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Cody Eakin Should Take PK Minutes From Reilly Smith In The Playoffs

Look around, you won’t find a harsher critic of Cody Eakin’s play since he’s joined the Golden Knights than me, but since Reilly Smith has been out with the wrist injury, Eakin has proven his value to a playoff team in a huge way on the penalty kill.

We always knew #21 was good on the PK, but he’s been on another level for a little while now. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights are fully healthy, they use six penalty killers, but like the forward lines and defensive pairings, they are not used equally. Since early in the year, All Star head coach Gerard Gallant has relied upon a pair Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek and another pair of Reilly Smith and William Karlsson to handle most of the load. Cody Eakin has consistently been the next man up to fill in for any of those four who are missing or to play with someone like Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, or Erik Haula to round out the six.

In the absence of Smith, Eakin has been tremendous killing penalties with William Karlsson. Last night alone he sprung Karlsson for a shorthanded goal and earlier in the game he took on two defensemen and nearly scored shorthanded himself. There are countless other examples over the past three weeks as well. Simply put, Cody Eakin has looked like the best player on the ice when Vegas is down a man for nearly a month now.

As we head towards the playoffs, I’m suggesting Gallant utilizes Eakin as his top penalty killer with Karlsson or Smith, instead of moving him down the ranks and putting even more responsibility on two of the Golden Knights’ most important offensive weapons, 19 and 71. 

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Goals Coming From Unlikely Places During James Neal’s Absence

After last night’s victory in Philadelphia, the Golden Knights are 6-4-0 without 40-point producing forward James Neal. At times during the 10-game intermittent stretch, Vegas has struggled to put the puck in the net. For instance, the Golden Knights have been shutout or held to one goal nine games this season, three of them have been in Neal’s absence.

Carpy Deuces chipped in with a big one last night. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Without Neal, the Golden Knights have scored 31 goals in those 10 games. Forwards Alex Tuch, Ryan Carpenter and Cody Eakin stepped up offensively for Vegas. Plus, all three Tomas’s lit the lamp, and the blue line added some help on the scoreboard as well over this span.

VGK “Bottom-6″/Defenseman Goals During Neal’s Absence

02/19: Lost 2-0 vs. Anaheim

02/21: Won 7-3 vs. Calgary
Goals by Ryan Carpenter, Alex Tuch, Luca Sbisa, Tomas Nosek, Cody Eakin

02/23: Won 6-3 vs. Vancouver
Goals by Tomas Hyka, Tomas Nosek

02/27: Lost 4-1 vs. LA

03/02: Lost 5-4 vs. Ottawa
Goals by Colin Miller, Carpenter

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Cody Eakin Is An Excellent 3rd Line Center

Send all Cody Eakin Fan Club membership applications to jason@sinbin.vegas. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s not many of us out there, but the Cody Eakin apologists are accepting more members after his spectacular two goal night. We’ve heard it all season long, Eakin makes too many mistakes, at times he’s out of position, and he can’t finish offensively. It’s what a lot of bottom line players hear from fans. Being a third-line center is a thankless job. Which is why fans need to realize they have a pretty good one in Eakin.

Eakin leads the Golden Knights with a 52.5% faceoff win percentage (150 faceoff minimum) and 424 faceoff wins. He’s tied for third with 51 takeaways, and is 12th on the team with 24 giveaways. While 23 points might not seem much to fans, Eakin is close to his career average. He’s creating .35 points per game, and his career average is .39 PPG.

When you compare Eakin to other playoff team third-line centers, you realize just how effective he really is. (I used NBC’s Rotoworld.com to help determine true third-line centers.)

Points for third-line centers

TB- Tyler Johnson 47
ANA- Adam Henrique 41
PIT- Derek Brassard 40
WPG- Bryan Little 37
SJS- Tomas Hertl 35
TOR- Tyler Bozak 33
WAS- Lars Eller 32
PHI- Valtteri Filppula 30
MIN- Charlie Coyle 28
DAL- Radek Faksa 27
VGK- Cody Eakin 23
NAS- Nick Bonino 21
COL- JT Compher 20
CBJ- Mark Letestu 20
NJD- Pavel Zacha 19
BOS- Sean Kuraly 11
LAK- Torrey Mitchell 10

Eakin is right in the juicy middle with 23 points. Johnson, Henrique, and Brassard are on teams with really strong depth down the middle. They’re not third-line centers on any other team, which makes Eakin’s 23 points better than average.

Faceoff win % for third-line centers

WPG- Little 56.7 %
NAS- Bonino 53.8%
TOR- Bozak 53%
VGK- Eakin 52.5%
MIN- Coyle 52.4%

One of Eakin’s best attributes is his work on the faceoff dot. He is one of the leaders in FO% amongst depth centers. If that isn’t impressive enough, Eakin leads all comparable third-line centers with 51 takeaways.

Coaches set their lineups based on more than just the score sheet. All Star head coach Gerard Gallant plays Eakin almost 15 minutes per game expecting the center to perform his role. Winning face offs, killing penalties, pressuring defenses and occasionally scoring is Eakin’s gameday assignment. Which is why he’s a lock to be in the lineup every night. Gallant trusts and believes in his third-line center.

And it paid off in Detroit.

Where To Play Tomas Tatar When Everyone’s Healthy

Since being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings, Tomas Tatar has played in four games. He has one goal, seven shots on goal, a -5 rating, and an average ice time of 15:36. The team is 1-3-0 in those four games.

Now, before we go killing the new guy, let’s start by pointing out that he’s played on four different lines, all with significantly different characteristics. Tatar has played with Hyka and Eakin, Perron and Haula, Tuch and Eakin, and Carpenter and Eakin. To this point, none of them have been a match, but of course, we are judging each on a single game.

The fact of the matter is that Tomas Tatar is not coming out of the lineup anytime. He’s far too talented on the power play, way too fast, and has too much skill to be taken out of the lineup in favor of a Tomas Hyka, Oscar Lindberg or William Carrier.

So, much like we did with Alex Tuch back in November, this is an exercise in finding Tatar the right linemates to help him thrive, and in turn, create a third scoring line heading into the playoffs.

The initial plan when Tatar was brought in was for him to slot into the Leipsic/Lindberg/Hyka third line wing slot. The main question though is whether or not he will fit with Tuch. In just a short time together, Tuch and Tatar have not been a match. Their Corsi For % is just 35%, they’ve allowed eight shots on goal while just creating one, and have yet to create much by way of scoring chances. In fact, for a majority of the game in which they played together, they were hemmed in their own end.

James Neal: Third Line Winger? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If Tuch and Tatar are not a fit together, that means one of them must make their way onto the Haula/Perron/Neal line. In James Neal’s absence, Tuch has quietly become a force on the second line. He was moved up when Neal went out in the first Kings game, and it took a little while for them to gel. But when it did, they’ve become a versatile offensive line that has put up big advanced stat numbers since. Against Columbus, that line outshot the Blue Jackets 15-3 and accounted for the Golden Knights only goal.

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Bottom Six; What’s The Right Combination?

Step right up, pick three, any three!

The Golden Knights have hit a bit of a rough patch injury-wise, especially when it comes to the third and fourth lines. Over the course of the last month or so we’ve seen pretty much everyone play with everyone else.

Now, Tomas Nosek is set to return, which means for the first time in a while All Star head coach Gerrard Gallant will have to make decisions along the bottom six.

The plan for tonight is to run out the lines of Alex Tuch/Cody Eakin/Oscar Lindberg and Ryan Carpenter/Pierre-Edouard Bellemare/Tomas Nosek. Thus breaking up the recently successful Tuch/Bellemare/Carpenter line.

Everyone has their own opinions on who should be playing with whom, so we decided it’s time to put some numbers to the opinions. Have fun with this one…

 TOICF%SF%GFGASCF%
13456:0049.2350.30191851.12
21641:5547.9650.54212749.22
24536:4350.4851.92131952.69
4073:1353.7953.163655.56
41432:2253.0552.30131455.61
89530:3750.2551.43191653.06
92361:1350.4750.26111453.83
13 w/ 21314:1349.1950.88111450.00
13 w/ 2465:4246.2745.452442.03
13 w/ 400:550.000.00000.00
13 w/ 4129:5150.8550.002055.17
13 w/ 9224:2845.8327.270057.14
21 w/ 24170:1650.1754.612749.14
21 w/ 403:3954.5533.330042.86
21 w/ 4120:0640.9147.621045.00
21 w/ 9227:4846.6747.060051.61
24 w/ 4011:4650.0063.640060.00
24 w/ 41173:4056.8860.484462.25
24 w/ 92115:0450.4554.243556.31
40 w/ 4158:1957.8055.933459.62
40 w/ 928:51 52.1761.540054.55
41 w/ 92301:4052.7752.0191056.76
13 w/ 21 w/ 89245:5150.3152.8191052.85
13 w/ 21 w/ 2447:2743.4842.591430.95
40 w/ 41 w/ 8930:5164.5273.533171.43
21 w/ 24 w/ 89104:3653.2561.841258.82
24 w/ 41 w/ 9294:4254.0259.302363.29

Numerically, the most successful line offensively is the Tuch/Bellemare/Carpenter line, but the sample size is rather small. That being said, the line Gallant is going with, Tuch/Eakin/Lindberg has been very good in possession, but the scoring has yet to come (just one goal in 104:36).

This will be the first time Nosek, Carpenter, and Bellemare have been together, but any time Nosek and Bellemare have been very good, especially considering a majority of their zone starts are in the neutral or defensive zone.

Play around with that chart, and see what you can find. Personally, I’d like to see Tuch/Bellemare/Carpenter and Lindberg/Eakin/Nosek, but what do I know, I’m not the front-runner for the Jack Adams award.

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.

Golden Knights Do Not Play Multiple Poor Periods In The Same Game

Tonight, in the first period, the Golden Knights stunk. Their feet were slow, they looked unsure in their own end, and they simply could not break out of their own zone consistently enough to create anything on the other end. Flat out, they were bad. However, much like the rest of the season, it stopped there.

Tonight, even the bad period was rescued by who else, the guy playing against his old team. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Try this exercise. Think of a time when the Golden Knights played a poor period. The 1st against Carolina, the 2nd’s against Anaheim and Dallas at T-Mobile, or my personal favorite (that’s a weird thing to say) the 1st against Colorado on Nevada Day.

Vegas is not immune to a completely garbage period. Heck, they tend to throw up a stinker on most nights, but like a great doctor would do to a virus, the Golden Knights localize it and chop off the infected period to kill the problem at the source. Tonight was yet another example of just that.

After a break, day of travel, you come in and are trying to find your legs and they made us look silly over the first 10 minutes. Big goal by Shea to settle us down and let us hang in there, and then in the 2nd we started to find our game. It’s a communal effort, when things need to be said, guys will say it. –Cody Eakin

Sometimes they have the built-in excuse of the long break, early game, or the first game after a road trip. Other times they don’t, but it doesn’t seem to matter either way.

We do a really good job of coming back in and regrouping. We know what our strengths are and during that break we come in and talk a little bit and we focus up and it’s a great thing about our team. –Shea Theodore

We have good character in the locker room which allows us to realize when we are playing good and when we are playing bad and we need to switch things up. It’s different things every night. We have good communication and we have a lot of different leaders from different places. People speak up in different areas and it’s huge for our team. –Erik Haula

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Finding Alex Tuch The Right Linemates Crucial For Golden Knights

When the Expansion Draft ended there was a lot to look at. There were well-known veteran names, there were up-and-coming goal scorers, there were puck-moving defensemen, and there was a heaping pile of bonus draft picks.

Then there was Alex Tuch.

Give me Leipsic or give me death! (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of just two players the Golden Knights gave up an asset to acquire (the other was Reilly Smith), and a prospect that was unlike anything else in the Golden Knights system. A big strong forward with good speed and an innate ability to put the puck in the net. Oh, and he’s 21-years-old, an age that was difficult for the Golden Knights to find players due to the expansion draft rules.

Despite not participating in any previous NHL Entry Drafts, Alex Tuch became a Golden Knights first round pick. Having given up a pick and letting the Wild “escape” the Expansion Draft (didn’t really work for Minnesota), George McPhee put a lot of stock in Tuch. Unlike Shea Theodore, who had just finished up dominating the NHL playoffs, Tuch was unproven at the NHL level. He was a true prospect, and he had/has to be good.

Showing his commitment, Tuch showed up to Development Camp, he came back early for Rookie Camp, and he was always one of the last guys on the ice during full Training Camp. He was putting in the work, his talent was showing, and he appeared to have a spot on the Golden Knights roster.

He didn’t.

Due to what was called “a numbers decision” Tuch was sent to the AHL to begin the year. Four games later a pair of injuries opened the door and Tuch was ready to make his Golden Knights debut. In his first game, he scored and tallied an assist, and Vegas won. Since his recall, the Golden Knights have not lost a game at home.

But when the team went on the road, and Tuch wasn’t playing nearly as well. There was a change in his line as Erik Haula was moved away and Cody Eakin came in with Tuch and Oscar Lindberg.

I think with Lindberg we had a good line, we just weren’t finding the right chemistry. I don’t think I was playing well. -Alex Tuch

Recently, Brendan Leipsic was added to the line to replace Lindberg, and since, the results have been astounding.

Last night while playing together that line created 17 shot attempts while allowing just five. They were also on the ice together for two of the Golden Knights four goals. But more importantly than just the statistics, Leipsic’s addition to the line has brought back the Tuch we got used to in his first few appearances and the preseason.

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0 For 16 On The Power Play

At Friday’s practice, the Golden Knights spent a majority of their time working on the power play, specifically five on four. Obviously, we thought it was because Vegas was unsuccessful on their last 16 PP chances, but when asked, head coach Gerard Gallant disagreed.

It was planned, three or four days ago. So it wasn’t because we were 0 for 7 last night. -Gerard Gallant

The key word after Thursday’s preseason loss to Colorado was “simplify.”

We have to find our niche and simplify and have that five on five mentality. Sometimes when you’re unfamiliar you have to simplify and shoot the puck instead of making the extra pass.- Cody Eakin

Gallant agrees.

We tried to make the fancy plays, the crossing plays, and we weren’t shooting the puck. The last two or three power plays we started getting some point shots through and getting some rebounds. When you do that and establish a point shot, some of those seams open up later on. But it was slow, we weren’t attacking a lot on the power play. -Gallant

Gallant mentioned making the fancy play, or the extra, unnecessary pass. Eakin used the word cute to describe the same thing. And, Reilly Smith used another synonym.

In preseason you want to work on it, and try and make pretty plays. You do have to practice good habits, and sometimes just get the puck to he net and get those ugly goals. You’re not always going to have pretty ones. -Reilly Smith

This didn’t happen on the power play. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

So let’s sum this up. Cute + Fancy + Pretty = 0 for 16.

Simple + Ugly = Goals

While, it’s only preseason, and man-advantages are opportunities for teams to work on things, going scoreless on 16 straight power plays is a bad trend heading into the regular season.

Only in hockey can words like cute, fancy, or pretty imply something bad. Weirdos.

Cody Eakin Staking Claim To Mr. Reliable Role

Just how reliable is Golden Knights center Cody Eakin? Is winning 79% of his faceoffs reliable enough for you?

Cody is a veteran player and I think that he can do very well for us. He’s definitely going to be one of our top center men for us in the faceoff circle. He’s an important player and we just want to give him confidence and keep going in this game. -Gerard Gallant

Bet you Eakin won this one too. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I could argue he was the biggest takeaway, and maybe even the best player on the ice, from last night’s 4-2 loss. Eakin saw a total of 20:06 minutes on the ice, and 9:12 of that was on special teams.

Last night, Eakin’s impact was felt in both zones. Offensively, the center was +1 with a beautiful assist on the Theodore goal and played 6:12 of PP. Defensively, Eakin led the team with three takeaways, and played 3:00 on the Enough Said Call Ed penalty kill.

I don’t think Cody played a lot of power play time in Dallas, but he’s going to get some of that with us. He’s definitely going to be one of our top four guys going out on the penalty kill all the time. -Gallant

It’s clear Gallant considers Eakin a player he can rely on. He sent out #21 for twenty-four shifts last night, and had him take several situational draws.

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