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The Golden Knights Identity; What Is It? What Is It Supposed To Be?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Pete DeBoer was first hired a common term he would use in talking about his new team was “identity.” He said it in a number of ways but the refrain was always the same, that the team had a great identity and when they played with it they were almost unbeatable, but recently it had been lost and they were playing without it.

Here’s one example from five days after he was hired.

I think for me just playing aggressive, and dictating games and wearing teams down with our depth because we have the ability to roll four lines and be really hard to play against. I think we want to get back to that. Not that that slipped totally off the table but that’s something this team did better than anybody in the league for a long time and we want to try and get that type of identity back. -DeBoer on 1/20/20

I have to admit, it’s a term that’s always troubled me. Identity. I don’t even really know what it means. Everyone uses it, heck I’ve even used it, but if you pinned me down to explain exactly how it relates to a hockey team, I can’t do it. So to hear it over and over again from the new head coach as basically the primary focus on how to solve the issues the Golden Knights had been having, I couldn’t help but tilt my head the way Wiglaf and Rupert do when I ask them if they want a piece of cheese.

What is the Golden Knights identity? What’s it supposed to be? Has it changed?

I’ve spent the last three weeks pondering all of this and finally had a chance to ask a few players, and the coach, specifically about it. Take a listen to it all, in its raw form. First is Jonathan Marchessault, then Nate Schmidt, Paul Stastny, and it ends with Pete DeBoer.

I’ve listened to each of those four interviews about 10 teams apiece and I still have no clue how to define the Golden Knights identity.

It’s just a bunch of buzzwords that apply to every hockey team.

Relentless. Heavy. Fast. Aggressive. Play as a unit. Hard to play against.

Put that aside for a second though, I’ll get back to it.

However anyone defines it, it seems to have shifted. Well, sorta shifted. Actually, no it hasn’t shifted at all. It’s exactly the same, it just looks a little different because this team is more skilled, or to use a simpler term, better.

But it’s not. Or at least it hasn’t been when counting wins.

Both teams have the ability to check off all the buzzwords. The makeup of the team really isn’t that different aside from adding a new buzzword, “heavy,” which really just means “we have Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty now.”

So why aren’t they playing the same way? Why are they going through all these problems? Why was the identity lost in the middle of the third season?

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On A Set Play Vegas Comes Through In The Clutch

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It was the play of the game, if not one of the biggest plays of the season (feels like we’ve said that a lot, hopefully this one actually sticks). Having given up a 3-1 lead, Vegas could have easily skated out the period and secured at least a point in Carolina. However, the Hurricanes gave the Golden Knights one more chance to come away with a win. And that’s exactly what they did.

The late-game power play allowed Vegas to execute a perfectly set up game-winning goal. The beautifully designed tic-tac-toe sequence by Shea Theodore, Paul Statsny and Alex Tuch clinched a wild game for the Golden Knights. Not only was it a big goal for Tuch, but for the new coaching staff as well.

It was a good play by Theo and Stas, something we were kind of looking to do and we were able to execute. I just put my stick on the ice and made sure I hit the net. -Alex Tuch

The play began with a faceoff won by Stastny, purposely to his left, which Mark Stone jumped on and fed out to Theodore. Instead of taking his own shot, giving the puck back to Stone or Max Pacioretty to his right, the defenseman walked the blue line with the puck, opened up the seam and then used a little shot pass to feed the puck through an incredibly tight window to Stastny.

Theodore’s stutter-step/fake shot shifted the defense and goaltender just enough to find an open passing lane to Stastny who was waiting on one side of the net.

Knowing the puck was coming to him, he quickly directed the pass across the crease and on to the stick of Tuch, who tapped in the game-winner.

From the initial pass by Stone, to Theodore’s shot fake, to Stastny’s quick touch pass, each player knew exactly where the others would be. You’ll even notice Pacioretty charging in behind Tuch ready to scoop up any rebounds in case the puck was blocked. Or perhaps as a secondary option. Either way, all five players did their job and the execution paid off.

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Golden Knights Need More From Paul Stastny

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In 92 games as a Golden Knight, center Paul Statsny has a total of 58 points (23 Goals, 35 Assists), 0.63 points per game. In the 46 wins Stastny participated in, the 34-year-old compiled 43 points (20 Goals, 24 Assists), averaging 0.93 points per game. Pretty significant impact.

On the other side, when Vegas loses, Stastny rarely shows up on the score sheet. In 21 total losses this season, he has only two points. His points per game drops to an alarming 0.095.

Ken wrote why he thinks the numbers are down, which may be fair, but the fact is since the organization committed 7.6% of their payroll to Stastny they simply can’t afford to his numbers to be where they are, no matter what the excuses are.

One thing is clear about the 2019-2020 Golden Knights, they’re offensively inconsistent, and Stastny is one of the main reasons why. He’s had 4, 5, and 8-game goal droughts this season and a 21 game assist drought to go along with other 5 and 6 game assist droughts. In a three-game span in November, Stastny had no shots on net, no points, and played less than his average TOI in each game. It was during a stretch when the club desperately could’ve used his offense.

Vegas is 4-4-2 in games when Stastny doesn’t register a shot. He’s posted a -7 rating with only one assist in those games.

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Attempting To Explain Paul Stastny’s Down Season

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Halfway through the season, Paul Stastny is on pace to have the worst statistical year of his career. The 34-year-old center is a career 0.77 points per game player meaning he should be pushing 60 points per season if he plays all 82 games. Instead, this year he has just 15 points in 41 games and is staring at a career-low 0.37 points per game season, less than half his career average.

However, the eye test to me doesn’t really match the drop in production. Watching Stastny carefully (which I went back and did during the holiday break) he still looks like the exact same player. His vision is still there, he’s still an excellent passer, he’s defensively responsible, and he’s still dangerous in front of the goal on the power play. He’s never been a high-end skater, so while he may not look like the fastest guy on the ice, he certainly doesn’t look any slower than he did last year, or even while in Winnipeg or St. Louis.

So, I went to the numbers, which confused me even more. The first numbers you look at on the page of any hockey player are goals, assists, and points. For Stasnty, the goals are right where they should be midway through the season. He has nine, on pace for 18 which would be in line with his last five years or so. But then there’s the assists, six. That’s not right. He should be a 40-50 assist guy and he’s on pace for 12.

How can a player be 15-20 assists off where he should be 41 games into the season? The easiest argument is age has led to a slip in production, but I’m not ready to make that case because I simply can’t see it anywhere but in one column on the stat sheet. Instead, I tried to find other underlying causes, which I did, and for the most part, they aren’t controllable by Stastny. So, I’m here to make the argument today that Paul Stastny’s down season is not his fault.

Here, let me show my work.

First off, Stastny’s time on ice is at an all-time low this year. Having “fallen” into a 3rd line role with the Golden Knights attempt at a balanced lineup (I’d argue they’ve put him there to help the team cause not as a demotion to the player), Stastny is playing 16:44 per game. Over the course of his career, he’s never played less than 17:38 and in only six of his 13 completed seasons has he been under 19 minutes per game. Three minutes less per game is a 16% decrease in time on ice. Thus, if he would be expected to get 0.77 points per game, or 63 points a season, his lessened TOI alone lowers that to 0.65 points per game or 53 per season. POINT DIFFERENCE: 10 points or 0.12 PPG

The next biggest detriment to his production this season has been shooting percentage. The Golden Knights are shooting just 7.6% with Stastny on the ice. The Golden Knights as a team are shooting 8.8% and they shot 8.7% last season. Shooting percentage tends to find its way back to the norm over time, thus it can be expected that Vegas will shoot at least 1.2% better in the next 41 games with Stastny on the ice (they’d actually have to shoot around 2.4% better to get him back to the norm, but we’ll ignore that for now). The Golden Knights have attempted 424 shots with Stastny on the ice, scoring on 32 of them. If the shooting percentage was just that 1.2% higher, they would have scored five more goals. So, now we need a calculation as to how many points Stastny would have if he were on the ice for five more goals. To solve that issue we’ll go by Stastny’s career with the Golden Knights. He’s put up 57 points in the two seasons with 45 of them coming at even strength. The Golden Knights have scored 66 even-strength goals with Stastny on the ice. Thus, he factors in on 68.2% of even strength goals while on the ice. 68.2% of five goals is 3.41 points for Stastny. Multiply it by two for the goals he’s already missed and the points he may get the rest of the year and we’re looking at a seven point difference. POINT DIFFERENCE: 7 points or 0.85 PPG

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Mark Stone Says Top Guys Need To Capitalize And It’s Not Happening Enough Recently

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Mark Stone has three goals and three assists in the last 17 games.

Paul Stastny has three goals and no assists in those same 17 and he’s gone 21 games since his last assist.

William Karlsson hasn’t scored in nine straight games.

That’s three players the Golden Knights expect to score who simply aren’t and especially at home.

For us guys at the top of the lineup, we have to capitalize on our opportunities. -Mark Stone

It’s hard to point at any of those three, or really anyone in the Golden Knights top six and say “that guy is playing poorly.” None of them are and in fact, at times, each of guy in that group has had games where they are Vegas’ best player. However, there’s no question that the team needs more scoring from their best players and it starts with Stone.

I put pressure on myself whether we are winning games or losing games. I need to contribute. Not just points, but on the penalty kill and be good defensively, but of course, I’m an offensive guy, I need to capitalize. -Stone

Last night against the Rangers, the Golden Knights had the game in their grasp. They created 23 scoring chances in the 1st period while allowing just four. 13 of those 23 were considered high-danger by NaturalStatTrick.com and yet, Vegas came away with nothing.

A couple chances the other way and suddenly the Golden Knights were staring at a big 2-0 hole.

You look at some of these games and I’m one of the main guys who could have broken that game open today. Our line had four or five high-end shifts, we need to capitalize on the scoring chances. -Stone

It’s been a problem all season for this team. They are 2nd in the entire NHL in expected goals scored, yet rank 17 in actual goals. They lead the league in scoring chances, yet have just a 50.7% scoring chance goals percentage. They’ve created the 2nd most high-danger chances in the league, yet are shooting just 16.3% on them good for 25th in the NHL.

We’ve got to have that killer instinct to get that first goal and get our croud into it. -Stone

It’s about finishing, and the Golden Knights aren’t doing it enough and according to Stone, it’s on the top guys in the lineup.

Expecting Another Golden December

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Kelly McCrimmon spoke with the media yesterday to formally announce the Chandler Stephenson acquisition. He also mentioned his high expectations for the month of December.

We’re trying to get all little bit of traction. December has for one reason or another traditionally been a really good month for this organization. We’re hopeful we can get a solid footing and play good hockey. -McCrimmon

Vegas’ GM should feel optimistic about the next 13 games in December. A month his players annually shine.

Win Percentage in December
2017: .846 %
2018: .600 %
Overall: .714 %

Point Percentage in December
2017: .923 %
2018: .800 %
Overall: .857 %

Including last night’s game in New Jersey, the Golden Knights have an exceptional franchise record of 22-4-4 in the month of December. Beginning the month 2-0-0 is a good sign their holiday tradition will continue. Vegas plays 13 more games this month including seven at home and only three are against teams in the top 3 in their division.

Historical Breakdown

December 2017
13 Games: 8 Home/5 Road (11–1-1) Record

  • Goals For: 49 Total
  • Goals Against: 33 Total
  • Win Streak: 7 Games
  • OT/SO Games: (4-1)
  • 2+ Goal Wins: 5
  • Pacific Division Points: (8 points)
  • Wins vs Playoff Teams: 8 (Anaheim x 2, LA, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Toronto, Washington)
  • William Karlsson: 10 Points (7 Goals, 3 Assists) +9
  • Jonathan Marchessault: 14 Points (5 Goals, 9 Assists) + 9
  • Reilly Smith: 11 Points (3 Goals, 8 Assists) +10
  • Alex Tuch: 8 Points (3 Goals, 5 Assists) +3
  • Marc-Andre Fleury: (4-0-1) 1.56 GAA, .948 Save%, 8 Goals Allowed
  • Malcolm Subban: (6-0) 2.25 GAA, .920 Save%, 14 Goals Allowed

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McPhee Bobbles Another Russian, This Time In A Much Different Way

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In exchange for selecting Jason Garrison, and his exorbitant contract, in the Expansion Draft, the Golden Knights received a 2nd round pick (which they traded for Keegan Kolesar), a 4th round pick (which they selected Paul Cotter) and Nikita Gusev.

Three assets in exchange for not only taking a bad contract off the hands of a contending team, but also laying off players like Yanni Gourde, J.T. Brown, Andrej Sustr, Slater Koekkoek, and others.

It was a cross between the expansion situations with Columbus and the New York Islanders and that of Minnesota and Florida, but it most resembled the pickle Anaheim found itself in.

With the Ducks, Vegas received Shea Theodore for laying off Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson and picking up the bad contract of Clayton Stoner. Anaheim’s available options were better, but Garrison’s contract was much worse.

So, from Tampa Vegas got a pair of picks and an asset who was sitting over in Russia waiting for the time to come to make the leap to the NHL. No matter when that happened, he would become a Golden Knights.

If you go through every trade Vegas executed at the Expansion Draft, it’s reasonable to believe that Gusev’s value at the Expansion Draft was somewhere between a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick. The exact value depends on how badly Tampa needed to get rid of Garrison’s contract as well as how much they valued their exposed players.

Since that day, George McPhee and the Golden Knights tried to diminish Gusev’s market price, while the Russian has done nothing but raise it. Finally it came to a head yesterday when the Devils sent a measly package of a 2nd and a 3rd round pick to end the Gusev in Vegas saga.

When Vegas acquired Gusev, he had just finished a breakout season putting up 71 points in the 2016-17 season. It was the first time he scored more than 40 points in the KHL. On the international stage he had dominated the World Junior tournament years prior and put up impressive numbers at the World Cup but his track record as short.

Since, he’s won back-to-back KHL MVP’s, broke the record for assists in a season, won a Gold medal, dominated at the IIHF World Championships and cemented himself as the best player outside of the NHL. (Read more about that here.)

In other words, he went from a player who appeared to be headed in the right direction to one who burst into a full fledged superstar everywhere but the NHL. Whatever his stock was in June of 2017, it has surely risen dramatically since.

Then there are the Golden Knights who did the opposite. At every pass, they diminished his value.

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How Important Were Faceoffs To The 2018-19 Golden Knights?

The importance of winning the faceoff battle has been a three-year reoccurring argument here at SinBin.vegas. In my opinion, it’s all about possession. When a center wins a draw his team has immediate control and should safely get the puck out of their zone. Or create an offensive push towards the opponent’s direction. Whoever wins the possession battle, should dictate the game.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Faceoffs are probably one of the most underrated stats in this league. If you can start off with the puck, your much better off. And you’ll have better scoring chances. – Nate Schmidt

On the other side of the discussion is Europa Ken.

He’s not concerned with a lost draw if Vegas’ forecheck, shooting percentage, and rebound control are positively effective. For the most I agree, but remember a forechecking attack begins with the puck, and there’s a good chance it was possessed by a winning faceoff.

2018-19 Golden Knights Faceoff Percentage Breakdown

  • Record when winning 51% or more Faceoffs: (20-11-2)
  • Record when losing 51% or more Faceoffs: (14-16-3)
  • Record when Faceoff % is 50/50: (9-5-2)

While it’s clear the Golden Knights have a better record when they win more faceoffs, the formula isn’t as simple as you’d think. At first glance the numbers support my argument, but looking deeper, the higher the FO% didn’t guarantee a Vegas victory. In five separate games, Golden Knights’ centers won 60% or more from the dot. Their record was (1-4). Even furthering the madness, Vegas was (2-2) in games they lost more than 60% of draws.

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Paul Stastny Keeping Up With Father’s Legacy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Golden Knights center Paul Stastny’s father Peter Stastny retired from the NHL when he was 38-years-old. Paul is five years away from reaching that achievement. The older Stastny was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1998 after registering 1,239 points (450 goals, 789 assists) for the Nordiques, Devils and Blues. In his outstanding career, Peter Stastny averaged 1.27 points per game spanning over 15 seasons, which is seventh best in NHL history.

The upcoming 2019-2020 NHL season, will be Stastny’s 13th, totaling 874 games played. He now stands 103 contests away from his father’s 977 games played. Clearly both have/had the skill, strength and stamina to be effective for that many games. At the age of 33, both Stastny’s averaged high minutes and added close to a point a game. The Golden Knights center had his best points per game average in five seasons, adding .80 points per game. He led all Golden Knights centers, even William Karlsson, who averaged .68 points per game.

In the postseason nothing seems to change. Like his father, Stastny plays an important role even in his mid-thirties. In the seven-game series against San Jose, the veteran center averaged more than a point per game scoring two goals and six assists. Coach Gerard Gallant played his “second” line center for twenty minutes a game and used him heavily in crucial points throughout the series. Last season with Winnipeg, Stastny added 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) over 17 postseason games. He also led the NHL with three game-winning goals in the 2017-18 playoffs. The Stastny’s tend to age well.

The 33-year-old is signed with the Golden Knights for at least the next two seasons. Assuming the organization is still highly competitive, the veteran would likely consider finishing his career in Vegas. Stastny is the perfect second line center now, playing along side friend Max Pacioretty and winger Mark Stone. Also, he could be a great depth center down the road. Heck, maybe playing between Pacioretty and Stone will help Stastny get closer to his father’s legendary accomplishments.

Chances are, Stastny will never catch up to his old man’s 1,239 NHL points, but the Golden Knight can do one thing his Hall of Fame father couldn’t do. And that’s hoist the Stanley Cup. Playing with Vegas may be the best chance for the entire family. Remember, brother Yan has a job with the Golden Knights organization too.

San Jose Searching For Answers To Stop Stone And Co.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Through four games of the series, the San Jose Sharks have iced 14 different forwards, seven different defensemen, and two goalies. Only four of those 23 players have yet to be on the ice for a goal by Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, or Paul Stasnty.

The Sharks have tried multiple forward lines, they’ve rotated defense pairings, they’ve tried checking lines, skill lines, speed lines, superstar defense pairings, and defense-first pairings. Nothing has worked.

It’s great, we always know they are going to be in the right spots. You just want to get the puck in their hands and they make the plays and score. -Shea Theodore

The Golden Knights line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny have scored 12 goals, tallied 28 total points, and they’ve done it on just 34 shots.

With every series now having four games finished, Stone leads the league in playoff goals, Stastny leads in playoff assists (tied with Pacioretty), and Pacioretty (tied with Stone) leads in playoff points.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The player who has spent the most time on the ice against the Golden Knights dominant line has been Erik Karlsson. Despite being one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL, Karlsson has not been able to handle the pressure of Stastny, Stone, and Pacioretty. He’s been on the ice for 11 of their 12 goals.

Overall, Karlsson has been out there for 13 of the Golden Knights 18 goals in the series, the same number as goalie Martin Jones.

They are a special group. I hope (they continue this), I want them to, but you know what, lines are going to get hot as we go along here. Let’s hope we can get a couple of lines going too. -Nate Schmidt

The Sharks have another chance to try and crack the code tonight, and they’ll likely try something new once again, but if you ask Mark Stone, no matter what the Sharks do, that line believes it’s just a matter of keeping it simple.

I mean, we have a good team. At the end of the day we just have to play our style hockey. We have to put pressure on their defensemen. When you put pressure on anybody, it makes the game harder. -Stone

As far as the defensemen, they have a simple plan too.

It’s called watching offense from the D. You sit back, watch, and enjoy the show. -Schmidt

One more dominant effort from the line of non-Misfits, and the Golden Knights will have ridden them right into the second round.

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