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Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots, Everybody

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In the shortened 2019-20 regular season the Golden Knights led the NHL with 34.5 shots on goal per game. In fact, since they entered the league Vegas has averaged the second-most shots per game over that three-season span.

Vegas led the entire NHL in 19-20 with 28 victories when they won the SOG battle. That’s 71% of their total wins for the season. The Golden Knights went 28-12-7 (.670), and are now 92-43-13 (.665) in franchise history when they’ve outshot other teams. Compare that to their 11-12-1 (.479) record this year when they were outshot and 35-37-9 (.488) all-time.

In 22 games as Golden Knights coach, DeBoer’s club outscored opponents 19 times, and went a stellar 13-4-2.

The bulk of the shots come mostly from the Golden Knights top-six forwards. Max Pacioretty led the team averaging 4.32 shots per game, followed by Jonathan Marchessault. Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch do their part as well, both creating several scoring chances per night. When DeBoer gets all of his weapons firing on net, opposing goaltenders have to play at their best, or else it’ll likely be a long night.

VGK Shot Leaders

Max Pacioretty: 4.32 S/GP
Jonathan Marchessault: 3.56 S/GP
Shea Theodore: 3.08 S/GP
Mark Stone: 2.58 S/GP
Reilly Smith: 2.38 S/GP
Alex Tuch: 2.33 S/GP
William Karlsson: 2.19 S/GP

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Pacioretty Unleashed His Wrist Shot In 2019-20

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Golden Knights winger Max Pacioretty was one of three players to accumulate 300+ shots in the regular season. The two other players were Nathan McKinnon and Alexander Ovechkin; prestigious company. However, when you break it down by types of shot, Pacioretty led the entire league with 192 wrist shots. A shot in which #67 is known for.

Pacioretty must’ve come into the season focused on letting his wrist shot go more often than he did 2018-19. In his second year with the Golden Knights, the 31-year-old forward released 94 more wrist shots. Which worked out nicely for his club.

Not only did his wrist shot release go up but so did its effectiveness. Pacioretty added nine more wrist shot goals in 2019-20 and ended up having statistically one of his better seasons. His 0.93 points per game was a career-high for the 12-year veteran.

2018-19: 66 Games, 98 Wrist Shots, 12 Wrist Shot Goals
2019-20: 71 Games, 192 Wrist Shots, 21 Wrist Shot Goals

Pacioretty totaled 30 SOG in last season’s playoffs series against San Jose, scoring five goals in seven games. Unsurprisingly, 23 of 30 were wrist shots, and four of his five goals were from wrist shots. Any goalie should know what to expect from Pacioretty, the problem is whether they can save it or not.

Pacioretty’s pinpoint lasers create challenges for opposing goaltenders, especially when they’re being screened. His goal in Game 4 against the Sharks’ Martin Jones illustrates exactly how nasty and nearly impossible his wrister is to stop.

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NHL’s Round Robin Has Similarities to IIHF World Championship

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The idea of a round-robin is totally foreign to the NHL. Since the inception of the league in 1917, the Stanley Cup champions have always been determined by a regular season followed by playoffs.

With the pandemic throwing a wrench in the works, for the first time ever there will be a regular season, albeit truncated, followed by a round-robin plus a play-in round, and then a 16 team playoff with re-seeding after each round.

It’s unprecedented in the NHL but it’s not in the sport of hockey. In fact, the largest international tournament of the year uses a round-robin every single year. That’s the IIHF World Championship which consists mostly of NHL players who have been eliminated from the playoffs. In addition to that tournament, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey used a round-robin and the Olympics have used it for decades.

I think this is going to be a lot more similar to what you would have seen at a World Cup. The best players in the world got together and played extremely entertaining and competitive hockey. -Kelly McCrimmon

The difference in most of these tournaments, compared to the NHL’s round-robin is that it is not only used for seeding but to eliminate teams.

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Round Robin Adjustments – vs. St. Louis Blues

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We’ve broken down two out of the three round-robin teams (Colorado and Dallas) the Golden Knights will be facing, so let’s finish it off with the St. Louis Blues.

vs. St. Louis: (2-1) 4-2 L, 5-4 W OT, 6-5 W OT

Let’s start with this, all three games between Vegas and St. Louis were highly entertaining. It’s hard to forget former Golden Knight David Perron hugging current Golden Knight Max Pacioretty’s leg, which then led to seven different roughing penalties. Vegas was fortunate to win the two OT games because of two improbable comebacks. In both victories, the Golden Knights trailed the Blues after two periods of play. They will need some of that never-give-up mentality in the round-robin, especially with Jordan Binnington in net. However, it’s unlikely St. Louis will blow many more three-goal leads.

Areas of Adjustment

  • Keep your heads on straight

The Golden Knights will have to improve their discipline against St. Louis. Not only for the fear of the Blues strong power play, but also because St. Louis can successfully agitate teams. They pestered their way to the Stanley Cup final last season, and they clearly enjoy annoying the Golden Knights.

Against St. Louis, Vegas averaged only six minutes in penalties per game, however in their second matchup the Golden Knights spent 12 minutes in the box. Granted many were matching penalties but when the Blues power play hit the ice they took advantage. St. Louis scored the opening and overtime forcing goals on the power play. Take those away and Vegas probably wins the game in regulation. Vegas turned the tables on St. Louis in their third matchup, scoring four times on man-advantages including on in OT. Their four power-play goals were the most scored in one game for the Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are the better team at even strength so if they keep from being dragged into the muck, they should be able to handle the Blues.

  • Contain Offensive Defensmen

It’s no secret St. Louis has elite weapons on the blue line. Three of their top five season leaders in shots were defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo led the entire team with 225 shots on net. In the three meetings with the Golden Knights, the Blues got 23 shots and 10 points from defensemen. Vegas will have to get in the way of some of those shots or make it tough altogether for St. Louis’ D-men to get one off.

One way the Golden Knights can frustrate the Blues defensemen is by blocking shots and by creating high-zone pressure. Quite like the strategy Vegas used against Pete DeBoer’s San Jose Sharks in their 2018 postseason series.

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Illustrating The Impossible Challenge DeBoer Faces In Having Two Elite Goalies In The Postseason

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When hockey gets back underway, the Golden Knights will hit the ice with one of the best goalie tandems in the league. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner are fully capable of carrying a team through the playoffs leading most to view goaltender as an advantage Vegas has on every other team.

While I’m not here to argue against the benefits of having more than one tremendous goaltender, I would like to illustrate the challenge it will present to the man standing behind the bench.

Peter DeBoer has been the Golden Knights head coach for 22 games and has led his team to victory in 15 of them. His early success earned the Golden Knights a Pacific Division title and placed them in the round-robin in the modified playoffs. But the only memory that will last regarding his first season in Vegas will be of the outcome of the upcoming postseason. And with goalie coach Dave Prior no longer calling the shots between the pipes, DeBoer’s decision on goaltenders will, fairly or not, ultimately be the only thing to define his inaugural campaign in Vegas.

Usually, working in hypotheticals is a tiresome, useless activity, but today I’d like to throw some out to show just how impossible the job of selecting a goalie in the postseason can and will be for DeBoer come August when hockey starts back up.

Instead of creating situations, let’s use ones from the past, ones that we know the eventual outcome. Imagine a world in which each of these games was played with the Golden Knights having both Fleury and Lehner on the roster.

We start with the worst moment in franchise history.

2019 Round 1 – Game 7 – at San Jose

After six games of strong goaltending by Fleury, followed by 50 minutes of perfection, the walls started to cave in on the Golden Knights following the phantom major penalty on Cody Eakin. Before the call, Vegas led by three and were getting a strong effort in net.

The first goal happened almost instantly as a shot from the point was blocked directly to a Shark, leading to a cross-ice pass and a perfect shot that beat Fleury. It’s a save he’s made in the past, but not one anyone could ever expect him to come up with.

At this point, there’s absolutely no consideration of switching goalies to put in Lehner. (Remember, this is all a hypothetical in which we are considering what VGK would have done if they had both goalies.)

Goal two comes less than a minute later. This one is a shot pass that deflected in from a tip in the mid-slot. No goalie in NHL history is expected to make this save, but nonetheless, a three-goal lead is now one and there are still four minutes left to kill.

Pull Fleury here in order to buy some time for the penalty killers? Settle the team down? People still complain that Gallant didn’t take a timeout, switching goalies would achieve the same result. I doubt this would be a time to do it, but Monday morning QB’s everywhere would be barking nonetheless.

Fleury stays in. The Sharks tie it about four minutes into the power play. A breakdown in penalty killing leads to a shot from the high-slot that beats Fleury. He’s now allowed three in less than four minutes and blown a Game 7 lead. Is now the time to pull him and put in Lehner?

Goal four is the one that would get the coach in hot water for not switching goalies. It’s a shot Vegas allowed on the PK all series long, in fact, that was in the game plan to give that shot up. Fleury is off his angle and the softest goal of the four gets past him. Trust me, if Lehner was on the Golden Knights at this moment, fans (including myself) would not have been happy that he was sitting on the bench.

Again, Fleury stays in the game having now allowed four. We get all the way into OT, and a poke check gone awry allows a fourth-liner to net the season-ending goal for the Golden Knights. Again, if Lehner is on the team, people are none too happy he never saw the nets in this horrific road loss.

In reality, Gallant never even considered pulling his goalie to put in Subban, nor would anyone have, and thus this criticism never existed, but if the situation were exactly the same, and Lehner was on the Vegas bench, the coach would have gotten crucified over refusing to put in the trade deadline acquisition.

2018 Western Conference Final – Game 1  – at Winnipeg

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Golden Knights Playoff Roster And Lineup Projections

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Whenever the league gives the green light to go ahead with the 24 team playoff format that was unveiled earlier this week, the Golden Knights are going to have some tough decisions both in roster and lineup construction.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the league is expected to allow teams to have 28 skaters on their active roster along with an unlimited number of goalies. Normally, the entire AHL squad is available to any team still remaining in the NHL playoffs, but with the pandemic restrictions, the league likely wants to keep the numbers down.

So, let’s start with the 28 skaters that I project will make the cut for the Golden Knights.

Locks (21) (13 F, 8 D)

William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Alex Tuch, Chandler Stephenson, Nick Cousins, Nic Roy, Ryan Reaves, Tomas Nosek, William Carrier, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore, Jon Merrill, Nick Holden, Zach Whitecloud, Deryk Engelland

This is the roster Vegas was expecting to go into the playoffs with had the league continued with the regularly scheduled season. Assuming health when the league is ready to return, there’s no way any of these 21 won’t be listed among the Golden Knights allotted 28.

AHL Locks (3) (2 F, 1 D)

Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov, Nic Hague

When I set out to do this I actually expected this group to be a little larger, but the group behind these guys is so large, McPhee and McCrimmon can really go a lot of different ways. Will they load up on defensemen because they have a little bit more of a variety of styles? Will they go with more veteran players to be safe? Or will they put a bunch of kids in the mix so they get a taste of “playoff” hockey? No matter which way they choose, these three will be among the 28 selected.

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“Most Talented Team I’ve Had In My Coaching Career”

Pete DeBoer is no stranger to standing behind incredibly talented players. Over the course of his coaching career in the NHL, he’s had Martin Broder, Patrick Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Scott Gomez, Stephen Weiss, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Logan Couture, and so many more high-end players in the league.

DeBoer has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice, he’s been in the playoffs five times, and his teams have won nine playoff series. He’s coached four different franchises in almost 900 total games as he’s working into his 12th season this year. Yet for DeBoer, the 2019-20 Golden Knights are unique.

It’s the most talented team I’ve had in my coaching career. –Pete DeBoer on The Chirp Podcast

It’s hard to argue with him too. The Golden Knights are pretty stacked, especially following the trade deadline. The line of Mark Stone, William Karlsson, and Max Pacioretty is one of the best in the NHL and the group of forwards behind them is balanced and strong. Shea Theodore is quietly turning himself into an elite defenseman while Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb and Alec Martinez round out a top-four group on defense that is reliable in any situation. And the goalie tandem is without question #1 in the league.

As tough as it was for me to leave San Jose 33 games after going to the conference finals the year before, for me the Vegas situation is the opportunity of a lifetime.  It seems like a great combination of talent and character and leadership. Great community, great ownership, great management. I think you coach in this league for opportunities like this with teams like this and I’m really thankful for how everything played out even as tough as some of the moments were. –DeBoer on The Chirp Podcast

He’s coached numerous Cup winners, present and future Hall of Famers, countless All Stars, Norris winners, Vezina winners, Richard winners, Calder winners, Hart winners, Ross winners, Lindsay winners, you name it, DeBoer has coached it.

It hasn’t been rare for DeBoer to praise pretty much everything about Vegas since he took the job back in January, but we haven’t quite heard it with this type of historical context in his career. Yet he believes this Golden Knights team is the most talented he’s ever had and offers the opportunity of a lifetime. An even better opportunity than the one he had which have served as the Golden Knights primary rivals for the better part of three seasons.

I’m a big believer that everything in hockey happens for a reason. The way my career has gone, one door closing there’s always been another door opening with a better opportunity. –DeBoer on The Chirp Podcast

Now all he needs is a chance to see this opportunity out. This talented bunch was firing on all cylinders when the league was halted due to the pandemic. They’d just ripped off an eight-game win streak, had won 11 of 13, and hadn’t lost back to back games in almost a month. The league just needs to restart so the Golden Knights can go from the most talented group to play for DeBoer to the most accomplished.

**The quotes for this story were pulled from a recent podcast episode of The Chirp, hosted by VGK TV host Daren Millard. It is a tremendous conversation with DeBoer and his long-time friend Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice. Anyone who likes VGK should listen to this episode, it’s that good. Here’s the link to the episode.**

DeBoer Shares Engelland’s Message To Him About Being Scratched Before The Pause

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When Pete DeBoer took over as head coach of the Golden Knights, one of the most drastic changes he made to the everyday lineup was to take Deryk Engelland out of it.

Before the season was paused, Engelland had been scratched in 12 straight games and had played in just one of DeBoer’s last 18. All in all, Engelland appeared in only five of the 22 with DeBoer behind the bench.

Under Gallant, Engelland was scratched just eight times in 213 regular-season games and not a single time in 27 playoff games.

DeBoer still believes Engelland is a major part of the team, however. Speaking with JT The Brick on Fox Sports Radio, DeBoer went out of his way to praise the leadership Engelland brought while being placed in a “tough situation.”

To a man they all want to win the Stanley Cup, that’s their number one motivation. They are willing to do whatever they have to do to be a part of it. I look at Deryk Engelland as an example of that. Tough situation, veteran guy, we had to scratch him some games here recently before the pause. The messaging to me was ‘I just want to be a part of this. When you need me, let me know, and I’ll be ready to go.’ You can’t have enough of that and that’s what makes groups like this special. -DeBoer on Fox Sports Radio

DeBoer went on to say the leadership group of the team is eight to ten players deep, but clearly has an affinity towards Engelland.

The question moving forward is where does Engelland fit in on a roster that has become crowded on the blue line. The Golden Knights have six NHL contracts on the books for defensemen already to go along with Nic Hague, Jake Bischoff, Dylan Coghlan, and Jimmy Schuldt all chomping at the bit in the AHL.

Leadership and character are major pieces in what the Golden Knights look for when constructing their roster, but at some point skill on the ice has to take precedence over intangibles. DeBoer proved unequivocally he trusted Nick Holden, Jon Merrill, and Zach Whitecloud over Engelland in the lead-up to the pause.

And, despite the kind words, likely tipped his hand as to Engelland’s future as a player in the Golden Knights organization along the way.

Five Sports Illustrated Experts Pick Vegas To Play For The Cup (Plus Our Picks)

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As we continue holding out for some level of hope for the NHL season to resume, some outlets are continuing the tradition of making their annual Stanley Cup predictions. This year Tampa Bay and Vegas were the two teams most picked to play in the Cup finals by Sports Illustrated.

Five SI experts chose the Golden Knights to participate in the Final if the season were to continue play. Unfortunately, four out of the five picked the Golden Knights to lose in the Stanley Cup Final.

Matt Larkin: Lightning over Golden Knights in six

Sam McCaig: Lightning over Golden Knights in five

Edward Fraser: Lightning over Golden Knights in six

Ryan Kennedy: Lightning over Golden Knights in six

Each prediction had Vegas losing to Tampa in six games or less. Ouch, not even one deciding game. The lone SI expert that awarded Lord Stanley’s cup to the Golden Knights left Tampa out of the Final completely. Here’s his explanation of why he chose VGK as the 2020 NHL champions.

Dan Falkenheim: Golden Knights over Bruins in six

Since Jan. 15, no team has a higher share of expected goals (58.5%). Robin Lehner’s arrival ensured Vegas would enter the playoffs with the NHL’s best netminding situation. And all the sudden, with Max Pacioretty turning back the clock, the Golden Knights looked like the West’s top team before the pause.

Much less drama for the Bruins, some 2,700 miles away. Save for a mediocre 4-5-6 stretch running from early December into the New Year, Boston has been the league’s most consistent team throughout the season. Tuukka Rask’s emergence as the Vezina frontrunner helped the Bruins carve out an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division and serves as a reminder that he can carry a team as far as he wants to. Both Boston and Vegas are built to withstand the rigors of postseason hockey—each has reached the finals within the last three years—but the Golden Knights are the team that comes out on top in a matchup between recent Stanley Cup losers. -Dan Falkenheim, SI.com

It’s an intriguing matchup, to say the least. The last two Stanley Cup runner-ups battling to end their finals losing streaks. Both teams are recognized for elite-level skill and fantastic goaltending. Plus after the pause, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone will be fresh and fully healthy for Vegas and Boston’s older veterans will get some much needed extra rest for their pursuit.

Although SI went heavy on Tampa, they’re not the team I selected to win the cup. Nor to come out of the East. Here are our predictions for this year’s Stanley Cup finals.

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Playoff Participation Plan Diminishes Vegas’ First Place Finish

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Silly comments from P.K. Subban shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone around the Golden Knights. Remember this?

He knows he bit me. I’m not trying to rip his head off. I’m not that type of player… I don’t know how I walk out of there with four minutes in penalties… It wasn’t explained. They tried to apologize after the fact that they gave me four minutes in penalties. My finger is bleeding. I don’t know what you want me to do.-P.K. Subban accusing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of biting his finger, 01/23/19

Well P.K. is back, and he’s pushing the idea of a ridiculous 31-team playoff. Subban believes the NHL should allow every club a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, including his 68 point Devils team. Contenders like the Golden Knights worked hard to position themselves for a Cup run, but none of that matters to the former Norris Trophy winner.

It was kind of floated around… I saw a few things on social media and I like that. For my team specifically, we were pushing to make the playoffs down the stretch. I would like to see our team have an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. I’d love too see a 31-team playoff and give those pesky Devils an opportunity of bringing the Cup back home to New Jersey. I’d love to see that. -PK Subban on ESPN

While it might sound intriguing to certain fanbases, it makes zero sense for any legitimate contender. In fact, the real losers would end up being the Golden Knights and other elite clubs. Why should they be punished for playing strong during the 71-game paused season?

The NHL is not college basketball, or even the World Cup. The Stanley Cup playoffs is not a tournament of rewarded participants, it’s a tournament of winners. So, why would Vegas, St. Louis, Boston or Tampa want to risk playing a team that has nothing to lose, and face losing to a #16th seed? They wouldn’t, and frankly, they’d be wronged if the league forced them too.

If you’re New Jersey, you’re sitting there and you say, ‘okay fair enough we realize below the cut line.’ Then you say but Montreal, sitting with 71 games 71 points. The Devils go ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, time out, we’re three points behind Montreal with two games in hand. Why would you give Montreal a chance?’ The Devils would say ‘well Montreal can’t be a part of any postseason thing because we got a better point percentage then them.’ So, I guess that’s kind of where P.K. was coming from. -Bob McKenzie

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