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What Should/Will The Golden Knights Do With Brandon Pirri And Their Roster Crunch In The Coming Weeks?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The emergence of scoring wizard Brandon Pirri, coupled with injuries to Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty, and the waiver claim of Valentin Zykov has left the Golden Knights in a roster pickle, with 25 players and only 23 available spots.

There are a few questions on just about every Golden Knights fan’s mind and we’ll attempt to answer every single one in this article. Read on.

The Facts

As of this moment, the Golden Knights roster stands at 23 with Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty on IR.

Pacioretty skated with the team in practice yesterday, is expected to do so again, and will likely play either tomorrow or Sunday. Miller skated before practice yesterday, will likely do so again today, and shouldn’t be much more than a week or so away from making his return to the Golden Knights lineup.

Valentin Zykov was claimed on waivers from the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Per NHL rules, if the Golden Knights want to keep Zykov, he must remain on the NHL roster for the remainder of the season.

Brandon Pirri has scored six goals in seven games with the Golden Knights and has played on the 2nd line with Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny in all seven games. Per NHL rules, Pirri is allowed to be sent back to the AHL without clearing waivers if he does not play in 10 games OR is on the active roster for fewer than 30 days. Thus, if he plays three more games or is on the roster for another 15 days, he would have to once again clear waivers to be sent back to the AHL.

Through 43 games, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard-Bellemare, Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves are the only forwards on the roster to have been scratched by Gerard Gallant without being on IR. Reaves, Pacioretty, and Bellemare were each scratched once and they all are believed to be injury or family/medical related. Carpenter has been scratched three times, Nosek has been scratched four times, and Lindberg has been scratched 23 times. However, in the past six games that Gallant has had to choose two of those three, he has scratched each one of them two times. The most recent player to be scratched was Nosek.

Reading Into It

I was specifically warned against doing this, but what’s the point of the Internet if not to do things people tell you not to and make them angry (Sorry, I’m not sorry Turk).

Let’s start with Zykov as he’s the biggest unknown of all of this. The Golden Knights could instantly clear one spot on their roster by immediately putting Zykov back on waivers. That would allow either Pacioretty or Miller to come off IR and the roster remain at 23.

However, Gallant made a comment in a recent press conference that he started watching film on Zykov “the first time he went on waivers” which indicates that Vegas may have wanted him originally. They did not have priority so he went to Edmonton, then when he hit waivers again, Vegas claimed him and got him. Thus, it makes sense that this is not a short-term rental that won’t be given a chance, but instead that McPhee/Gallant see something they like and they want to give him a shot.

He’s expected to finally make it into the country today after having some immigration issues. He’ll probably practice a few times with the team before getting in a game, but if he remains on the roster when Pacioretty comes back, it should be expected that he gets at least some game action with the Golden Knights.

So, let’s say we expect him to stay, at least for a little while. When Pacioretty comes off IR someone is going to have to be taken off the roster to comply to the 23 man limit.

The easiest option would be for another injured player to be placed on IR. At the moment, the Golden Knights do not have any other players we believe to be injured. In January of last season, when VGK was in a similar bind, Jon Merrill was placed on IR with what was described as an “undisclosed injury,” to make room for Luca Sbisa who came off IR. Clearly, it is against the rules to declare a player that is not injured, injured, however, don’t be completely stunned if there’s a surprise injury that we were unaware of that leads to an IR stint which opens a roster spot for Pacioretty.

If that were not to happen, then McPhee would have to choose one player to be sent back to Chicago. The most likely options are the three forwards previously mentioned (Carpenter, Lindberg, or Nosek), one of the commonly scratched defensemen (Merrill or Hunt) or Brandon Pirri. Before we move on, let’s address Pirri.

Can you really send Pirri back to the AHL?

The short answer is yes, they absolutely can, and the reason is not that he’s not good enough to be on this team. The main reason is that if he doesn’t hit that 10th game, he’s the only guy on the roster (aside from Tuch and we know that’s not happening) that can go to the AHL without risk of being lost on waivers.

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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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Oscar Lindberg Forcing Gallant To Shuffle Lineup

Lindberg has been out of the lineup so much, we don’t even have a picture of him from this season. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Daniel Carr’s demotion to the AHL, Reid Duke’s inability to get into the lineup, the Pacioretty healthy scratch or injured situation, Ryan Reaves’ mysterious absence from the game at MSG, and the major line shuffle that went with it. Plus, the recent decision by Gallant to stop giving out lineup and injury information. All of this can be tracked down to one guy, Oscar Lindberg.

On December 4th Oscar Lindberg was forced into the Golden Knights lineup when Max Pacioretty had to take a game off because he was “not feeling well.” Lindberg was slotted into the top six to play with Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin. In that game, Lindberg recorded his first two points of the season, he was on the ice for 13 scoring chances while allowing just one (according to NaturalStatTrick.com), and by all accounts played a great game.

He played real good. I was real happy for him. He got a chance to play tonight and like I said Pacioretty didn’t play tonight but Oscar stepped in there and did a great job and had a good game and that’s what we want from him so I’m happy for him. -Gerard Gallant in 12/4 postgame press conference

The following morning, Daniel Carr was optioned to the AHL and Reid Duke was recalled. The reason for this move was because with Pacioretty ready to come back into the lineup, either Lindberg, Carr, or someone else had to come out. Gallant chose Carr, which caused McPhee to send him back to the minors to stop the clock on his waiver status.

This is the first of many decisions that have been made because of Lindberg’s stellar play.

On December 6th, Lindberg played well once again, especially when looking at the advanced stats. He did not record a point but scored a goal that was eventually wiped off the board due to a whacky goalie interference review.

Yet again, Lindberg deserved to stay in the lineup. This continued for the next four games, in which Lindberg posted three points. All the while, Reid Duke remained on the Golden Knights roster waiting for his chance to make his NHL debut. That chance never came, as Duke was eventually optioned back to the AHL to make room for Paul Stastny to come off IR.

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Golden Knights Reserves Become Fans Like Everyone Else

We know they’d rather be on the ice, but the VGK healthy scratches maintain the right attitude. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Imagine this. You’ve worked your entire life to become a professional hockey player, make it to the National Hockey League, and to eventually play for the Stanley Cup. Then, your team makes it there, coach brings down the lineup card, and your name is not on it. Rather than play in the game, you are destined to sit in the press box wearing a suit and watch. Sounds like the worst, right? Actually…

It’s awesome. When you’re sitting upstairs and we score a goal guys are jumping and down, hugging each other. That’s what it’s all about. Everyone is a part of the same goal. -Brad Hunt

Hunt hasn’t played since April 7th in Calgary, the Golden Knights last regular season game.

Guys like myself, Jonny (Merrill), and others who haven’t played in awhile, we all want everyone to do so good because we know it’s a chance at something we may never get a chance to do again. It’s been so special. -Hunt

Talking to Hunt, fellow defenseman Jon Merrill, and others, you’d think these guys average 20 minutes a night in the postseason.

I’m honestly more nervous when I’m not playing. When you’re out there playing you’re not thinking about anything, you’re just playing. When you’re upstairs you’re just a fan, you want the boys to win so bad. -Jon Merrill

Golden Misfits? More like Nervous Nellies.

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Gallant Pulls Perfect Strings To Once Again Unleash The Big Game Golden Knights

A few moves by Gallant and all of a sudden the Golden Knights looked themselves again for the biggest game of the year. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Individual awards in hockey are earned in the regular season. That’s why Gerard Gallant already has the Jack Adams Award sealed up. However, heading into Game 5, the soon-to-be Coach of the Year made some big boy decisions, and boy did they pay off for his Golden Knights.

Gallant inserted three players into his lineup, two of which hadn’t seen the ice in the playoffs, and made a line swap in an attempt to jump-start the 2nd and 3rd lines. 60 minutes of hockey later, and if there was a Coach of the Playoffs award, Gallant’s name could begin to be engraved on that one too.

Just some hungry guys ready to play and I wanted competitive guys in there playing tonight. When you lose a game sometimes you go through with your coaching staff and look around and say Lindberg has been working really good in practice, Carpenter has been a solid player for us all year long and he missed a couple of games, and Sbisa was due to get back in our lineup sooner or later. I thought all of them performed really well tonight and it was a good night for them. -Gerard Gallant

The additions to the lineup and the move to switch David Perron and Alex Tuch were some of the biggest reasons the Golden Knights took the 3-2 lead in the series.

Tuch was unbelievable. Lindy first game of the playoffs, wow, he was great too. Carpy on the 4th line was a big boost. He was all over the ice. -David Perron

Tuch scored twice. Lindberg and Carpenter each got assists, and Perron looked like himself for the first time during the playoffs netting two assists and creating a ton more chances.

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Major Lineup Shuffling Furthers 1st Period Importance

Game 4 was the first time in the eight-game playoff history of the Golden Knights where they were severely outplayed. It ended as a 4-0 beatdown and the Sharks had evened the series.

In response, Jack Adams finalist Gerard Gallant appears to be making a host of lineup changes. Based on morning skate, it seems Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, and Luca Sbisa will be placed into the lineup, while Tomas Tatar, Tomas Nosek, and Jon Merrill will all come out.

Last year, Lindberg was tremendous in the playoffs. If he does it tonight, Gallant is going to look like a genius. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This will be the first game the Golden Knights will be without Nosek since February 11th, and just the 3rd game all year in which Nosek will be a healthy scratch. Oddly enough, the last time Gallant chose to scratch Nosek it was a 5-4 overtime win against the Sharks on November 24th.

If Sbisa returns, it will be his first game action since February 27th. Lindberg would also be making his Vegas playoff debut having been out since the final game of the regular season on April 7th

You do what you have to do. You put your best lineup in that you think gives you the best chance to win that evening. We’ve done it all year, guys come in and play different spots and play different roles, it’s all you can do. You go with your decision, you talk to your coaches, and you do the best you can. -Gerard Gallant

The changes magnify the 1st period, however. With multiple players who have been out for over a month returning to the lineup and potential changes to three of the four forward lines (see below), the Golden Knights are vulnerable early. It often takes players a bit of time to get back into the flow after missing games, but Vegas can’t afford to fall into a hole.

Throughout this entire season, when the Golden Knights have really needed a game, they’ve usually gotten it. But beyond that, they’ve almost always started out those games well. That was the case the last time they had to “flip the switch” back on going from a disastrous loss in Calgary to the playoff opener, but the time before, against the Flames at home, it took a period or so to really get going.

This team has it in them to play a good game tonight, no one is debating that. They just have to do it right away. They can’t play anything but their best from the moment the puck is dropped, and that’s what makes the lineup changes concerning. The Golden Knights have home-ice advantage in a best of three series, now they have to take advantage of it, and they can’t let cold legs and unfamiliarity get in the way.

Projected Game 5 Lineup

Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault
Perron-Haula-Neal
Lindberg-Eakin-Tuch
Carpenter-Bellemare-Carrier

Schmidt-McNabb
Theodore-Engelland
Sbisa-Miller

12th Forward

He was added to give the Golden Knights depth for the playoffs, now that they are here, will he even play? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Due to the string of injuries down the stretch and a slew of maintenance days over the final week, the All Star head coach Gerard Gallant has never had a full complement of players in which to choose his lineup. However, as the team prepares for a first round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings, it appears the Golden Knights have just about everyone healthy, which means choices for Gallant.

The top six is almost a guarantee to be set as it has for much of the season. A first line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, and a second line of Erik Haula, James Neal, and David Perron.

Using our judgment here at SinBin.vegas, we believe Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Tomas Nosek are also all guarantees to be in the lineup come Game 1. That leaves two spaces open that need to be filled with a group of 5 players. Those players are Tomas Tatar, Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Ryan Reaves, and Oscar Lindberg needing to fill roles as third and fourth line wingers.

At the trade deadline, Geroge McPhee added Tomas Tatar to be the third line winger with Eakin and Tuch. Due to the injuries, he has bounced around lines and his play has never quite lived up to what was to be expected of him. However, now that the playoffs are here and the top six are all expected to be back, Tatar will almost certainly find his way into the position he was brought to play in and draw the start against the Kings.

That leaves us with four guys to fill one vital role for the Golden Knights, fourth line winger. On the other 11 forwards, we’ve got a pretty strong idea, on this one, we’re clueless as to which way Gallant will go. So, we’ve put together a list of pros and cons for each of the potential option and then took our stabs at who each of us believes will draw into the lineup on Wednesday.

Ryan Reaves
36 Playoff games
(1 goal, -1, 7:56 ATOI, 23 PIM)

Pros: We all know what Reaves brings to the ice. Love it or hate it, he can be effective. Over his career, he dressed for 36 of 58 playoff games his teams played in. Last season, he played in all 11 games adding 42 hits, nine blocks and eight penalty minutes. Reaves was brought in just in time for the home and home with LA. Possibly a sign that Gallant could decide to go with Reaves in the first round.

Cons: Lack of speed, finishing ability, and potential to slow down transition game. The Golden Knights high tempo could earn Reaves a scratch or little TOI. His forechecking ability has led to penalties, specifically in the two games in which he played for the Golden Knights against the Kings. He’s considered a playoff type player, but his career record in the playoffs is 15-21.

Oscar Lindberg
14 Playoff games
(3 goals, 4 points, 52.6 FO%, 10:27 ATOI)

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Golden Knights Injury Updates; James Neal, Reilly Smith, Malcolm Subban, Luca Sbisa, William Carrier, Oscar Lindberg

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

James Neal
Injury: Hand/Wrist
Injured on February 26th vs. Kings

Neal has missed 10 of the last 11 games. He played in the Kings game on the road where he left after falling behind the goal, seemingly on the same hand that was injured last year in the playoffs.

He did not travel with the team on the recent five-game road trip, but was seen skating many of the days while the team was away. Neal participated in the most recent morning skate wearing a red no-contact jersey.

James is doing real good. He’s skating today. He’s not playing tonight but we’ll see him in the near future. -Gerard Gallant

Reilly Smith
Injury: Wrist/Shoulder
Injured on March 6th vs. Blue Jackets

Smith left the game after a hit in the 2nd period in Columbus. He remained on the road trip for a short time following the injury before returning to Vegas.

He has not participated in a practice since the injury but was seen putting on skates and pads to take the ice for an individual practice today.

A source indicated to SinBin.vegas that the team initially feared Smith had broken a bone in his hand that could have ended his season, but an MRI confirmed otherwise. The same source put the timeline at about two weeks from the injury following the news of no broken bones.

He is not playing tonight. Day to day. Getting better. -Gallant

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Bottom Six; What’s The Right Combination?

Step right up, pick three, any three!

The Golden Knights have hit a bit of a rough patch injury-wise, especially when it comes to the third and fourth lines. Over the course of the last month or so we’ve seen pretty much everyone play with everyone else.

Now, Tomas Nosek is set to return, which means for the first time in a while All Star head coach Gerrard Gallant will have to make decisions along the bottom six.

The plan for tonight is to run out the lines of Alex Tuch/Cody Eakin/Oscar Lindberg and Ryan Carpenter/Pierre-Edouard Bellemare/Tomas Nosek. Thus breaking up the recently successful Tuch/Bellemare/Carpenter line.

Everyone has their own opinions on who should be playing with whom, so we decided it’s time to put some numbers to the opinions. Have fun with this one…

 TOICF%SF%GFGASCF%
13456:0049.2350.30191851.12
21641:5547.9650.54212749.22
24536:4350.4851.92131952.69
4073:1353.7953.163655.56
41432:2253.0552.30131455.61
89530:3750.2551.43191653.06
92361:1350.4750.26111453.83
13 w/ 21314:1349.1950.88111450.00
13 w/ 2465:4246.2745.452442.03
13 w/ 400:550.000.00000.00
13 w/ 4129:5150.8550.002055.17
13 w/ 9224:2845.8327.270057.14
21 w/ 24170:1650.1754.612749.14
21 w/ 403:3954.5533.330042.86
21 w/ 4120:0640.9147.621045.00
21 w/ 9227:4846.6747.060051.61
24 w/ 4011:4650.0063.640060.00
24 w/ 41173:4056.8860.484462.25
24 w/ 92115:0450.4554.243556.31
40 w/ 4158:1957.8055.933459.62
40 w/ 928:5152.1761.540054.55
41 w/ 92301:4052.7752.0191056.76
13 w/ 21 w/ 89245:5150.3152.8191052.85
13 w/ 21 w/ 2447:2743.4842.591430.95
40 w/ 41 w/ 8930:5164.5273.533171.43
21 w/ 24 w/ 89104:3653.2561.841258.82
24 w/ 41 w/ 9294:4254.0259.302363.29

Numerically, the most successful line offensively is the Tuch/Bellemare/Carpenter line, but the sample size is rather small. That being said, the line Gallant is going with, Tuch/Eakin/Lindberg has been very good in possession, but the scoring has yet to come (just one goal in 104:36).

This will be the first time Nosek, Carpenter, and Bellemare have been together, but any time Nosek and Bellemare have been very good, especially considering a majority of their zone starts are in the neutral or defensive zone.

Play around with that chart, and see what you can find. Personally, I’d like to see Tuch/Bellemare/Carpenter and Lindberg/Eakin/Nosek, but what do I know, I’m not the front-runner for the Jack Adams award.

Leipsic-Eakin-Lindberg… Never Again

Due to a rash of injuries to “fourth” line players like William Carrier and Tomas Nosek, coupled with injuries in the AHL to Tomas Hyka and Brandon Pirri, the Golden Knights were forced to create some abnormal lines for last night’s game in Pittsburgh.

With six available forwards to fill out the bottom two lines, All Star head coach Gerard Gallant chose to play Cody Eakin with Oscar Lindberg and Brendan Leipsic. That left Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with wingers Ryan Carpenter and Alex Tuch.

He may not be finding the net, but at least he’s been creating chances with Tuch. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Bellemare line fared just fine against the Penguins, but the supposed third line which racked up a total of 6:28 of ice time as a unit, was nothing short of a disaster.

First off, the Leipsic-Eakin-Lindberg line took five draws as a group, three in the offensive zone, one in the neutral zone, and one in the defensive zone. This is an indicator that Gallant saw the line as more of an attacking threat.

In the seven shifts over those six and a half minutes, the Golden Knights gave up one goal (and another mid-change), were outshot 8-2, and gave up seven scoring chances (four “high danger”) while creating just one of their own. They spent a majority of their time on ice inside of their own zone and were usually forced to change when they finally exited the zone creating a defensive zone start for whichever line followed them.

The worst part of their shifts together is that a majority of them took place with the Penguins fourth line on the ice against them. More than 50% of the time Leipsic, Eakin, and Lindberg were on the ice together, Ryan Reaves and Zachary Aston-Reese were on the ice with them. Aston-Reese is a rookie who was playing in his second career NHL game, and Reaves is an enforcer who’s career possession metrics are among the lowest in the NHL. Between the two of them (who were playing with a mixed third player due to in-game injuries) they have a career 30 goals in 473 games, yet Reaves scored with the Golden Knights third line on the ice.

It just didn’t work together, but it’s no fault of any one of the pieces. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Now, it’s not time to start throwing around hyperbole asking for all three players to be waived tomorrow. A lot of this comes down to chemistry and fit between the styles of play of each individual guy. They just don’t mesh together. If anyone should understand this concept, it should be Golden Knights fans who have watched numerous players bud into stars due to being placed in different circumstances in Vegas than with their former team.

The line of Eakin, Leipsic, and Lindberg isn’t particularly adept at any one skill, but even worse, it really doesn’t fit with the style of play the Golden Knights employ. They are not particularly good in transition, their forechecking is average, and their ability to break out of their own zone is not great… when playing together.

Simply put, that group of three did not work, at all, and Gallant need to recognize it and make the adjustment heading into tomorrow night’s game in San Jose. Offensively a bit will likely be lost taking Tuch away from Carpenter and Bellemare, but two balanced lines outweighs an okay one and a nightmare. Tuch, Eakin, and Leipsic on one line, and Carpenter, Bellemare, and Lindberg on the other, it’s really the only option.

Hopefully Turk agrees.

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