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Life In The Bubble A “Two-Headed Coin” For Players’ Minds

One of the best quotes ever about the game of hockey comes from the great Jim McKenny. He said, “half of the game is mental, the other half is being mental.”

In 2020, playing hockey inside of a bubble, staying mentally sharp both on and off the ice is going to go a long way in determining which teams succeed and which fail.

You’ve got nothing else to do. You (only) think hockey. -Jonathan Machessault

Literally plucked away from their families, friends, and society as a whole, the NHL’s method of keeping players safe is working incredibly well, but it’s also bound to start taking a toll on the minds of the players involved.

It’s hard. You know, you talk to them every day and also as a parent you miss a lot of things. My one-year-old started walking and my two oldest have started school. So it’s really unfortunate to miss those. They are asking me every day how many days until they are going to see me but I mean it’s hard for me to give them an answer. -Marchessault

The Golden Knights have been in the “bubble” for 23 days and they aren’t even through the first round of the playoffs. If things go well, that number could reach north of 60.

The league’s plan at the beginning was to allow players’ families to join for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, but those plans remain “up in the air” according to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.

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How The Golden Knights Broke Open The Blackhawks In Game 1

The early going of any series is going to come with what is commonly referred to as a “feeling out process.” Teams usually play pretty close to the vest, not revealing their entire game plan for the series and it tends to lead to slow-moving hockey. It doesn’t always go that way, but there’s no better way to characterize the opening frame of Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Blackhawks.

Not only did neither team score in the 1st, there weren’t even many great chances. Between the two teams, there was a total of five-shot attempts from inside the “house” in the entire 1st period. Most chances came from far away and both teams did well to thwart the opposing team’s attack.

I thought they played hard and were pretty hard defensively. You could tell they were trying not to give up much either. -Pete DeBoer

As the game went on though, the Golden Knights took what was already a slow game and made it even slower. In the 1st period, they were looking to strike quickly when in the offensive zone, and with Chicago’s commitment to defend it led to short offensive possessions. In the 2nd, that started to change and the game did with it.

I think we did a better job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the 2nd period and on. They’re a rush team, so we don’t want to get into a track meet with them. Once we can get them to stop in the d-zone we can control the game a little bit more. It all came from offensive zone time and holding on to the puck behind the net. -Reilly Smith

Instead of playing the brand of fast transition hockey that helped carry the 2017-18 Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, these Golden Knights slowed the game down, controlling the puck with more purpose, and methodically broke down the Chicago defense.

All four Vegas lines followed the same pattern as the game went on, defaulting to more of a cycle game than we’re used to seeing. Where Chicago’s defense preferred to collapse into the dangerous ice in the 1st period, the controlled offense from the Golden Knights forced them to open up in the 2nd and 3rd. Playing from under the goal line drug Blackhawks defensemen to the puck opening up shot lanes from the point and half-wall.

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Golden Knights Unveil New Power Play Setup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Pete DeBoer has had four months to scour over his roster and come up with the best combination of players in every situation. The forward lines and defensive pairs mostly match what we had seen in DeBoer’s time behind the bench before the pause, but the new power play groups have seen a bit of a shakeup.

Here’s how the Golden Knights ran out their power play units in practice on Friday, an early indication of what they’ll likely use when they get to the bubble in Edmonton.

Unit 1
Stastny-Stone-Pacioretty-Marchessault-Theodore

Unit 2
Karlsson-Smith-Tuch-Martinez-Schmidt

The first unit is absolutely loaded, which leads to a key question; are these equal time units, or is the first unit going to get closer to 90 seconds of the two minutes?

Stastny at center gives a good chance to win the faceoff, then he goes to the front of the net where he’s a terrific decision-maker. Marchesseault is stationed in the high-slot where he’s deadly when he gets the puck with a bit of time. Stone and Pacioretty present two excellent scoring options in the circles and both have shown tremendous vision to move the puck. And Theodore manning the blue line and driving the entries is VGK’s best PP QB.

There’s really nothing wrong with that unit at all, in fact, it might be the best collection of players the Golden Knights have ever had on the ice at the same time. The question is what it leaves the other unit.

DeBoer is abandoning the single defenseman setup on the second unit that he’s deploying on the first and has used most of his time in Vegas. The problem, in this case, is that neither defensemen is particularly proficient on the power play. Schmidt has just 26 power play points in his career and Martinez has only reached 15 in a season once. Both are good on at the blue line and each has the ability to laser a shot from distance, but as calling them elite weapons on the power play is a bit of a stretch.

That leaves much of the load to be shouldered by the three forwards.

 PointsPower Play PointsPower Play Points %
Max Pacioretty661929%
Mark Stone631727%
Shea Theodore461635%
Jonathan Marchessault471226%
Paul Stastny381026%
William Karlsson46817%
Alex Tuch17741%
Nate Schmidt31723%
Reilly Smith5459%
Alec Martinez13430%

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Vegas’ Top Line May Need A Postseason Nickname

In years past, certain forward lines have taken the postseason by storm and helped their teams win the Stanley Cup. Affectionately known as the HBK line, Carl Hagelin (16 points), Nick Bonino (18 points) and Phill Kessel (22 points) surprisingly combined for 56 points en route to the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth championship in franchise history.

Years earlier the LA Kings were also lucky enough to have an acclaimed line of their own. Going by the nickname, That 70’s Line, Jeff Carter (25 points), Tyler Toffoli (14 points), and Tanner Pearson (12 points) caught fire in the regular season which continued into LA’s run to the cup. Each wearing a jersey number in the 70’s, the line totaled 51 points in 26 games.

Keep in mind both of these famed triplets were support lines, that massively overachieved. Without them, however, their clubs wouldn’t have been so dangerous. Good news for Golden Knights fans, Vegas had their own explosive line in last year’s postseason, and expectations are even higher in 2020.

In their seven-game series against the Sharks, Mark Stone (12 points), Max Pacioretty (11 points) and Paul Stastny (8 points) were offensively unstoppable. The trio combined for 31 points in the series loss, averaging a whopping 4.4 points per game. The veteran line made up for 44% of the Golden Knights offense against San Jose. Just silly when you think about it.

Can Vegas expect the same this postseason? And is it possible it can get better? I don’t see why not considering coach Pete DeBoer upgraded at center with William Karlsson in the middle.

All three players have the skill to excel in the postseason. Karlsson added 15 points in 20 games in 2018, and Pacioretty and Stone lived up to their billing in 2019. Combine their playoff averages together and the top line’s production will scare the bejesus out of an opponent.

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Playing Oddsmaker On First Golden Knights Captain

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He hinted at it months ago, yesterday he made it as clear as can be.

We’re not going to name a captain before we go back. We will have one prior to the start of next season. -Pete DeBoer

Normally, we leave the oddsmaking up to the best sportsbook in the world, William Hill, but today, I’m going to take my shot at setting the odds on who will wear the “C” when the Golden Knights stitch it on a jersey for the first time.

Mark Stone 
-450

Stone is the massive betting favorite for a number of reasons. First, he’s the best player on the team and it’s not really all that close. That’s not always a prerequisite to be the captain, but it certainly helps. Next, DeBoer has lauded his leadership qualities since the moment he got to Vegas (Gallant did too when he first got Stone). He’s the right age, has an extended contract with the team, is clearly invested deeply in the team’s success as illustrated by his over-the-top celebrations, and he’s been an alternate captain during the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

If it’s anyone other than Stone, it’ll come as quite the surprise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy candidates.

Nate Schmidt
+500

Most Golden Knights fans know Nate Schmidt as the loud, goofy, jokester that he comes across as in interviews, commercials, and skits, but Schmidt is, and has been, a real leader on this team for a long time. He was named the Golden Knights Player’s Association representative, he’s been an alternate captain at times during each of the first three seasons, and whenever anyone mentions the leadership group of the team he’s included.

He’s incredibly talkative on the ice, both in serious and joking manners and he’s even more talkative when you stick a microphone in his face after the games. He’s not your quintessential captain, but he certainly represents the Golden Knights.

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Marchessault Wants “Technical” Benefit That Comes From Winning Round-Robin

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Opinions about the round-robin vary pretty drastically when it comes to pundits and fans. Many believe getting the #1 seed is crucial as it will make the path to the Final a bit easier while others think they are glorified exhibition games as no matter who you play you’ll have to be the best team in the conference to advance.

Both sides carry weight and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a coach or two of the eight round-robin teams use them to experiment more than he would in a real playoff game.

As far as Vegas goes, Pete DeBoer pushed for there to be meaningful games prior to the Golden Knights’ first round matchup and he believes they have them. Kelly McCrimmon echoed the same sentiment. Jonathan Marchessault took it one step further than potential opponents and pointed towards another advantage winning the round-robin brings.

Honestly, (the round-robin games) are pretty important. The advantage of the ice like in regular times it’s a lot of the crowd and playing at home, but on the technical side, there’s ‘last change.’ It’s a big advantage to have so I think it’s going to be important. We’re facing three really good teams so it’s on us to be on our toes and be ready for that challenge. -Jonathan Marchessault

“Last change” is the ability to select your five players after the opposing team does at every stoppage of play. Prior to each faceoff, a referee skates over to the benches and directs the line changes. The away team must send out their players first, then the home team gets the chance to select theirs.

This is crucial for line-matching as it allows the home teams opportunities to create mismatches. If the away team sends out their 4th line, the home team can counter with their 1st.

Golden Knights games average 59 faceoffs per game, which means being the home team offers 59 chances to use “last change” to gain the upper hand on their opponent.

Pete DeBoer is a big proponent of finding matchups he likes both with his forwards and defensemen. He’ll work hard to match his top defensemen against the opposition’s top line and he weighs zone starts for his forwards heavily based each line’s strengths.

Winning the round-robin means that team becomes the “home” team in each series through the Western Conference Final. Thus, four games as the “home” team and only three “away” in each series. “Home” also comes with the most important game, Game 7, and we know how important any little advantage can be in one of those.

Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots, Everybody

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the shortened 2019-20 regular season the Golden Knights led the NHL with 34.5 shots on goal per game. In fact, since they entered the league Vegas has averaged the second-most shots per game over that three-season span.

Vegas led the entire NHL in 19-20 with 28 victories when they won the SOG battle. That’s 71% of their total wins for the season. The Golden Knights went 28-12-7 (.670), and are now 92-43-13 (.665) in franchise history when they’ve outshot other teams. Compare that to their 11-12-1 (.479) record this year when they were outshot and 35-37-9 (.488) all-time.

In 22 games as Golden Knights coach, DeBoer’s club outscored opponents 19 times, and went a stellar 13-4-2.

The bulk of the shots come mostly from the Golden Knights top-six forwards. Max Pacioretty led the team averaging 4.32 shots per game, followed by Jonathan Marchessault. Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch do their part as well, both creating several scoring chances per night. When DeBoer gets all of his weapons firing on net, opposing goaltenders have to play at their best, or else it’ll likely be a long night.

VGK Shot Leaders

Max Pacioretty: 4.32 S/GP
Jonathan Marchessault: 3.56 S/GP
Shea Theodore: 3.08 S/GP
Mark Stone: 2.58 S/GP
Reilly Smith: 2.38 S/GP
Alex Tuch: 2.33 S/GP
William Karlsson: 2.19 S/GP

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Theodore Anything But Marginalized On A Power Play

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If you had a chance to watch SinBin’s Virtual Game Show, you would’ve seen me guess incorrectly which player leads the Golden Knights organization in power play assists. I answered Jonathon Marchessault with 27 PP assists, but was off by one.

Defenseman Shea Theodore leads the franchise with 28 power play assists. Based on games played it was a bit surprising, but when you check his man-advantage time on ice, it clearly makes sense. With over 567 PP minutes served for the Golden Knights, Theodore has become Vegas’ ace in the hole on the power play.

TSN’s Travis Yost argues over the past few years defensemen have been marginalized on the PP. Mostly because a majority of teams use a four forward unit. The Golden Knights have been one of those clubs. Sure, we’ve seen variations of 5-on-4 lines but Theodore is usually the lone defenseman. Which is why he’s gradually become more effective on Vegas’ power play. His PP statistics prove while he’s a valuable asset, blueliners overall are underutilized on offensive special teams.

It’s not a trivial data point. A few years ago, teams started to shift towards a four-forward power play because it yielded more scoring opportunities and, consequently, goals. –Travis Yost, TSN

This season, Theodore had the 17th most power play points in the NHL for a defenseman.

2017-18: 9 PP Points (1 Goal, 8 Assists)
2018-19: 8 PP Points (4 Goals, 4 Assists)
2019-20: 16 PP Points (1 Goal, 15 Assists)

Without a doubt the 24-year-old has become the Golden Knights #1 blueline option on the PP. Theodore’s PP TOI% is 70.6% (5th in the NHL), showing he’s deployed like John Carlson, Torey Krug, Rasmus Dahlin, and Kris Letang.

Need further evidence? Don’t mind if I do.

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DeBoer: “I’m A Believer In A Captain”

Since the beginning, the Golden Knights have had 23 captains. Technically, they’ve had about 10 with a variety of players wearing “A’s” through the first three seasons, but the underlying mantra of “23 captains” has been a part of the fabric of the Golden Knights’ locker room since they first got together back in September of 2017.

With the new coach in town, that could be changing in the very near future.

I’m a believer in a captain and I think we have a lot of candidates in that dressing room. I’m still getting to know the group, but that’s something I’ll have to discuss with Bill Foley and George and Kelly and see what their feeling is on it. -Pete DeBoer on VGK Q&A Podcast for season ticket holders

Vegas is one of five teams in the NHL currently without a captain. They are also the only team that has not had a captain in any of the previous three years. No captainless team has won the Stanley Cup since 1972.

I think the reason we didn’t have a captain in Vegas, to begin with, was the identity of this team, basically coming out of expansion you were getting all these guys that were left unprotected or traded for, was the strength of the team was going to be in the group. -DeBoer

That reason was repeated time and time again by management, coaches, and the players during the Gallant era. DeBoer thinks the time is near that the first “C” is stitched into a Golden Knights jersey.

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Season “End” Stat Leaderboards Lacking Many Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When, how, or if the NHL season picks back up will probably remain a mystery for a while longer, but every day that ticks off the calendar it becomes clearer and clearer the regular season will not be completed in its entirety.

They may come back and play a few games or they may even eliminate a few games and backdate the season to the 68-game mark to make it even. Either way, the stats on the board currently are likely to be pretty close to what ultimately goes down in the record books for the 2019-20 regular season.

Despite playing 71 games, with most of the rest of the league playing fewer than 70, the Golden Knights have a player listed in the top 10 of just two standard offensive statistical categories. Max Pacioretty’s 307 shots on goal have him ranked 3rd behind Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Reaves led the NHL in hits with 316.

But that’s it. No one’s in the top 10 in goals, assists, points, +/-, shooting percentage, PIM, TOI, blocks, faceoff stats, or even point shares.

Here’s a look at the Golden Knights’ highest ranking in each statistical category.

Goals
Leader – David Pastrnak: 48
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 32

Assists
Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 67
VGK – Mark Stone: 42

Points
Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 110
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 66

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