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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

 

Why Valentin Zykov Deserves To Keep His Spot On VGK’s Top Line

Dude hasn’t played enough for Brandon to get a picture. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In somewhat of a surprising move, Gerard Gallant moved Valentin Zykov up to the first line to play with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Zykov has been waived as many times as he’d played in a Golden Knights uniform, yet there he was playing on a line that was considered one of the best in the NHL a year ago and the decision wasn’t forced by injury.

In the game against Florida, he was on the ice for a career-high 17:32, recorded three shots, created multiple scoring chances, and registered three hits. He was also a -1, had three giveaways, and posted a 50% Corsi For. The Golden Knights did not score with Zykov on the ice.

Yet, here we are, heading into a Tuesday night game against the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, mired in a four-game losing streak, and Gallant has once again put Zykov back on the line with Karlsson and Marchessault.

Having watched the game live I remember thinking Zykov had a few good chances, helped create a few others, but overall was far from memorable in the game. But when I saw him back on that line in practice and I figured I must have missed something. He must have done well enough to keep the spot. So, I went back and watched all 16 shifts Zykov took and not only do I agree with Gallant, but I thought he was the best player on the line… by far.

Of the 16 shifts, I counted 12 that I would consider him having a positive impact, with four of those 12 being majorly positive. Karlsson’s positive shift number was eight, Marchessault’s was five in the same 16 shifts.

What really jumped off the page for me while watching was his ability to get the puck off the wall and onto a teammates stick quickly. Here are a few examples…

Both of those instantly opened up the ice for William Karlsson. Nothing came of either, but these type of quick accurate plays are what the Golden Knights do when they are at their best.

It wasn’t just off the walls either. Here’s a terrific pass through the neutral zone to spring a break and eventually lead to two of his three shots.

Almost every shift he made a pass that advanced the puck quickly. Unfortunately, most of the time Karlsson and Marchessault were unable to do much with it. Here are a couple more examples of that. 

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Scoring First Not What It Used To Be For Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last season was an absolute walk in the park for Golden Knights fans. I think we can all admit that now after going through this season’s roller coaster of emotions. Sure, Vegas is a top contender for the Stanley Cup again but it’s been much more stressful for Golden Knights fans.

We’ve got to find a way to get out of this slump and get back on the winning side by working hard, doing little things, simple things and playing our game in a fast way, good compete level and we should be alright. -Marc Andre Fleury

The Golden Knights are still on pace for a playoff invite but this current four-game skid has frustrated many. Including the team.

Well they better be frustrated because they’ve got to play better. They’ve got to play harder and work harder. It’s all about winning hockey games. -Gerard Gallant

One glaring concern for this season’s Golden Knights squad is their inability to win games after scoring first. Last season Vegas was 34-5-2 when they scored first, this season their record is an ordinary 17-10-3 in 54 games played.

The Golden Knights are tied for the second most regulation losses when leading opponents 1-0.

Regulation Losses When Scoring First
Ottawa 11
Vegas 10
New Jersey 10
Pittsburgh 10
Edmonton 9

To make it look even uglier, the Golden Knights are 22nd in the NHL with a mediocre (.567) win% when scoring first. Last season Vegas was second in win% (.829), just ahead of the Washington’s (.811) and right behind Tampa Bay’s (.837) when scoring first. This year, the Golden Knights have the worst win% of any playoff contender in the Western Conference.

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How Will This Golden Knights Team Handle Adversity?

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

For the first time in their brief existence as a franchise, the Golden Knights are facing adversity in the regular season.

Obviously, when you’re playing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and you’re down 3-1, that’s the essence of adversity in hockey.

But after watching another failing performance Saturday, it’s clearly evident what’s wrong with this team, which has dropped four straight and last registered a point back on Jan. 19 when it beat Pittsburgh 7-3 at T-Mobile Arena.

The Golden Knights need their best players to start playing like their best players.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We’re talking Jonathan Marchessault. We’re talking William Karlsson. We’re talking Nate Schmidt.

Yeah, this isn’t rocket science. The trick is how do you get these guys out of their collective funk? Particularly Marchessault and Karlsson.

My flawed thinking was the return of Reilly Smith would get his linemates going. Instead, Gerard Gallant decided to put Valentin Zykov on the top line for Saturday’s game at Florida, relegating Smith to the third line with Cody Eakin and Brandon Pirri.

So what happens? The Knights opt to not start the top line, going with the second line instead. They lose the opening faceoff, Shea Theodore collides with Paul Stastny, Aleksander Barkov skates in and beats Marc-Andre Fleury 12 seconds into the match.

Doh!

The top line was on the ice for the Panthers’ game-winner as Karlsson was unable or unwilling to pick up Mike Hoffman and he beat Fleury to break a 1-1 deadlock.

A year ago, we were all talking about Karlsson winning the Selke Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s top defensive forward. lately, Pirri has been more of a Selke candidate than Wild Bill.

In the Knights’ four-game slide, Karlsson has been kept off the scoresheet and he is a minus-6, including a minus-3 in Friday’s 5-2 loss at Carolina.

He’s better than that and he needs to play better.

And Marchessault is still in a funk. He has just one assist in the current losing streak. He is minus-8 over the last four and Saturday he managed just one shot on goal.

The defensive lapses, I get. He will never be a Selke candidate. But one measly shot? Sorry, that’s not good enough. Not even close for a guy of Marchessault’s talent.

I thought he was breaking out of the slump when he registered his hat trick against the Penguins and followed it up with an assist in the loss to Minnesota, a game which saw him register seven shots on goal. And he had nine shots against Nashville, even though he failed to gain a point. Of course, Juuse Saros stood on his head that night.

Such wasn’t the case Saturday. James Reimer isn’t winning the Vezina Trophy any more than Marchessault is winning the Selke. He didn’t have to be great to beat the Knights because despite turning aside 34 of the 35 shots he faced, Reimer only had to be on top of his game a handful of times. It wasn’t as though the Knights had a ton of Grade A+ scoring chances that Reimer had to be sensational.

As for the blue line, Schmidt has not looked great of late. He struggled Friday at Carolina and was less than stellar Saturday at the BB&T Center. Granted, he is usually paired against the opposing team’s top line and that has to be factored into things. But Schmidt, like Marchessault, is always honest about his own play and I’m sure if he was being asked he would admit he has to raise his level of compete.

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