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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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“It’s The Results On The Ice That Matter” To Determine 2nd Line Winger

It appears to be Haula’s gig to lose, but it’s not necessarily up to him to keep it. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s been a question since the moment Paul Stastny signed and it only ramped up when Max Pacioretty was acquired via trade. Will be it Alex Tuch, Erik Haula, or someone else playing as the second line right winger?

We expected the preseason to help reveal the answer to the question, but to this point, it hasn’t. Heading into last night’s game, both Haula and Tuch played with Pacioretty and Stastny once. Haula got his second shot last night.

To be honest I couldn’t really tell. Like I said it was a messy game, I don’t think anybody played really well. The execution wasn’t good for our team. It’s probably a lot of what I expected after two days in Montana so I didn’t take a lot out of it to be honest with you. -Gerard Gallant

Tuch is expected to get the final chance Sunday in the last preseason game and certainly can grab hold of it heading into Opening Night.

It’s the results on the ice that matter. It’s not what I think or what they think, it’s the results on the ice that matter. The Karlsson line, we put it together and I didn’t have to touch it because they were good. That makes it easy for a coach and players enjoy that so they like to know, coming to the rink, who they’re playing with. They decide it when they play well. -Gallant

Gallant admitted he doesn’t see anyone other than Haula or Tuch starting the season on the second line in the preseason, which means it’s going to be one or the other on October 4th. 

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Training Camp Day 1 Quotes

New guys are fitting in quickly. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

A team that plays a high paced game like we do I think it’s important to do a lot of skating and to do a lot of up-tempo drills so that when it comes to games you are kind of used to that. -Paul Stastny

It’s hard to see any positive in losing the Final, but after a few weeks or months you start to understand what you did right and what you did wrong and make sure you don’t do it again, so there is always something you can take from any negative situation. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

(Having a child) is still the best accomplishment we’ve ever done. He’s so cute, it’s impossible to be that cute. He has a hockey stick, he doesn’t know what it is, but he has one. -Bellemare

We had the meeting to go over our systems and it was very very similar to what we did in Montreal. I was able to sit in that meeting and kind of know what to expect. Then I went out on the ice and was able to not think on the first day because I’m so used to our breakouts and our system when we go back for pucks. It’s a system I’ve had a lot of success with and I look to pick up where I left off with it. -Max Pacioretty

It’s important to make sure everyone knows that just because there’s a lot of hype around here it doesn’t mean anything. It starts with what we did in the summer, it starts with what we do today and constantly building as a team on and off the ice to repeat that success from last year and take that next step. -Stastny

First and foremost their unbelievable guys (Stastny and Pacioretty). I’ve been talking to them and I sat next to them at the team dinner and we were cracking jokes and they are just great guys. They’ve been around the block for a while and they’re really experienced and it’ll be fun to be on the same team as them this year and I’m going to try to learn as much as I can from them too. -Alex Tuch

I still think we have some doubters that we won’t do it again, that it was almost like a lucky Cup run. That’s the mentality that we have going in that we still have a lot to prove and we still want to be that elite team that’s making a Cup run and we are all in, all of us are. -Tuch

We have some new guys, we have some different situations than last year in a way but I think every individual, just make sure you stay healthy, make sure you put the work in. Hopefully everyone did put the work in during the Summer, that’s the expectation when we left here. -Erik Haula

Just individually try to get better, and having a little internal competition is good. Just keep pushing each other and that ultimately makes all of us better. -Haula

It’s a little bit different (than last year), we’re so comfortable with each other, we’re a really tight group, but I don’t think the prove it mentality is gone and I think that’s really good. We’re still building towards something and we want to be a really good team for a long time. -Haula

Gallant Weighs In On The Haula Playing Center Or Wing

Hard to believe it makes sense to switch positions on a player who scored 29 goals a year ago. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The moment Paul Stastny signed with the Golden Knights, a center controversy sparked. Stastny will almost certainly play center on the second line and with the addition of Max Pacioretty, he’ll be on his left wing. That leaves Erik Haula or Alex Tuch as the other wing. Haula had a career year playing center with David Perron and James Neal last season. He’s also made multiple comments during this offseason that he sees himself as a center.

Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant gave his thoughts on the situation today.

Hauls can play both wing and center so I don’t see any issue with that. I’ve been reading a little about Hauls being pushed down to the third line, that’s not fair. Hauls scored 29 goals last year. When you look at the makeup of our team, I mean obviously you would say the Karlsson line will stay together, and there’s a good chance that’s going to stay together, and after that guys are going to figure things out. We’ll go to camp and figure out who’s the best fit with each line and what’s gonna work. Erik Haula is a hell of a player and had a hell of year for us last year. We’ll see where he’s going to fit. I’m not worried about it one bit at all. If Hauls is playing 2nd line center or 2nd line right wing or playing 3rd line it’s not an issue. Tuchy is a good player, he’s a young player, he played great on the right side last year on the 2nd line and played great on the left wing on the 3rd line. So there’s no issue there. Guys come to camp, work hard, and see what happens and hopefully nobody is injured and we’ll put our lines together and get ready for the game. It doesn’t concern me, good players can play with everybody. I’m mean I’m sure Hauls is looking at it saying, where do I fit, but it’s not an issue for me, he’ll be fine, he’ll get plenty of ice time. -Gallant

The one portion that sticks out most is “that’s not fair.” That could mean a lot of different things but the most likely is that Gallant believes it’s only fair to give Haula the first shot to play with Stastny and Pacioretty.

Camp opens tomorrow with the first preseason game being Sunday. It’s unlikely many of the established players play in that game, but every time Haula hits the ice, our eyes will be peeled on what position he’s in.

Splitting Up The Second Line

Last week on the SinBin.vegas podcast, the Golden Knights second line combination scenarios were a big focus. As it currently stands, it appears the Golden Knights have seven forwards that can fill top the six roles. Of course, messing with the top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith is foolish, so that leaves Erik Haula, Paul Stastny, Alex Tuch and Tomas Tatar to fill three spots.

10 more goals from Tuch changes the entire outlook of the changed VGK made in the offseason. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Unless, as we discussed, Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant chooses a more balanced attack by splitting the four into pairs of two rather than a full line and a leftover. That would leave an open spot on both the second and third lines. Possibly, the distribution of points would create more offense throughout the entire lineup while not sacrificing the offensive talents of one of these four by sticking them on a defensive-minded line.

Let’s put it to the test statistically. To do so, we’ll start by comparing possible combinations of 2nd lines using three of the four available players and compare it to that of the line of David Perron, James Neal, and Haula.

The Perron, Neal, and Haula line produced 70 goals, 95 assists, and 165 points while posting a combined 2.8 defensive point shares.

We used last year’s stats to come up with combined line totals for each of the four potential lines. Each line is named by which player is missing, so “w/o Haula” means a line of Tuch, Tatar, and Stastny.

LineGoalsAssistsPointsDPS
w/o Haula51731244
w/o Tatar60851344.4
w/o Tuch65771313.9
w/o Stastny64621153.3

Before you go scrolling back and forth trying to figure out the difference between each line and that of Perron, Neal, and Haula, we did the math for you.

LineGoalsAssistsPointsDPS
w/o Haula-19-22-411.2
w/o Tatar-10-10-311.6
w/o Tuch-5-18-341.1
w/o Stastny-6-33-500.5

Unsurprisingly, the numbers come up way short offensively. Defensively, however, any of the four options would be better. The biggest concern though is the play of the leftover player. Could Tuch, Haula, Tatar, or Stastny thrive on a line with players like Cody Eakin, Ryan Carpenter, Daniel Carr, or Tomas Hyka? That’s yet to be seen, but it’s also why the idea of splitting the four high-end forwards came up.

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Stastny Mentions Tuch And Haula When Asked About Potential Linemates

The number one storyline (maybe number two behind Theodore’s contract) heading into the 2018-19 season is the mystery behind the third center spot. With the signing of center Paul Stastny it’s assumed either Erik Haula or Cody Eakin will no longer man the middle of the ice for the Golden Knights.

Haula has said in the past that he “obviously likes playing in the center” and his career year statistically backs up his claim.

Appearing on the Golden Knights official podcast, SLGND, Stastny was asked by Gary Lawless, “Is there a player you think will fit nicely with you?” Stastny was anything but committal in his answer, but the names he mentioned, and more importantly the one he didn’t, might give us a little preview into the Golden Knights’ plans for the second line heading into training camp.

Yeah, I don’t know… From what I heard, Tuch kind of came into his own as the season went on. I thought he blossomed really well and did really good the second half of the season. And then if potentially they might put Haula on the wing, and I wouldn’t mind that because someone like that with so much speed… sometimes it’s easy to play with those guys. Especially who has a background at center because you don’t have to be the first guy back all the time. It’s easy to kind of switch positions and always be moving and play on the fly.

This picture shows he at least knows Tatar exists. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It comes across much stronger as a transcribed quote than it does actually hearing him say it, so be sure to give it a listen, but Tomas Tatar’s name is nowhere to be found in that answer.

If indeed Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant chooses to put Tuch, Haula, and Stastny together, that would leave Tatar to play with Eakin and another winger like Ryan Carpenter, Daniel Carr, Curtis McKenzie, Oscar Lindberg, Tomas Hyka or another “bottom-six” type player.

After coming to the Golden Knights at the deadline, Tatar never quite found a home in the Vegas lineup and his stats suffered mightily. Heck, he couldn’t even get in the lineup during most of the playoff run. Putting him back on a third line without bonafide playmakers like Stastny, Tuch, and Haula likely sets him up to struggle once again.

Gallant is in a tough spot at the moment, basically with seven forwards to fill six slots. There are a lot of different combinations in which he can go, the question will be, does he try to find the best combination of three without any worry of what happens to the leftover player, or will he attempt to return to a more balanced lineup and possibly break the four non-first line guys into two pairs? Or, will a player or two emerge in camp to help fill the offensive void currently left on the third line?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m ready to be done with the speculation and get some answers. Unfortunately full training camp is still three weeks away. So, let the speculation continue.

McPhee Didn’t Think 2nd Line Was Good Enough Defensively, So He Blew It Up

Most of us remember moments like this, McPhee remembers much more. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last year the Golden Knights second line was Erik Haula, David Perron, and James Neal. They netted 70 goals and put up 165 points, excellent offensive production for a second line. However, they posted a -26 rating despite taking just 26.3% (including neutral zone draws) of their faceoffs in the defensive zone.

We did have to change the second line from what it was last year because as far as second lines go it wasn’t good enough defensively. It produced, but the goals against per 60 minutes was not good enough. We were actually dead last for second lines in the league. -George McPhee on VGK Insider Show

We can’t find the exact stat showing Haula, Perron, and Neal but if McPhee uses the phrase “dead last” he’s got to be confident in the numbers. We could find this stat, however.

LineTOIGAGA/60
71/81/19722:34241.99
56/57/18554:37283.03
21/89/13261:10112.53
41/92/28152:1251.97

Those numbers are calculated based on the total time when all three players were on the ice together at even strength. As you can see, the Haula, Perron, Neal line was horrendous defensively, especially when compared to the Golden Knights first and “fourth” lines.

You can either look the other way on that or you can try to address it, so we are trying to address it. -McPhee on VGK Insider Show

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Haula: “I Obviously Like Playing In The Center”

Haula won 50.5% of the faceoffs he took. Not great, but certainly not a problem. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

29 goals, 26 assists, a playoff game-winner in overtime against the Kings, and a countless number of big-time goals late in games for the Golden Knights. That’s what Erik Haula did as the center on the second line with David Perron and James Neal. The key words in that sentence are “as the center.”

With the departures of Perron and Neal and the acquisition of Paul Stastny, it stands to reason that Haula may not project as a center anymore. Instead, he might wind as a winger for a line centered by Stastny. Haula weighed in on that topic when he was asked about moving to the wing on NHL Network.

I’ll leave that to the coaching staff. I obviously like playing in the center and I had some success there last year, but I want to win and whatever helps us to do that is key for our group. I’m sure there’s going to be some discussion going into camp and trying our different things but I’m sure at the end of the day we’re going to do what’s best for the group. –Erik Haula to NHL Network

Stastny is much better at faceoffs and is widely considered a better defensive center than Haula, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Haula just had the best year of his career helping to lead the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, and he did it as a center.

If Haula remains at center it would mean either Stastny would play wing (which is highly unlikely) or Cody Eakin or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare would be pushed to the wing. Here’s an idea of how it would look each way…

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Vegas’ 2nd Line Not Producing On Either End Of The Ice

There hasn’t been enough of this lately. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into Game 3, Erik Haula, James Neal, and David Perron had been fairly flat in the Stanley Cup Final. Then Game 3 happened, and second line struggle has turned to second line disaster.

We have to put pucks in, you have a little bit of time, you think you can make a play, have some room to skate, and then it gets clogged up pretty quick. For us, we have to simplify. It’s something we talked about. But I just think we’re just not there. We’re a second late on pucks. Or support. We’ll fix it. -James Neal

In 180 minutes of hockey, the trio has a combined three points (1 goal, 2 assists), just 10 shots on goal, seven shots blocked, seven missed shots, and a whopping -9 rating. All three are under 45%, they’ve allowed 12 high dangers chances while creating just three, and worst of all, they were on the ice for all three goals in Game 3.

It’s big, obviously the matchups. We did a really good job getting lines out there when we needed to. -Jay Beagle, Washington forward

It was glaringly obvious that the second line was having trouble creating any real threat. Neal’s laser of a goal in Game 2 is the line’s only goal, and it took an incredible individual effort rather than team play to score it. Plus, even that lost its luster after Don Cherry pointed out Neal’s shot was slightly deflected off Washington’s Michal Kempny’s stick.

They’ve had their moments, and yeah, we know they’re going to get chances. The more we can keep them off the scoreboard and frustrate them as much as possible. -John Carlson, Washington defenseman

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2nd Line Shows Out In Game 3 After Critical Self Evaluation Of Games 1 And 2

Whether Ehlers plays or not, VGK’s 2nd line must keep scoring goals and keeping Winnipeg off the board. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Before the series on the SinBin.vegas Podcast I harped on the importance of the 2nd line in the Western Conference Finals against Winnipeg. Then after Game 1 I followed up with another article claiming they had to be better in order to Vegas to win the series.

Well, apparently it wasn’t just me thinking it. In fact, all three players mentioned during their press availability before Game 3 that they needed to play better. Game 3 happened, they did, and to no surprise, the Golden Knights got the result they were looking for.

As a line, we played a lot better. We were able to capitalize on a couple of opportunities. Felt good offensively. I still think we need to be a better defensively. I thought our wall play was a little poor at times, especially myself, so I’ve got to be better. -Alex Tuch

James Neal was on the ice for all three Golden Knights goals, and Erik Haula and Tuch were out there for the second and third. They did not allow a goal while on the ice and the line as a whole put up by far the best advanced stat numbers of the game for Vegas.

I thought tonight they were more involved on the offense. They played really well and had a great two periods and fell off a little bit in the third. -Gerard Gallant

The Vegas 2nd line now has the advantage in every major statistical category on the line of Paul Stastny, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers including the most important one, goals scored. However, the Golden Knights’ 2nd line center still isn’t satisfied.

We look in the mirror every morning and we know when we need to be better. We need to be right up there with Karlsson’s line. -Erik Haula

Haula admitted his line played better, but he appears well aware how crucial they are to the outcome in the series. If the 2nd line gets on the board a couple more times in Game 4, the Golden Knights will probably be heading north of the border looking to claim the Campbell Bowl.

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