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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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Cody Eakin’s Return Has Sparked Third Line

Speed. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I’ll be the first to admit it, I’ve been highly critical of Cody Eakin’s play while in a Golden Knights uniform. I’ve always lauded his defensive and penalty killing efforts, but offensively at times he’s felt like a Shop-Vac to the offensive games of players like Alex Tuch, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Hyka, Brendan Leipsic, Tomas Tatar, and the many other linemates he played with a year ago.

Well, I’m here to tell you he’s been tremendous since his return from injury four games into the season, and he’s singlehandedly turned a line that was a problem into one that’s often looked dangerous and even netted the game-winning goal in Philadelphia.

Diving into stats and numbers to describe Eakin’s impact will always prove futile (unless talking about faceoffs), and if you know me, you know the word intangibles makes me want to slam my head into a wall. So, in an attempt to actually quantify what Eakin has been doing and to do that, I talked to his linemates.

He plays fast, he plays smart, he’s such a good player on the puck and with his speed and his skills, it’s a lot of fun to play with that guy. In Philly, we were getting a lot of rush chances because we were playing so fast. He always found me with these small passes. It’s easier for me to play with a guy like him who is so good defensively. -Tomas Hyka

He does everything right. With his speed and he’s just relentless with his work ethic. He’s just fast, he plays fast and he plays the way we want to. That’s the identity of our team, playing fast and with speed. Speed just creates turnovers and havoc and pressure. As the centerman of the line, he just carries the line to play that way. -Ryan Carpenter

To give a little more background, as part of my question I explained how the standard description of Eakin tends to always rely on intangibles. I then went into my question asking, “Can you give me a tangible hockey skill Eakin is good at?”

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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/ 928:5152.1761.540054.55
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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