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Time To Break Up The Top Six

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night was an eye-opener for the 2018-19 Golden Knights. After a tough loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the fourth straight at home, Gerard Gallant delivered a strong message in the locker room following the game. The team followed it up with a lengthy, competitive practice on Friday and then went without morning skate on Saturday. It appeared they had hit rock bottom and appeared primed to start the turnaround.

Last year’s team had its moments too, but every time they would come back, play great, and win. This team didn’t.

Instead, this team got outmanned in a game they simply came up short in the talent department. The foursome of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nyander, and Mitch Marner scored three goals and tallied seven points while the entire Golden Knights top six (Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stastny, Tuch, and Pacioretty) had two goals and four points with half of that damage coming on a shorthanded goal.

The VGK 2nd line was a combined -8 and the 1st line put up a miserable 25% Corsi For percentage as a group. Matthews’ line ate up Stastny, Pacioretty and Tuch scoring twice and posting seven scoring chances to Vegas’ one. All in all the Golden Knights top six played 20 of the 36 minutes of even strength action and accounted for one goal while allowing three and created just seven scoring chances compared to Toronto’s 17 while they were on the ice.

Here’s the good news. Despite all of it, and while playing the worst hockey in franchise history, the Golden Knights were right there. They had a lead in the 2nd, tied the game in the 3rd, and had a power play chance to take the lead inside of 15 minutes remaining in the game. This is still the same team that posted 60 points in their first 48 games and positioned themselves safely in the playoff picture.

With just four games before the trade deadline, it’s time the Golden Knights look in the mirror and realize they have to win with balance. No longer is their first line so dominant that they can be relied upon to not only shut down the oppositions top line but score while they’re at it. They can’t expect their 2nd line to pick up the slack left behind by the inevitable regression of that 1st line. They need to return to what became their identity last year and what was at times earlier this season. A balanced attack that never stops applying pressure.

The best way to do that, break up the top six.

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A Memorable Off Day That May Change The Golden Knights Season

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. You have the day off at a five-star oceanside resort in Fort Lauderdale. It’s a beautiful 80 degrees and sunny. Plus, a bunch of your co-workers/friends are there with you. So, what do you do?

Beach day!

We all spent our time together. We went to breakfast and then we met at the beach, played volleyball, a big tournament. Then we went and watched the Super Bowl, it was just the perfect day for our team. -Jonathan Marchessault

Last week after the Saturday game in Florida, nearly the entire team gathered for a meal, put on the swim trunks, and hit the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. It was unscheduled, it was completely voluntary, and apparently, it was a blast.

I think me and Reilly (Smith) were like, we need to go play volleyball that day, it’ll be fun. I think we played for 3 or 4 hours. -Marchessault

There are a few moments where you can really tell how close a group was, but with this, it was not mandatory, and everybody showed up, everybody came, it says a lot. Guys were free to do whatever they wanted (that day), but guys wanted to come and wanted to enjoy a day with the boys. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Get some Vitamin D, get in the ocean, pretty good workout, yeah it was good. We all just ended up in the same place and had a good time. -Max Pacioretty

It was the only true off day during the longest remaining road trip of the season. The Golden Knights had just taken frustrating losses in back-to-back nights in Carolina and Florida and were mired in the worst losing streak in franchise history. All eyes back in Vegas were on a Tuesday showdown with the best team in hockey, the Tampa Bay Lighting, but amid the panic at home, the Golden Knights had a different focus, a better one.

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Top Line Reboot

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into this season the Golden Knights top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith were expected to lead the charge. A combined +116 with 92 goals a year ago between just the three had them as one of the best lines in all of hockey.

The chemistry they had in the regular season extended into the playoffs. It picked right back up when the trio was reunited in preseason to start this year. 20+ games in, the numbers weren’t quite as staggering as a year ago, but there was no question Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith were the best line the Golden Knights had and remained a force to be reckoned with.

But recently, it’s hit the skids. Prior to the game in Detroit, the last time Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith all had a point in the same game was on December 14th (a stretch of 12 games playing together and 23 total). Smith’s injury put a halt to the line altogether, but even before it, the previous 10 games they were together, they managed just 10 total points and only five goals. As importantly, the defense appeared to be slipping as well.

During Smith’s absence, it did not improve for Marchessault and Karlsson, instead it got much worse. The pair combined for five goals in nine games (four of which were scored in the same game), just four assists, and they posted a miserable -17 over the three-week span.

Yet, when Smith was ready, he wasn’t put back on the line with Marchessault and Karlsson, instead, Gallant gave them Valentin Zykov for a couple games, and there was a level of success. However, midway through the game in Detroit, following a penalty kill, Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith found themselves on the ice together once again, and it looked like the old days again.

They were a combined +5 in Thursday’s game, scored three goals and had five points, but more importantly, their shifts were dominant almost every time they touched the ice.

It wasn’t really a plan, I didn’t think the line was going as good as it could have, so sometimes you shake things up a little bit and piss people off a little bit maybe. It works sometimes. -Gerard Gallant

I’m not sure who Gallant was trying to “piss off” but it appeared to work… at least for one night.

It feels like a reboot and sometimes that’s just what a line needs. A fresh start, which they now have.

They’ve been real good. They’re finding some life there a little bit and I thought the last game was excellent. It’s all about timing, and I expect them to be good for the next 25 games. -Gallant

Tonight is a tough test against a terrific defensive team in the Blue Jackets. The last two times Vegas has faced Columbus, the Golden Knights scored a total of one goal.

However, the time before, the only trip Columbus has made to T-Mobile Arena, Vegas dropped six on them, including two from Karlsson and a pair of assists from Marchessault.

The Golden Knights need Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith to produce, whether they’re playing together or not. For now, they’re reunited. Hopefully, it keeps feeling as good as it did Thursday night in Detroit.

Is Jonathan Marchessault Out Of His Slump?

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

January has not been particularly kind to Jonathan Marchessault.

The Golden Knights’ right wing had spent most of the month frustrated and being thwarted by opposing goaltenders and the net which they protect.

Great saves. Hit posts and crossbars. Missed opportunities. They all contributed to a stretch that saw Marchessault kept off the scoresheet for six of the team’s first seven games in the opening month of 2019.

You could see the frustration on his face. But to his credit, Marchessault never stopped working, never stopped shooting. The good ones never do. He’s like a basketball player whose jump shot eluded him but he doesn’t stop taking jumpers. Eventually, they’re going to go in.

And that’s what is happening to Marchessault. He had a hat trick last Saturday in the 7-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Monday, he picked up an assist in the 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. That’s four points in his last two games.

So, is Marchy out of his slump?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We’ll get a better idea tonight when the Knights host Nashville at T-Mobile Arena in what is a very important game heading into the All-Star break. Marchessault may be reunited with linemate Reilly Smith, who has been out since Jan. 8. He has been skating with Brandon Pirri the last couple of games and that may have had something to do with his getting back on the scoresheet.

But getting Smith back would be big, not just for Marchessault and William Karlsson, the other member of the team’s top line, but for the Knights themselves.

You saw what defenseman Colin Miller’s return has meant to the team. Getting Smith back improves the power play, improves the penalty kill and make the other lines stronger. It also helps get the Knights closer to normalcy in terms of having the roster they envisioned at the start of the season.

Marchessault has not missed any time in 2018-19. He is one of four Knights to have played all 51 games to date (Karlsson, Brayden McNabb and Nick Holden are the others). Despite the early January drought, he still leads the team in goals with 17 and is second on the team in overall points to Alex Tuch with 35.

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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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First Line Has Gone Quiet

What the heck is happening to our beloved 1st line?!? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over the course of the first 10 games of the season, the Golden Knights top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith tallied 10 of the teams 21 goals. They also accounted for 24 of the team’s 49 points. In short, as we wrote about at the time, they were carrying the team.

Unfortunately, that has come to a screeching halt. In the past five games, the top line has scored just two goals, racked up a measly three assists, and have a disastrous combined -11 rating. They’ve also allowed four even-strength goals after allowing just four in the first 10 games.

To make matters worse, their shot totals, scoring chances, and high danger chances are all down, while their goals against, shots against, and chances against are all up. We also haven’t seen the killer forechecking we’ve grown so accustomed to over the past five games either. Quite simply, they are no longer carrying the team, and with the injury to Erik Haula, that has to change.

I’m not sure I’m ready to say it’s time to break them up, but with the lineup in a bit of turmoil, it has to at least start creeping into consideration. A move like this could ignite Max Pacioretty, it could breathe a little more scoring into the 2nd line, and if reigning Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant decides to really shake it up it might lead to the return of the balanced attack that the Golden Knights became known for a year ago.

Much like a majority of last season, the top line had been scoring almost three points a game as a unit, but it’s been nearly two weeks since that’s been the case. If it returns, all will be well, but if it doesn’t, that line may look a lot different in the next two weeks.

Golden Knights vs. Hurricanes: Must-Win?

Yeah, this is how we feel about the season so far too. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We know this term gets thrown around WAY too much, especially when it comes to Game 14 of an 82 game season, but if the emotional leader calls tonight’s game against the Hurricanes a must-win, it must be a must-win.

It’s a big game for us. We definitely need to win. -Jonathan Marchessault

Okay, fine, he didn’t say must-win, but “definitely need to win” is close enough for me. It’s kind of unimaginable, that on November 3rd we’re talking about important games for the Golden Knights, but this is reality when a team is already four points out of a playoff spot and have their bags packed for a four-game road trip to the other side of the continent.

This is a team with expectations. We set the bar high for us. We know it’s going to be harder, but it’s nothing we can’t handle as a group. -Marchessault

It’s not just the two points that the Golden Knights want, it’s more that this team is a franchise that’s experienced nothing but winning, and they are sick of losing.

If you’re ready for a game, they better be must wins. I hope guys think this is a must win game. Not because it is, but every game is a must win. -Gerard Gallant

He said “must-win!” Well, really, he said it is, then said it isn’t, then said it is again. So… I think I like what Marchy said better.

In Florida, Marchessault and Gallant faced a slow start which ultimately costed Gallant his job. While we’re nowhere near that situation here, the bigger point is that Panther team was never able to regain a playoff spot.

This is definitely a slow start. We’re not where we want to be. Nobody is going to feel bad for us. So we got to get out of this hole, keep battling and turn our luck around. -Marchessault

Tonight is the perfect spot for #81 and his teammates to turn things around. Carolina comes in with an acceptable 6-5-2 record, but have lost three straight including an overtime tilt in Arizona last night. Carolina fell into a 3-0 hole in the 1st, only to climb back to tie it, and then lose in OT.

We’ve been told there’s a locker room full of leaders. So I’m sure it’s eating at each and every one of them to come home from their road trip empty-handed. Tonight is a game that could help the Golden Knights set themselves straight. And I’m sure that’s the message Marchessault is spreading around the room.

Top Line Doing It All, But That’s Okay

If the top line scores, the Golden Knights usually win. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At this point last year, William Karlsson had 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) and was on pace for 52 points. He ended up with 78, averaging 0.95 points per game. This season, Karlsson has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) through 11 games, scoring 0.82 points per game. At this rate, he’s projected to reach 68 points, 17 points ahead of last year’s pace less than a month into the season but 10 short of his final tally.

If you’re generating chances, it means you’re doing something right. We just have to execute a little more and get them in the net. I’m not worried. Our line is doing pretty well. -William Karlsson

Karlsson confidently assured fans not to be concerned about the team’s lack of scoring, as long as his line generates scoring chances. Something the Golden Knights top line does game in, and game out. Could they have more goals? Sure, but the entire team should as well.

The top trio has 25 combined points and the rest of the team has 32 total points.

The real panic button would be if we didn’t create anything. As long as you’re generating chances, eventually it’ll come back and the puck luck will be there. -Karlsson

Can the top line do it alone?

The Golden Knights are 5-3-0 this season when their top line scores. Last season, Vegas’ record was 46-15-4 when Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith or Karlsson registered a point. Looking back, it feels like the top three did do it all.

In 2017-18, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith combined for 16 game-winning goals and recorded 213 of the 711 Golden Knights points. Just like the star Swede, Vegas’ coaching staff isn’t concerned about top lines production but would like more scoring balance throughout the lineup.

There are good things happening for our team. We look at the stats after the game, and the stats look good, the shots are going towards the net. The analytics are good but the wins aren’t good enough. But there are still lots of good things from this team. -Gerard Gallant

The buzzword around the locker room is execution. Players are aware 2.27 goals scored per game isn’t enough to have success in the NHL. Thankfully, the team can heavily rely on one of the best lines in hockey. Pretty sure the top line won’t mind. I think I can hear Marchessault tapping his stick for the biscuit right now.

Marchessault: “It’s All On Us” – But Was It Really?

Not much went right for the Golden Knights in the opener. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

No doubt about it, last night’s 5-2 loss to Philadelphia was an ugly start to the season.

They played a good game and we played a bad game, and that’s usually a bad mix. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

It’s all on us. The D has the puck and we didn’t give options on the wall, we were far from each other, we didn’t manage the puck well at both blue lines and just bad decisions the whole game. -Jonathan Marchessault

The Golden Knights will toss it away and move on to Minnesota like they normally do. After all, even though it was the first game of the season, it’s still just one game and a lopsided loss is the same as a close loss in the standings.

But the question certainly needs to be asked, how did the Golden Knights look so bad? Was it the Flyers stellar play or mistakes the Golden Knights made, and more importantly, is this something that might continue?

We need to be ready. This was definitely not good enough of an effort. Every night there’s a good hockey team, if we’re not ready we’re going to get spanked like we just did. -Marchessault

From the winning locker room, Philadelphia believed it was a combination of both their strong execution and Vegas’ miscues.

We took advantage of what we got. It was a solid game, we did a good job of creating opportunities. -Wayne Simmonds, Flyers forward

On the Flyers first and second goals, Vegas made costly errors from their defensemen and forwards. Jon Merrill made a timing mistake in the offensive zone which led to an odd-man rush on the first one, and Oscar Lindberg made an egregious backhand dump attempt that Philly picked off and stormed to the net to score the second. Both mistakes led directly to goals.

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Zero Golden Knights Among NHL 19 Top 50 Players

Following a season in which the Golden Knights had 12 players hit career highs in points, 10 set career highs in goals, and as a team made a run to the Stanley Cup Final you would think individuals from one of the best story in sports would start getting some recognition.

No respect at all I tell ya. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The geniuses at EA Sports don’t agree. They released their top 50 ranked players for the upcoming NHL 19 game, and there’s not a single Golden Knight to be found.

No William Karlsson, who finished 10th in MVP voting. No Jonathan Marchessault, who scored eight goals and tallied more than a point per game in the postseason. No Nate Schmidt, who was the key cog in helping the Golden Knights stifle the Kings, Sharks, and Jets in succession. And worst of all, no Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, that put together the best season of his career and carried an expansion team to the Final.

Instead, players like Jakub Voracek, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Toews, and Frederik Andersen made the list.

In fact, 10 goalies ranked higher than Marc-Andre Fleury. Ten!

The game drops on September 14th, when we’ll learn the ratings of all Vegas players, but until then, we leave you with the one Golden Knight who did have his NHL 19 rating revealed.

You’re not alone Nick, the disrespect for the Western Conference Champions is real.

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