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Would A Trade Deadline Acquisition Even Be Enough To Fix The Third Line?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights top six has returned to normalcy for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, with Gerard Gallant’s decision to put Reilly Smith back on the line with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

There’s no debating it, a top six of Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Alex Tuch, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny is as good as the Golden Knights can do. And, if you compare it against other top sixes in the NHL, it’s right there with the best of them.

The return of William Carrier appears to have re-stabilized the fourth line as well. Again, one of the best in the NHL.

But, this lineup leaves a void. It leaves a line with Cody Eakin as the center and a revolving door of Tomas Nosek, Valentin Zykov, Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, and Brandon Pirri on his wings. Let’s just be frank for a second, there’s not a combination of three guys that make a legitimately dangerous line.

So with the trade deadline a mere 14 days away, it begs the question, how much should George McPhee be willing to give up to fix it?

However, I’m here to pose a different question. Can it actually be fixed without breaking up the top six?

Just play along with me for a second here. Let’s say the Golden Knights acquire the best player available, Artemi Panarin. You liking a line of Eakin, Panarin, and Zykov? Does Eakin, Panarin, and Carpenter float your boat? What about Eakin, Panarin, and Pirri, that giving you the tickle?

Me neither.

Now, if they do something like…

Marchessault-Karlsson-Zykov
Pacioretty-Stastny-Tuch
Panarin-Eakin-Smith

or

Panarin-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Tuch
Marchessault-Eakin-Zykov

or

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Panarin-Stastny-Pirri
Pacioretty-Eakin-Tuch

Now you’re talking!

What if they get Mark Stone? Wayne Simmonds? Matt Duchene? Jimmy Hayes? Michael Ferland?

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A Weird Night… And A Blown Opportunity

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

I think I can sum up Saturday’s affair at T-Mobile Arena in one word:

Strange.

The Golden Knights were finally back home after an extended All-Star Break and a four-game road trip. The building was energized. The opponent was good. It had all the trappings for a memorable evening.

It was memorable all right — if you’re into bizarre happenings.

Fluke goals. Crazy caroms. Shuffled lines. It all made for a memorable night for the wrong reasons as the Golden Knights squandered leads of 2-1 and 3-2 in falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-3, and left 18,301 people leaving the T shaking their heads in bewilderment and perhaps a tinge of anger.

But what you should remember from Saturday are the two points the Knights squandered. And if they should come up short in their quest to win the Pacific Division, you’ll think back to the game on Feb. 9 as one of the reasons why, just as you’ll remember the Feb. 5 win at Tampa as one of the big reasons why if they are successful in capturing the Pacific.

Vegas has been almost unbeatable at home since it joined the NHL two years ago. But lately, home has not been where the points are. The Knights have now dropped three straight at T-Mobile and last won in their own building back on Jan. 19. Their record at home this year? A far-from-stellar 16-7-3.

What’s troubling is that they had the lead in each of those three games they ultimately wound up losing. The inability to maintain or build a lead at home is becoming increasingly alarming.

With a team like that, you’ve got to play a little more methodical. That’s what’s tough. You have a lead in the third period and you can’t close them out but I thought we gave them the game. It sucks because you’re pretty happy about being up 3-2 and even though you haven’t played a great game, but you’re still up. You have a chance to close it out at home … arrragh! -Nate Schmidt

The weird goals sometimes happen over the course of a season. It wasn’t Marc-Andre Fleury’s best performance either and he was the first to admit it. Maybe the guy is human after all.

Yet the Knights still should have come out of Saturday with points. Unfortunately, Columbus’ best player, Cam Atkinson, delivered when his team needed him the most and scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner with 2:39 to play and Paul Stastny sitting in the penalty box for slashing after Atkinson had put a great move on Brayden McNabb to get free in the Vegas zone.

And had the Knights prevailed, we would be talking about Gerard Gallant’s brilliant strategy to shorten his bench after a dismal second period which saw his team manufacture just three, count ‘em, three shots on goal.

Gallant essentially went with three lines in the third period, sprinkling in Cody Eakin with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves while electing to sit Tomas Nosek and Valentin Zykov. And remember, Brandon Pirri wasn’t an option for Gallant as he was a healthy scratch.

The moves looked like they were going to pay off as Eakin put the Knights ahead 3-2 9:21 into the third.

It wasn’t a problem for me. You go out there, you talk with whoever (Gallant) puts you with and you just go play. -Cody Eakin

Why did Gallant do it? After that dismal second period, he couldn’t afford an encore in the third.

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COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS 4 VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 3 (31-22-4 66 PTS)

A wide open first period had scoring chances aplenty both ways. Columbus struck first with a deflection goal that just slid past the line, but moments later the Golden Knights answered with a wacky hop bounce goal of their own from Nate Schmidt. Then, on a Blue Jacket power play, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson led the charge down the ice and Jon Merrill put home the loose change. A strong 2nd by Columbus put Vegas on their heels defending for a majority of the frame. Marc-Andre Fleury’s misplay off the boards helped Artemi Panarin tie the game at two. A Cody Eakin tally put Vegas back in front, but another spill by Fleury helped Cam Atkinson tie it. On the power play, Atkinson scored another one. The Golden Knights couldn’t get anything on net with the empty net and dropped a heartbreaking one.

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights vs Columbus Blue Jackets at T-Mobile Arena.

  • Carp on Gallant’s decision to play only 10 forwards in the 3rd
  • An off day that may have changed the complexion of the season.
  • A deeper dive into the difference between when VGK gets through the neutral zone clean and when they don’t. (Assuming my eyes didn’t deceive me when I watch this game again)

Ken’s Three VGK Stars
*** Jon Merrill
** Reilly Smith
* Cody Eakin

Top Line Reboot

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into this season the Golden Knights top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith were expected to lead the charge. A combined +116 with 92 goals a year ago between just the three had them as one of the best lines in all of hockey.

The chemistry they had in the regular season extended into the playoffs. It picked right back up when the trio was reunited in preseason to start this year. 20+ games in, the numbers weren’t quite as staggering as a year ago, but there was no question Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith were the best line the Golden Knights had and remained a force to be reckoned with.

But recently, it’s hit the skids. Prior to the game in Detroit, the last time Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith all had a point in the same game was on December 14th (a stretch of 12 games playing together and 23 total). Smith’s injury put a halt to the line altogether, but even before it, the previous 10 games they were together, they managed just 10 total points and only five goals. As importantly, the defense appeared to be slipping as well.

During Smith’s absence, it did not improve for Marchessault and Karlsson, instead it got much worse. The pair combined for five goals in nine games (four of which were scored in the same game), just four assists, and they posted a miserable -17 over the three-week span.

Yet, when Smith was ready, he wasn’t put back on the line with Marchessault and Karlsson, instead, Gallant gave them Valentin Zykov for a couple games, and there was a level of success. However, midway through the game in Detroit, following a penalty kill, Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith found themselves on the ice together once again, and it looked like the old days again.

They were a combined +5 in Thursday’s game, scored three goals and had five points, but more importantly, their shifts were dominant almost every time they touched the ice.

It wasn’t really a plan, I didn’t think the line was going as good as it could have, so sometimes you shake things up a little bit and piss people off a little bit maybe. It works sometimes. -Gerard Gallant

I’m not sure who Gallant was trying to “piss off” but it appeared to work… at least for one night.

It feels like a reboot and sometimes that’s just what a line needs. A fresh start, which they now have.

They’ve been real good. They’re finding some life there a little bit and I thought the last game was excellent. It’s all about timing, and I expect them to be good for the next 25 games. -Gallant

Tonight is a tough test against a terrific defensive team in the Blue Jackets. The last two times Vegas has faced Columbus, the Golden Knights scored a total of one goal.

However, the time before, the only trip Columbus has made to T-Mobile Arena, Vegas dropped six on them, including two from Karlsson and a pair of assists from Marchessault.

The Golden Knights need Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith to produce, whether they’re playing together or not. For now, they’re reunited. Hopefully, it keeps feeling as good as it did Thursday night in Detroit.

The Pirri Dilemma

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Brandon Pirri isn’t scoring what does Gerard Gallant and the Golden Knights organization do with him? Well, we got one answer last night when Gallant healthy scratched Pirri in Detroit, the first game he’s missed while on the active roster.

While filling in for injured top six forwards, Pirri was as hot as any player in the NHL, but that dried up in a hurry.

First 9 Games
10 Points (6 Goals, 4 Assists)
4-Game Point Streak (5Pts)12/20-12/27
5-Game Point Streak (8Pts) 12/30-1/11
2 Game-Winning Goals
2 Power Play Goals
29 Shots on Goal (3.22 per game)
+10 Rating
9 Games Played
Team Record 6-1-2

Last 9 Games
2 Points (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
0 Point Streaks
0 Game-Winning Goals
0 Power Play Goals
19 Shots (2.38 per game)
2 Games With No Shots on Goal
-4 Rating
8 Games Played/1 Healthy Scratch
Team Record 3-5-0 *Healthy Scratch 1-0-0

As you can see, the 27-year-old forward’s production has dipped significantly. If he’s not adding offense, he’s hard-pressed to find a place in the lineup. Neither the club or the player wants that. If Pirri continued his point pace, it solves a roster spot, adds desperately needed third line scoring, and the flexibility to pass on a possible rental at the deadline. But if he doesn’t, because he doesn’t kill penalties, he’s not used in a defensive role, and he often can’t be trusted to help protect a lead, George McPhee might be forced to find a replacement.

I feel like Nashville and Winnipeg will be the most aggressive. Then I would rank it Vegas next, Calgary, followed by San Jose. -Pierre LeBrun, TSN Winnipeg

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VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4 DETROIT RED WINGS 3 (31-21-4 66 PTS)

A disjointed 1st period for the Golden Knights led to the Red Wings having a majority of the possession. A fluky goal by Detroit put them ahead, but the Golden Knights got going quickly in the 2nd. Alex Tuch drew a penalty quickly which led toa Jonathan Marchessault power play goal. Then, the floodgates opened a bit as Vegas tacked on two more, another from Marchessault and one from William Karlsson. Marc-Andre Fleury sprung into action as the period wound down making multiple terrific saves. Detroit scored one to cut the lead to one, but a nice Brayden McNabb rush led to a tip and a goal.

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights at Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena

  • What to do with Brandon Pirri
  • Balance vs. loading up: Gallant has a choice to make

Ken’s Three VGK Stars
*** William Karlsson
** Jonathan Marchessault
* Marc-Andre Fleury

George McPhee Expansion Draft Interview Transcripts

The other day I was asked to do an interview for an upcoming documentary on the Golden Knights magical season. It’s called Valiant and it’s supposed to be released by the Summer of this year, but more on that when it comes out. I knew I would be asked plenty of questions about the Expansion Draft, so I was going through some of my notes, reading some of the articles we published around the time, and trying to relive the entire thing so I’d be prepared.

Looking back, that whole week was a complete blur, and I’m assuming it was for everyone as the Golden Knights went from having Reid Duke, Tomas Hyka, and Vadim Shipachyov to building an entire roster which would eventually go on to win the Western Conference all within about five days time.

While going through everything I found something interesting, transcripts from George McPhee’s press conferences during the three days of the Expansion Draft. If you don’t remember, teams submitted their protection lists, and then Vegas had 72 hours to submit its list of 30 selections to the league. The next day each of the 30 players were announced to a massive crowd at T-Mobile Arena and Marc-Andre Fleury, Jason Garrison, Brayden McNabb, and Deryk Engelland donned Vegas jerseys after being selected. Each morning during those 72 hours, McPhee met with the media to take questions and his answers were pretty amazing now that we have context.

It truly was a wild time and as always, time gives us perspective on things. The entire transcripts from those press conferences are below (plus a video of the Expansion Draft), but I wanted to highlight a few comments McPhee made during a time when everyone believed the Golden Knights would be among the worst teams in the league.

I think it’s going to be a pretty good team. We’re happy that, you know, we got a lot of defensemen, we got really good goaltending, we’ve got a lot of centers and we’ve got scoring on the wings. Should have good speed, so it’s going to be a good team. -McPhee on 6/20/17

Actually, I think we’ve done pretty well in all the positions. We have lots of defensemen lined up, we have lots of centers and we have scoring on the wings, a little more scoring than we anticipated. The goaltending is going to be pretty solid. It’s looking pretty good. It’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish and that is have a competitive club that people are going to enjoy watching play, and then having the draft picks to be able to draft our way to a contending team, a championship team. -McPhee on 6/20/17

Most mock drafts were full of players even fans of the teams they were being selected from had never heard of, yet McPhee was confident in speed, scoring, and goaltending. Not sure he ever thought he had just selected one of the fastest teams in the NHL, but the foresight is pretty cool.

Also, the plan was to draft the way to a championship team. Instead, they went to the Stanley Cup Final and have a chance to do so again, and not a single drafted player has stepped on the ice for the Golden Knights. Things changed quickly.

We’ve got all kinds of different screens that we’re working off of that were getting us different kinds of data that we needed. And just in terms of trying to put the team together, again, it’s not easy, because you’re trying to put all of these bodies together and you have to meet all these requirements, and again, as I mentioned yesterday, if you move one, if you make one change, it sort of changes the whole matrix. So, we just designated certain people in blue and I always use blue sort of as a ‘blue chip’ in ratings, and we usually have lots of different ratings. But, blue in this case was, this was probably a player that we’re claiming and keeping and don’t have interest in moving, and we used a different color for a player that we would claim and may have to move, just to allow us to see what the team sort of looks like as we’re making all the deals. -McPhee on 6/20/17

The mental image of that war room with names like Marchessault, Schmidt, Tuch, and Theodore highlighted in blue as “blue chip” guys is fascinating. We have a sense of which ones they got right based on long-term contracts, but it makes you wonder if there were any major misses among the blue chips. Griffin Reinhart? Oscar Lindberg? Brendan Leipsic? All were selected and kept following the Expansion Draft. Heck, Lindberg even signed a contract the next day.

Negotiating with GMs has been the same, but maybe the best way to put all of it on this whole experience, there’s just a glow about it. You know? It’s been such a positive experience for all of us that I’m keeping my fingers crossed, hoping it can continue to go the same way. -McPhee on 6/18/17

Hopefully, those fingers are still crossed.

Click through for the full transcripts.

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SinBin.vegas Podcast #142: Yes, Yes

We recap the big win against the Lightning, talk about Zykov’s future on the top line, and laugh about the greatest interview of all time. Hosted by Ken Boehlke and Jason Pothier.

  • The Carpenter injury
  • What to do with lines 1,3 and 4.
  • The starting goalie decision-making process
  • “Yes” -Zykov
  • Would you want Artemi Panarin?

And much more…

We are on iTunesStitcher, and Google Play. Subscribe now!

The Golden Knights Get Their Best Two Points Of The Year

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

The Golden Knights are going to pick up a few more points before the season ends. I promise.

But you’re going to be hard-pressed to identify a better two points than the ones the Knights secured Tuesday night in Tampa.

Coming back from a two-goal deficit on the road against the best team in the NHL and dealing with some sketchy officiating while losing one of their forwards, even getting one point was a tremendous accomplishment.

But two?

Give the players and coaches all the credit. They easily could’ve packed it in, especially given the fact they came into Amalie Arena in the throes of a franchise-worst four-game losing streak and had failed to register a single point in the standings since January 19.

Yet the Knights hung in, kept battling, never allowing things to get out of hand. And that tenacity was rewarded with a 3-2 shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As always, it started in goal where Marc-Andre Fleury matched Andrei Vasilevskiy shot for shot, right through the shootout.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Brayden McNabb, who has raised his level of play this year, was tremendous in his usual, understated way. I’ve come to really appreciate all the things McNabb does, particularly on the penalty kill, where he and Deryk Engelland have been solid on the first unit going on two years now.

Up front, Cody Eakin never stops working. His game is so much better this year and his goal to get the Knights within 2-1 was obviously huge.

No less important was the great stretch pass off Jon Merrill’s stick to spring Eakin into the clear. Merrill is another player who has made great strides in his second year in Vegas.

And while it was good to see Valentin Zykov find the net, it was just as rewarding to see William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault get back on the scoresheet in helping set up Zykov’s game-tying tally.

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VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 3 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING 2 (30-21-4 64 PTS) – SO (1-0)

The Golden Knights couldn’t stay out of the box in the 1st period taking three uncharacteristic penalties. Schmidt (0 on season), Karlsson (5 on season), and Smith (3 on season) each took a penalty. Tampa Bay scored on one of them. The Golden Knights got a PP of their own and squandered it not getting even a single shot. The Golden Knights battled through multiple penalty kills to eventually tie the game at two. Valentin Zykov scored the tying goal. Vegas had a power play to end regulation and one to end OT but couldn’t get one to go. Alex Tuch came up huge in the shootout recording the only goal.

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights at Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena

  • Steve Carp’s Wednesday column

Ken’s Three VGK Stars
*** Cody Eakin
** Alex Tuch
* Valentin Zykov

 

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