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Carp: Should Russian Players Be Concerned About Playing For The Golden Knights?

**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.**

By nature, I’m no conspiracy theorist.

I don’t believe in aliens. I think Oswald acted alone when he assassinated JFK. I’m pretty sure Elvis is dead, though when I see Nick Ferraro perform as the “Philly Elvis,” sometimes a shadow of doubt creeps into my mind (only kidding).

But I have to admit, what I’m seeing with Russian-born players and the Golden Knights has me scratching my head and wondering just what the hell is going on?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the brief three-year history of the franchise, there have been three Russian players who were with the Golden Knights — Vadim Shipachyov, Nikita Gusev and Valentin Zykov. Their contributions have amounted to virtually nil. Two of the three have not had pleasant endings and Zykov could also find himself exiting with a less-than-favorable sendoff once his 20-game suspension ends.

First, let’s be clear about all of this. I’m not accusing George McPhee of sabotaging the NHL careers of the trio. Remember, this is the guy who drafted Alex Ovechkin when he was the general manager in Washington and no one’s going to deny that worked out pretty well.

So if you want to paint McPhee as a modern-day Harold Ballard who detested the Russians and perhaps saw their existence in the NHL as a necessary evil, you’d be missing the mark by a country mile.

That said, the fact none of the three have made a positive contribution to the franchise makes you wonder if something is amiss in the evaluation process or in the projection of what these guys could do.

Shipachyov didn’t produce, was sent to the minors, balked at being demoted and was eventually released after playing just three games and scoring one goal. He and his family never found a comfort level in Las Vegas nor was he able to find a comfort level on the ice. He is currently back in the Kontinental Hockey League playing with Dynamo Moscow and he leads the team in scoring with 21 points.

Gusev never got a chance to show he couldn’t play with the Knights. He was unable to break into the lineup during the playoffs, his time on the ice limited to practice. And when the Knights found his asking price to remain with the team was too steep, he was off to New Jersey. He’s doing pretty well with the Devils. He had three goals and four points in his first seven games and has quickly become a fan favorite in Newark.

Zykov, who had two goals in 10 games last year playing limited minutes (he averaged 11:37 TOI during his 10 games last year), worked hard over the summer, made the team out of training camp and had two assists in his first seven games playing on the third line before he got popped for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances program.

I’m not going to get into the whole issue about how it went down, how Zykov essentially got thrown under the bus by some of his teammates and how McPhee reacted. That has all been covered.

I will say it would be disingenuous to think what happened to Zykov and what happened to Nate Schmidt a year ago are the same. The fact is, we’ve never known what was found in Schmidt’s system to trigger the positive test and we’re probably never going to know what exactly Zykov was taking (he and his agent said they were over-the-counter supplements).

Until the NHL becomes more transparent with its drug policy and the testing is more rigorous, you’ll never get the truth.

So, what happens when Zykov serves out his suspension? Do the Knights welcome him back? Do they claim he breached his contract and subsequently cut him loose and eat his $675,000 contract? Do they send him back to the AHL?

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VGK Assistant Coaches Explain How/Why They Select D-Pairs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For just the second time this season, the Golden Knights will see a new defensive pair along their blueline. Following the injury to Nate Schmidt, Nic Hague was placed into the lineup playing alongside Deryk Engelland. He held that position for seven straight games, recording two assists, six shots on goal, and averaging 14:28 per game.

Tonight, however, Hague will watch from the press box as Jake Bischoff is slated to make his NHL debut. Bischoff made the Golden Knights roster out of training camp last year, stayed with the team for about three weeks, but never drew into a game. This year, he was sent to the AHL out of training camp before being recalled eight days ago to replace Jimmy Schuldt.

Like Hague, his defense partner will be Deryk Engelland as the two slot in as the Golden Knights third pair.

Recently, speaking at a fan Q&A hosted at Jaguar & Land Rover Las Vegas, assistant coaches Ryan McGill and Mike Kelly were asked about what goes into the decision-making process of picking defensive pairs.

First of all, we like to try to put experience with a little bit of inexperience. Just to give them a little bit of a safety valve. Number two, you want to have somebody that can move the puck up the ice quick or that can be involved with the play with another guy that can watch his back. -Ryan McGill

McGill is the assistant that handles the Golden Knights defense.

But the biggest thing trying to find chemistry. If you don’t find chemistry you can’t have those players together all the time. -McGill

Kelly, who has worked alongside Gerard Gallant for nearly a decade, piggybacked McGill’s comments.

If something happens on the ice where it didn’t go well for the younger guy, he makes a mistake, he’s going back to the bench with the guy he’s playing with. You like to have someone who is a good person with experience whispering in his ear saying ‘don’t worry about it kid.’ -Mike Kelly

The Golden Knights have always had a heavy focus on leadership, character, and other unquantifiable intangibles. Through two years and eight games, it’s hard to argue against its success.

You put them with people that you think it’s going to work with and you kind of look the other way, cross your fingers, and hope it works. Most of the time it does. Sometimes they are going to hit a rocky patch but you know if they are with a Deryk Engelland you know they are hearing the right words. -Kelly

Every rookie that’s come through the Golden Knight d-corps, Hague, Schuldt, Whitecloud, and Theodore, has found their way to Engelland’s side.

Now it’s Jake Bischoff’s turn. Here’s to hoping there aren’t too many “don’t worry about it kid” comments needed from Engelland tonight in Pittsburgh.

Golden Knights Getting Production Up And Down The Lineup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I’m assuming most Golden Knights fans have a daily routine of checking the latest NHL standings, league leaders and Vegas player stats. Oh, and SinBin.vegas of course. If you’re one of those people then you might notice some unfamiliar point leaders seven games into the season.

Some of Vegas’ depth players are having the fastest starts to their careers. Players that most think are bottom six, PK’ers or checking forwards are pleasantly surprising the coaching staff and fanbase.

Tomas Nosek has four points (3 Goals, 1 Assist) in eight games. Nosek’s career high in goals is eight, so he’s halfway there with 74 games remaining. Last season, Nosek didn’t register his fourth point until November, 27th. His third goal of the 2018-19 wasn’t scored until December, 12th.

William Carrier is on pace for around 15 goals this season, that would almost double his career-best (8 goals), which he set last season. Carrier didn’t score his first or second goals until mid-November of last year. The bruising fourth line forward had a total of nine points (8 goals, 1 assist) in 2018-19, he’s already tied his assist number from last year and is projected to crush his career totals. Hopefully, in games played as well.

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McPhee, Gallant, And Golden Knights Players Respond To Zykov Suspension

Following the suspension of Valentin Zykov, multiple Golden Knights players, the head coach, and president of hockey operations met with the media.

0:00 – George McPhee
5:56 – Gerard Gallant
6:28 – Mark Stone
6:57  – Brayden McNabb
8:31 – Max Pacioretty
10:27 – Jonathan Marchessault

Gary Bettman Remains Bullish On Vegas, Golden Knights

**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.**

Among the 18,188 in attendance Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena for the Golden Knights-Nashville game was the general manager of the Seattle NHL franchise.

I assume Ron Francis was taking careful notes, both from what he was watching on the ice and what he was seeing inside The Fortress.

He would be wise to do both.

Also in attendance Tuesday, and nearly as conspicuous, was the NHL commissioner.

Yes, Gary Bettman was in the house and he kept a low profile, lest he get the crap booed out of him by the Medieval Maniacs who may never forgive him for the performance of his officials in Game 7 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last April.

Do Knights fans have long memories? Hell yes they do.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

What was Bettman doing in Las Vegas? He was a speaker at a symposium on sports betting at the Global Gaming Expo Wednesday morning at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. He was in good spirits and rightly so, given nobody booed him and no one asked him about officiating or concussions and CTE.

He was asked about the success of the Golden Knights and what it has meant for the NHL in the team’s brief existence. He was quick with his responses, praising Bill Foley for the job he and his organization have done (Sorry Ken, Bettman did not refer to Foley as “The Creator”).

I asked him if Francis should be paying close attention to what goes on here at T-Mobile.

Seattle is its own market. I think the experience inside T-Mobile Arena is consciousness-raising. But we all know what works in Las Vegas doesn’t necessarily work elsewhere. Seattle is going to have the same opportunities in the Expansion Draft and everything is on schedule and we expect Seattle will be another fantastic NHL experience. -Bettman

For Bettman and the NHL, the growth of sports betting throughout the U.S. is an opportunity to help develop new fans and give existing hockey fans more options to connect to the game. It’s a far cry from 20 years ago when then-Mayor Oscar Goodman paid Bettman a visit in his mid-Manhattan office in an attempt to secure a franchise for Las Vegas and got the cold shoulder.

But timing is everything. The building of a first-class arena, the growth of the area’s population and rising media market and an owner who was willing to put up half a billion bucks all helped change Bettman’s mind. He became an advocate for Las Vegas and had he not backed Foley’s bid, Las Vegas might’ve been Quebec City on the outside looking in.

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New Wrinkle On Power Play Providing Extra Element

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights power play was much maligned last year. They finished the season 25th in the NHL, converting on just 16.8% of their chances.

To make matters worse, it didn’t improve with the addition of one of the most dangerous power play weapons in team history, Mark Stone. After the deadline, Vegas hit on just 7 of 45 power-play opportunities or 15.6%. They picked it up dramatically in the postseason, running at a 27.5% clip, but it was all against the same team, and it fell off a cliff in Games 6 and 7 when they went 0 for 5 and gave up a shorthanded game-winner.

This year, the Golden Knights have connected on 6 of their 20, 30%, which has them in 6th place in the NHL through 6 games.

Last game in Los Angeles, the power play looked unstoppable, going 3 for 3 and creating opportunities consistently. I set out to figure out what, if any, differences there were on the power play between now and last year (especially in the playoffs when the personnel was most similar).

The first thing to focus on is the entry. Vegas consistently uses a drop pass which leads to a puck carrier with speed brinign the puck through the neutral zone. He then brings it in himself or drops it off to one of the two wingers standings at the blue line. The Golden Knights strayed from this entry for a bit in the playoffs, but returned to it by the end of the series. So, for the most part, that’s completely unchanged.

The units are not far off from what they were against the Sharks in the postseason. The better unit includes Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Paul Stastny, Shea Theodore. The other unit includes Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and William Karlsson. The difference that Cody Glass in now in for Alex Tuch on the first unit, and Nic Hague and Valentin Zykov are in for Colin Miller and Cody Eakin on the second.

What this has done has created a small difference in the default layout the Golden Knights use once they enter the zone and are completely set up. It’s literally the only difference I can find, but there does seem to be a contrast in how the units operate due to the change.

To illustrate it, we head to the grease board!

Power Play setup last year with Tuch

Power Play setup this year with Glass

As you can see, the only difference is where Glass and Tuch play. Tuch is set up directly in front of the net with the idea of screening the goalie and picking up rebounds, while Glass is under the goal line as an extra passing option.

The main difference is the options that are presented for the two guys in the circles when they have the puck (Pacioretty and Stone).

Last year with Tuch

This year with Glass

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Carp: Managing Injuries A Tricky 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.**

Every hockey team has to deal with injuries. But the successful ones manage theirs better.

The Golden Knights have been tested earlier than most teams. They started this season without forwards Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, two key components. Then they lost defenseman Nate Schmidt on opening night after he and San Jose’s Logan Couture collided in the 1st period.

And of course, no injury report would be complete without including goaltender Malcom Subban, who got hurt Thursday in Arizona and forcing Marc-Andre Fleury to work on what was supposed to be a night off.

The Knights’ ability to manage their injuries has varied in their brief existence. They somehow were able to survive after Fleury sustained a concussion early in the inaugural season and wound up missing two months. They also lost Subban and Oscar Dansk during that time too.

And they always seem to manage to compensate whenever William Carrier self-destructs and goes on Injured Reserve. Carrier’s style of play lends himself to getting hurt but to ask him to adjust and play it safe would make him ineffective. He was superb Saturday in the 6-2 win over Calgary, registering a goal and an assist in what was the first multi-point game of his career. He has to play the way he does so you live with the consequences.

You could look at Schmidt’s 20 games missed due to suspension last year as an injury because it forced others to fill the gaps, something the defense didn’t do a particularly good job of. The team struggled without him. And with Schmidt out for who knows how long, once again, the defense is under the microscope.

The hope was the youngsters — Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, perhaps Dylan Coghlan or Jake Bischoff would step up and play well enough to solidify things. So far, that hasn’t manifested itself. Coghlan started the season in the minors, Schuldt joined him Friday, Bischoff got recalled from the Wolves, Hague has not distinguished himself and who knows how long Gerard Gallant sticks with him?

There was some good news from the infirmary. Eakin returned to the lineup Saturday against the Flames and the Knights will welcome his ability in the faceoff circle to win draws, to kill penalties and, most important, spearhead a tenacious forecheck and create turnovers.

If there was a common thread in the losses to Boston and Arizona, it was the lack of a strong forecheck game by the Knights’ forwards. When the forecheck is working, the game becomes vastly different. Opposing teams can’t transition as easily from defense to offense. Scoring opportunities suddenly emerge. The ice gets tilted in Vegas’ favor.

Eakin helps provide that with his tenacity.

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George McPhee Likes “The Threat Of A Fight” In His Lineup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights came out of the Expansion Draft, George McPhee liked the roster. He said they had lots of speed, plenty of scoring, depth on defense, and a great goaltender. But there was one thing missing in his mind, something he went out and fixed at the trade deadline in 2018.

Vegas acquired Ryan Reaves (essentially for free), immediately placed him in the lineup, re-signed him to an overpaid deal in July 2018, and he’s been a mainstay in the lineup ever since.

Speaking to Pierre McGuire in an interview on NBC Sports’ new podcast “Our Line Starts,” McPhee explained why he likes having a player like Reaves on his roster.

I think we all enjoy where the game is right now. I don’t care if I ever see another fight again but I like having the threat of a fight in the game to keep people honest. -George McPhee to Our Line Starts Podcast

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Reaves has been in three fights in his 104 games with the Golden Knights.

However, the Golden Knights as a team have been in just 11 fights in 144 games since acquiring Reaves, where they were in 11 in 70 games prior to his arrival.

It keeps people honest in this game and can sometimes keep the temperature down when you need to keep it down because we’re carrying sticks and it’s a physical game. -McPhee

Gallant took Reaves out of the lineup a bit in the playoffs the first season, but aside from that, he’s been a constant. Hearing this from the GM (or whatever he actually is now) and knowing the head coach’s affinity for big #75, that will probably continue for as long as he’s able to go.

“More Of Subban This Year”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the first time this season, Malcolm Subban will be in between the pipes for the Golden Knights tonight against the Arizona Coyotes.

Last year, Subban played 21 games, starting 20 of them. Max Lagace got one game which left 61 for Marc-Andre Fleury. That includes a nine-game stretch at the end of the season where Fleury was out with an injury. If not for that run, Fleury likely would have played 65 or more games.

The prevailing thought around the NHL is 65 is too many, heck most believe (including Jason and I) that 60 is even too many.

Of the 13 starting goaltenders that have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the beginning of the salary cap era in 2005, none played more than 70 games in the regular season. In fact, only two of the 13 played more than 60 games. –Jesse Granger, The Athletic

The Golden Knights, at least what they stated publicly, were pretty stubborn last year in their comments about not holding Fleury back to a certain number. This year, the thinking may have changed.

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. –The Creator on Sportsbook Radio

Tonight’s game is not a back-to-back, the Golden Knights are not in the midst of a hectic week schedule-wise, and there wasn’t much travel involved. It simply seems like load management for Fleury.

We want to make sure Flower is really ready for the playoffs. He doesn’t want to do it, he wants to play every night, he’s such a competitor. –The Creator on Sportsbook Radio

Subban played two to three games a month for the first five months of the season last year. This year, that number will probably be closer to four to five a month, and the Golden Knights will be better off for it… even if Subban doesn’t play as well as Fleury can.

Vegas Has History Of Clinching Games In The Opening Minutes Vs SJS

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In their first two games of the 2019-2020 season, the Golden Knights have scored three goals in the opening ten minutes. It was a point of emphasis for the opponent after the opening night matchup against San Jose.

The key in this building is getting through the first ten minutes. And we didn’t do that.-Pete DeBoer, Sharks Head Coach

It’s not just this season, it dates back to the inaugural 2017-18 campaign. Under Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights have a track record of taking quick control of the game, especially against the Sharks. Just look at how Vegas handles San Jose at T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights have a clear advantage in the opening ten minutes.

11/24/17: VGK 5 SJ 4
Shea Theodore Goal At 2:33 1st Period
James Neal Goal At 11:16 1st Period

3/31/18: VGK 3 SJ 2
Shea Theodore Goal At 2:21 1st Period

4/26/18: Game 1- VGK 7 SJ 0
Cody Eakin Goal At 4:31 1st Period
Erik Haula Goal At 4:57 1st Period
Jon Marchessault Goal At 6:02 1st Period
Alex Tuch Goal At 11:43 1st Period

11/24/18: VGK 6 SJ 0
William Karlsson Goal At 0:14 1st Period
Colin Miller Goal At 4:40 1st Period
Max Pacioretty Goal At 9:29 1st Period

01/10/19: SJ 3 VGK 2
Tomas Nosek Goal At 1:34 1st Period

04/14/19: Game 3- VGK 6 SJ 3
Mark Stone Goal At 0:14 1st Period
Max Pacioretty Goal At 12:43 1st Period

04/16/19: Game 4- VGK 5 SJ 0
Max Pacioretty Goal At 1:11 1st Period

10/02/19: VGK 4 SJ 1
Mark Stone Goal At 3:46 1st Period
Reilly Smith Goal At 5:21 1st Period

VGK/SJ History Totals:

VGK is 7-1-0 against San Jose when they score in the opening 10 minutes of a game
VGK scored 16 Goals against San Jose in the opening 13 minutes
VGK scored two or more goals in 5 separate games

Is it as simple as having a ‘race out of the gate’ mentality? Or is it the atmosphere at the T-Mobile Arena?

I think it’s a little bit of both. -Marc Andre Fleury

And nobody benefits more from the quick starts than the goalie.

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