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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.

Time To Break Up The Top Six

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night was an eye-opener for the 2018-19 Golden Knights. After a tough loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the fourth straight at home, Gerard Gallant delivered a strong message in the locker room following the game. The team followed it up with a lengthy, competitive practice on Friday and then went without morning skate on Saturday. It appeared they had hit rock bottom and appeared primed to start the turnaround.

Last year’s team had its moments too, but every time they would come back, play great, and win. This team didn’t.

Instead, this team got outmanned in a game they simply came up short in the talent department. The foursome of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nyander, and Mitch Marner scored three goals and tallied seven points while the entire Golden Knights top six (Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stastny, Tuch, and Pacioretty) had two goals and four points with half of that damage coming on a shorthanded goal.

The VGK 2nd line was a combined -8 and the 1st line put up a miserable 25% Corsi For percentage as a group. Matthews’ line ate up Stastny, Pacioretty and Tuch scoring twice and posting seven scoring chances to Vegas’ one. All in all the Golden Knights top six played 20 of the 36 minutes of even strength action and accounted for one goal while allowing three and created just seven scoring chances compared to Toronto’s 17 while they were on the ice.

Here’s the good news. Despite all of it, and while playing the worst hockey in franchise history, the Golden Knights were right there. They had a lead in the 2nd, tied the game in the 3rd, and had a power play chance to take the lead inside of 15 minutes remaining in the game. This is still the same team that posted 60 points in their first 48 games and positioned themselves safely in the playoff picture.

With just four games before the trade deadline, it’s time the Golden Knights look in the mirror and realize they have to win with balance. No longer is their first line so dominant that they can be relied upon to not only shut down the oppositions top line but score while they’re at it. They can’t expect their 2nd line to pick up the slack left behind by the inevitable regression of that 1st line. They need to return to what became their identity last year and what was at times earlier this season. A balanced attack that never stops applying pressure.

The best way to do that, break up the top six.

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The Real Paul Stastny Has Arrived

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When James Neal opted not to re-sign with the Golden Knights back in July, the team lost one of its smartest players.

But not to fret. The Knights acquired a player with a very high hockey I.Q. when they signed Paul Stastny.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The veteran center knows how to play the game. He does things the right way. He understands the subtleties of hockey and he makes his linemates better, which is what any playmaking center is supposed to do.

But when he got hurt in Buffalo back on Oct. 8 and missed 30 games, everyone forgot all those characteristics. He was out of sight and out of mind.

He has been back for 10 games now and with his return, the Knights have returned to the top of the Pacific Division standings. He is centering the second line and despite an ever-changing cast on his flanks, Stastny is producing as are his linemates.

The initial plan was to have Stastny center for Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch. But he has also played with Erik Haula, Reilly Smith and Brandon Pirri. Currently, the line is Stastny, Tuch and Pirri. Pirri has six goals and three assists. Tuch, who has 14 goals, the latest an empty-netter to seal Tuesday’s 2-0 New Year’s Day shutout of the Los Angeles Kings, has registered at least one point in five of his last six games.

Stastny said it’s all about communicating.

It’s not that hard to adjust (to playing with different players). You talk on the bench and make sure everyone is on the same page. -Stastny

Pirri, who has bounced around the NHL and has played with a lot of good players, said Stastny is really good at adjusting his game to fit his linemates’.

His character is so good. He makes my life and Tuchy’s life so much easier. He tells you where he’s going to be and he gets you the puck. He’s a playmaker and all you have to do is get open and he’ll get it to you. -Pirri

But it’s not just the obvious that makes Stastny so effective. It’s the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that he does over the course of a game.

Here are two examples:

Midway through the first period Tuesday, the Knights had lost possession in the Kings’ zone. No big deal, right? You try and win back the puck and you start over. Stastny did just that by getting to a loose puck, then making a subtle but sweet backhand pass to Ryan Carpenter who turned it into a quality scoring chance.

Jack Campbell made the save on Carpenter. But because Stastny knew where to be on the ice, he was able to get to the puck, then knew what to do with it.

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When Gallant Wants A Faceoff, He Turns To Paul Stastny

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

File this one away into the “something to keep an eye on” category for the future. Midway through the 3rd period against Colorado, while the game was still tied at one, there was a face-off in the Golden Knights zone following a TV timeout.

Because the Golden Knights were at home, they have “last change” meaning at every stoppage of play, the Avalanche pick the players they are going to put on the ice and then Vegas gets to choose theirs. So, the reigning Jack Adams award winner Gerard Gallant knew the Colorado top line was set to take the next shift for the Avs.

Most the of the night Gallant had used either the 1st line or the 3rd line against the Avs dominant top line and both were having success. However, with the draw in his own end, Gallant made a different choice, one he hasn’t made much over the course of his time as head coach of the Golden Knights.

He sent Paul Stastny out to take the draw with a line of William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. Stastny won the faceoff, helped get the puck clear, and immediately came off the ice for Jonathan Marchessault who played the rest of the shift with his regular teammates.

I kinda knew going into the game if I was feeling good on the faceoff dot that I would be taking a lot of draws. -Paul Stastny

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Don’t Touch The New Top Six

Say hello to a new top six. Marchessault-Karlsson-Tuch & Pirri-Stastny-Smith. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It took until Game 8 of the Golden Knights inaugural season to find the combination of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, but once the eventual Jack Adams award winner Gerard Gallant found it, he rode it for all it was worth.

The oft-described “top line” of the Golden Knights took the league by storm scoring a combined 92 goals, 213 points, and an insane +116 rating. They found themselves in the debate as the best line in hockey and helped power an expansion team to a division and conference title.

But then, in the matter of literally a second, the line was broken up.

It was a gut feeling and wanted to change things up a little bit. -Gerard Gallant

Coach comes and tells you, Tuchy you’re going with Marchy and Karly and Smitty is going to go with your line. -Alex Tuch

I told Pirri just keep playing the same because we were playing well. -Paul Stastny

Down 2-1 in the game, Gallant swapped Tuch and Smith creating a line of Karlsson, Tuch, and Marchessault, and another of Stastny, Smith, and Pirri. From then on, the Golden Knights completely took over the game.

Vegas dominated possession, scored three straight goals (and another that was taken off due to an offside challenge) and completed a come back from a two-goal deficit to win their 6th straight home game.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We just wanted to change it up a little bit, fortunately for us, it worked. -Gallant

When you have a lot of depth at forward you can kind of juggle lines a little bit, there’s a fine line of doing it to much, but sometimes you need a little spark and that kind of just got a spark for the whole team. -Stastny

It’s not like it’s a demotion or anything, any line you can play on with this team is pretty special. It brought us a lot of momentum and energy to our game. -Smith

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Stastny’s Calming Veteran Play

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Some will call it a small sample size but in his short return, center Paul Stastny has been everything we expected, and maybe even more.

In his three games back from injury, Statsny’s presence has added another layer of calmness on the ice. His approach to slow down the game has helped his linemates to be in the right position for success. Sure, we saw him briefly to start the season, but the team was working through chemistry issues when then the veteran was injured in game three. On Sunday morning, in game 35, Stastny led the second line and his team to an overtime victory.

We made a couple mistakes, but I think once we talked about it and kind of corrected it, then I think we started playing more free and supporting each other and getting the puck more. -Paul Stastny

In New York, Stastny showed great awareness, making great defensive and neutral zone plays to advance the puck. Most notably, Alex Tuch’s nasty stall-shot OT winner, assisted by Stastny. The veteran center scored his first VGK goal on a gorgeous pass by Max Pacioretty earlier in the game. The trio had five combined points to lead the offense at Madison Square Garden.

Averaging 6’2, and weighing in at a combined 621 lbs. the Golden Knights second line, when healthy, is a handful.

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Pothier: Stastny Should Return To Second Line Immediately

It still may be a couple weeks, but it’s starting to look like Stastny is getting ready to return. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the promising news we uncovered yesterday about Paul Stastny, the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is the same. When he comes back, where does reigning Jack Adams award winning coach Gerard Gallant place him in the lineup when he’s ready to come back?

It’s an age-old question in sports, should a player lose his position because of an injury? Keeping in mind how well his replacement is playing, in most cases, the answer is no.

Injured center Paul Stastny was signed in the offseason to anchor a brand new second line, yet they haven’t played one shift together. Alex Tuch was to graduate to the top-six and play alongside Americans Stastny and Max Pacioretty. The three could’ve been dubbed the “Freedom” line, but unfortunately, injuries got in the way.

The Golden Knights stand at 29 points, and in the middle of the mess that is known as the Pacific Division. Since Stastny’s injury in Game 3 of the season, the team has played roughly .500 (13-12–1) hockey without him. However, the second line has been extremely effective as of late. Since bumping third line center Cody Eakin up in early November due to Erik Haula’s lower-body injury, the Eakin-Tuch-Pacioretty line has 35 points. The second line was arguably one of the biggest factors in Vegas’ late November five-game win streak.

Tough to break-up, I get it.

Eakin’s strong play brings us back to the organization’s vision for this season. He was expected to center the third line again, and make it more consistent than it was last season. That was GM George McPhee’s plan. And so was upgrading their second line center with a talented veteran like Stastny. Injuries essentially delayed the offseason remodel.

Bottom line is, Stastny is valued by this team as their second line center. They paid him as such, and made a high-risk move trading for Pacioretty to compliment his play. The connecting moves were projected to juice up team offense, and still could once Stastny is cleared to play. This was the team’s vision. They told us.

We wanted to try improve our team. That’s why we signed Paul Stastny as a free agent. Why trading for Max Pacioretty was really important for us. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant GM, on 11/19/18

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