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Quick Stint In AHL Helped Nic Hague Upon Return To NHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Golden Knights training camp ended and the team headed into Opening Night against the San Jose Sharks, Nic Hague was on the NHL roster.

He was a healthy scratch the first game of the year, but an injury to Nate Schmidt thrust Hague into the lineup. He played seven straight games and was replaced by Jake Bischoff for four. He played one more at the NHL level before being assigned to the Chicago Wolves upon Schmidt’s return.

Obviously I go down there and I’m in a position where I’m playing big minutes, I’m on the power play, penalty kill, regular shift 5-on-5, so to go down and get a touch in all those areas it was nice, but I don’t want to be there, I want to be here. -Hague

Hague played in four AHL games, racked up two points and 13 shots, while playing top-pair minutes. But it’s what happened after those four games that really seemed to change the course of Hague’s young NHL career.

Since coming back to the NHL on November 5th, Hague has played in every game but one (VGK’s worst game since, at Washington).

Truthfully I think the more those kids play the more confident he’s going to get. When they look confident on the ice, when you notice it and when I notice it, that’s when you are going to be an NHL hockey player and that’s what I’ve liked about him lately. -Gerard Gallant

Hague’s play since coming back has been substantially better than it was in his first stint in the NHL to start the year. He’s standing guys up at the blue line, his gap control has improved, he’s been more physical, he’s starting to utilize his long reach, and most importantly, his offensive game is beginning to shine through.

He’s been way more confident with the puck. Often now you see him not dumping it in every time he’s got it. That’s where you see the maturation process in a player and you see it with him. -Nate Schmidt

Personally, I think that four-game stretch in the AHL made a huge difference for the giant left-handed defenseman. There are stats that point to it, but it’s more about how he looks. His reads have been better and quicker. His decision-making in all three zones has improved, and for the first time in his career, we finally saw him take advantage of the length of his stick to help create a goal against Chicago.

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Return Of Schmidt Should Mean Return Of Theodore’s Offense

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It didn’t happen for even one game last year, but tonight appears to be the night for the Golden Knights. Vegas will head into tonight’s Halloween game without a single player on the IR and not a single player missing with an injury.

Nate Schmidt is expected to resume his role as the team’s #1 defenseman and Alex Tuch will get a try with a pair of Cody’s, Eakin and Glass.

Each return from injury has a chance to have a significant effect on the team, but Schmidt’s return does more in regards to changing the lineup. It means at least two new D-pairs and more importantly, it means fewer minutes and less responsibility for guys like Shea Theodore, Nick Holden, Deryk Engelland, and Jon Merrill.

Nate’s a good player and he’s been one of our top players for two plus years and he’s going to make a big difference in our group. He’s important and he puts everybody where they belong. -Gerard Gallant

There are two different likely lineup options for the Golden Knights defense heading into this game. Either Holden and Merrill stick together and Theodore swaps sides to play with Engelland, or they return to the opening day pairs which had Merrill and Theodore together and Holden with Engelland.

Either way, the top pair minutes will now be handed to Schmidt as opposed to Theodore. That’s what Gallant is talking about when he says “puts everybody where they belong,” and the result of that should be a more noticeable impact on the game for Theodore.

We were worried about winning games, we weren’t worried about Shea’s (offense). He was playing big minutes against top players and that might change a little bit now so it’s going to help him, but in the long run it makes him a better player. -Gallant

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Golden Knights Award Campaigns

I was watching TV last night when I saw an ad for a candidate running for President in 2020.  That got me thinking. We’re already a month into the NHL season, should we start the campaign for Golden Knights to win individual awards?

I was still lukewarm on the idea, seeing as Vegas has only played 13 games and the awards show is seven months away. But then, my mind was instantly changed.

A second ad for Tom Steyer!

I figured if Tom is already trying to get my vote in November of 2020, it’s fair for me to start talking/writing about Mark Stone winning the Hart, Cody Glass for Calder, or Valentin Zykov for Masterton (he’s got about as much a chance as Tom 2020, right?)

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Hart Trophy – Most Valuable Player
VGK Candidate: Mark Stone

Stone currently sits in 9th place in both goals and points through the first month of the season. Of course, in order to win the Hart, he’ll need to jump into the top five at the very least, but a 100+ point effort from one of the league’s best defensive forwards would definitely warrant consideration. If Stone can keep on this pace, he’ll be pushing the century mark and he’ll likely be doing it for a team that’s running away with the Pacific Division by March. Honestly, it will probably take an injury or two to a few of the main candidates, but the longer Stone stays in the top 10 in points, the stronger the candidacy will get.

Vezina Trophy – Top Goaltender
VGK Candidate: Marc-Andre Fleury

Fleury currently leads the league in wins, minutes, saves, and point shares for goalies. He’s posted a .928 save percentage and 2.30 goals against average, both of which are better than the numbers Andrei Vasilevskiy put up en route to his Vezina last year. Fleury has made a countless number of incredible saves and is the main reason the Golden Knights are 8-5-0 rather than 5-8-0. Vegas seems once again primed to run him out there 60+ times this season which means he should be at or near the top in every statistical category for goalies when the season is over. It’s literally the only thing he hasn’t done in his career. Hopefully this is the year.

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Media Members Pick Perfect Golden Knights Lineup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into Thursday’s Halloween game against the Montreal Canadians, it appears the Golden Knights will be at full strength for the first time all season. Nate Schmidt, Alex Tuch, and Malcolm Subban are all back. Deryk Engelland’s “minor tweak” shouldn’t keep him out of the lineup, and despite being sent to the AHL yesterday, Nic Hague, Jake Bischoff, and Nic Roy are all available to the Golden Knights.

A full-strength roster means a full-strength lineup. But, what that looks like is in the eye of the beholder. The perfect lineup to me is not the perfect lineup to you is not the perfect lineup to Gerard Gallant.

So, we figured the best thing to do to illustrate the possible differences would be to ask members of the media to submit their lineup if they were the head coach. Each of the three writers for SinBin.vegas, plus Justin Emerson from the Las Vegas Sun, Ryan Wallis from Fox Sports Radio, and Jesse Granger from The Athletic each sent in their “perfect lineup” with a little explanation as to why they like it that way.

Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone
Carrier-Glass-Tuch
Nosek-Eakin-Reaves

McNabb-Schmidt
Merrill-Holden
Hague-Theodore

Explanation: First things first, Cody Glass needs to be playing center, so I put him there. Then, that left me with the option of playing Eakin as 4th line center or as a winger. We’ve never seen him as a wing and he’s a terrifically responsible defensive center that would fit well on the 4th line. So, now it’s Reaves, Pirri, or Roy? I liked what I saw from Roy, but it was as a center and for a single game. So, I’ll stick with what we know, and go with Reaves. The final option is who to play on the left wing on the 3rd and 4th lines. The options are Carrier or Nosek. Carrier has flashed when given the chance to show some offense, and with the Golden Knights, he’s never gotten a chance to play with skilled forwards. Nosek has, and he’s been just okay. So, let’s go with Carrier and see what happens.

As for the D, there wasn’t much to choose from. With Schmidt back, he clearly should be with McNabb to make the best pair possible and have them eat up the toughest minutes. Holden and Merrill have been perfectly suitable with each other so I’ll leave that. Which brings us to the only decision, Engelland or a rookie. I like Theodore on the right because it accentuates his offensive talents. Thus, I’m willing to roll the dice and try Hague with Theodore and see if they can hold their own in their own end. PK duties are fine with 88, 22, 15, and 3 with Engelland out of the lineup.

Justin Emerson, Las Vegas Sun

Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone
Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Eakin-Glass-Tuch
Carrier-Nosek-Roy

McNabb-Theodore
Merrill-Schmidt
Holden-Engelland

Explanation: I’d like to see what Glass could do as a playmaking center, particularly with a winger like Tuch. I also think as a lefty, Eakin would be better suited to the left wing than either righty on his line. On the fourth line, Nosek has proven to be a terrific defender that can win faceoffs, while Carrier and Roy’s speed can generate offense while still laying the hits that the Golden Knights value. McNabb and Theodore have been strong matching with other team’s top lines, while Merrill and Schmidt could help them against teams with a strong top-six. Holden has been playing well enough to keep in the lineup, while I haven’t seen enough out of Hague or Bischoff to think that right now they are better than the six veteran defensemen that Vegas has.

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Loss To Avalanche Highlights Importance Of Nate Schmidt To Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights’ best defenseman has only seen the ice for 3 minutes and 11 seconds this season.

I’d love to have him in my lineup, trust me, and he’s going to be there soon. -Gerard Gallant

Gallant made that comment about Nate Schmidt hours before the Colorado game, and then his team put on a 60-minute display of exactly why they miss him so much.

The head coach called the game “embarrassing,” “a total no-show,” and “a team effort” and his main focus was on their inability to defend as a unit. Vegas gave up a season-high 40 shots against, allowed five unanswered goals, and were forced to pull the goalie who has been the best in the league on a night he was playing well.

All in all, it was a complete and utter disaster defensively.

Luckily, help is on the way, and even as bad as it looked last night, Nate Schmidt’s return can, and probably will, fix it all.

The Golden Knights play a system that relies on all five players to defend. It starts with forechecking from the forwards making it difficult for the opposing team to exit their own zone. This leads to an aggressive style of defending the neutral zone taking away time and space and not allowing teams to move through the center of the ice with speed. That then lets Vegas’ defenseman challenge zone entries by standing up at the blue line. Finally, when the puck does end up deep in Vegas’ zone, they have layers of support to both defend and break the puck out when it is eventually turned over.

Pick any one piece of that equation, take it out, and the Golden Knights’ entire defensive structure falls apart.

The Golden Knights problems last night started at the defensive blue line. Vegas’ inability to challenge Colorado’s zone entries led to every other portion of the game spiraling out of control. Time and time again the Avalanche would skate the puck over the blue line without any resistance at all.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There are always multiple reasons for a problem in a hockey game, but with zone entry defense it almost always comes down to gap control. Gap control means how far away the defenseman is from the skater carrying the puck. In a perfect world, a defenseman wants to be within one stick length of the puck carrier and then challenge with a stick check the moment he attempts to carry the puck across the line. Obviously it doesn’t always work out that way, but the closer a defenseman is to the player entering the zone, the tougher life is on the forward. Last night, the Avs skated the puck in with ease just about every time they entered the zone.

That was the breakdown and it infected every other part of the Golden Knights game. There was no forecheck because forwards were spending too much time in their own zone. There wasn’t enough pressure in the neutral zone because more often than not new players were coming on the ice as Colorado collected the puck. And the puck support fell apart in the defensive zone because of tired legs from chasing the Avs around all night while they had the puck.

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Vegas Has History Of Clinching Games In The Opening Minutes Vs SJS

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In their first two games of the 2019-2020 season, the Golden Knights have scored three goals in the opening ten minutes. It was a point of emphasis for the opponent after the opening night matchup against San Jose.

The key in this building is getting through the first ten minutes. And we didn’t do that.-Pete DeBoer, Sharks Head Coach

It’s not just this season, it dates back to the inaugural 2017-18 campaign. Under Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights have a track record of taking quick control of the game, especially against the Sharks. Just look at how Vegas handles San Jose at T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights have a clear advantage in the opening ten minutes.

11/24/17: VGK 5 SJ 4
Shea Theodore Goal At 2:33 1st Period
James Neal Goal At 11:16 1st Period

3/31/18: VGK 3 SJ 2
Shea Theodore Goal At 2:21 1st Period

4/26/18: Game 1- VGK 7 SJ 0
Cody Eakin Goal At 4:31 1st Period
Erik Haula Goal At 4:57 1st Period
Jon Marchessault Goal At 6:02 1st Period
Alex Tuch Goal At 11:43 1st Period

11/24/18: VGK 6 SJ 0
William Karlsson Goal At 0:14 1st Period
Colin Miller Goal At 4:40 1st Period
Max Pacioretty Goal At 9:29 1st Period

01/10/19: SJ 3 VGK 2
Tomas Nosek Goal At 1:34 1st Period

04/14/19: Game 3- VGK 6 SJ 3
Mark Stone Goal At 0:14 1st Period
Max Pacioretty Goal At 12:43 1st Period

04/16/19: Game 4- VGK 5 SJ 0
Max Pacioretty Goal At 1:11 1st Period

10/02/19: VGK 4 SJ 1
Mark Stone Goal At 3:46 1st Period
Reilly Smith Goal At 5:21 1st Period

VGK/SJ History Totals:

VGK is 7-1-0 against San Jose when they score in the opening 10 minutes of a game
VGK scored 16 Goals against San Jose in the opening 13 minutes
VGK scored two or more goals in 5 separate games

Is it as simple as having a ‘race out of the gate’ mentality? Or is it the atmosphere at the T-Mobile Arena?

I think it’s a little bit of both. -Marc Andre Fleury

And nobody benefits more from the quick starts than the goalie.

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Gallant Says Schmidt And Theodore Play Best On Right Side; Where’s That Leave Coghlan And Whitecloud?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights traded Colin Miller it appeared to leave a massive void in right-handed defensemen. With Miller in Buffalo, it left the Golden Knights with just one right-handed defenseman on the NHL roster, Deryk Engelland. Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill, and Nick Holden all shoot with their left hand.

However, that’s not to say the Golden Knights don’t have players who can play on the right side. In fact, Gerard Gallant confirmed a pair of them he likes on that side.

From what I remember (Schmidt) played real good on the right side last year so that’s where he’s going to play again this year. When he plays good over there that’s where you want him to play, where he plays his best hockey, similar to Shea Theodore. -Gallant

He did leave a bit of room for leeway though.

But I’m not saying they can’t play the left side in some situations. Just in case that happens I don’t want you to come back to me and say “why are you playing him over there?” It changes, but they both play well on their off-side. -Gallant

Here’s where things get tricky. The two best rookie defenseman through two weeks of camp have been Dylan Coghlan and Zach Whitecloud. Both are right-handed and both play primarily on the right side.

Last year, Engelland played 72 of 72 games on the right. Schmidt played 40 of his 62 on the right while Theodore played just 21 of his 80. But, late in the year, Gallant made the switch pairing Theodore with McNabb and Schmidt with Engelland swapping Nate and Shea. His comments on Monday indicated that he likes both on that side, leaving just three left-side spots available.

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2019 Draft Pick Kaedan Korczak Feeling Confident Heading Into Camp

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Young defensive prospect Kaedan Korczak was one of the top performers from last weekend’s Rookie Showcase in Irvine. The defenseman played against other prospects that were three, four, even five-years older, and it was an eye-opening experience for the 18-year-old.

I got my first taste of pro hockey. First game I felt pretty comfortable. Ten minutes in, I kind of got my feet wet and felt it out. -Korczak

The Golden Knights’ 2019 2nd round draft pick had no problem keeping up with the “pros” and felt confident on the ice among other, more mature prospects.

Once I got comfortable I began to add layers to my game. Overall, I felt pretty good.-Korczak

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Korczak was happy to get in some action at the rookie tournament, but he’s mostly looking forward to Golden Knights training camp. Where he’ll get to skate with NHL veterans.

His plan is to soak it all in, observe how Golden Knights players build a routine to maximize their skill level.

How they handle themselves away from the rink. The small habits that aren’t seen by anyone. Putting in extra time in the gym, stuff like that.-Korczak

 

Nate Schmidt told us last season eating right and getting plenty of sleep was a key to be successful in the NHL. Korczak quickly found that to be the case for himself and his peers.

Very, very important. I learned that too since I’ve been here. All of the guys are in their rooms by 9-9:30p. We’re all getting our rest and come prepared ready to go.-Korczak

It’ll be interesting to watch Korczak compete in camp against, and with established NHL players. With his size, skill, and maturity it’s possible the youngster will develop quickly enough to skate for Vegas in a few seasons.

After he’s “overcooked” of course.

Nate Schmidt Is Pumped For The Opening Games Against San Jose

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The last seven times the Golden Knights have played hockey it has been against th San Jose Sharks. Prior to those seven, the last two really meaningful games in the regular season were a pair of games also against the Sharks. To open the 2019-20 season, the Golden Knights will open with not one, but two games against who else, the San Jose Sharks.

Nothing like dumping gasoline onto a fire to start the year. What a blossoming rivalry we have we these guys. -Nate Schmidt on NHL Network

Schmidt joined NHL Tonight on the NHL Network to chat about his summer, the upcoming season, and his less than stellar Da Beauty League appearance. (The whole video is embedded at the bottom) But his comments on the Sharks were the highlight of the show. You can clearly tell, the Golden Knights and Sharks still don’t like each other. With each one ending the other’s season the past two years, both teams are going to be out for blood early.

Those things don’t just boil over they don’t just go by the wayside. Guys don’t have a short memory when it comes to playing in big rivalry games. -Schmidt

Whether it’s Ryan Reaves vs. Evander Kane, Gerard Gallant calling Pete DeBoer “a clown,” Cody Eakin’s return to the ice after #NotAMajor, or even potential retaliation for Joe Thornton for the hit on Tomas Nosek that saw him suspended, there’s no shortage of storylines headed into October 2nd and 4th.

I was reading something from Logan Couture the other week on just how fast our rivalry has gone from 0 to 100 these last two years and he couldn’t be more right. -Schmidt

The biggest question of the night though is really how the T-Mobile Arena crowd will respond to the moment that ended their season a year ago. Will there be hostility toward the refs (who aren’t even the ones who made the call)? Will the anger be directed towards the Sharks, and which ones? And finally, what if the Golden Knights fall down early, does the building lose its up-beat positive party-like atmosphere and turn into something resembling the Black Hole?

I can only imagine Vegas-style (on Opening Night), you’re not going to be able to hear the guy sitting next to you on the bench. -Schmidt

There’s only one way to find out and it sure sounds like everybody involved is ready to find out… in 37 days.

Pick A Pair: The Best D-Pair Match For Every VGK Defenseman

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights take the ice on October 2nd there will likely only be one change along the blue line. Out went Colin Miller and in comes the winner of the rookie defenseman battle between Jimmy Schuldt, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, and Dylan Coghlan.

However, the way they line up may have to change with the new makeup of the defense. With Miller in Buffalo, the Golden Knights are left with just one right-handed defenseman among the guaranteed mix. That leaves plenty of options in how Gerard Gallant and Ryan McGill will set the pairs.

Here’s an attempt to breakdown what each defenseman does best and who they might match up best with.

(Each player is listed with their best match as a partner, other options they could succeed with, and players to avoid. The match is to maximize that player’s skills, it is not necessarily to create the best pair. Other options are ranked in order from best option to worst. Players to avoid are listed in no particular order.)

Nate Schmidt

Schmidt is the swiss-army knife of the Golden Knights defense. He really does it all and it allows for him to be partnered with pretty much anyone. As a mobile puck-mover, he can be paired with a stay-at-home player or he can be put with another puck-mover to create a dynamic pair. Schmidt is able to contribute offense, but he’s also one of the most reliable players the Golden Knights have in their own end. Schmidt has played on both sides, and played with Engelland and McNabb for the majority of last season. However, they have paired him with Theodore on multiple occasions, including in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s never really gone well, but there’s been a willingness to try it.
Best Match: McNabb
Other Options: Schuldt, Engelland, Merrill, Theodore, Hague, Whitecloud, Coghlan, Bischoff, Holden
Avoid: None

Brayden McNabb

The defensive stallwart, McNabb almost has to play with a skater. That being said, McNabb has really been at his best with Schmidt as his partner. Late in the year last season, they put him with Theodore, and while Shea thrived it often led to McNabb being caught in vulnerable defensive positions which was highlighted by the OT goal that ended Vegas’ season. Throughout the two year history, the Golden Knights have really only used McNabb with Theodore, Schmidt, and Engelland and one of those pairs was a nightmare. McNabb has spent the entirety of his Golden Knights career playing on the left side.
Best Match: Schmidt
Other Options: Theodore, Schuldt, Coghlan, Whitecloud, Hague,
Avoid: Engelland, Bischoff, Merrill, Holden

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