries will inevitably happen. As of right now, with just one game left to play, the Golden Knights are about as healthy as a hockey team can be. Since getting Stone, that’s meant nothing but winning, hopefully, it continues starting next week.

Can the Sharks Beat Vegas In The Playoffs With Their Goaltenders?

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It’s been inevitable for a while, but now it’s really inevitable, we’re going to see another Vegas/San Jose postseason series. With four games to go, Vegas and San Jose are locked into 2nd and 3rd with the Sharks desperately trying to hang on to home ice advantage. The only thing up for grabs now is the location of the first (and more importantly the seventh) game of the series between the Golden Knights and the Sharks set to begin on April 10th or 11th.

Golden Knights when playing at SAP Center
Regular Season Record: 2-1-1
Postseason Record: 2-1
Regular Season Goals Per Game: 2.95
Postseason Goals Per Game: 2.5

If we could poll both fan bases, one would feel much more confident in their team advancing. Even though both clubs have struggled down the stretch. Vegas fans are hoping they see the Sharks, not the same feeling from Bay Area fans. There’s a bit of a lopsided history between the two clubs.

2017-18: Vegas vs. San Jose
November 24, 2017 @ VGK: Vegas wins 5-4 in OT
February 8, 2018 @ SJ: Vegas wins 5-3
March 22, 2018 @ SJ: San Jose wins 2-1 in OT
March 31, 2018 @ VGK: Vegas wins 3-2

2017-18 Postseason: Vegas vs. San Jose
April 26, 2018 @ VGK: Vegas wins 7-0
April 18, 2018 @ VGK: San Jose wins 4-3 in Double OT
April 30, 2018 @ SJ: Vegas wins 4-3
May 2, 2018 @ SJ: San Jose wins 4-0
May 4, 2018 @ VGK: Vegas wins 5-3
May 6, 2018 @ SJ: Vegas wins 3-0

2018-19: Vegas vs. San Jose
November 24, 2018 @ VGK: Vegas wins 6-0
January 10, 2019 @ SJ: San Jose wins 3-2
March 18, 2019 @ SJ: Vegas wins 7-3
March 30, 2018 @ VGK: TBD

In their thirteen game history, the Golden Knights are 9-2-2 averaging 3.8 goals per game. Vegas scored a total of 48 goals, +20 in goal differential and chased goaltender Martin Jones four times.

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Give The 8th Defenseman A Look Before It’s Too Late

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Throughout the brief history, the Golden Knights have never shown a fear of mixing up the roster. Whether it’s shipping a guy back to Russia, the multiple trades involving Tobias Lindberg, utilizing waivers, dealing with contract situations, or something else, George McPhee’s roster always seems to have a storyline.

However, up until late January of the second season, there was a fairly hard and fast rule the GM liked to follow, and that was always rostering eight defensemen on the NHL squad. Since giving away trading Brad Hunt the Golden Knights have had just seven blueliners with all seven being in the rotation.

This is all fine and well if the team is healthy. Nick Holden, Jon Merrill, or Colin Miller are all terrific options and not many teams have a defenseman sitting in the press box on a nightly basis as good as any of those three. But, it’s the depth behind them that should be a bit of cause for concern.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As of right now, and this isn’t going to change, the Golden Knights eighth defenseman is either Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, or Nic Hague. Between the three of them, there’s a total of one game of NHL experience. That game belongs to Whitecloud, who played the most meaningless NHL game possible, the final game of the year when the Golden Knights literally had nothing to play for.

Last year, only two of the 16 playoff teams used more than seven defensemen during their postseason runs. Both of those two happened to be Golden Knights opponents though: the Kings and the Jets. Only the Lightning, Leafs, Blue Jackets, and Penguins used the same six throughout the whole postseason though.

It may be unlikely that the Golden Knights actually have to end up relying on an eighth guy, but with the situation Vegas is in now, they would be well served to prepare for this scenario.

By this I mean calling up one or two of these blueliners for the final five games of the season and giving them a little experience, even if it’s meaningless in the scope of the season.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The thought of Hague or Bischoff playing their very first NHL game in the Western Conference Final scares the bejeezus out of me, and it should McPhee too. Not many teams have five games to burn before the real games start. It would serve two makers to get at least one of the AHL guys in there.

First, it gets their feet wet in case DefCon Blueline does indeed pop up in the playoffs. A little experience goes a long way. Heck, even a bunch of practices with the NHL team wouldn’t hurt. Second, it would allow Gerard Gallant a chance to run through all seven NHL defensemen to give them a night or two off.

Rocky Thompson, McPhee, and Gallant know which one of the three they think they’d trust the most if the time does indeed come, but why not get a little more intel? Personally, it doesn’t matter which one it is to me, but let me be the first to raise the flag to say this should happen, like tomorrow.

How The Golden Knights Can Clinch By Sunday

The Golden Knights clinched last year on March 26th. They can actually do it sooner this year.

Having won 10 of the past 11 games the Golden Knights have soared well above the playoff cut line and it’s only a matter of time until it becomes official that Vegas is heading to the postseason.

But, like everything in sports, nothing is a sure thing until it’s actually a sure thing. It can become a sure thing soon though, as soon as Sunday afternoon.

The Golden Knights currently have 89 points with eight games left to play. The first team out of the playoff picture is Arizona with 78 points, also with eight to go.

Thus, the easiest way for the Golden Knights to lock in their place is to eliminate the Coyotes. Using our “Points to Elimination” tool, it takes six points to do so (and only five VGK clinches the tiebreaker).

Arizona plays at New Jersey tomorrow and at the New York Islanders on Sunday. Vegas hosts Detroit tomorrow. If the Golden Knights win in regulation or overtime, and Arizona records only one point in those two games, Vegas will clinch.

If Arizona records two or more points, the Golden Knights still have a chance to clinch.

The attention would then turn to the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, and Chicago Blackhawks. With a Vegas win tomorrow, the Golden Knights would need just one more point to eliminate Chicago and three to eliminate Minnesota and Colorado.

The Wild have a back-to-back in Washington and Carolina tonight and tomorrow while Chicago and Colorado have a home-and-home back-to-back against each other Saturday and Sunday.

So, if Vegas wins tomorrow, they would need Minnesota to record one or zero points in their two games, and Chicago and Colorado would have to split (with Colorado’s loss coming in regulation).

VGK win + ARI loss to NJD + ARI loss to NYI

OR

VGK win + MIN loss to WSH + MIN loss to CAR + COL/CHI Split 2 Games

If any piece of both of those scenarios falls short, the next Golden Knights attention will turn to Monday in St. Louis.

It could happen Sunday, it could not, but either way, it’s happening soon. Once that’s locked up, the focus is going to start to shift towards San Jose, who as of this article are five points ahead of Vegas with eight to go. It’s a tall task, but if the Golden Knights can knock off the Sharks again on the 30th, things could get very interesting that final week.

Subban’s Fresh And Ready For His Workload

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I used to play them in the AHL not too long ago. Saturday, Sunday, you know. It’s something that you try not to think about. The mentality is just to be ready to play and ignore the outcome of the night before. -Subban

The former first round draft pick has recorded solid numbers as a Golden Knight in limited play: 19-11 with a 2.85 Goals Allowed Average. Subban may be the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury, but he practices for an 82 game season like a starting goaltender. He’s in great shape, so 120 minutes played in two days was not much of an isssue for Subban.

Beyond being a younger goaltender he has low mileage in the NHL so naturally his body is fresher than most.

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Expansion Draft 2020: Vegas’ Exemption Creating Anxiety And Drama For Other Clubs

In late June of 2020, Seattle, the 32nd franchise, will have the opportunity to pluck other teams talent at the Expansion Draft like the Golden Knights did on June 21st, 2017. George McPhee and his group masterfully duped 30 other NHL general managers, and whoever is at the helm in Seattle (maybe Kelly McCrimmon) will try to do the same. Okay maybe not all 30, but a good percentage of the league felt slighted, enough that those same general managers may just reach out to McPhee this time so it won’t happen again.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun was on Montreal radio this week and brought up how teams are very concerned with next year’s expansion draft. Teams aren’t in the business of giving away good players… again.

It’s also created I think a bit of a unique situation… because Vegas doesn’t have to worry about a protection list and all of that jazz. I think they’re going to be a team that some clubs are going to look to as a safety valve in trying to navigate the waters around the Seattle expansion process. -Pierre LeBrun, TSN Radio Montreal

LeBrun explained that the way McPhee and his staff maneuvered the expansion rules has teams running to protect themselves this time around. LeBrun used Nashville as a team that could find themselves in a protection problem and may be forced to expose one really talented defenseman. In the scenario, this is where McPhee gets a call.

It would behoove them to try and send them to Vegas for a first round pick or a top prospect. As opposed to losing them for nothing to Seattle. I don’t know at this juncture how the league feels about that kind of trade. -LeBrun

Another twist to the expansion process is the side drama from other clubs. LeBrun noted several general managers are upset Vegas is protected from the expansion draft and won’t be losing a player.

There are GM’s I think who felt that once Seattle’s start was delayed by a year, that Vegas should be subject to lose a player like everyone else. There are definitely GM’s grumbling behind the scenes. But as Bill Daly said because Vegas is not getting a piece of the pie from Seattle, they’re the only one not getting a check, then they’re not losing a player… so that’s created some tension for obvious reasons. -LeBrun

What makes GM’s mostly worried, with good reason, is that McPhee could take advantage of franchises with protection issues, or get a jump on adding players.

Because Vegas doesn’t have to worry about a protection list they’re more willing too add players during that particular time then any other team. -LeBrun

Bill Daly told league officials not too fret about Vegas abusing their exemption. Other teams want to be reassured that the Golden Knights wont be making unfair trades during that small window before the 2020 Expansion Draft. The league will be keeping an eye on Quick Draw McPhee.

Daly hears that Vegas can’t interfere with the Seattle expansion process. The league will pay close attention to the type of trades the involve Vegas around that… Bill Daly says he’ll know when he sees it as far as something that doesn’t pass the smell test. -LeBrun

One scenario that clearly makes sense for Seattle is hiring Vegas Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon. Obviously, as McPhee’s right-hand man he’s fully capable of handling the pressure and creativity of an expansion draft. However, if McPhee is whispering to 30 other compadres it’ll make McCrimmon’s job much tougher the second time around. Any other Seattle general manager would be at even more of a disadvantage.

All along we’re always under the assumption that Seattle will have a bit of a tougher time this time around. Teams are more familiar with the rules and the process, saw what happened with a couple of teams overreacting and overpaying on side deals with Vegas. -LeBrun

Teams like Anaheim, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Minnesota, and Washington gifted Vegas a core to win with immediately. I’m sure most teams would like a redo. Well, they’ll have their chance in the summer of 2020. With McPhee watching on with a bowl full of Crunch ‘n Munch.

Don’t Expect To See Much More Of Valentin Zykov

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On December 29th the Golden Knights claimed Valentin Zykov on waivers from the Edmonton Oilers. First Zykov got held up by immigration, then it took four games before he finally got in the lineup. He was scratched the next five games before finding himself back in the lineup.

Zykov eventually found himself on the Golden Knights top line playing with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. That lasted three games before he was demoted to the third line for a game and eventually out of the lineup. He’s been a healthy scratch since February 12th, missing 13 straight games.

Today, in his daily press conference, I asked Gerard Gallant about if he has been considering putting Zykov back into the lineup. His answer was telling.

I’m trying to put a team in that’s trying to win. He played fine when he was in there, it’s just he’s a young player. The best way to explain it is, he’ll be ready when we need him and we’ll see where it goes. It’s tough for him, he’s a good kid and he’s worked hard it’s just that he hasn’t had a lot of experience in the NHL and we’re in the winning business right now and it’s getting down to the nitty-gritty. -Gallant

Earlier in the year, Gallant mentioned how he didn’t like how long he kept Oscar Lindberg, Brad Hunt, and Jon Merrill out of the lineup.

However, it doesn’t seem like Zykov will be getting the same treatment. Instead, he may find himself in the roster in the final few games after the playoffs are locked up, but Gallant isn’t ready to start thinking about that.

Every game matters to a point but we’ll see where we go. We’re still in a playoff hunt. We haven’t made the playoffs or clinched any playoff spot yet. So we’ll just play our team and get as many points as we can. If it gets down to the last three or four games and things look real good for us then we’ll see what we can do. -Gallant

The question now becomes did Zykov do enough to find his way into the mix next year. The Golden Knights forward group is going to be a crowded one in 2019-2020, but Zykov makes just $675,000 and Vegas is likely to be pushing the cap. He’ll have a full training camp under his belt, plus half a season practicing with the NHL club, but it wouldn’t be shocking if we’ve already seen the end of Valentin Zykov in meaningful action as a Golden Knight.

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