The roster certainly may change between now and early October when the Golden Knights hit the ice for real, but at the moment, there’s an overload at the forward position.
William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Erik Haula, and Alex Tuch have all averaged at least 16:30 per game in their time with the Golden Knights. Mark Stone played just 17:39 per game in the regular season in Vegas while he averaged over 20 per game in Ottawa.
With the addition of Nikita Gusev and maybe Cody Glass, the question that has to spring to mind is, how are the Golden Knights going to manage all these minutes?
This is just nine of the 12 forwards. Stone’s time will almost certainly go up and Eakin’s will likely decrease, but it’s hard to imagine players like Tuch, Pacioretty, Haula or others to drop too much further below their VGK averages.
When a series goes seven games, it’s the nature of the beast for the losing team to look back at every play, every call, and every decision to come up with answers as to what went wrong.
Of course, it’s been harped on time and time again that the call on Cody Eakin was blown and it cost the Golden Knights a chance to still be playing today. However, there’s no denying the fact that Vegas lost three other games in the series that could have nullified that gaffe.
In Games 5 and 6, Vegas played well and close games just didn’t fall their way, but Game 1 was a much different story. When the series got underway in San Jose, the Golden Knights seemed to take a moment to really get going. By the time they did, it was too late and they instantly dug themselves a hole in the series they would eventually climb out of, only to fall right back in.
Over the course of the first six games, head coach Gerard Gallant made one lineup change. That was putting Colin Miller, who was scratched in Game 1, back into the lineup for Nick Holden.
It was a peculiar decision to bench Miller in the first place, and one that would only get weirder as questions would later be answered about the lineup move.
Miller played all 102 games last season, 65 of the 82 in the regular season this year, and all of the previous seven heading into playoffs. Also, Miller took part in 13 of the 14 prior meetings between the Sharks and Golden Knights, scoring three goals, putting up five assists, and recording a +4 rating. Vegas won nine of the 13 games Miller played against San Jose and lost the one he didn’t.
This was the reasoning for scratching Miller after Game 1 from the Golden Knights head coach.
That was… Like I told you the other day, we play 20 hockey players and there’s some good players that are not playing tonight so we decided he’s not going to play tonight. -Gallant
Is he healthy? – SinBin.vegas
Yes, everybody’s healthy. -Gallant
However, it clearly wasn’t that simple.
Miller took warmups prior to Game 1 against the Sharks. No other player (with the exception of Jimmy Schuldt days after he joined the team) skated in warmups and then didn’t play for the Golden Knights in 2018-19. In 2017-18 it happened only a handful of times and in every instance, it was precautionary to cover for a player who might be injured and unable to play.
As Gallant confirmed, no one was injured. Miller skated alongside the scratches in morning skate the day of Game 1, so the decision was clearly not made in the spur of the moment before the game.
To make matters even more confusing, Miller was instantly placed back in the normal rotation on the off-day between Games 1 and 2. He played in every game the rest of the series, and Gallant made an interesting comment when asked about Miller prior to Game 4.
Gallant says he absolutely considered using Gusev in the series but basically said in the end it came down to the fact that he didn't fully know the systems and it wasn't worth the risk. Opted for Pirri and he thought he played great in Game 7.
The Golden Knights used the same strategy against Drew Doughty and the Kings. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
One of the most dangerous aspects of the San Jose Sharks is their depth of defensemen with offensive abilities. Whether it’s the team leader in points in Brent Burns, or one of the league’s best puck movers in Erik Karlsson, or even the less known players like Brendan Dillon or Justin Braun, the Sharks aren’t lacking offensive production from their defensemen.
This was a major point of emphasis for the Golden Knights against the Sharks a year ago when the two met in the playoffs and will be once again this year. Vegas deploys a somewhat risky strategy in defending the Sharks glut of firepower from their defensemen, something that has not gone unnoticed by the San Jose bench boss.
If they are going to go stand up beside our defensemen up high then the forwards down low are going to have to take advantage of that space. They’ve been consistent with that against us whenever we’ve played them, last year and this year. So we know that’s probably what we are going to get. -Pete DeBoer, Sharks Head Coach
What he’s talking about is how the Golden Knights forwards defend against the Sharks when San Jose has the puck in the Vegas zone. Gallant has instructed his forwards to play as close to the defenseman standing near the blue line as possible to take away time and space and also eliminate shooting lanes.
They play our defensemen high and it ends up with a lot of low play there where you have to take the puck to the net. That’s part of the game when you play them. DeBoer on 3/30 following OT win over VGK
Last year in the playoffs, the Sharks defensemen did not score a single goal at even strength and they managed only a total of 35 shots on goal. The Golden Knights blocked 58 shots from Sharks defensemen in the series.
Over the course of the six playoff games, and even more so in the four games this regular season, the Golden Knights have put an emphasis on not allowing shots from the point. That means taking away Brent Burns’ massive shot, eliminating Erik Karlsson’s shot and passing ability, and limiting every other defenseman’s shot lanes.
You have to get on them quickly. If you give them too much time, they’ll make plays and they’ll create more open ice from that. You have to limit the time and space. That’s pretty much the best answer I can give you. They’re talented players and they’re very creative with the puck. The more opportunities you give them, they’ll make you pay. -Reilly Smith
The other benefit of playing defenseman high at the blue line is in creating turnovers. Any slight bobble of a pass at the Sharks offensive blue line could mean a Golden Knight taking the puck and starting a break the other way. Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and others will be primary pieces in taking away shots from the point.
We’ve all seen it over the past two seasons, the Golden Knights have the San Jose Sharks number. In their 14 matchups, Vegas is 9-2-3 against San Jose in the regular season and postseason combined. I know the team won’t come out and say it but I will, the Golden Knights own the Sharks. Both teams know it, both fanbases know it.
One guy that doesn’t care about anything from the past is Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant.
To be totally honest with you, it doesn’t matter what we’ve done against them the last year and a half. It’s going to be a brand new series. It’s going to be two real good teams battling for a chance to move on in the playoffs. I don’t care. They’re a really talented hockey team and they’re better than they were last year. I think we’re better than we were last year. It should be a great series and the past means nothing to us. -Gallant
Gallant is very good at downplaying but he’s well aware of the advantage his team has over San Jose. He correctly rattled off his team’s record against the Sharks in Tuesday’s press conference. The players are well aware of their success against San Jose too. But will Vegas’ confidence get in the way? And how will the Golden Knights keep from being overconfident heading into their first round series against San Jose.
We are hoping to use that to our advantage and be confident against them. We believe we can dominate them. Go into their building and play well like we’ve proven that we can do. Historically, it’s a tough place to play but I think we’ve done a good job in that building. We’ve kind of gotten them off their game and getting into our game quickly. We’re going to try and stay confident and believe in ourselves. -Jon Merrill
Confidence aside Merrill isn’t concerned what’s going on in the Sharks locker room. The focus is all about his team, and his locker room.
We worry about ourselves. We focus on what we need to do. We’re a tight group and our success is going to come from here. -Merrill
Shea Theodore has turned into a bonafide top-four defenseman this season, and not just his skills on the ice. Theodore transitioned from a young prospect and becoming a well-paid veteran. He recognizes his team’s success and isn’t afraid to boast about it.
The games that we’ve played against them they’ve been intense, they’ve been physical. They’re a good team but when we play our style, I think we’re getting into their heads. We got Reavo and he does a pretty good job running around and chirping guys… It definitely gets us going. -Shea Theodore
Theodore wasn’t being cocky or trying to send bulletin board material for San Jose. The Sharks don’t need that, they have enough already.
Yeah, things change. It’ll be something we’ll feel and see how it goes. -Theodore
Bottom line, Vegas has gotten the better of San Jose over two seasons and they have the opportunity to continue their dominance in the first round. The question is, can San Jose do anything to stop it?
As we head towards the playoffs the composition of the Golden Knights “perfect” lineup is going to become a major topic of discussion. Assuming full health, and it appears the Golden Knights should have it barring any new injuries, the top six should be locked in as it was prior to Max Pacioretty’s injury. It looks like this:
That leaves six players to fill just three spots. Those players are Brandon Pirri, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, and Valentin Zykov.
To me, because there are two slots open on one line and only one on the other, the focus should be on creating the best fourth line possible and then using the leftover player to fill out what already should be a promising line of Eakin and Tuch.
Because the Golden Knights prefer to roster a fairly standard fourth line (meaning it’s much more of a checking/possession/don’t give up goals line) Pirri and Zykov aren’t great fits. They’ll come back into play when we consider the final piece on the third line.
Rather than give my opinion on how it should line up, I’d rather use numbers. So, using NaturalStatTrick.com’s “Line Tool,” I’ve gone through each potential option to see how they’ve performed as a trio when together.
To begin all NHL games both teams are awarded one timeout. They can use it at any time during the game except after an icing. Most coaches use it to set up a play late in a game or to give the top power-play unit a rest if they’ve been on the ice for a while and the coach wants to keep them out there.
However, there’s one other use for the timeout and it’s a big one. In the event a team wants to challenge a play for goalie interference, they must risk their timeout. If you don’t have your timeout, you can’t request a challenge.
Thus, holding on to that one timeout can be crucial, especially in a game in which a team is leading.
That’s why I don’t use it a lot. I want to really save it because if goals are scored on an interference you really want to save it. If I think we need it because our defensemen on the ice are exhausted and Gilly (defense coach Ryan McGill) wants to keep them out there then I’ll use it but it’s tough because you’d hate to see a tying goal go in when there’s a goalie interference that you might be able to challenge (and you don’t have the timeout). -Gerard Gallant
The purpose of the timeout in hockey has essentially changed.
The Golden Knights have pulled the goalie a total of 21 times this season. They’ve been “successful” (at least tying the game) just one time and it happened to be on the first attempt of the season. Since Max Pacioretty’s goal on October 6th, Gerard Gallant has pulled his goalie 20 times and his team has not scored a single goal. In that time they’ve allowed 11 total empty netters, conceding at least one in 10 of the 20 games.
However, this is not horribly uncommon as 10 of the NHL’s 31 teams have just one successful goalie pull this year. Plus, four teams (Arizona, New York Islanders, Dallas, Pittsburgh) have all yet to tie or win a game after pulling their goalie.
That means 45% of the NHL has just one or fewer successful goalie pulls. However, that doesn’t mean the success rate of the goalie pull is poor. Actually, 14.6% of one goal games result in a tie game when the goalie is sent to the bench. Calgary, Minnesota, and New Jersey are the best at it, each successfully tying the game four times.
When down by one goal, the league average of the goalie is pulled is 1:43. Vegas is the fifth most aggressive team when it comes to time, pulling the goalie on average with 1:58 left on the clock. The most aggressive team is Toronto, pulling the goalie on average at around 2:28 left in the game.
The Golden Knights average pulling their goalie with 2:01 left on the clock in all situations. The earliest Gallant has removed the goalie was at the 3:13 mark, in the March 10th game at Calgary (down two), while the latest was with :49 vs. Montreal on November 10th (down one). Just nine of the 21 times has Gallant done it outside of 1:30 to 2:30 left.
Other teams have been far more adventurous. Tampa Bay once pulled the goalie with 9:47 to go, Dallas did it with 7:48, and Nashville recently tried it with 6:09 left. There have been more than 100 instances this season in which a goalie has been pulled earlier than the earliest Gallant has pulled VGK’s goalie.
With the goalie out, Vegas is about average at keeping the puck from going in their own net. They’ve allowed 11 empty net goals in the 21 goalie pulls. That’s good for 14th in the league. Calgary is the best allowing just four, while Dallas is the worst giving up 16.
All in all, pulling the goalie hasn’t been great for the Golden Knights, but you certainly can’t say Gerard Gallant isn’t trying.
On December 13th, 2017 the Golden Knights claimed Ryan Carpenter on waivers from the San Jose Sharks. It took him almost a month, until January 5th to finally get in his first game. Since, he’s become a staple in Gerard Gallant’s lineup… much to the chagrin of many in the fan base.
Carpenter has just 13 points in 50 games this season and is a -8 in the plus/minus category. He’s among the worst on the team in just about every statistical category, yet when asked Gallant never has anything but good things to say about #40.
Carpenter is the same for me every night, pretty much. He is a solid player, he doesn’t make many mistakes. He does the right thing with the puck all the time, so we had very few turnovers tonight and he is a part of that. He did a good job on our penalty kill, so really liked his game -Gallant
He is one of the best in giveaways, just coughing the puck up 15 times in 630 minutes on the ice, and there’s no question he’s a strong penalty killer.
But let me throw another group of numbers into the mix. Whether it’s related to Carpenter or not, the Golden Knights are miserable without him. They are a pathetic 2-11-1 without Carpenter in the lineup and score just 2.21 goals while allowing 3.57 when he’s in the press box.
Here is a breakdown of all 19 players who are currently on the roster that have missed games. The numbers shown are how the Golden Knights perform without the designated player.
As the clock struck 0:00 in overtime it was time for the Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant to make some tough decisions. Per NHL rules, when a game heads into the shootout, the home team is given the choice of shooting first or second.
Somebody told me we were 63% when we go first when Fleury’s in the net. So, I like 63 better than the other odds. Next game I might change it. But truthfully, over my career as a coach, I switch it up. It doesn’t matter to me. Some guys will want to go first all the time, I think most teams do, but I switch it up, I really do. -Gallant
Gallant reiterated that he doesn’t think it really matters, so he kind of just goes off his gut feeling for that night.
If you score there is (an advantage of going first). -Gallant
The Golden Knights have been in four shootouts this season and 11 in franchise history. They’ve gone first four times and won just one of them. They’ve gone second the other seven and have won five.
Four of them occurred at home, where Gallant is given the choice. He’s chosen to go first in three of the four, winning just one, while electing to go second once, which he also lost.
(Have to assume the 63% Gallant is talking about is over the course of Fleury’s career. But who has time to look that up? Not me.)
Not sure exactly when this was published, but according to a study, going first or second in the shootout has not been statistically significant in the outcome. At the time of the study. 50.5% of teams that went second went on to win, hardly an advantage at all.
Last night Gallant went with Brandon Pirri, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore, and Oscar Lindberg as his six shooters.
I’ll let him explain the thought process on that one.