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Golden Knights’ “Top” Line Playing Like It – Just In Time

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

For the first couple of weeks of March, you were sure the world had flipped upside down.

Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and the recently acquired Mark Stone were the Golden Knights’ top line. They were competing. They were scoring. They were dominating at both ends of the ice.

It made you wonder what was going on with William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, the Knights’ regular No. 1 unit. They had been running hot and cold most of the year and if you were the opposing team’s coach, you had greater concerns for the Stastny line.

But as we have seen the past week, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith are playing like the top line they should be. And could the timing be better?

We’re in the final push to the playoffs. The Knights, who are likely to remain in third place in the Pacific Division, have 41 wins and 87 points with nine games to play, seven behind second-place San Jose and nine in front of Arizona, which is batting for the final wild card spot.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

And while it’s easy for us to look ahead to the second week of April and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, if you’re Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith, these final 2 1/2 weeks, beginning Thursday at T-Mobile Arena against Winnipeg, are critical in building momentum and confidence. You want to go into the postseason playing your best hockey and we’re seeing signs of that from the line.

Here’s the way things have broken down over the last five games, which saw the Knights go 4-1 as part of their current 9-1 run:

Marchessault — 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points
Smith — 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points
Karlsson — 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points

That’s a combined seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points, an average of four points a game for the line. Any coach would take that kind of productivity.

So what changed?

Part of it is Smith is 100 percent healthy and he has remained on the line after Gerard Gallant moved him around after he returned to the ice after he missed nearly a month in early January with an injury. When he’s right and playing his game, Smith is arguably the best two-way winger on the Knights, though some may point to Stone and say he has supplanted Smith in that role.

Marchessault? His thing is putting the puck in the net. And with back-to-back two-goal games, he may be finding his groove. Granted, he beat a sieve of a goalie Sunday in Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen, who could have the worst glove I’ve seen from an NHL goalie in years. But think about all the times we’ve seen Marchessault look up to the heavens after hitting a crossbar, missing an open net or getting robbed by the other team’s goalie? Things tend to even themselves out in hockey and if you’re a goal-scorer like Marchessault, your puck luck ultimately finds its level.

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Deal or No Deal? Should The Golden Knights Make A Move?

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

From Feb. 1 through Saturday night, there had been 20 trades consummated in the NHL.

The Golden Knights were not a participant in a single one of them.

The trade deadline is 24 hours away. And it begs the question: What will George McPhee do?

Will he make a major move? Will he make a couple of small deals? Will he stand pat?

You can make an argument for any of the above and have a valid point. My gut is telling me he is listening about participating in a big deal, one that perhaps could have multiple teams involved. Whether he takes action, only he knows. He doesn’t share his thoughts with me, though sometimes it would be nice to have a general philosophical conversation with GMGM about hockey and take his temperature on various topics surrounding the game in general and his team in particular.

But that’s not his style. So that leaves me to guess what I think he’s going to do, which is a dangerous, and most likely, inaccurate game.

A week ago, I proposed making a serious run at Ottawa forward Mark Stone, the team’s leading scorer. I cited several reasons why Stone should be McPhee’s target with the caveat being he has to have a guarantee Stone would agree to a long-term deal to play in Vegas. No rentals here.

As of this morning, Stone was still with the Senators while Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel are no longer in Ottawa, both having been dealt to Columbus in separate trades. I have no doubt Sens GM Pierre Dorion is going to demand a ton for his best remaining player and the price may simply be too steep at this point for the Knights.

But if you’ve watched this team perform the past three weeks, it’s not just scoring that they need or a boost to its anemic power play.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The defense has struggled, particularly Colin Miler and Brayden McNabb. McPhee watches the same game we all do and while he may view things through a slightly different prism, he no doubt sees some sketchy play from his blue line corps and perhaps his attention may be shifting from looking to trade for some scoring to shoring up his defense.

He has been quoted recently that he likes this team the way it is currently constructed and that when they are playing the right way, the Knights are a very good hockey team. But the reality is Vegas has not been on the right side of things lately. They were on Feb. 16 when they dominated Nashville, 5-1. They played O.K. in losing to Boston in a shootout last Wednesday, 3-2.

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Former NHL Star and Czech Juniors Coach Evaluates Vegas’ Top Prospects

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Patrik Elias is one of the finer European players to ever play the game. The future Hall of Famer was considered a highly smart two-way player with elite skills. The two-time Stanley Cup champion is New Jersey’s franchise leader in points, goals, and assists, which is doubly impressive since Elias played a good chunk of his career in the Dead Puck era.

Elias was in town last month to assist with the NHL’s new player tracking technology, and to watch his Devils face off against the Golden Knights. So, I tracked down the retired star to get his thoughts on the youngsters in the Vegas pipeline.

After all, the Czech was an assistant coach for his home country at this past World Junior Championships. Elias was enthusiastic by what he saw from the Golden Knights prospects.

Cody Glass

Before I could finish my question, Elias cut in…

He’s an NHL player no question about it. I watched not only minutes but a couple of hours of video on him because of the way he runs a power play. He’s got a great poise. Obviously, right handed shot. Hockey smarts, great skater. He was one of the better, most fun players to watch. He’s going to be an NHL pro. -Elias

Elias wasn’t committing to a timetable for Glass but he expects it won’t be long.

You see a lot of the guys making the jump quickly. If they work hard, they’ll get the chance. It is a young man’s league. But nothing wrong with playing in the minors for a little bit. Adjust to it a little, even though it’s a different game. -Elias

Erik Brannstrom

Just as he was with Glass, Elias was incredibly high on Vegas’ spitfire defenseman.

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The Creator Speaks – On A Load Of Subjects

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

Bill Foley looked tired. And indeed, he was.

The chairman and CEO of the Golden Knights and the man who brought the NHL to Las Vegas had gotten home late from Thursday’s exhilarating 4-2 come-from-behind win over the New York Islanders at T-Mobile Arena.

He was about to spend 90 minutes outside “The Arsenal” team store at City National Arena Friday afternoon, signing copies of the team’s official book that recapped its magical inaugural season. And the line was long. After all, how many fans get to meet the owner of the team they root for?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But that’s what makes the man Ken refers to as “The Creator” so special. He loves interacting with the Golden Knights’ fan base. He’s so down-to-earth that even though he’s a billionaire, he can relate with those who sit in the balcony at the Fortress and who have invested more than money in this team.

I found that out early on when I first interviewed Foley back in 2014. Friday, we sat down in a conference room adjacent to his office at CNA, an office, which by the way, is fairly spartan. Not a lot of memorabilia or pictures. Very simple, perhaps an ode to his West Point days in the 1960s.

We talked for just over 16 minutes (you can listen to the entire audio of our conversation below) and we touched on a wide range of topics.

Remember, this is a man who had to bury his son in August after 31-year-old William died. He is still grieving and he admitted he’ll never get over his loss.

You can replace an injured player or a player who is under-achieving. But you cannot replace a family member who died way too early.

But he said hockey and the Golden Knights have been cathartic. And for those couple of hours when the Knights are playing, he can allow himself to focus on the team and the game.

It’s a great distraction. -Bill Foley

Normally, this would be a regular column. But Foley had so many interesting things to say, I figured why not let you hear and read everything?

So here’s my Q&A with the Top Knight from Friday afternoon:

SinBin: How would you assess the state of the Golden Knights on the ice at the moment?

Bill Foley: “Honestly, I believe we’re in a really good spot. We’re 22 away and now 15 at home. It’s the biggest split in the league. I think the next closest is the Avalanche who are 20 and 15. So we got through that horrendous period of five at home, 17 away.

“One of the goals was to get a point a game. We needed 17 points and we got 20, so we got through that. And we did it with a lot of injuries. (Max) Pacioretty is out again for a bit. (Erik) Haula’s month-to-month …”

SB: Did you see that brace on his knee?

BF: “Yeah, it’s terrible.”

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Welcome Seattle

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

The NHL officially grew by one Tuesday as the Emerald City joined the league as its 32nd team, effective for the 2021-22 season. The price tag? A hefty $650 million, 30 percent more than the $500 million Bill Foley paid to bring the Golden Knights into the NHL in 2016.

The Metropolitans or Totems or whatever they’re going to be called (I’m rooting for Totems, the idea of a Let’s Go Mets!” chant in a hockey arena is not what I want to hear) have a tough act to follow and they know it.

The fan base in Washington State has responded in similar fashion to Las Vegas with more than 32,000 deposits for a 17,000-seat building at the once-again refurbished KeyArena. And they’re going to demand the same kind of success the Golden Knights enjoyed in their inaugural season.

Could lightning strike twice? Sure. If Seattle’s Dave Tippett hires the right general manager and the right coach, if the team drafts well in the Expansion Draft and can pull off a few shrewd moves and have a decent amateur draft, yeah, they could have a memorable Year One.

But that’s a lot of if’s.

Frankly, I’m not so sure they can pull it off for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the rules themselves.

If you recall, the Knights were able to select one player from each of the 30 existing NHL teams. They were also allowed to make side deals where if you didn’t take a certain player from a team, that team would trade you another player and/or a draft pick.

George McPhee skillfully exploited the rules and took a couple of teams to the cleaners, most notably Minnesota and Florida. He got Alex Tuch and Erik Haula from the Wild by agreeing not to take Matt Dumba. He got Reilly Smith from the Panthers along with Jonathan Marchessault.

Ironically, both opposing GMs, Chuck Fletcher in Minnesota and Tom Rowe in Florida, ultimately lost their jobs. (Fletcher resurfaced Monday in Philadelphia as the Flyers’ new GM.)

I’m guessing Fletcher learned his lesson in Minnesota and will be very wary about dealing with Seattle when it comes time for the Flyers to expose their unprotected list. Dale Tallon’s back in charge in Florida and assuming he’s still there two years from now, he’s not going to repeat the mistakes his predecessor made.

And that goes for the other GMs too. You’re not likely to see a lot of side deals made with Seattle. Better to just lose one player and not perpetuate a gaffe.

The exception? GMGM.

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Gallant Weighs In On The Haula Playing Center Or Wing

Hard to believe it makes sense to switch positions on a player who scored 29 goals a year ago. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The moment Paul Stastny signed with the Golden Knights, a center controversy sparked. Stastny will almost certainly play center on the second line and with the addition of Max Pacioretty, he’ll be on his left wing. That leaves Erik Haula or Alex Tuch as the other wing. Haula had a career year playing center with David Perron and James Neal last season. He’s also made multiple comments during this offseason that he sees himself as a center.

Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant gave his thoughts on the situation today.

Hauls can play both wing and center so I don’t see any issue with that. I’ve been reading a little about Hauls being pushed down to the third line, that’s not fair. Hauls scored 29 goals last year. When you look at the makeup of our team, I mean obviously you would say the Karlsson line will stay together, and there’s a good chance that’s going to stay together, and after that guys are going to figure things out. We’ll go to camp and figure out who’s the best fit with each line and what’s gonna work. Erik Haula is a hell of a player and had a hell of year for us last year. We’ll see where he’s going to fit. I’m not worried about it one bit at all. If Hauls is playing 2nd line center or 2nd line right wing or playing 3rd line it’s not an issue. Tuchy is a good player, he’s a young player, he played great on the right side last year on the 2nd line and played great on the left wing on the 3rd line. So there’s no issue there. Guys come to camp, work hard, and see what happens and hopefully nobody is injured and we’ll put our lines together and get ready for the game. It doesn’t concern me, good players can play with everybody. I’m mean I’m sure Hauls is looking at it saying, where do I fit, but it’s not an issue for me, he’ll be fine, he’ll get plenty of ice time. -Gallant

The one portion that sticks out most is “that’s not fair.” That could mean a lot of different things but the most likely is that Gallant believes it’s only fair to give Haula the first shot to play with Stastny and Pacioretty.

Camp opens tomorrow with the first preseason game being Sunday. It’s unlikely many of the established players play in that game, but every time Haula hits the ice, our eyes will be peeled on what position he’s in.

What Exactly Happened That Forced The Canadiens To Trade Their Captain To The Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Max Pacioretty is a bonafide star in the NHL. He’s scored 30 goals five times, been named an All Star three times, won the Masterton Award, and was named the captain of one of the most historic franchises in the NHL. When you dig even deeper into the stats you see that he’s a legitimate two-way winger who instantly makes the Golden Knights better both offensively and defensively.

So, the question you have to be asking is, why would the Canadiens ever let a guy like this go? To answer it, let’s hop into the SinBin.vegas time machine! (Don’t be scared, it’s really just us listing a timeline of events from newest to oldest.)

September 9, 2018
Vegas trades Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round draft pick for Max Pacioretty

September 7, 2018
Pacioretty tells TSN Montreal that he has never asked to be traded and talks about Vegas

Everyone saw what Vegas did last year as a team… They were building a foundation from the ground up. They didn’t have any plans to make the Stanley Cup finals, and no expectations to do so either. Look what they were able to achieve. – Pacioretty on 9/7/18

I have to do my best to just completely block it out. Completely ignore the noise. -Pacioretty 9/7/18

September 5, 2018
Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reports Pacioretty will not talk contract negotiations with the Montreal Canadiens during the season

August 30, 2018
Pacioretty’s former teammate Lars Eller comes to his friend’s defense on twitter

August 28, 2018
Pacioretty tells reporters contract extension talks have ended and he’s concerned for his future in Montreal

July 30, 2018
Montreal Gazette reports Canadiens we’re having problems finding market value for Pacioretty

The problem for Bergevin is he’s been trying to trade Pacioretty for months and so far it hasn’t worked. So the other 30 general managers know Bergevin is desperate because it’s almost unimaginable that the Habs captain will start the year with Montreal. The other GMs can offer less than market value for him, knowing full well that Bergevin doesn’t have much room to maneuver. What I’m hearing from very reliable sources is that Canadiens management has been unhappy with Pacioretty for a while. -Brendan Kelly, Montreal Gazette

July 10, 2018
The Athletic reports Montreal will not offer Pacioretty a contract extension

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Engelland, Golden Knights Join Team #JinxesAreForLosers By Picking Up Campbell Bowl

The winner of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals is awarded the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. There’s a long standing tradition in which players and teams refuse to touch the trophy because the only trophy a winner touches is the Stanley Cup.

I didn’t touch it. I’m a rookie, I follow what they say. If they tell me to touch it, I’ll touch it. If they tell me not to touch it, I won’t touch it. -Alex Tuch

It’s a supersition that’s been followed for many years, and according to some, has jinxed many a team, but the Golden Knights were not afraid.

After winning Game 5, 2-1, and clinching the Western Conference Championship, Deryk Engelland skated over to the trophy, immedeatley put his fingers on the handle, and eventually lifted it and brought it back to his teammates.

We decided as a group to take it because we went through the experience togehter. (Fleury) has been the backbone to our team, so more or less it came down to what he wanted to do. -Deryk Engelland

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The Golden Knights Have Never Faced Real Adversity, Because They Stop It Before Comes

He’s basically a superhero. Going around saving doubters from doubting. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

All season long there’s been a running narrative that the Golden Knights are strong at overcoming adversity. The storyline dates back to the Fleury injury and has stuck with the team throughout the season, despite the fact it’s never actually been true.

The Vegas Golden Knights had never experienced real hockey adversity. Sure, they lost their goalie, and then his backup, and then his backup, early in the year and battled through a stretch with Max Lagace in the net, but at no time during it was anything expected of them. There wasn’t real adversity there because there wasn’t any expectation. They’ve never had a truly bad stretch of hockey, they’ve never lost more than three games in a row, and once they rose to 1st place in the division they never lost it. Simply put, they’ve had what may look like hardships, but they’ve never really had a true hardship, one that could legitimately destroy their perfect season.

That was until Game 3. Coming off a crushing loss in Game 2 due to a disallowed goal, the Golden Knights went into the 3rd period in control, leading 3-1. They gave up one, but it looked like the clock was going to run out on the Sharks.

It didn’t.

San Jose scored, tied the game, came back from a two-goal deficit, again, and the Golden Knights season was hanging in the balance. Then it got worse. They were gifted a pair of power plays to begin overtime, and couldn’t score. They had a great chance from James Neal that clanked off the bar. Then they gave up the best chance of the game, and Marc-Andre Fleury (without even really seeing the puck) saved it with his glove.

The potential to lose this game, and control in the series, that was real adversity. But they are the Golden Knights, and how they deal with it is to turn to William Karlsson and let him do his thing, and once again, save them from serious adversity.

I mean, sure, it’s tough, but it’s still a tie game, there’s still a chance to step up in overtime. -William Karlsson

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Not Ready To Reminisce, Not Yet At Least

The Vegas Golden Knights are headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Those are the words I wrote in a tweet on Monday night as the clock ticked down towards zero. Against all odds, those words were about to become a reality in the very first year in Golden Knight history.

I remember when Vegas Wants Hockey was an idea that was laughable to most of North America. I remember the launching of the ticket drive and Gary Bettman standing in front of the media with a sheepish “how the heck is this actually happening” look on his face. I remember the number reaching 10,000 and all you could hear were haters crowing about how Winnipeg did it faster, and I remember the owners’ meetings afterward where the word “expansion” was not even on the agenda. Then I remember when it was.

I really remember June 22, 2016, November 22nd, 2016, and June 21st, 2017. I even remember the little things like the day The Creator’s final payment cleared and the team was officially a member of the NHL, seeing Bill Daly hold up a card with the Golden Knights logo on it during the lottery, the signings of Reid Duke, Vadim Shipachyov, and Tomas Hyka before the Expansion Draft even occurred, and hearing the words “Vegas is on the clock.”

Yep, this really happened on September 17th, 2017.

I remember Development Camp, informal practices, and the time I had to watch the first period of the first preseason game on an iPhone because DirecTV couldn’t figure out that ATT SportsNet Rocky Mountain was now a local channel to Vegas.

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