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Familiar Alternatives To Free Agent Big Game Hunting

The Golden Knights offseason plans are underway and time for the front office to try and improve the club for next season.

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is the big fish in free agency and as we’ve seen before, the Golden Knights aren’t afraid to hand out a massive contract. At 30-years-old, management might be cautious before handing out an expensive seven-year contract. The right-handed Pietrangelo will come at a premium, so Vegas will have to be creative matching the asking price or find other alternatives.

Another notable UFA is Boston defenseman, Torey Krug. The expected price on Krug is around $7.5-$8M per season. He’s a year younger but unlike Pietrangelo, he’s a left-handed shot, and we’ve seen Vegas target right-handed defenseman in the past. Krug’s offensive production is worth the expense, but Vegas may lean to the much taller and right-handed Pietrangelo.

There are plenty of alternative defenseman in the market this offseason, some are less-skilled but cheaper and younger. If Vegas can find the defenseman that fixes their exact deficiency they won’t need to break the bank. However, that takes great awareness and pro scouting finding that right fit. That’s when the familiarity factor comes in handy.

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Rattled By Thatcher Demko?

Following their Western Conference Final loss, Pete DeBoer made a puzzling comment about his team’s mentality.

There’s no doubt that the last couple of games in the Vancouver series against Demko probably rattled our confidence a little bit. -DeBoer

DeBoer casually revealed one of the reasons Vegas struggled to score on Dallas was a rookie backup goaltender from a previous series living inside of his players’ heads.

We’ve heard coaches reference past series to account for injuries or even style of play differences, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one admit his team was psychologically fractured by an individual performance in a prior round. We applaud the honesty, but what is he saying about his team… or maybe even his own coaching job?

Another learning lesson for our guys at this time of year; fighting through, persevering, finding a way to get yourself out of a slump. Getting your confidence back quicker. -DeBoer

What happened to the mentality this team had?(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

These are all things the Golden Knights clearly did not do well inside of the bubble, that they must improve upon if they are to hoist the Cup in the future. But one has to wonder about the fragility of the locker room if they did indeed allow the ghost of Thatcher Demko to ruin their chances to win a completely new series.

What happened to “one game at a time?” To “I’m not worried about the offense?” To “the worst thing we can do is change?”

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Offseason’s “First Order Of Business” Is Between The Pipes

The weirdest season ever is over which means the weirdest offseason ever has now begun. According to the Golden Knights’ GM, the issue on the top of mind for every fan is the same as the front office.

We don’t have those answers for you right now but the first order of business in many respects is to sort (the goalie position) out. -Kelly McCrimmon

The future appears to be heading in the direction of Robin Lehner. From being handed the starting role to the Allan Walsh tweet to the reported long-term contract negotiations with Lehner, all signs point to a parting of ways with Fleury.

No one has more respect for Flower as a person or a teammate or his resume and what he’s done for this franchise and through his career but we made the decisions that gave us the best opportunity to win and we’re going to do that again going forward. -Pete DeBoer

Both Lehner and McCrimmon have denied the rumors of a handshake agreement on a 5-year $25 million ($5M AAV) contract.

It’s not true. Nothing is finalized. It’s kind of annoying that we are here in the conference final and people are saying things they don’t know. If it would have been finalized it would have been finalized. -Lehner on 9/11/20

The goalie situation will be the driving force behind all of what the Golden Knights do this offseason.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If they decide to go with Lehner only, where does Fleury end up and what are the cap ramifications that go with it?

If they decide to keep both, where will they trim to make it work?

Can they go back to Fleury after all that’s happened? Does Fleury even want that?

They are all questions that will be answered quickly as the offseason truly ramps up in just a few weeks. The Draft is scheduled for October 6th and 7th and unrestricted free agency opens up two days later on the 9th. The Golden Knights will likely reveal their answers before the latter.

The NHL’s salary cap is set to remain at $81.5 million heading into next season and is likely to stay there for at least one more year after that. That makes life a little more difficult on the Golden Knights as they were pushing (actually went over) the Cap in 2019-20.

There are decisions to be made on plenty of free agents, both restricted and unrestricted, but the offseason starts and ends with what shakes out in goal. It will shape the present and future of the organization and until it’s figured out, not much else really matters.

2019-20 Season “Locker Room Cleanout Day” Quotes

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights held their final media availability of the season today, a day commonly known as locker room cleanout day. Today’s was a bit different than the norm though due to the ongoing pandemic as all interviews were conducted on Zoom. That left us without many of the incredibly truthful comments we are used to on locker cleanout day, but there was plenty to chew on nonetheless.

Kelly McCrimmon on Goalie deployment in playoffs

Good question and an obvious one I expected would come up today. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the face of the franchise and is a tremendous goalie and an even better person. He’s led our team from its inception. I was very transparent at the Trade Deadline why we added Robin Lehner. I think I was real clear about that without going through it again. Interestingly at that time, it was management and the pro staff that felt the strongest about improving our goaltending. If anything happened with Marc-Andre, we felt we had done a really good of building our team we liked a lot of things about our team but we felt we were at risk. Which we were of course trying to minimize.

The first seven games, the only seven games after the trade deadline, Peter rotated the goalies, and who’s to say if we had finished the regular season and the playoffs began in April like they ordinarily would, I don’t know what would have happened. But as a manager your last chance to improve your team is at the trade deadline. When you look at the 10 days leading up to the Deadline it was a trade for Alec Martinez who was a great contributor to our team. We added Nick Cousins right at the deadline to give us more depth at forward and the morning of the deadline we of course added Robin. From there, you hand the team to the coaches and they coach the team. I don’t think it’s wise or healthy to have management making lineup decisions, I don’t think that’s how it works in the NHL. I don’t think it’s how it should work.

Peter felt really confident after we went through Phase 2 and Phase 3 that Robin was the guy that was going to give us the best chance to win. That’s his job. That’s his job. Was it unfortunate for Marc-Andre Fleury and his situation, it really was. To have empathy for him and how that played out I really do.

But it was not, as some are suggesting, it was not the master plan, in fact Pete was not even that interested in us acquiring a goalie at the deadline. It was more management and our pro scouting staff that felt real strongly about it. That’s how it played out and I support Peter fully. He’s our head coach and he makes those decisions. I know exactly what his reasons are for picking his lineup any night that we play. It’s about winning and icing the lineup that you feel gives you the best chance to win. I respect those decisions and that’s the history of the motivation behind the deal and what happened along the way. -Kelly McCrimmon

More will be added to this page as the interviews continue.

 

 

 

Vegas Faces Tough But Attainable Challenge After Losing Game’s 1 & 3

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

If you’ve heard it once you’ve probably heard it a thousand times on the SinBin podcast. Teams need to win odd-numbered games to clinch a series. So far, the Golden Knights haven’t done that in the Western Conference Final. While losing the first and third contests of a seven-game series isn’t ideal, plenty of teams have actually advanced in that position.

Since the 1999-2000 season, eight teams have gone on to win a conference final or Stanley Cup final after losing Games 1 and 3 of the series. Over the past 20 years it’s been accomplished four times in the Western Conference finals, three in the Eastern Conference finals, and twice in the Stanley Cup finals. Including last season’s Cup winner the St. Louis Blues, who did it twice in their championship run. Vegas is hoping to be the ninth team, starting by winning Game 4 (something all nine teams did).

Teams That Won WCF Losing Game 1 & 3
2000: Dallas Stars- won in seven (won 4, 5, 7)
2007: Anaheim Ducks- won in six (won 4, 5, 6)
2015: Chicago Blackhawks- won in seven (won 4, 6, 7)
2019: St. Louis Blues- won in seven (won 4, 5, 6)

Pete DeBoer is no stranger to the situation his current team is in. In 2012, DeBoer’s New Jersey Devils lost the first and third games of the Eastern Conference finals and stormed back to win the series in six. Seven years later he was on the other end as the coach of the San Jose Sharks. In last year’s Western Conference final, the Blues overcame defeats in game one and three to outlast the Sharks in seven.

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Golden Knights OK With “Low-Event Hockey”; Should They Be?

Through the first three games of the series, the Golden Knights have tallied five goals total with just three coming at even-strength. While Vegas leads on the even-strength shot tally in the series 71-62, the scoring chance numbers per NaturalStatTrick.com actually show Dallas ahead 60-48.

Following Game 1, a game in which Vegas was bullied a bit early, Pete DeBoer used a phrase he had previously been known for in his time in New Jersey to describe the series-opening loss.

I don’t know what the chances were but it was a low-event game both ways. I didn’t think their offense gave us a lot of difficulty. -DeBoer

When DeBoer was behind the Devils bench from 2011-2015 the brand of hockey his teams were known for was often described as “low-event.” That means the shot numbers, chance numbers, and hopefully, the goal numbers are down. It’s a brand of hockey that has worked for many teams over the course of the past decade but one the Golden Knights have always viewed as the nemesis.

When the Golden Knights are at their best, they are creating chances in bunches. They tilt the ice in their favor and they impose their will on the other team. That’s how they overwhelmed Chicago, how they eventually cracked Thatcher Demko and the Canucks, and how they made their way out of the round-robin as the #1 seed. Going back further, that was the brand they played when DeBoer first arrived and it’s how they played for the entire Gallant era as well.

In Game 1, Vegas created just 14 scoring chances in the game at even-strength and only racked up seven through the first 2 periods. In Game 2, they tallied nine in the 1st period alone and finished the game off with 19 despite playing six fewer minutes of even-strength time. Then, in Game 3, they were back to struggling to create chances, totalling 17 but just 10 through two periods.

 Even-Strength TOIScoring ChancesChances/Min
VGK Game 154:52140.25
VGK Game 246:45190.41
VGK Game 352:15170.32
DAL Game 154:52270.51
DAL Game 246:45170.37
DAL Game 352:15200.38

Meanwhile, Dallas has stayed fairly consistent. They had a breakout period in the 2nd of Game 1, but aside from that, they’ve created about the same number of chances per minute in every other period of the series.

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It Can’t Happen Again, Can It?

It’s on Pete DeBoer’s mind. It’s on Marc-Andre Fleury’s mind. It’s on Mark Stone and Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt and William Karlsson’s minds. It’s on George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon’s minds. It’s on The Creator’s mind. And it’s on every single one of you reading this’s minds.

It can’t happen again, can it?

Whether anyone wants to stare the beast directly in the eyes or not, the memory of how last season ended is inescapable for the Golden Knights as they prepare their second Game 7 in franchise history.

The first one has been woven into the fabric of the team over the past 16 months. Every decision they’ve made has been done with at least a sliver of blowing a 3-1 lead on the minds.

They hired the coach on the other bench. They revamped the penalty kill. They replaced the goalie. They added reinforcements on both offense and defense. They did it all so that these playoffs wouldn’t end the same way the last ones did.

Everyone knows what’s at stake. Even if neither Pete DeBoer nor Mark Stone would say it in the moments following Game 6.

This is a different group, different team. We’ve hit a group over there that’s feeling confident and getting great goaltending and that’s going to happen on the playoff trail and you’ve got to find a way. This is our adversity and we’ve got to stick together and come through it. -DeBoer

It’s one game. We’ve got a great team. Guys are going to go out there and bring our best and whatever happens happens. We’re confident going into tomorrow. We were confident going into Game 5 and 6. We feel like we have the team to win. -Stone

This is a mental test unlike any the young franchise has faced. The answers above are already a testament to how the Golden Knights want to handle it. They are going to try to do everything in their power to focus solely on this one game and ignore the elephant in the room. They want to play great from the moment the puck is dropped, score quickly, win the game, and come out on the other side stronger and more together than ever before.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

That’s exactly how they’ll be feeling the moment they get on the ice. But if the adversity from Games 5 and 6 rear its ugly head again in Game 7, the way the Golden Knights handle the flood of emotions linked directly to their history will determine their fate even more so than hockey skill.

Normally, it’s about being the better team, and for the first 10 minutes of the game, it can, and it will if they put the puck in the net. It’s if, and probably when, the going gets tough inside of that game that this team will have to prove to the world, and to themselves, that they can overcome it. They can block out the negative memories of a terrible ending to last season and the frustrating end to the first one. They can bear down and play the way they know they can, the way that got them to 3-1 in the series, and the way that had everyone believing they were the far-and-away better team.

The crossroads is here. Either the Golden Knights win, exorcise the demons that have been haunting them since Joe Pavelski’s blood hit the SAP Center ice, and head into the Western Conference Final with the best chance they’ve ever had to win the Stanley Cup or they lose and they’ll earn a label of playoff chokers, a label that will stick with them for as long as it takes to win 16 playoff games in the same season.

Vegas Holds The Edge No Matter Who Vancouver Starts In Net

The Golden Knights were expected to smell blood on Tuesday night after the Canucks announced backup goaltender Thatcher Demko as the starter for Game 5. If anything, the reverse happened. Demko became the shark and snacked on a quantity of Vegas shots.

We are aware this photo has nothing to do with this article. But it’s great, so here it is. *Sorry Zach* (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

Since his performance was so strong and starter Jacob Markstrom was designated as “unfit to play”, Vancouver may select Demko to start tonight’s Game 6. So, who benefits more if they do?

First postseason start or not, Demko’s performance was superb and may be tough to match. In his young career, he’s limited opponents to one goal six times. That’s over a span of 36 starts. He’s a fine goaltender that could frustrate the Golden Knights again, but odds say he’ll allow more than one goal tonight. Which might be all Vegas needs to clinch the seven-game series.

Especially if this is the Golden Knights mindset coming into Game 6.

We’re going to come into tomorrow’s game just to try to step on their necks and end this. -Reilly Smith

Smith also mentioned that Vegas needed to stick with their gameplan no matter what the outcome was after Game 5. The Golden Knights play best when they attack with numbers, using all three forwards to force their way into the Canucks’ zone by using their patented aggressive forecheck. If they play like that, it wouldn’t matter who is tending Vancouver’s net. The top seed in the West hasn’t lost its confidence after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss, they believe they were merely unfortunate. Vegas knows they’re the better club, and if they were to take 43 shots like they did in Game 5, they will go on to advance to the conference finals.

Plus, Vegas got tipped off how Vancouver successfully outlasted them in Game 5.

We’re just trying to play fast and get the puck in their zone. They clog the middle pretty well so we can’t really skate through it. The longer we wait to pass then their forwards are stuck at the far blue line. So if we pass it to them then they have no speed. For us we were just trying to get it out of our hands quickly so they can get on the forecheck with speed. It’s the defenseman’s responsibility to get up and gap up and try and support the forecheck. -Quinn Hughes, VAN defenseman

Leaked strategy or not, it shouldn’t matter for a good team like Vegas. Coach Pete DeBoer and his players will/should adapt from last game’s miscues.

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In The Playoffs, Back-To-Back Doesn’t Have To Mean Two Goalies

I want to preface this article by saying the point of it is not to challenge the decision being made by the Golden Knights coaching staff in regards to which goalie will start Game 4. Because, as I’ll show, there really isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it. Instead, the goal is to debunk an idea that seems to have turned into a hard and fast rule for the Golden Knights, and thus VGK fans as well.

In the playoffs, you do not have to switch goalies when playing back-to-back games.

Again, that doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, it just means you don’t absolutely have to, especially when playing in a bubble with no travel and against the same team both games.

This postseason 13 series have experienced a back-to-back situation. Of the 26 teams involved in those games, 19 of them chose to use the same goalie in both ends of the back-to-back. Goalie performance, as well as team performance, do not appear to be correlated to this decision.

With such a small sample size and the teams playing each other, wins and losses cancel out as a whole. So, instead, I decided to use total goals against as well as save percentage in an attempt to determine if a goaltender was better or worse in the second game of the back-to-back.

Hellebuyck – Worse
Talbot – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Stalock – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Saros – Worse
Andersen – Better
Bobrovsky – Better
Varlamov – Worse
Talbot – Better
Allen – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Rask – Worse
Hart – Worse
Price – Worse
Crawford – Better
Halak – Worse
Vasilevskiy – Better

10 were worse, nine were better. Compare that to the teams that switched goalies.

Korpisalo to Merlizkins – Better
Lundqvist to Shesterkin – Better
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Bishop to Khudobin – Better
Grubauer to Francouz – Worse
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Fleury to Lehner – Worse

Five better, two worse.

Looks good right? But, when we dig a little deeper, the numbers end up identical, just arriving at the same place in different ways.

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Golden Knights And Canucks Have Both Beaten Themselves So Far, Not The Other Way Around

The Golden Knights played well in Game 1. They didn’t in Game 2. The same can be said, but in reverse, for the Canucks.

In real-time last night, the game felt like a complete mess for Vegas. The neutral zone seemed wide open, the forechecking was much lighter than in Game 1, and the Golden Knights appeared to be struggling to get out of their own zone every time the puck was in it.

I took the time to go back over and watch both games with a keen eye looking for differences between mental or physical errors and tactical advantages to try and confirm what I saw live. I expected to find one game that showed Vegas imposing their style and the other game Vancouver doing it. That’s not what happened.

Instead, what I saw was a rash of errors by both teams. For the Golden Knights in Game 2, it was mostly errors that led directly to goals. For the Canucks, it was a bit of a slower burn as their mistakes piled up leading to constant pressure by the Golden Knights.

Once Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb blew a coverage in their own end leading to a 2-on-0 in front of Robin Lehner. Another time William Karlsson was caught puck watching and Elias Pettersson was given a Grade A chance that he scored. And another Shea Theodore was simply outskated in the neutral zone, which almost never happens, and it wound up placing Alec Martinez in a position where he had to cover two high-end players right around the goal mouth.

The Canucks did not impose their will on the Golden Knights in Game 2 as much as the Golden Knights shot themselves in the foot.

I thought we could have tied it up in the 2nd or at the very least been down 2-1 but we make a mental mistake on a faceoff play and we’re down 3-1 and have nothing to show for the work you put in to get back in the game. -DeBoer

On the other side, Game 1 was a lot of the same from the Canucks. They struggled to move the puck out of their own end with precision. They bobbled passes that a playoff team normally wouldn’t. And in many cases, plays that NHL players normally make in tight situations were not being made.

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