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First Line Has Gone Quiet

What the heck is happening to our beloved 1st line?!? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over the course of the first 10 games of the season, the Golden Knights top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith tallied 10 of the teams 21 goals. They also accounted for 24 of the team’s 49 points. In short, as we wrote about at the time, they were carrying the team.

Unfortunately, that has come to a screeching halt. In the past five games, the top line has scored just two goals, racked up a measly three assists, and have a disastrous combined -11 rating. They’ve also allowed four even-strength goals after allowing just four in the first 10 games.

To make matters worse, their shot totals, scoring chances, and high danger chances are all down, while their goals against, shots against, and chances against are all up. We also haven’t seen the killer forechecking we’ve grown so accustomed to over the past five games either. Quite simply, they are no longer carrying the team, and with the injury to Erik Haula, that has to change.

I’m not sure I’m ready to say it’s time to break them up, but with the lineup in a bit of turmoil, it has to at least start creeping into consideration. A move like this could ignite Max Pacioretty, it could breathe a little more scoring into the 2nd line, and if reigning Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant decides to really shake it up it might lead to the return of the balanced attack that the Golden Knights became known for a year ago.

Much like a majority of last season, the top line had been scoring almost three points a game as a unit, but it’s been nearly two weeks since that’s been the case. If it returns, all will be well, but if it doesn’t, that line may look a lot different in the next two weeks.

Top Line Doing It All, But That’s Okay

If the top line scores, the Golden Knights usually win. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At this point last year, William Karlsson had 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) and was on pace for 52 points. He ended up with 78, averaging 0.95 points per game. This season, Karlsson has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) through 11 games, scoring 0.82 points per game. At this rate, he’s projected to reach 68 points, 17 points ahead of last year’s pace less than a month into the season but 10 short of his final tally.

If you’re generating chances, it means you’re doing something right. We just have to execute a little more and get them in the net. I’m not worried. Our line is doing pretty well. -William Karlsson

Karlsson confidently assured fans not to be concerned about the team’s lack of scoring, as long as his line generates scoring chances. Something the Golden Knights top line does game in, and game out. Could they have more goals? Sure, but the entire team should as well.

The top trio has 25 combined points and the rest of the team has 32 total points.

The real panic button would be if we didn’t create anything. As long as you’re generating chances, eventually it’ll come back and the puck luck will be there. -Karlsson

Can the top line do it alone?

The Golden Knights are 5-3-0 this season when their top line scores. Last season, Vegas’ record was 46-15-4 when Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith or Karlsson registered a point. Looking back, it feels like the top three did do it all.

In 2017-18, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith combined for 16 game-winning goals and recorded 213 of the 711 Golden Knights points. Just like the star Swede, Vegas’ coaching staff isn’t concerned about top lines production but would like more scoring balance throughout the lineup.

There are good things happening for our team. We look at the stats after the game, and the stats look good, the shots are going towards the net. The analytics are good but the wins aren’t good enough. But there are still lots of good things from this team. -Gerard Gallant

The buzzword around the locker room is execution. Players are aware 2.27 goals scored per game isn’t enough to have success in the NHL. Thankfully, the team can heavily rely on one of the best lines in hockey. Pretty sure the top line won’t mind. I think I can hear Marchessault tapping his stick for the biscuit right now.

Two Golden Knights Say VGK Played Well, Two Others Completely Disagree; The Divide Is Not Ideal

There hasn’t been nearly enough of this thus far. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are now 1-3-0 in their first four games of the season. Two points in four games is not going to make anyone happy. However, there is a bit of a sense that Vegas has been playing a little better than the scores have indicated at times.

Specifically, last night in Washington, the Golden Knights created plenty of goal scoring chances and got bit by the post a few times. To me, it was a well-played game for Vegas on the road against the best team in hockey. On most nights, especially at home, that level of play will win games, even with the few mistakes that were made. One Golden Knight and the Jack Adams award winner agree.

Maybe the score wasn’t relative to the game that was shown. We had a lot of posts, maybe three or four. We had the puck a lot. I thought it was probably one of our better games so far. It’s a good sign. We are getting chances, we are getting pucks to the net. We’re going to score at some point. -Marc-Andre Fleury

I thought we played a real good game 5-on-5, we got lots of scoring chances, their goalie played real well, so I liked a lot of our game but we gave them too many odd-man rushes and too many power plays. -Gerard Gallant

However, that sentiment was not shared by everyone in the locker room.

I don’t think this was our best game. We played like a team with no identity and if we are going to try and trade chances with the Capitals we aren’t going to win. It wasn’t our best and there are some things we can tighten up and I think awareness is something we can do a much better job with. -Reilly Smith

I just think as a whole we aren’t playing our game. We are taking too many penalties. It’s a long year but we have to figure out things quick. Our goal from this road trip is to be a .500 team and when we are playing like this, that’s not going to happen. We definitely have to work some things out and find our game. -Shea Theodore

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Don’t Expect A Golden Knights Captain Any Time Soon

One of the biggest reasons the Golden Knights don’t have a captain is that this guy won’t let his teammates anoint him as one. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last year the Golden Knights were one of just a handful of teams that did not have a player wearing a “C” on the ice. Instead, they opted for what they called a “leadership group” which was a rotating cast of about seven alternate captains.

They went on to have an incredible season on the ice and players still rave about how amazing the group was off it. Plus, they were able to integrate new players starting a few days before the season began with Malcolm Subban, a waiver add in December in Ryan Carpenter, and the trade deadline acquisitions of Ryan Reaves and Tomas Tatar, without a hitch.

Yet, the question still seems to be floating around the organization, who will become the team’s first captain?

The short answer, and the right answer, is no one.

Nothing’s been said. I don’t think anybody is too worried about it. We have a ton of really good leaders. Old guys, young guys, so it’s really a collective group thing and I think everybody in the room is absolutely fine with that. –Deryk Engelland to NHL Network

Before Opening Night last year, the team announced Deryk Engelland, Jason Garrison, James Neal, David Perron, Luca Sbisa, and Reilly Smith would wear “A’s.” However, throughout the course of the season and into the playoffs Pierre-Edouard Bellemare became a staple as an alternate as well.

With Garrison, Neal, Perron, and Sbisa all gone, there certainly could be some consideration to hand the captaincy over to Engelland. However, the more likely scenario is for the team to add players like Nate Schmidt, Jonathan Marchessault, Cody Eakin or even a newcomer like Paul Stastny or Nick Holden to Smith and Bellemare in the leadership group.

The Golden Knights organization, especially when it comes to symbolic things, are very much believers in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. Thus, as Western Conference Champions, don’t expect to see a “C” on any players sweater any time soon.

Although, the argument can be made that it is broke. No team since the 1972 Boston Bruins has won the Stanley Cup without a captain. The Golden Knights were three wins away from bucking that trend, but they didn’t. Personally, I’m skeptical that the lack of a “C” on a jersey was the reason, but hockey players are weird, so who knows what they believe.

4 Golden Knights In Top 100 Of Corsica Player Ratings

Corsica Hockey is one of the best advanced stats websites on the web. They’ve produced a metric that combines stats like Game Score, WAR, and others to make for what they call the “best single number representation of a player’s quality.”

727 NHL players were ranked with 24 Golden Knights making the cut. The top five are Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Alex Ovechkin.

#81 and #71 are #17 and #54 (Photo by Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have four players in the top 100 including Jonathan Marchessault (#17/#6LW), Marc-Andre Fleury (#48/#4G), William Karlsson (#54/#18C), and Reilly Smith (#64/#9RW).

The top-rated defenseman for Vegas is Colin Miller coming in at #136 followed by Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore tied at #153.

The next highest Golden Knights after the first line is Paul Stastny at #145. Erik Haula (#214), Alex Tuch (#232), and Tomas Tatar (#313) all rank outside of the top 200.

Malcolm Subban (#726) is the second to last player in the entire rankings ahead of just Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg.

Newly acquired Curtis McKenzie came in at #276, the 11th highest ranked Golden Knight. Daniel Carr (#556) also ranks above five Golden Knights skaters, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (#567), Cody Eakin (#608), Jon Merrill (#618), Ryan Reaves (#628), and William Carrier (#652). The other new player, Nick Holden, tied Deryk Engelland at #356.

For those still waiting on the blockbuster Erik Karlsson trade, the Swedish defenseman came in at #25, the third-rated defenseman behind Brent Burns and Kris Letang. Oh, and the disaster that is Bobby Ryan ranked #295, which would be good for 12th place on the Golden Knights.

Golden Knights First Line: “It Was Not Good Enough For Us”

They scored two goals, but described themselves as rusty and “not good enough.” That’s got to be a scary thought for Washington. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights top line has been one of the best in the league all season, both offensively and defensively. Not only have they been terrorizing defenses all season and into the playoffs but they’ve been incredible shutting down the opposition’s top line throughout as well.

Last night in Game 1 it was all going swimmingly for Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith early. At a point in the 2nd period, their line had a 100% Corsi For rating against 12 of the 17 skaters that they had significant time playing against. Karlsson and Smith each had a goal and the line was controlling play pretty much the entire time they were on the ice.

Then, it changed. The Vegas top line was on the ice for the next two Washington goals (Carlson and Wilson) and was no longer taking it to the Capitals. They ended the game with about a 60% Corsi For, a 0 +/- rating, and feeling like they could have been the reason if that game had slipped away.

Little rusty the 1st period. It was not good enough for us. We can’t be on the ice for two goals like we were. One goal was my fault and definitely we need to be tighter defensively and we’ll be ready for Game 2. -Jonathan Marchessault

Part of the reason for the change was the matchups they were facing. Early in the game a majority of their time was spent against the Capitals top offensive line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson, but as the game wore on the matchups became more random.

It may not seem it because of the star power on the Capitals, but the Golden Knights have the advantage between the two top lines. Jack Adams finalist Gerard Gallant has the last change in Game 2, he’d be wise to use it to get Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith on the ice as often as possible against Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Wilson.

Luckily for the Golden Knights, the mismatches created an opening for the “fourth” line who played one of its best games of the season.

Vegas’ top line vows to be better in Game 2, if they are and they play most of their minutes against Washington’s top line, the series will likely head to DC at 2-0.

Scoring First Is Great, What Vegas Does With It Is Better

If VGK jumps out ahead of Washington like they did Winnipeg, it might be another quick series. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the Western Conference finals, the team that scored the first goal of the game won all five games. Pretty simple formula. However, it was what Vegas did once they had the first lead of the game that really determined the series. The Jets tied things up in Games 3, 4, and 5, but failed to take ever over a lead. After Game 1, Vegas never allowed Winnipeg to take a lead in the series.

It definitely is a testament to great goaltending. Its something special, especially with all of the big saves. It’s a common effect when Marc has the net. -Reilly Smith

There’s no question Marc-Andre Fleury has been the difference maker for Vegas this postseason, his brilliance has made it easier for teammates do their job.

We played well defensively, our goalie was tremendous. We made the right play at the right time. Time after time the way we play, the right plays happen more often than not. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Against Winnipeg, the Golden Knights played disciplined, made quick decisions moving the puck, and capitalized on forced mistakes. In 300 minutes played against the Jets in the WCF, Vegas had the lead for an astounding 194 minutes.

Game 1: Vegas @ Winnipeg
WPG Time in Lead: 58:55
Tied: 1:05
VGK Time in Lead: 0:00

Game 2: Vegas @ Winnipeg
WPG Time in Lead: 0:00
Tied: 13:23
VGK Time in Lead: 46:37

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Cody Eakin Should Take PK Minutes From Reilly Smith In The Playoffs

Look around, you won’t find a harsher critic of Cody Eakin’s play since he’s joined the Golden Knights than me, but since Reilly Smith has been out with the wrist injury, Eakin has proven his value to a playoff team in a huge way on the penalty kill.

We always knew #21 was good on the PK, but he’s been on another level for a little while now. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights are fully healthy, they use six penalty killers, but like the forward lines and defensive pairings, they are not used equally. Since early in the year, All Star head coach Gerard Gallant has relied upon a pair Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek and another pair of Reilly Smith and William Karlsson to handle most of the load. Cody Eakin has consistently been the next man up to fill in for any of those four who are missing or to play with someone like Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, or Erik Haula to round out the six.

In the absence of Smith, Eakin has been tremendous killing penalties with William Karlsson. Last night alone he sprung Karlsson for a shorthanded goal and earlier in the game he took on two defensemen and nearly scored shorthanded himself. There are countless other examples over the past three weeks as well. Simply put, Cody Eakin has looked like the best player on the ice when Vegas is down a man for nearly a month now.

As we head towards the playoffs, I’m suggesting Gallant utilizes Eakin as his top penalty killer with Karlsson or Smith, instead of moving him down the ranks and putting even more responsibility on two of the Golden Knights’ most important offensive weapons, 19 and 71. 

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Three Star Tally

Wild Bill will always be our first star. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Wednesday night was the first time all season the Golden Knights failed to register a single player in the “three stars of the night” rankings in a home game. They’ve done it eight times in road games over the first 70 games of the season.

Now, of course, we know that the three stars really do not mean much as it’s usually a heavily biased vote for the home team, but it does give us at least somewhat of an indication of which players are making the big plays that jump off the page in games. So, here goes…

 3rd2nd1stTotalStar Points
William Karlsson40101432
Marc-Andre Fleury7291838
Reilly Smith4361328
Jonathan Marchessault315920
Erik Haula233817
David Perron7411218
Alex Tuch432916
James Neal6311015
Shea Theodore21147
Ryan Carpenter02137
Nate Schmidt22046
Oscar Dansk00226
Malcolm Subban12035
Colin Miller01125
Deryk Engelland21034
Luca Sbisa21034
Cody Eakin02024
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare11023
Brayden McNabb11023
Tomas Tatar00113
William Carrier00113
City of Las Vegas00113
Tomas Hyka20022
Maxime Lagace20022
Brad Hunt01012
Oscar Lindberg01012
Vadim Shipachyov10011

**Star Points are awarded: 3 for 1st star, 2 for 2nd star, 1 for 3rd star**

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Golden Knights Injury Updates; James Neal, Reilly Smith, Malcolm Subban, Luca Sbisa, William Carrier, Oscar Lindberg

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

James Neal
Injury: Hand/Wrist
Injured on February 26th vs. Kings

Neal has missed 10 of the last 11 games. He played in the Kings game on the road where he left after falling behind the goal, seemingly on the same hand that was injured last year in the playoffs.

He did not travel with the team on the recent five-game road trip, but was seen skating many of the days while the team was away. Neal participated in the most recent morning skate wearing a red no-contact jersey.

James is doing real good. He’s skating today. He’s not playing tonight but we’ll see him in the near future. -Gerard Gallant

Reilly Smith
Injury: Wrist/Shoulder
Injured on March 6th vs. Blue Jackets

Smith left the game after a hit in the 2nd period in Columbus. He remained on the road trip for a short time following the injury before returning to Vegas.

He has not participated in a practice since the injury but was seen putting on skates and pads to take the ice for an individual practice today.

A source indicated to SinBin.vegas that the team initially feared Smith had broken a bone in his hand that could have ended his season, but an MRI confirmed otherwise. The same source put the timeline at about two weeks from the injury following the news of no broken bones.

He is not playing tonight. Day to day. Getting better. -Gallant

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