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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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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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Gallant Says He Learned Something New On How He’s Handled Oscar Lindberg

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Gerard Gallant has been a coach in the NHL for 445 games, winning 222 of them. He’s been the head man of three different teams, won the Jack Adams Award, and brought his team to within three wins of lifting the Stanley Cup. Yet, heading into game 446, he’s still figuring things out.

I look back at how (Oscar Lindberg) missed a bunch of games in a row and I said to him in the last week or so that you know what, I probably shouldn’t have done it that way. I don’t like doing it that way, sitting a player that long, but that’s the way it happened and moving forward I probably wouldn’t do that again. I’ll probably give a guy a chance a lot quicker to get back in the lineup. You look at those situations and you learn something new every day. -Gerard Gallant

Prior to his re-insertion into the lineup on 12/4 against Washington, Oscar Lindberg had been a healthy scratch for six straight games. Before that, he played in two but was scratched for the previous nine. All in all, Lindberg has sat out of 20 of the Golden Knights 36 games and before the current seven-game stretch of being in the lineup, he hadn’t played more than four in straight all season.

We recently wrote about how Lindberg’s strong play has forced Gallant to make a few lineup moves, but the revelation that he doesn’t like the idea of sitting a player out that long is interesting to say the least, especially when you consider the fact that Lindberg has played well under the circumstances.

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Three Theories On What’s Happening With Max Pacioretty And Why Gallant/VGK Offered Contrasting Messages

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After 67 days being out with a lower body injury, the Golden Knights are finally getting Paul Stastny back in the lineup. It appeared as though this would be the game in which the re-built second line of Stastny, Alex Tuch, and Max Pacioretty would finally all be on the ice together.

Then, morning skate in New Jersey happened and it became clear that was not to be.

Instead, Pacioretty would be kept out of the lineup completely, but the coach and front office had different reasons as to why when each was asked.

Timeline (as reported by David Schoen, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

11:30 AM EST – Golden Knights take to the ice at Prudential Center for morning skate

11:38 AM EST – Max Pacioretty skates as an extra on the fourth line with Reaves, Bellemare, and Carrier. Stastny takes line rush with Tuch and Lindberg and Eakin with Carpenter and Nosek.

11:50 AM EST – Pacioretty does not participate in normal power play drill. Instead, Karlsson takes his place and Stastny fills the role on the second unit.

12:24 PM EST – Gallant confirms Stastny will play and will be on the second line with Alex Tuch and Oscar Lindberg. Is also asked about Pacioretty…

Is there anything wrong with Max Pacioretty? -Schoen

Well not that I know of. Why? -Gallant

He was taking different line rushes and wasn’t working with the number one power play unit… -Schoen

No. Nothing wrong with Max. You’ve got to scratch somebody tonight and we’ll decide tonight after warmups… We’ll know before warmups but… he’s fine. -Gallant

1:16 EST PM – The Golden Knights, via a team spokesperson, confirm Pacioretty does have a “minor injury.”

The team feels it is best for him to miss one game rather than six. (It) is management’s decision to hold him out tonight. -Golden Knights team spokesperson


So here we are. Is Pacioretty hurt? Is he a healthy scratch? Did something else happen that they don’t want to tell us about? What in the world is going on?

Of course, we can only read/listen to what we are being told, so there certainly could be more information that could change all of this, but from what we know there are really only three possibilities of what could be happening in this situation.

Here are each of the three narratives and the logic behind fitting every piece of information we have into that particular story. After writing them all out, I can honestly say that I don’t really have an opinion as to which it might be. They all make sense, but they all have parts that make you shake your head and say, how could this happen? So, instead of guessing myself, I’ll simply present them and let you be the judge.

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Results Aren’t Changing, So Something Else Must

Let’s try changes before it’s 3-0. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Following their latest nightmare of a road trip, all three trips have been now, the Golden Knights now sit at 3-8-0 on the road, 7-10-1 overall, and with a measly 15 points in the first 18 games. If you extrapolate those numbers over a full 82 game season, that’s 11-31-0 on the road, 32-46-4 overall, and 68 points. That is a disaster.

That is also why something has to change. Of course, the easiest change will be made available to the Golden Knights in two games, when Nate Schmidt is eligible to return from his suspension. It will almost certainly help, but relying on one player to completely turn the fortunes of a team around is like walking up to the craps table thinking you’re going to win rent for the month. It might happen, but realistically, it’s probably not.

Following the loss in Boston, reigning Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant responded to a question about swapping Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault mid-game with this answer.

If you are not winning you are going to try things. That’s what a coach’s job is supposed to be. So you try and get a little spark. -Gallant

However, the team has barely tried anything nearly a fourth of the way through the season. They’ve made one call-up from the AHL, they’ve made voluntary changes on just one line, and they’ve never swapped more than one defenseman if not dealing with an injury.

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Is It Time For Line Changes? Massive Line Changes?

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 2nd line center? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights top line made up of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith have a total of 24 points. That’s the exact same total as every other skater on the roster combined. 24 points.

One of the reasons for the Golden Knights early success a year ago was eventual Jack Adams award winner Gerard Gallant’s willingness to switch his lines. Because there was no history of success or failure, there was no fear of letting guys skate with anyone, anywhere, in the lineup. This year that hasn’t really been the case.

(If you haven’t checked out our Line Charts yet, you really need to.)

Last year, Erik Haula went from third line wing to first line center within the first 10 games of the season. William Karlsson from playing with Haula and Brendan Leipsic to Marchessault and Smith. Vadim Shipachyov from first line center to retired cry-baby. Oh, and all of this happened while the Golden Knights raced out to an 8-2-0 start.

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Two Golden Knights Say VGK Played Well, Two Others Completely Disagree; The Divide Is Not Ideal

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

The Golden Knights are now 1-3-0 in their first four games of the season. Two points in four games is not going to make anyone happy. However, there is a bit of a sense that Vegas has been playing a little better than the scores have indicated at times.

Specifically, last night in Washington, the Golden Knights created plenty of goal scoring chances and got bit by the post a few times. To me, it was a well-played game for Vegas on the road against the best team in hockey. On most nights, especially at home, that level of play will win games, even with the few mistakes that were made. One Golden Knight and the Jack Adams award winner agree.

Maybe the score wasn’t relative to the game that was shown. We had a lot of posts, maybe three or four. We had the puck a lot. I thought it was probably one of our better games so far. It’s a good sign. We are getting chances, we are getting pucks to the net. We’re going to score at some point. -Marc-Andre Fleury

I thought we played a real good game 5-on-5, we got lots of scoring chances, their goalie played real well, so I liked a lot of our game but we gave them too many odd-man rushes and too many power plays. -Gerard Gallant

However, that sentiment was not shared by everyone in the locker room.

I don’t think this was our best game. We played like a team with no identity and if we are going to try and trade chances with the Capitals we aren’t going to win. It wasn’t our best and there are some things we can tighten up and I think awareness is something we can do a much better job with. -Reilly Smith

I just think as a whole we aren’t playing our game. We are taking too many penalties. It’s a long year but we have to figure out things quick. Our goal from this road trip is to be a .500 team and when we are playing like this, that’s not going to happen. We definitely have to work some things out and find our game. -Shea Theodore

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Golden Knights Lacking Offense; But Why?

No stats account for missing wide open nets though, and the Golden Knights have had their fair share of those through three games. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In their first three games, the Golden Knights are outshooting opponents 104 to 72 in shots on goal. The numbers are even more staggering when you include all shots, 197-125. That’s a Corsi For Percentage of 61.2%!  Yet Vegas is 1-2-0 and have been outscored in the only category that matters, goals, 10 to 5.

So the stats seem suggest Vegas had plenty of scoring chances in Buffalo but Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant didn’t agree following the game.

Well there were a lot of shots but I didn’t see many scoring chances to be honest with you. We had a few chances in the second half of the game but the first half I thought we were sound alseep. -Gallant

Sometimes Gallant can be a little emotional, irrational even, in the pressers after losses, so we decided to take a little deeper dive to see if the Golden Knights are indeed taking harmless shots, if it’s just been a case of tough luck early, or if it’s some combination of both.

According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Golden Knights had 22 scoring chances on 37 shots. That’s down significantly from the first two games in which Vegas had 33 (PHI) and 31 (@MIN) scoring chances. 22 is very low for the Golden Knights when compared to last year. Just 13 times did they have fewer than 22, including the other time they visited Buffalo. However, the Golden Knights went 8-3-2 in the games in which they had fewer than 22 scoring chances. So, that’s not a great indicator of success.

The next stat, and this is an odd one, is Corsi or Shot Attempts. Vegas outshot the Sabres 67-35 for a Corsi For Percentage of 65.7%. Only one time all year, including the playoffs, did the Golden Knights create a higher discrepancy in shots. That was the famous night before Thanksgiving game in Anaheim where they overcame a 2-0 lead to win 4-2. Vegas hit 64% or more five other times last season and they went a winless 0-3-2 in those games. In other words, massive Corsi differences does not equal success for the Golden Knights. Instead, it likely indicates they are forcing bad shots and inflating the numbers rather than working for good ones.

That brings us to the heat charts. Where are the shots coming from?

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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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Recap Of George McPhee’s Presser On Max Pacioretty And The Impact Of What He Said

#67 is here to stay (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

George McPhee met with the media to talk about the trade for Max Pacioretty. Here’s absolutely everything you need to know about what he said and why it all matters.

  • Trade negotiations for Pacioretty began after the draft and it took a couple months to get done. It picked up considerably the last few days and then GM Marc Bergevin gave McPhee about seven hours to negotiate a contract with Pacioretty. The trade would not have happened at all if Vegas did not have a contract extension in place for Pacioretty. Trade with the team was contingent upon the deal with the player. The contracr extension was $28 million for 4 years or $7 million AAV against the salary cap.
    • Why it matters: This proves the Golden Knights would not have taken the risk to give up as much as they did if they did not have the guarntee that they would have Pacioretty for longer than just the one year. It also shows a bit of a template for what McPhee may be thinking in the Erik Karlsson deal. Not looking for a rental at this time, at least not at as steep of a price as he paid for Pacioretty.
  • McPhee confirmed a previous deal that Montreal had (reported as being the LA Kings) that did not work out because a contract extension could not be reached. Thus, Montreal was reluctant to allow Vegas to negotiate with Pacioretty before a deal was completed.
  • McPhee says he thinks Pacioretty fits well with the Golden Knights. Called him a scorer and a great two-way player that can play in all situations.
    • Why it matters: McPhee did not like the defense of the second line (Neal, Perron, Haula) last year. So he went out and acquired two strong defensive players that also have a lot of offensive potential. Pacioretty and Stastny will both help on power play and penalty kill. In McPhee’s mind the team is even better now than it was a year ago. (I agree.)
  • McPhee also specifically mentioned that Pacioretty has played for Gerard Gallant in the past (while Gallant was an assistant in Montreal).

We’ve added a couple of players in Stastny and Pacioretty that are very good two-way players, very good character people. So I hope that we are a better team than we were last year. Time will tell. -McPhee

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