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Incredibly Difficult Road Trip Continues To Prove Golden Knights Resolve

On January 25th the clock struck 00:00 and the Golden Knights had dropped just their fifth home game of the season, again to a team in blue and orange. No one seemed particularly concerned, but just around the corner was a road trip that had all the makings of derailing what’s been a storybook season.

First the Golden Knights would get four days off for the All Star break. Then they were set to hit the road for a trip that was to span more than 7,000 miles, across three different time zones, over the course of just 10 days. To make matters worse, the six game trip featured six teams in playoff position and five teams either in first or second in their respective divisions. (You can make the argument it’s all six because technically both Calgary and San Jose were in second when the games took place).

Nothing seems to be able to stop the Golden Knights train. Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This is a trip that is supposed to suck the life out of even the best teams. There was a back-to-back early. There was a game with a 9:30 AM Pacific start time. There was the highly emotional return of Marc-Andre Fleury to Pittsburgh. There was snow, ice, rain, and outside temps ranging from -10 to 82. Oh, and did I mention more than 7,000 miles of travel. Seven effing thousand, in a week and a half.

It was without question the most challenging portion of the Golden Knights schedule both on the ice and off it.

Yet what did the Golden Knights do with it? They went out and won four of the six games, beat three of the four teams in the Western Conference, and took eight points from a trip in which four wouldn’t have even been considered a letdown.

They used a magical comeback to kick off the trip in Calgary, followed it up with an OT win in a game between the two top teams in the Western Conference, once again knocked off the reigning President’s Trophy winners, and then put a stamp on the trip by winning their 13th division game out of 15 and maintaining a perfect record in the state of California.

Now, it’s over and the schedule looks like an absolute dream. Nine of the next 10, and 17 of the final 28 will be played at T-Mobile Arena. 10 of the last 28 feature teams with fewer points than games played (there are only seven teams that fall into that category). 17 are against teams outside of the playoffs, and finally, no team in the NHL has more home games or fewer road games left on their schedule than the Golden Knights.

And it’s all because they not only survived but thrived on one of the toughest trips any team in the NHL will take all season.

This team has been doing unprecedented things for an expansion team since they played their first game, but if the final 28 resemble the first 54, we’re going to be talking real records and real banners, not just inaugural season ones.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 5 (36-14-4 76 PTS) SAN JOSE SHARKS 3

The Sharks came out and jumped down the Golden Knights throats scoring first and taking a 13-0 shots on goal advantage. But Vegas wasn’t going to be held down for long as they scored the game-tying goal in the 1st and the go-ahead early in the 2nd. San Jose struck on the power play to tie the game at two heading to the final period. Vegas fell behind in the 3rd but a snipe by Brayden McNabb tied it and then James Neal gave the Golden Knights the go-ahead goal. That’s 13-1-1 in the Pacific Division and undefeated against everyone not named Edmonton.

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.

  • That road trip was no joke, 6 games, 11 days, all playoff teams.

Three Stars
*** Brent Burns
** David Perron
* Marc-Andre Fleury

“Every Team Goes Through A Losing Streak, Except For Vegas Apparently”

TSN’s Bob McKenzie was kind of joking, but inside of his little quip, he pretty clearly called the Golden Knights the most consistent team in he NHL.

All they do is win. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

McKenzie was discussing the ebbs and flows of the regular season, and how all teams have dark periods. He used Tampa Bay as an example of a top team that found some mid-season struggles. In fact, it began after the Lightning lost in Las Vegas with 2.3 seconds left in the game. Tampa Bay went on to lose seven of their next 14 games, with two and three-game losing streaks thrown in. The Bolts had only lost two-games in a row once before their December skid.

Every team in this league except Vegas it seems, goes through a period where you’re not as good as you were. And you lose a little bit more than you win. -Bob McKenzie, TSN

McKenzie was simply implying that it’s a long season, and even the better teams play a stinker now and then. He amusingly noted the Golden Knights could be the one team not affected by the NHL midseason flu.

And as I said, Vegas seems to be immune from that so far. I keep going on radio stations across Canada and saying, oh they’ll hit a losing sometime. It’s just a matter of when. -McKenzie

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Leipsic-Eakin-Lindberg… Never Again

Due to a rash of injuries to “fourth” line players like William Carrier and Tomas Nosek, coupled with injuries in the AHL to Tomas Hyka and Brandon Pirri, the Golden Knights were forced to create some abnormal lines for last night’s game in Pittsburgh.

With six available forwards to fill out the bottom two lines, All Star head coach Gerard Gallant chose to play Cody Eakin with Oscar Lindberg and Brendan Leipsic. That left Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with wingers Ryan Carpenter and Alex Tuch.

He may not be finding the net, but at least he’s been creating chances with Tuch. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Bellemare line fared just fine against the Penguins, but the supposed third line which racked up a total of 6:28 of ice time as a unit, was nothing short of a disaster.

First off, the Leipsic-Eakin-Lindberg line took five draws as a group, three in the offensive zone, one in the neutral zone, and one in the defensive zone. This is an indicator that Gallant saw the line as more of an attacking threat.

In the seven shifts over those six and a half minutes, the Golden Knights gave up one goal (and another mid-change), were outshot 8-2, and gave up seven scoring chances (four “high danger”) while creating just one of their own. They spent a majority of their time on ice inside of their own zone and were usually forced to change when they finally exited the zone creating a defensive zone start for whichever line followed them.

The worst part of their shifts together is that a majority of them took place with the Penguins fourth line on the ice against them. More than 50% of the time Leipsic, Eakin, and Lindberg were on the ice together, Ryan Reaves and Zachary Aston-Reese were on the ice with them. Aston-Reese is a rookie who was playing in his second career NHL game, and Reaves is an enforcer who’s career possession metrics are among the lowest in the NHL. Between the two of them (who were playing with a mixed third player due to in-game injuries) they have a career 30 goals in 473 games, yet Reaves scored with the Golden Knights third line on the ice.

It just didn’t work together, but it’s no fault of any one of the pieces. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Now, it’s not time to start throwing around hyperbole asking for all three players to be waived tomorrow. A lot of this comes down to chemistry and fit between the styles of play of each individual guy. They just don’t mesh together. If anyone should understand this concept, it should be Golden Knights fans who have watched numerous players bud into stars due to being placed in different circumstances in Vegas than with their former team.

The line of Eakin, Leipsic, and Lindberg isn’t particularly adept at any one skill, but even worse, it really doesn’t fit with the style of play the Golden Knights employ. They are not particularly good in transition, their forechecking is average, and their ability to break out of their own zone is not great… when playing together.

Simply put, that group of three did not work, at all, and Gallant need to recognize it and make the adjustment heading into tomorrow night’s game in San Jose. Offensively a bit will likely be lost taking Tuch away from Carpenter and Bellemare, but two balanced lines outweighs an okay one and a nightmare. Tuch, Eakin, and Leipsic on one line, and Carpenter, Bellemare, and Lindberg on the other, it’s really the only option.

Hopefully Turk agrees.

The Revenge Game: How Are Golden Knights Faring Against Their Old Teams?

As if Wild Bill was not going to tear up the Blue Jackets. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Playing against former teams has been a storyline all year and understandably it boiled over yesterday with Marc-Andre Fleury’s return to Pittsburgh.

All Star head coach Gerard Gallant joked early in the season that the “revenge game” was overblown. Then, after a win over the Buffalo Sabres in which “fourth” line forward William Carrier played his best game, Gallant’s mind was changed.

I didn’t think this was a big deal but William Carrier played his best game tonight against his old team. His old team is Buffalo, so it definitely made a difference. I didn’t think it did, but tonight he proved to me that he played his best game so far. He played real well. -Gallant

Since then the answer has been the same from Gallant when asked about any player facing his former team; he expects them to play one of their best games because “that’s how it seems to go.”

So, let’s take a look at how the Golden Knights have actually fared against their old teams.

 GPGASOG+/-
Karlsson12033
Marchessault214104
Smith20241
Neal31014-2
Haula2111-3
Perron2018-1
Tuch2004-1
Eakin30352
Leipsic20022
Carrier10030
Nosek1002-1

*Bellemare and Carpenter have yet to face their former teams.

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PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 5 VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4 (35-14-4 74 PTS)

What was meant to be a night for Marc-Andre Fleury to be celebrated turned into a goal fest in the first 40 minutes. Vegas struck for the first two on goal from William Karlsson and James Neal, but the Penguins were able to get three straight to end the 2nd with a one goal lead. Pittsburgh got the next two making it five unanswered. Vegas was able to make it a game but never could find the equalizer.

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights at Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

  • Tonight was about Fleury facing his former team; so it’s time to take a look at how everyone has done against their old teams.

Three Stars
*** Marc-Andre Fleury
** Sidney Crosby
* Evgeni Malkin

 

#4, #20, And #23 For The Golden Knights In Button’s Top 25 Prospects

A few hours ago TSN released its annual list of the top 5o prospects in the NHL. It should come as no surprise that the Golden Knights are well represented on that list after having three picks in the top 15 in last year’s Entry Draft.

Picked 6th, now ranked 4th. He’s Cody Glass. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Coming in ranked the highest for the Golden Knights is Cody Glass, the 6th overall pick in the draft. He’s now ranked #4 by TSN. Glass has been absolutely tearing up the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks tallying 69 points in just 45 games.

Next up is the diminutive Swedish defenseman, Erik Brannstrom who was ranked #20. Brannstrom wowed at Development Camp here in Vegas before going on to win the silver medal with Team Sweden at the IIHF World Juniors. He’s currently playing in the Swedish Elite League which does not have a maximum age restriction meaning he’s playing in a league much closer to the NHL than Canadian Juniors. Therefore, his numbers (0 goals, 8 assists, 35 GP) don’t look nearly as impressive. However, the “un-forecheck-able” defenseman certainly looks like he’ll be a major piece on the Golden Knights future blue line.

Last but certainly not least is the man who ranks #23 on the TSN list, Nick Suzuki. Suzuki has nearly identical numbers to Glass putting up an equal 25 goals and just two fewer assists (42) than his fellow first round pick. Suzuki tends to put up highlight goals and assists as his hands are simply on another level. Look…

https://twitter.com/OHLHockey/status/960211668394434560

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NHL Players Beginning To Recognize Seriousness Of Head Injuries

The worst part of the season. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the Golden Knights prepare for tonight’s game against the Penguins, I wanted to bring attention to an excellent article written by Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mackey spoke with former Penguin and current New Jersey Devil Ben Lovejoy about his decision to donate his brain to Boston University’s Concussion Legacy Foundation.

This brain donation is my way of giving back to the sport of hockey. To help research, to help awareness, to push for a cure for CTE and concussions and make this game a smarter, better place. -Ben Lovejoy

It’s a step in the right decision for an athlete to recognize the threat of brain injuries. Hockey is a contact sport with brutal hits and dangerous collisions. Vegas watched first-hand after Marc-Andre Fleury missed two months of action with post-concussion symptoms. Lovejoy witnessed former Pittsburgh teammates Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Fleury all suffer major concussions.

A ton of people have made impressions on me, but yes, those guys were definitely a part of it. -Lovejoy

Each player spent significant time off the ice with concussion symptoms. CTE is typically not a topic players like to talk about, but Lovejoy refuses to ignore it.

Upon the 33-year-old defenseman’s death, Lovejoy’s brain will go to the Concussion Legacy Foundation’s brain bank at Boston University. Lovejoy became interested in the idea over the summer, when he read an article about NFL players donating their brains for concussion research and wondered why no hockey players were doing it. -Jason Mackey

The NHL is lucky to have a leader like Lovejoy in their league. Unlike the NFL and other leagues, he doesn’t ignore the truth of the potential dangers playing contact sports. The 2016 Stanley Cup champion made his decision public in early December, doing his part to help the safety of future players.

This game has been awesome to me, it’s given me everything. It’s gotten me into schools that I probably shouldn’t have qualified for. It’s given me an amazing living for 11 years now. It’s changed my life. I’m so lucky that I’ve been a part of it. -Lovejoy

Donating to the brain bank, Lovejoy is hoping researchers will find a cure for head-contact related injuries. Tip of the cap to the 33-year-old defenseman. Hopefully, CTE will be cured well before his donation.

T-Mobile Truly On Another Level

It’s a story that’s been told a thousand times over; how the atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena for Golden Knights games surprises even veteran players in the NHL. Recently though the story has almost become worn out as the same comments, same examples, and same quotes from players, coaches, and fans are muttered after each and every game.

Alex Ovechkin to the rescue.

It’s not a regular rink. It’s kind of like an unbelievable show, you get excited. It’s like you’re in a nightclub. It’s like a party. Everybody dancing over there. It’s like, ‘Holy Jesus, are we in a hockey game or is this like a pool party out there?’ They’re very, very tough to play against. They jump in right away. They have tremendous skill and tremendous speed. When you’re not ready, you’re going to be in a tough position. -Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The timing of the “Holy Jesus” quote was fortunate for me as it came just days before I was set to travel to Washington DC to experience the difference Ovechkin was talking about myself.

Haven’t seen anything quite like the castle anywhere else either. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Let’s start with the very first difference, specifically for fans. Getting to the T-Mobile  Arena and walking through The Park is unmatched. DC’s set up actually is pretty nice as a train station arrives right on the corner of the arena, there’s a lobby where people were held before the gates open to escape the rain, and there’s a full sports bar attached to the arena itself. It’s nice, but it’s not Vegas.

Then you go into the arena. The first time at a hockey game where the in-arena experience really begins is with the player warm-ups. In Vegas, they count it down, demand the fans get up and cheer, then play John Wick Mode followed by a club-style music mix that’s so loud it’s challenging to talk to the person in the seat directly beside you. Contrast that to Capital One Arena, where the lights are darkened, a minor light show occurs, the players take the ice and the music is softer than I listen to in my car. The same was the case in Anaheim and Dallas. Los Angeles may have actually outdone Vegas with this light show.

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VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4 (35-13-4 74 PTS) WASHINGTON CAPITALS 3

The Caps struck first with a bit of a soft goal past Fleury’s glove hand. Then the first career Golden Knights goal for Ryan Carpenter. Vegas outplayed Washington in the first period, but the opposite occurred in the second. Both periods ended tied. Washington scored right away but Vegas got the next two including the game winner a by Alex Tuch. Grubauer spilled it and Tuch was able to punch it in.

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals at Capitol One Arena.

  • Comparing arena experiences in Anaheim, Los Angeles, Dallas, and now Washington; T-Mobile Arena really is on another level.

Three Stars
*** Matt Niskanen
** Alex Tuch
* Reilly Smith

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