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Carp: Managing Injuries A Tricky Proposition

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Every hockey team has to deal with injuries. But the successful ones manage theirs better.

The Golden Knights have been tested earlier than most teams. They started this season without forwards Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, two key components. Then they lost defenseman Nate Schmidt on opening night after he and San Jose’s Logan Couture collided in the 1st period.

And of course, no injury report would be complete without including goaltender Malcom Subban, who got hurt Thursday in Arizona and forcing Marc-Andre Fleury to work on what was supposed to be a night off.

The Knights’ ability to manage their injuries has varied in their brief existence. They somehow were able to survive after Fleury sustained a concussion early in the inaugural season and wound up missing two months. They also lost Subban and Oscar Dansk during that time too.

And they always seem to manage to compensate whenever William Carrier self-destructs and goes on Injured Reserve. Carrier’s style of play lends himself to getting hurt but to ask him to adjust and play it safe would make him ineffective. He was superb Saturday in the 6-2 win over Calgary, registering a goal and an assist in what was the first multi-point game of his career. He has to play the way he does so you live with the consequences.

You could look at Schmidt’s 20 games missed due to suspension last year as an injury because it forced others to fill the gaps, something the defense didn’t do a particularly good job of. The team struggled without him. And with Schmidt out for who knows how long, once again, the defense is under the microscope.

The hope was the youngsters — Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, perhaps Dylan Coghlan or Jake Bischoff would step up and play well enough to solidify things. So far, that hasn’t manifested itself. Coghlan started the season in the minors, Schuldt joined him Friday, Bischoff got recalled from the Wolves, Hague has not distinguished himself and who knows how long Gerard Gallant sticks with him?

There was some good news from the infirmary. Eakin returned to the lineup Saturday against the Flames and the Knights will welcome his ability in the faceoff circle to win draws, to kill penalties and, most important, spearhead a tenacious forecheck and create turnovers.

If there was a common thread in the losses to Boston and Arizona, it was the lack of a strong forecheck game by the Knights’ forwards. When the forecheck is working, the game becomes vastly different. Opposing teams can’t transition as easily from defense to offense. Scoring opportunities suddenly emerge. The ice gets tilted in Vegas’ favor.

Eakin helps provide that with his tenacity.

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“More Of Subban This Year”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the first time this season, Malcolm Subban will be in between the pipes for the Golden Knights tonight against the Arizona Coyotes.

Last year, Subban played 21 games, starting 20 of them. Max Lagace got one game which left 61 for Marc-Andre Fleury. That includes a nine-game stretch at the end of the season where Fleury was out with an injury. If not for that run, Fleury likely would have played 65 or more games.

The prevailing thought around the NHL is 65 is too many, heck most believe (including Jason and I) that 60 is even too many.

Of the 13 starting goaltenders that have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the beginning of the salary cap era in 2005, none played more than 70 games in the regular season. In fact, only two of the 13 played more than 60 games. –Jesse Granger, The Athletic

The Golden Knights, at least what they stated publicly, were pretty stubborn last year in their comments about not holding Fleury back to a certain number. This year, the thinking may have changed.

You are going to see more of Subban this year, you will. George and Kelly and the coaches have it figured out and they have games identified for Subban and you are going to see him more. It’s part of what needs to happen. –The Creator on Sportsbook Radio

Tonight’s game is not a back-to-back, the Golden Knights are not in the midst of a hectic week schedule-wise, and there wasn’t much travel involved. It simply seems like load management for Fleury.

We want to make sure Flower is really ready for the playoffs. He doesn’t want to do it, he wants to play every night, he’s such a competitor. –The Creator on Sportsbook Radio

Subban played two to three games a month for the first five months of the season last year. This year, that number will probably be closer to four to five a month, and the Golden Knights will be better off for it… even if Subban doesn’t play as well as Fleury can.

Golden Knights Veterans Share Stories From Their First NHL Camps

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The Golden Knights won their first preseason game of the 2019-2020 campaign with a mix of veterans and rookies. Vets like Max Pacioretty and Reilly Smith took the game over mid-first period and led the Knights to an easy 6-2 victory.

Things weren’t always that easy for Pacioretty, Smith or other VGK players. Just like their younger teammates, they had to adjust to the speed and the high competition level at their first NHL camps.

I was in New York, and it was tough. -Jonathan Marchessault

Marchessault participated in several NHL team camps but his first was with the New York Rangers. Where he got to share the ice with one of his favorite NHL players.

Marian Gaborik. I remember I was playing on a line with him. Hell of a player. Growing up he was one of my favorite players. It was fun to see him out there.- Marchessault

 

When Pacioretty attended his first NHL camp, it was like the Wild West.

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The Golden Knights Must Reduce Fleury’s Workload

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TSN’s Travis Yost wrote an article this week that suggests more and more NHL teams are using a two goaltender system. Franchises are searching for steady backups to win some games while giving their starters a chance to recharge.

Behaviourally, we’ve seen teams start to shift some of the minutes onto their second goaltender. Last season, the average NHL team used their No. 1 goalie in about 60 percent of the total minutes: down almost 10 percent from where it was a decade or so ago. -Travis Yost, TSN

Last season goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury started 74% of regular-season games for the Golden Knights. He played 3635 minutes, also 74%. Fleury registered the fourth-most minutes in the league and was tied for the fifth-most starts.

Minutes

Carey Price – 3880
Devan Dubnyk – 3855
Connor Hellebuyck – 3704
Marc-Andre Fleury – 3635
Jacob Markstrom – 3599

Starts

Devan Dubnyk – 66
Carey Price – 64
Connor Hellebuyck – 62
Martin Jones – 62
Marc-Andre Fleury – 61
Sergei Bobrovsky – 61
Frederik Anderson – 60
Jacob Markstrom – 60

Yost found that goaltenders ten years ago were starting 8% more games on average. However, in 2019 Fleury was still in the crease more than the average goaltender in 2009. As most clubs were trending towards more rest for their starters, the Golden Knights relied heavily on their trusty ole backstop.

The position has changed. Teams are still on the hunt for superstar goaltenders, but teams are also becoming increasingly conscious about workload, burnout rates and the heightened risk of injuries for their primary puck stoppers. Add that to an increased understanding that goaltenders struggle when playing in back-to-back situations – the NHL schedule still sees a dozen or more of these per team each year – and you have a real incentive for strategic rest.-Yost, TSN

The question going forward is how will Vegas handle Fleury’s workload in 2019-20?

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Why Did Toronto Trade Garret Sparks to Vegas?

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While there’s no question who’s the number one goaltender in Las Vegas, talking heads in Eastern Canada are busy speculating if goalie Garret Sparks can someday be the numero uno on an NHL team.

“It’s very possible. Based on what I saw last year, I don’t think he has that potential. This is a guy who’s had great success in the minor league. He came into a very pressured situation in Toronto… he was thrown into a role, maybe a role he wasn’t ready for.”-Carlo Colaiacovo, Former NHL’er and analyst on TSN 690 Montreal

Sparks was acquired earlier this month via trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, in exchange for a fourth round pick and David Clarkson’s dead money.

On surface it looked like a minor move to create some financial wiggle room for each team. What was lost in the deal was the expectations Vegas may or may not have for Sparks. We know George McPhee doesn’t like leaving a swap meet without a bargain, maybe the backup from Toronto was more than an impulse buy.

“With Dubas being a Sparks guy, because he had him in the minors. He groomed him. You never thought it would be a possibility but clearly he was a guy that they were willing to part with.”-Colaiacovo

For the past two seasons, when healthy Malcolm Subban has been Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup. Subban is 25-years-old and has never started more than 20 games in a season. Sparks is a little older and has less experience but let’s face it, he was brought in to compete for Fleury’s relief role. Like he did last year in Toronto. After a hot start to the season the former Maple Leaf created buzz around the fan base.

Here’s an excerpt from an article written last week by SportsNet’s Mike Johnston:

Sparks made 20 appearances this past season. During his first 10 outings the Elmhurst, Ill., native went an impressive 6-2-1 despite posting a less-than-stellar .905 save percentage.

In early January, though, he took a puck off his head at practice that resulted in a concussion and his season went downhill from there.

“I felt I was finally starting to build some momentum and get my chance,” Sparks said. “I just felt like I got cut down, and it’s hard to regrow after you get your progress chopped off like that.”

His final 10 appearances were rough as he went 2-7-0 with a .899 save percentage and eventually wore out his welcome.-Sportsnet.com

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The Future Of The Goalie Position For The Golden Knights And Malcolm Subban

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The Golden Knights have re-signed Malcolm Subban to a one-year $850,000 contract lining him up to once again fill the role as the back-up behind Marc-Andre Fleury.

Since claiming him on waivers a few days before the first game in franchise history, the Golden Knights have never wavered on their belief in Subban. He was immediately installed as the back-up and has kept the position through rough patches, injuries, and inactivity. The main reason for this is because of Dave Prior. Anyone who has ever spoken to Prior knows that he has confidence in Subban’s ability, and if he has it his way, Subban will be the next full-time goalie when Fleury’s time is up.

On the flip side, there are Golden Knights fans, who for the most part want to bury their head into a pillow every time they see Subban’s name on the lineup sheet. Most fans point to his disastrous 2018-19 season in which Subban as their reason for concern (or hatred). He went 8-10-2 with a .902 save percentage, allowed three or more goals in 14 of his 20 starts, and lost each of his first five starts and five of his last six starts in 18-19. Along the way, Subban has been injured on four different occasions including during the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Then, there’s me, who falls somewhere in between but not really in line with either side.

First off, Subban is not bad… as a back-up.

Before we go into the future, let’s take care of the present. With the Golden Knights salary cap situation, it doesn’t get much better than Subban. There are 70 goalies with a contract equal to or greater than Subban’s new $850,000 deal. So monetarily, it’s perfect, if not cheap.

But beyond the money, Subban is exactly what you want as a back-up when you have a starter like Fleury. In a perfect world, the starts are split about 55/27 and Fleury takes the goal throughout a long playoff run. In that perfect world, all the back-up has to do is tread water. Subban has proven he’s more than capable of doing just that. In his Golden Knights career, he’s 21-14-4, has posted a .906 SV%, and allowed 2.81 goals per game. He’ll steal you a few, he’ll lose you a few, and he’ll hold down the fort in the rest. In short, he’s not going to be the downfall of a team.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s the imperfect world that makes Subban an even better option though. Physically, he’s gifted enough to take the reigns and become a legitimate starter, he’s just never had the chance to do it. In the event Fleury is unable to play for a playoff run (or he just gets old and stinks), the Golden Knights need someone with upside. Filling in a player like Ryan Miller, Calvin Pickard, or Antti Niemi simply won’t work. This isn’t to say Subban will be Fleury, but the capability is there, even if the probability is rather slim. Backup goalie is an insurance policy, and with Subban the Golden Knights get a player that’s affordable, won’t hurt them, and could help them in the event of a disaster. It’s a win, win, win.

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Goalie Of The Future A Question That May Be Answered Soon

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There’s a spot that’s been a real point of contention with the fan base that at some point is going to stop hiding in the shadows and actually make its way to the forefront. As much as we don’t want to admit it, Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t going to be the goalie of the Golden Knights forever. Whether age catches up to him in the next few years while under contract or whenever he decides to hang it up for good, the goalie of the future still seems to be somewhat up in the air.

The clear frontrunner is Malcolm Subban. After being claimed off waivers three days before the Golden Knights first ever game, Subban has been on the NHL club ever since firmly entrenched as the backup. However, as a restricted free agent and coming off another year filled with injuries, Subban’s long-term future is not exactly a certainty.

You don’t want to look too far ahead, I like to live in the moment. Right now I just take care of what I can control and that’s having a good offseason and coming into camp next season ready to go. -Malcolm Subban

Subban will be extended a qualifying offer worth $715,000. As a 25-year-old with a few years of NHL experience, he’s eligible for arbitration, which he will likely file for. Backup goalie salaries range widely, but Subban likely won’t be in line for much more than $1 million, if he even reaches that high.

That being said, the Golden Knights will have to make a decision on where they stand with him. At this very moment, Oscar Dansk, who under contract in 19-20 for $675,000 is leading the Chicago Wolves in a Western Conference Final series in the AHL. Dansk has taken over the starting spot and has played every playoff game for Rocky Thompson’s Wolves. He hasn’t been amazing, but he’s been good enough to be considered for a job behind Fleury moving forward.

Then there’s Max Lagace, who the Golden Knights have turned to every time they’ve needed an extra goalie at the NHL level. He’s an unrestricted free agent, but will almost certainly not command more than the league minimum.

The group of prospects, Dylan Ferguson, Maxim Zhukov, Jiri Patera, and Jordan Kooy are all still a ways from making their ascent to the NHL level. (According to CapFriendly.com, VGK must sign Zhukov to an entry-level contract by June 1, 2019 or they will forfeit his rights.)

The question of “who will be Vegas’ backup goalie in 2019-20” and “who is the goalie of the future” are two separate questions, but at some point they need to overlap and this offseason may be the beginning of that process.

When Subban was asked about being “the guy” on a team, his answer was non-committal, consistently saying he likes to live in the present, but when asked if he wants to remain in Vegas, he instantly answered, “Yes, of course.”

The options are wide open for the Golden Knights front office, and the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive on any front to retain each of the Golden Knights three options. However, what they decide to do will tell a strong story about what they believe they have in their future.

Subban’s contract isn’t going to be the most noteworthy one this offseason, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important for the organization. A one-year qualifying offer tells a much different story than a multi-year $1.5 million AAV deal.

The franchise has displayed nothing but faith in Subban with its words, but actions always speak louder, and that action is coming fairly soon.

Time For Flower To Bloom

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

It was a simple transaction announcement Tuesday afternoon — Maxime Lagace was being returned to the AHL Chicago Wolves.

But the news behind the news was huge. It meant Marc-Andre Fleury was returning to active duty for the Golden Knights. And the timing couldn’t have been better.

Or more critical.

We last saw Fleury in goal back on March 15 in a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars in Texas. Since then, he had been given time off, reportedly having sustained a lower-body injury. His wife Veronique was also giving birth to the family’s third child, this time, a boy. And it didn’t hurt for Fleury to reboot things mentally as well as heal up physically.

No doubt the time off had to have done him a lot of good. And the reality was the Golden Knights weren’t catching Calgary and winning the Pacific Division. So the decision to shut Fleury down was a wise one.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He has had a wonderful season, arguably one of his best of his NHL career. In 59 games, he has a 35-19-5 record, eight shutouts, a 2.46 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He probably won’t win the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s top goalie, but he had played himself into the conversation over the first half of the year.

Don’t forget, he’s no kid anymore. The guy is 34 years old, but given the high standard of his play, Fleury remains the most critical piece of the Knights’ puzzle going forward into the postseason next week.

He will be expected to put the team on his back and take them as far as he can. That was the case last year as Fleury was brilliant through the first three rounds of the playoffs and he played well in the Stanley Cup Final too.

He’ll get some playoff preseason work in Thursday against Arizona in the regular-season home finale at T-Mobile Arena and he’ll probably be in net Saturday in the last game of the year in Los Angeles against the Kings. It’ll give him a chance to get his timing back, to reconnect with his defensemen, to help give the Knights some momentum going into the opening round of the playoffs against San Jose and to be back where he is happiest — on the ice.

I don’t know too many players who simply love playing hockey the way Fleury does. It’s almost child-like in his affection for the game. You watch 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds scamper all over the ice and having fun. That’s Fleury, even at age 34.

That kind of love becomes infectious inside the locker room. The players see their goalie having fun and it energizes them. They all tap into the little boy inside each of them.

Yes, this is their job. Yes, they’re paid to win. Yes, there’s tremendous pressure and high expectations on all of them, Fleury included. But when you strip all of that away, it reverts back to why you laced up your skates and grabbed a stick in the first place. There’s something special about riding to the rink, getting on the ice and skating and shooting, or, in Fleury’s case, stopping the puck. Hockey should be fun, even at the NHL level. To Fleury’s credit, he never forgot that.

A word or two about Malcolm Subban if I may.

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Subban’s Fresh And Ready For His Workload

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I used to play them in the AHL not too long ago. Saturday, Sunday, you know. It’s something that you try not to think about. The mentality is just to be ready to play and ignore the outcome of the night before. -Subban

The former first round draft pick has recorded solid numbers as a Golden Knight in limited play: 19-11 with a 2.85 Goals Allowed Average. Subban may be the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury, but he practices for an 82 game season like a starting goaltender. He’s in great shape, so 120 minutes played in two days was not much of an isssue for Subban.

Beyond being a younger goaltender he has low mileage in the NHL so naturally his body is fresher than most.

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Malcolm Subban Gets A Lot Better As Games Go On

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Life as a backup goalie isn’t particularly easy, especially when you are sitting behind a potential Vezina candidate with a head coach and goalie coach that seem to want to ride the starter at every pass. It might be an excuse, but I think it’s because of this that Malcolm Subban has become the brunt of a lot of criticism this year.

He’s started 13 games and the Golden Knights are 6-7-0 in them. He’s allowed 42 goals, good for a .901 save percentage and 3.11 goals per game. He’s also yet to record a shutout and his road record is a nightmarish 2-7-0.

But, when we dig deeper into the stats we find a major trend that could explain his inconsistent numbers. As the backup, Subban has only started games within a week of each other twice, including last night. In those four, he’s a stellar 3-1-0 with a .920 save percentage and just 2.50 goals per game.

Going even further, we see that Subban normally takes a bit to get comfortable in the goal. In his 14 starts, he’s allowed 21 goals in the 1st period, while just 12 in the 2nd, and only 9 in the 3rd. For comparison sake, Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed 37 in the 1st, 59 in the 2nd, and 53 in the 3rd.

Thus, he allows 50% of the goals he gives up in the 1st period. That leaves 24% in the 2nd and 21% in the 3rd. Amazingly, Subban has not allowed multiple goals in a 3rd period any time this season, he’s done it six times in the 1st and three times in the 2nd.

Also, the first goal has been allowed in the 1st period in 10 of his 13 starts including five straight.

The question remains if this is due to “rust” or not. We’ll probably never have the answer to that, but a trend is a trend and the Golden Knights need to be aware of it. It might be smart to play like they are protecting a lead in the 1st with Subban in the net rather than playing as if it’s tied. Once he works his way into the game, then unleash the offense.

All in all, the irrational concern over the Golden Knights backup goalie is unfounded for the most part. Is Malcolm Subban the best backup goalie in the NHL, no, he is not. But he’s certainly not the worst either… well, except for the first 20 minutes of the game.


Opponent – Time of First Goal – Goals By Period

at PIT – 8:30 1st / 1-3-0
at NSH – 11:27 2nd / 0-2-1
at BOS -2:54 1st – 2-1-1
at CGY – 2:36 1st – 5-2-0
at CBJ – 0:40 3rd – 0-0-1
at LAK – 19:55 1st – 1-0-0
vs NJD – 5:06 1st – 2-0-0
vs NSH – 4:17 3rd – 0-0-1
at COL – 6:36 1st – 1-1-1
vs FLA – 14:34 1st – 3-1-1-0 (0)
at CGY – 2:40 1st – 3-1-1
vs EDM – 13:14 1st – 1-1-1
at SJS – 0:30 1st – 2-0-1

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