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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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How The Golden Knights Broke Open The Blackhawks In Game 1

The early going of any series is going to come with what is commonly referred to as a “feeling out process.” Teams usually play pretty close to the vest, not revealing their entire game plan for the series and it tends to lead to slow-moving hockey. It doesn’t always go that way, but there’s no better way to characterize the opening frame of Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Blackhawks.

Not only did neither team score in the 1st, there weren’t even many great chances. Between the two teams, there was a total of five-shot attempts from inside the “house” in the entire 1st period. Most chances came from far away and both teams did well to thwart the opposing team’s attack.

I thought they played hard and were pretty hard defensively. You could tell they were trying not to give up much either. -Pete DeBoer

As the game went on though, the Golden Knights took what was already a slow game and made it even slower. In the 1st period, they were looking to strike quickly when in the offensive zone, and with Chicago’s commitment to defend it led to short offensive possessions. In the 2nd, that started to change and the game did with it.

I think we did a better job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the 2nd period and on. They’re a rush team, so we don’t want to get into a track meet with them. Once we can get them to stop in the d-zone we can control the game a little bit more. It all came from offensive zone time and holding on to the puck behind the net. -Reilly Smith

Instead of playing the brand of fast transition hockey that helped carry the 2017-18 Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, these Golden Knights slowed the game down, controlling the puck with more purpose, and methodically broke down the Chicago defense.

All four Vegas lines followed the same pattern as the game went on, defaulting to more of a cycle game than we’re used to seeing. Where Chicago’s defense preferred to collapse into the dangerous ice in the 1st period, the controlled offense from the Golden Knights forced them to open up in the 2nd and 3rd. Playing from under the goal line drug Blackhawks defensemen to the puck opening up shot lanes from the point and half-wall.

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Other Postseason Teams Not Sounding As Confident As Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As we near the end of Phase 3, the Golden Knights confidently continue to prepare for life in the bubble. Coach Pete DeBoer and his players have expressed their goals throughout training camp and sound as if they are already in postseason mode.

We’re not going there for vacation. We’re going there for work and a goal in mind to win the Stanley Cup. –Alec Martinez, SiriusXM NHL

The message is clear from this organization that while their surroundings will be unique, nothing has altered their objective. The chatter from the Golden Knights since training camp has been focused and positive, more so than other clubs. And it starts with the head coach.

Even if we had a first-round opponent, through this portion we would be spending 90% of the time on our game anyway. I’m a big believer that if our game is in a good place that we throw that out there and let the other team adjust to us. –Pete DeBoer, NHL Network

While the local team feels good about their playoff chances other franchises are still trailing in preparation. The clock is ticking for some to get their act together before traveling to their hub city destination.

The Blue Jackets have a qualifying round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, however, neither seem to be feeling as confident as Vegas. As most fans already know, Tortorella never holds back and he isn’t now. Maybe it’s motivation or maybe he’s legitimately concerned that his players aren’t ready for August.

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#PowerKill Reunited

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Bert and Ernie. Tom and Jerry. Mario and Luigi. William and Reilly.

Some duos just work, and the Golden Knights penalty kill pair of Karlsson and Smith is one of them.

Over the history of the franchise the pair we dubbed the #PowerKill has been on the ice together for 10 of the Golden Knights 22 all-time shorthanded goals. Meanwhile, when playing together they’ve allowed just 21 of the 100 all-time power play goals against. To phrase that differently, Karlsson and Smith have been on the ice together for 45% of the team’s shorthanded goals but only 21% of the power-play goals.

When Pete DeBoer took over the Golden Knights in January, one of his first big moves was to change the penalty kill system. With it, he moved Karlsson away from Smith. During the Pause, DeBoer had some time to rethink that strategy.

I think the Pause allows you to kind of look at your whole group and your team and combinations and the analytics. So when we dove into our group and particularly our penalty killing, that was something we wanted to try when we started up again. -DeBoer

I’ve already shared the best analytic, but here are a few more that point to the partnership of Karlsson and Smith being a no-brainer on the VGK PK.

 Smith/KarlssonEveryone Else
Shots/6016.611.6
Shots Allowed/6040.056.5
Goals For %32.3%13.2%
Scoring Chances/6011.56.9
Scoring Chances Against/6038.151.9
High Danger Chances/606.82.7
High Danger Chances Against/6013.921.2
Corsi For %23.9%13.7%
Expected Goals/601.60.7
Expected Goals Against/604.96.8

Just this season alone, in 89 minutes on the ice together, the pair has had a hand in five shorthanded goals. No other pair of penalty killers has tallied more than three in all three seasons combined!

Like all great duos, they aren’t nearly as good when on their own. Karlsson without Smith has allowed more goals in almost half the time on ice. And Smith without Karlsson has led to just one shorthanded goal in three seasons while allowing 16. They create fewer chances, give up more, and are worse in every measurable analytic.

Time will tell if the more aggressive style of penalty killing implemented by DeBoer slows down the #PowerKill, but if history has taught us anything, those two will be better than any other duo the Golden Knights can roll out… and probably the rest of the league too.

Golden Knights Unveil New Power Play Setup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Pete DeBoer has had four months to scour over his roster and come up with the best combination of players in every situation. The forward lines and defensive pairs mostly match what we had seen in DeBoer’s time behind the bench before the pause, but the new power play groups have seen a bit of a shakeup.

Here’s how the Golden Knights ran out their power play units in practice on Friday, an early indication of what they’ll likely use when they get to the bubble in Edmonton.

Unit 1
Stastny-Stone-Pacioretty-Marchessault-Theodore

Unit 2
Karlsson-Smith-Tuch-Martinez-Schmidt

The first unit is absolutely loaded, which leads to a key question; are these equal time units, or is the first unit going to get closer to 90 seconds of the two minutes?

Stastny at center gives a good chance to win the faceoff, then he goes to the front of the net where he’s a terrific decision-maker. Marchesseault is stationed in the high-slot where he’s deadly when he gets the puck with a bit of time. Stone and Pacioretty present two excellent scoring options in the circles and both have shown tremendous vision to move the puck. And Theodore manning the blue line and driving the entries is VGK’s best PP QB.

There’s really nothing wrong with that unit at all, in fact, it might be the best collection of players the Golden Knights have ever had on the ice at the same time. The question is what it leaves the other unit.

DeBoer is abandoning the single defenseman setup on the second unit that he’s deploying on the first and has used most of his time in Vegas. The problem, in this case, is that neither defensemen is particularly proficient on the power play. Schmidt has just 26 power play points in his career and Martinez has only reached 15 in a season once. Both are good on at the blue line and each has the ability to laser a shot from distance, but as calling them elite weapons on the power play is a bit of a stretch.

That leaves much of the load to be shouldered by the three forwards.

 PointsPower Play PointsPower Play Points %
Max Pacioretty661929%
Mark Stone631727%
Shea Theodore461635%
Jonathan Marchessault471226%
Paul Stastny381026%
William Karlsson46817%
Alex Tuch17741%
Nate Schmidt31723%
Reilly Smith5459%
Alec Martinez13430%

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Vegas’ Top Line May Need A Postseason Nickname

In years past, certain forward lines have taken the postseason by storm and helped their teams win the Stanley Cup. Affectionately known as the HBK line, Carl Hagelin (16 points), Nick Bonino (18 points) and Phill Kessel (22 points) surprisingly combined for 56 points en route to the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth championship in franchise history.

Years earlier the LA Kings were also lucky enough to have an acclaimed line of their own. Going by the nickname, That 70’s Line, Jeff Carter (25 points), Tyler Toffoli (14 points), and Tanner Pearson (12 points) caught fire in the regular season which continued into LA’s run to the cup. Each wearing a jersey number in the 70’s, the line totaled 51 points in 26 games.

Keep in mind both of these famed triplets were support lines, that massively overachieved. Without them, however, their clubs wouldn’t have been so dangerous. Good news for Golden Knights fans, Vegas had their own explosive line in last year’s postseason, and expectations are even higher in 2020.

In their seven-game series against the Sharks, Mark Stone (12 points), Max Pacioretty (11 points) and Paul Stastny (8 points) were offensively unstoppable. The trio combined for 31 points in the series loss, averaging a whopping 4.4 points per game. The veteran line made up for 44% of the Golden Knights offense against San Jose. Just silly when you think about it.

Can Vegas expect the same this postseason? And is it possible it can get better? I don’t see why not considering coach Pete DeBoer upgraded at center with William Karlsson in the middle.

All three players have the skill to excel in the postseason. Karlsson added 15 points in 20 games in 2018, and Pacioretty and Stone lived up to their billing in 2019. Combine their playoff averages together and the top line’s production will scare the bejesus out of an opponent.

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Playing Oddsmaker On First Golden Knights Captain

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He hinted at it months ago, yesterday he made it as clear as can be.

We’re not going to name a captain before we go back. We will have one prior to the start of next season. -Pete DeBoer

Normally, we leave the oddsmaking up to the best sportsbook in the world, William Hill, but today, I’m going to take my shot at setting the odds on who will wear the “C” when the Golden Knights stitch it on a jersey for the first time.

Mark Stone 
-450

Stone is the massive betting favorite for a number of reasons. First, he’s the best player on the team and it’s not really all that close. That’s not always a prerequisite to be the captain, but it certainly helps. Next, DeBoer has lauded his leadership qualities since the moment he got to Vegas (Gallant did too when he first got Stone). He’s the right age, has an extended contract with the team, is clearly invested deeply in the team’s success as illustrated by his over-the-top celebrations, and he’s been an alternate captain during the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

If it’s anyone other than Stone, it’ll come as quite the surprise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy candidates.

Nate Schmidt
+500

Most Golden Knights fans know Nate Schmidt as the loud, goofy, jokester that he comes across as in interviews, commercials, and skits, but Schmidt is, and has been, a real leader on this team for a long time. He was named the Golden Knights Player’s Association representative, he’s been an alternate captain at times during each of the first three seasons, and whenever anyone mentions the leadership group of the team he’s included.

He’s incredibly talkative on the ice, both in serious and joking manners and he’s even more talkative when you stick a microphone in his face after the games. He’s not your quintessential captain, but he certainly represents the Golden Knights.

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Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots, Everybody

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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DeBoer: “I’m A Believer In A Captain”

Since the beginning, the Golden Knights have had 23 captains. Technically, they’ve had about 10 with a variety of players wearing “A’s” through the first three seasons, but the underlying mantra of “23 captains” has been a part of the fabric of the Golden Knights’ locker room since they first got together back in September of 2017.

With the new coach in town, that could be changing in the very near future.

I’m a believer in a captain and I think we have a lot of candidates in that dressing room. I’m still getting to know the group, but that’s something I’ll have to discuss with Bill Foley and George and Kelly and see what their feeling is on it. -Pete DeBoer on VGK Q&A Podcast for season ticket holders

Vegas is one of five teams in the NHL currently without a captain. They are also the only team that has not had a captain in any of the previous three years. No captainless team has won the Stanley Cup since 1972.

I think the reason we didn’t have a captain in Vegas, to begin with, was the identity of this team, basically coming out of expansion you were getting all these guys that were left unprotected or traded for, was the strength of the team was going to be in the group. -DeBoer

That reason was repeated time and time again by management, coaches, and the players during the Gallant era. DeBoer thinks the time is near that the first “C” is stitched into a Golden Knights jersey.

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Season “End” Stat Leaderboards Lacking Many Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When, how, or if the NHL season picks back up will probably remain a mystery for a while longer, but every day that ticks off the calendar it becomes clearer and clearer the regular season will not be completed in its entirety.

They may come back and play a few games or they may even eliminate a few games and backdate the season to the 68-game mark to make it even. Either way, the stats on the board currently are likely to be pretty close to what ultimately goes down in the record books for the 2019-20 regular season.

Despite playing 71 games, with most of the rest of the league playing fewer than 70, the Golden Knights have a player listed in the top 10 of just two standard offensive statistical categories. Max Pacioretty’s 307 shots on goal have him ranked 3rd behind Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Reaves led the NHL in hits with 316.

But that’s it. No one’s in the top 10 in goals, assists, points, +/-, shooting percentage, PIM, TOI, blocks, faceoff stats, or even point shares.

Here’s a look at the Golden Knights’ highest ranking in each statistical category.

Goals
Leader – David Pastrnak: 48
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 32

Assists
Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 67
VGK – Mark Stone: 42

Points
Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 110
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 66

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