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Time To Break Up The Top Six

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night was an eye-opener for the 2018-19 Golden Knights. After a tough loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the fourth straight at home, Gerard Gallant delivered a strong message in the locker room following the game. The team followed it up with a lengthy, competitive practice on Friday and then went without morning skate on Saturday. It appeared they had hit rock bottom and appeared primed to start the turnaround.

Last year’s team had its moments too, but every time they would come back, play great, and win. This team didn’t.

Instead, this team got outmanned in a game they simply came up short in the talent department. The foursome of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nyander, and Mitch Marner scored three goals and tallied seven points while the entire Golden Knights top six (Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stastny, Tuch, and Pacioretty) had two goals and four points with half of that damage coming on a shorthanded goal.

The VGK 2nd line was a combined -8 and the 1st line put up a miserable 25% Corsi For percentage as a group. Matthews’ line ate up Stastny, Pacioretty and Tuch scoring twice and posting seven scoring chances to Vegas’ one. All in all the Golden Knights top six played 20 of the 36 minutes of even strength action and accounted for one goal while allowing three and created just seven scoring chances compared to Toronto’s 17 while they were on the ice.

Here’s the good news. Despite all of it, and while playing the worst hockey in franchise history, the Golden Knights were right there. They had a lead in the 2nd, tied the game in the 3rd, and had a power play chance to take the lead inside of 15 minutes remaining in the game. This is still the same team that posted 60 points in their first 48 games and positioned themselves safely in the playoff picture.

With just four games before the trade deadline, it’s time the Golden Knights look in the mirror and realize they have to win with balance. No longer is their first line so dominant that they can be relied upon to not only shut down the oppositions top line but score while they’re at it. They can’t expect their 2nd line to pick up the slack left behind by the inevitable regression of that 1st line. They need to return to what became their identity last year and what was at times earlier this season. A balanced attack that never stops applying pressure.

The best way to do that, break up the top six.

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Are The Golden Knights Better Than Last Year?

Last year? We’re better, I think we’re a better team. -Jonathan Marchessault

Best inaugural season ever, 109 points, 29-10-2 at home, Pacific Division Champions, Western Conference Champions, you know it all, I just type it because it’s fun to remember, so let’s keep going…

They won eight of the first nine in franchise history and never lost more than three in a row until the final four games of the year. They had a 13-game point streak mostly during a 12-1-1 month of December. They put up five five-game win streaks including two in the playoffs and went 13-3 in the first 16 playoff games.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

What I’m trying to say is the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights were damn good, yet, one of their best players is not afraid to say this team is better.

And, he’s probably right.

I went around the locker room asking players and the head coach the exact same question. “Do you think your team now is as good as they were at any point last year?”

Many guys kind of danced around the question saying last year is last year, but you could tell, the insinuation that this team is as good, if not better, wasn’t a crazy thought.

I like this team. The parity around the league is good, there’s no easy night, but I always feel confident that we have a good chance to win. -Marc-Andre Fleury

We have a lot of similarities and we are striving to play as well as we did last year, are we there yet, I don’t know.  -Bellemare

The most direct, before I spoke to Marchessault, was from Alex Tuch, who didn’t hesitate when he said. “Yeah, I really do believe so.” He couldn’t really put into words how or why (mainly because he didn’t want to disparage anyone from last year’s team, understandably), but you could tell he believed it.

Then there was the head coach.

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Valentin Zykov Helps Fill An Age Gap For VGK

Youth is a problem for VGK, hopefully Valentin Zykov can help fix that. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The average age of the Golden Knights current active roster is 28. If you weight it by time on ice that number jumps to 29, the 3rd highest in the league, tied with San Jose and Los Angeles.

The team has eight players that are at least 30 and another nine that are 27 or 28. There are only three guys under the age of 24 that have seen the ice for the Golden Knights in 2018-19 with Alex Tuch being the youngest at 22.

That distribution is a massive reason why Valentin Zykov was not only claimed by the Golden Knights, but also why other arrangements (Brandon Pirri to AHL) were made to allow him to stick around.

Age-wise he fits into a group where we don’t have a lot of players. Our only young players on our team are Theodore and Tuch. So it’s good business by us to give this a chance and take the opportunity to evaluate him. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant GM on VGK Twitter

Well before the season began (on 07/24/18) we took a look at the entire Golden Knights system, including draft picks, free agent signings, and the Pacioretty trade and identified this age gap.

Since then, things have only gotten worse as the Pacioretty for Tatar and Suzuki trade made the Golden Knights older, Pirri has been the only call-up to have an impact (he turns 28 in April), and young guys like Reid Duke, Tomas Hyka, Jake Bischoff, Zach Whitecloud, Dylan Coghlan, and others haven’t had an impact.

Age Range# of PlayersPlayed in NHL in 18-19
≤20210
21-2382
24-26177
27-291110
≥2988

*Table includes all players in VGK system. Included: Nikita Gusev. Not Included: Vadim Shipachyov, Philip Holm, Teemu Pulkkinen, David Clarkson

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Don’t Touch The New Top Six

Say hello to a new top six. Marchessault-Karlsson-Tuch & Pirri-Stastny-Smith. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It took until Game 8 of the Golden Knights inaugural season to find the combination of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, but once the eventual Jack Adams award winner Gerard Gallant found it, he rode it for all it was worth.

The oft-described “top line” of the Golden Knights took the league by storm scoring a combined 92 goals, 213 points, and an insane +116 rating. They found themselves in the debate as the best line in hockey and helped power an expansion team to a division and conference title.

But then, in the matter of literally a second, the line was broken up.

It was a gut feeling and wanted to change things up a little bit. -Gerard Gallant

Coach comes and tells you, Tuchy you’re going with Marchy and Karly and Smitty is going to go with your line. -Alex Tuch

I told Pirri just keep playing the same because we were playing well. -Paul Stastny

Down 2-1 in the game, Gallant swapped Tuch and Smith creating a line of Karlsson, Tuch, and Marchessault, and another of Stastny, Smith, and Pirri. From then on, the Golden Knights completely took over the game.

Vegas dominated possession, scored three straight goals (and another that was taken off due to an offside challenge) and completed a come back from a two-goal deficit to win their 6th straight home game.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We just wanted to change it up a little bit, fortunately for us, it worked. -Gallant

When you have a lot of depth at forward you can kind of juggle lines a little bit, there’s a fine line of doing it to much, but sometimes you need a little spark and that kind of just got a spark for the whole team. -Stastny

It’s not like it’s a demotion or anything, any line you can play on with this team is pretty special. It brought us a lot of momentum and energy to our game. -Smith

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Alex Tuch Is The Driving Force Behind Max Pacioretty’s Offensive Awakening

Without Tuch’s help, Pacioretty has yet to find the net. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Max Pacioretty has been red-hot over the past two weeks. His seven-game point streak just concluded, he’s scored eight goals, and has tallied multiple points in three of the last four Golden Knights games. Finally, Pacioretty is breaking through and displaying the skills and production that was expected of him when he was acquired for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a 2nd round pick.

However, as we do on every goal in the hockey, we need to award an assist for Pacioretty’s turn-around, and it goes to Alex Tuch. A single stat illustrates it best, so we’ll start there.

 TOIGoals ScoredGoals Allowed
67 w/ 89173:36118
67 w/o 89139:0107
89 w/o 6799:0162

The table shows how many goals were scored and how many goals were allowed, at 5-on-5, when Pacioretty and Tuch are on the ice together, and when each has been on the ice without the other. As you can see, there is a significant amount of time on ice for each of the three situations.

Max Pacioretty has not been on the ice for a single Golden Knights goal, at 5-on-5, when Alex Tuch was not also on the ice. However, Tuch has been out there for six without Pacioretty. Also, Max has allowed seven without Tuch, while Tuch has only allowed two without Pacioretty.

Of course, Cody Eakin has had a positive impact on the line as well, but not nearly as much as Tuch. It’s a small sample, but in the 15:31 Pacioretty played with Eakin and not Tuch, the Golden Knights allowed two goals and didn’t score any.

 TOIGoals ScoredGoals Allowed
67 w/ 89173:36118
67 w/o 89139:0107
89 w/o 6799:0162
67 w/ 21 w/o 8915:3102
67 w/ 89 w/ 21141:13106
67 w/o 21 w/o 89123:3105

Sometimes stats are misleading though, especially “on ice” stats that are credited simply for a player being on the ice and not necessarily involved in the play. So, I decided to go through every 5-on-5 goal scored by Pacioretty to see what impact Tuch had on the play. (You can see them all at the end of this article.)

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Pothier: Stastny Should Return To Second Line Immediately

It still may be a couple weeks, but it’s starting to look like Stastny is getting ready to return. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the promising news we uncovered yesterday about Paul Stastny, the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is the same. When he comes back, where does reigning Jack Adams award winning coach Gerard Gallant place him in the lineup when he’s ready to come back?

It’s an age-old question in sports, should a player lose his position because of an injury? Keeping in mind how well his replacement is playing, in most cases, the answer is no.

Injured center Paul Stastny was signed in the offseason to anchor a brand new second line, yet they haven’t played one shift together. Alex Tuch was to graduate to the top-six and play alongside Americans Stastny and Max Pacioretty. The three could’ve been dubbed the “Freedom” line, but unfortunately, injuries got in the way.

The Golden Knights stand at 29 points, and in the middle of the mess that is known as the Pacific Division. Since Stastny’s injury in Game 3 of the season, the team has played roughly .500 (13-12–1) hockey without him. However, the second line has been extremely effective as of late. Since bumping third line center Cody Eakin up in early November due to Erik Haula’s lower-body injury, the Eakin-Tuch-Pacioretty line has 35 points. The second line was arguably one of the biggest factors in Vegas’ late November five-game win streak.

Tough to break-up, I get it.

Eakin’s strong play brings us back to the organization’s vision for this season. He was expected to center the third line again, and make it more consistent than it was last season. That was GM George McPhee’s plan. And so was upgrading their second line center with a talented veteran like Stastny. Injuries essentially delayed the offseason remodel.

Bottom line is, Stastny is valued by this team as their second line center. They paid him as such, and made a high-risk move trading for Pacioretty to compliment his play. The connecting moves were projected to juice up team offense, and still could once Stastny is cleared to play. This was the team’s vision. They told us.

We wanted to try improve our team. That’s why we signed Paul Stastny as a free agent. Why trading for Max Pacioretty was really important for us. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant GM, on 11/19/18

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The Second Line That Saved Christmas

It took a little while to get going, but Alex Tuch, Max Pacioretty, and Cody Eakin are on fire now. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the holiday season began, Vegas Golden Knights fans didn’t have much to be thankful for, or so it seemed.

On Halloween, things were starting to get scary. Vegas was 5-6-1, with only 11 points and five spots out of the playoffs. Early season trends were beginning to look like the worst could come true. Remember the panic on November 1st?

NHL teams four or more points out of a playoff spot by 11/01, have roughly an 18% chance of making the postseason. Since 2005-06, 47 of 58 teams that were 4+ points out of the postseason spot by November 1st, missed the playoffs. That’s a whopping 82% of teams that their fate was determined by the beginning of November. –SinBin.vegas article on 11/05/18

And then came the East Coast trip that brutalized the Golden Knights. Vegas lost three of four on the road and came back home in seventh place in the division. Ken was losing his mind, many fans were on board with him, and legitimate concern was starting to creep in that maybe this team just isn’t that good.

Things looked bleak. Up until the second line began to warm up.

November 14: Vegas 5-0 vs Anaheim

  • Second line w/ 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists)
  • Eakin: Even-strength goal, Shorthanded goal
  • Tuch scores 1st Period Game-winning PP goal
  • Pacioretty assists Tuch’s GWG

November 18: Vegas 6-3 at Edmonton

  • Second line w/ 3 points (2 goals, 1 Assist)
  • Eakin scored shorthanded goal
  • Pacioretty with second period Go-ahead goal
  • Tuch assists Pacioretty’s Go-ahead goal

November 19: Vegas 3-2 @ Arizona

  • Second line w/ 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists)
  • Pacioretty scored 2nd Period Go-ahead goal, and OT winner
  • Tuch and Eakin assist Pacioretty’s Go-ahead goal

November 23: Vegas 2-0 vs. Calgary

  • Second line w/ 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists)
  • Tuch scored 1st Period Game-wining goal
  • Eakin and Pacioretty assist on Tuch’s GWG

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McPhee On Injuries: “We Aren’t Deep Enough Yet To Not Have Everybody In”

Gerard Gallant confirmed this morning Haula is considered “month-to-month.” (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Injuries are a major part of hockey. Every team goes through them at various times and for various stretches of the season. For the Golden Knights, it’s come early and it’s come in the form of high-end forwards.

Alex Tuch missed the first eight games of the year and Max Pacioretty missed four games at the end of October. Both Pacioretty and Tuch have returned to the lineup, but the two guys they’ve played with on the Vegas second line haven’t been as fortunate. Paul Stastny went out in Game 3 and isn’t expected to return until late December at the earliest, and Erik Haula appears to be out for at least the balance of the calendar year.

Then there’s the suspension which has kept Nate Schmidt out for the first 20 games of the season. All in all, the Golden Knights have yet to play a game with anything resembling a full lineup, and the GM is frustrated.

I’d like to get healthy, for one game. just to see what we are. We just haven’t been. You know we rebuilt our second line and I think they’ve played two and half games together. Stastny’s been out most of the year, Pacioretty was out, Haula’s out, Tuch’s been out. We aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in. -George McPhee on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto

All in all, they’ve missed 39 games due to injury and 18 going on 20 due to suspension.

Nate Schmidt – 18 missed (100%)
Paul Stastny – 15 missed (83%)
Alex Tuch – 8 missed (44.%)
Deryk Engelland – 5 missed (28%)
Max Pacioretty – 4 missed (22%)
Erik Haula – 3 missed (17%)
Cody Eakin – 4 missed (22%)
Ryan Carpenter – 1 missed (6%)

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The Tide Might Just Be Turning

If things really do start to turn around for VGK, remember Alex’s two goals against Ottawa. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Oh, what a goal it was. Alex Tuch started from the center line, chased a player down behind his own goal, dislodged the puck, then picked it up and sped past not one but two players before he slid a shot under Craig Anderson’s pad. You hear about 200-foot players, that was a 300-foot play and a potential season-changer for the Vegas Golden Knights.

He made an end to end rush that was an outstanding goal. It made everyone excited. It made our fans really excited and I know the guys on the bench were pretty happy. It sort of broke the ice in a game that we weren’t having much luck. -Gerard Gallant

He should have said “in a season that we weren’t having much luck.”

There was nothing lucky about Tuch’s goal though, and a few minutes later, when Ryan Reaves tapped home a rebound, there was nothing lucky about that one either.

The Golden Knights have been getting chance after chance after chance, but they just haven’t been putting them away. Against Ottawa, twice in less than five minutes, they scored goals that were unstoppable by any goalie in the league. Then, after conceding again, a tip from Tuch squeaked its way through Anderson’s pads. That one had a touch of luck on it, but as Gallant had said maybe the ice has been broken.

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Tuch’s Return Need To Spark Power Play

One of the slickest PP goals of the year came against San Jose and it was all Alex. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With Alex Tuch back in the lineup tonight against Vancouver, maybe, just maybe the Golden Knights will start scoring power-play goals. The Golden Knights are just 2 for 24 with the man advantage. That’s not only last in the league in percentage at 8.3% (next closest is Nashville at 9.7%) but it’s also the fewest number of PP goals of any team as well. Not putting any pressure on Tuch, but he kind of needs to be the missing link that completes both PP units.

The Golden Knights had a total 53 power play goals last season, tied with San Jose and Vancouver for 12th best in the league. It was roughly 0.65 power play goals per 60 minutes. In 2018-19, the Golden Knights are on pace for 21 power play goals. Scary drop off right?

The difference with Tuch is the lineup is pretty stark.

Old PP Units
Marchessault, Karlsson, Smith, Pacioretty, Hunt
Haula, Eakin, Hyka, Miller, Theodore

New PP Units
Marchessault, Karlsson, Smith, Tuch, Hunt
Haula, Pacioretty, Hyka, Miller, Theodore

Huge difference.

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