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Fourth Line Could Be Key For Both Teams In First Round

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Whenever you attempt to analyze any playoff series in any sport, you’re going to be looking for certain intangibles, the little things that could make the difference between winning and losing.

As the Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks prepare to renew acquaintances in the postseason beginning Wednesday at the SAP Center, this time in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there’s a couple of words to ponder:

One is “depth.”

The other is “balance.”

Both teams have sufficient quantities of each. The Sharks have managed to compete without Erik Karlsson, their all-star defenseman, for a couple of stretches this season. But he’s back and his presence will undoubtedly be felt.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

San Jose also has the ability to hurt you with all four of its lines. And with that in mind, we are examining the bottom-six depth of both teams’ forwards and the fourth line in particular.

Interestingly, there are a few similarities. The Knights have used different wingers on the left side to work with center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and right wing Ryan Reaves. And whether it has been Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier or Tomas Nosek, the Vegas fourth line hardly misses a beat.

I think everyone’s comfortable with each other. We talk on the ice and on the bench and everyone is on the same page. -Bellemare

The Sharks have also used different people on their fourth line. According to our good friend Sheng Peng who covers the Sharks for FearTheFin.com, Peter DeBoer has used a mix of Barclay Goodrow, Melker Karlsson, Micheal Haley and have also used Joonas Donskoi, Lukas Radil and Dylan Gambrell though it’s doubtful the last two will see action. If Timo Meier’s injured left wrist has improved enough for him to play, he’s likely to be in the mix as well.

Like Gerard Gallant, DeBoer is blessed with some options for his fourth line. For Gallant, he’ll let the players decide who plays.

“‘ve always said that — the players determine who plays, not the coach. Whoever is playing the best will be in the lineup. -Gallant

That’s not going to be as easy as it sounds. Carpenter has played very well. Same for Nosek. Carrier has been his usual self since he came back a couple of weeks ago, throwing his body around and using his speed to help on the forecheck.

We have a great group of guys. Nobody’s going to complain about who plays and who doesn’t. It’s all about winning. -Carpenter.

Of course, Reaves is in the spotlight. When the two teams met on March 30 at SAP Center, he was right in the middle of everything. He will be Public Enemy No. 1 with the Sharks’ fans. But if you think he’s going to be dropping the gloves every game, guess again.

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The Perfect Golden Knights Lineup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As we head towards the playoffs the composition of the Golden Knights “perfect” lineup is going to become a major topic of discussion. Assuming full health, and it appears the Golden Knights should have it barring any new injuries, the top six should be locked in as it was prior to Max Pacioretty’s injury. It looks like this:

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone

The next obvious pair of pieces are on the third line. Those are center Cody Eakin and right-wing Alex Tuch. Meaning the lineup now looks like this:

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone
XXX-Eakin-Tuch

The final obvious piece is the fourth line center, that’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Thus, we’ve got this:

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone
XXX-Eakin-Tuch
XXX-Bellemare-XXX

That leaves six players to fill just three spots. Those players are Brandon Pirri, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, and Valentin Zykov.

To me, because there are two slots open on one line and only one on the other, the focus should be on creating the best fourth line possible and then using the leftover player to fill out what already should be a promising line of Eakin and Tuch.

Because the Golden Knights prefer to roster a fairly standard fourth line (meaning it’s much more of a checking/possession/don’t give up goals line) Pirri and Zykov aren’t great fits. They’ll come back into play when we consider the final piece on the third line.

Rather than give my opinion on how it should line up, I’d rather use numbers. So, using NaturalStatTrick.com’s “Line Tool,” I’ve gone through each potential option to see how they’ve performed as a trio when together.

LineTOIGFGACorsi %SC%PDO
40/41/7576:033365.2265.71.965
40/41/289:011257.1457.14.914
40/41/925:250062.5040.001.00
92/41/75123:033453.7155.56.979
92/41/75 (17-18)85:461046.2740.981.033
92/41/2818:301068.4270.001.067
92/41/28 (17-18)151:076550.0051.411.025
28/41/75344:3410955.4657.140.993

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Which Players Do The Golden Knights Miss Most (And Least) When They Are Out

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On December 13th, 2017 the Golden Knights claimed Ryan Carpenter on waivers from the San Jose Sharks. It took him almost a month, until January 5th to finally get in his first game. Since, he’s become a staple in Gerard Gallant’s lineup… much to the chagrin of many in the fan base.

Carpenter has just 13 points in 50 games this season and is a -8 in the plus/minus category. He’s among the worst on the team in just about every statistical category, yet when asked Gallant never has anything but good things to say about #40.

Carpenter is the same for me every night, pretty much. He is a solid player, he doesn’t make many mistakes. He does the right thing with the puck all the time, so we had very few turnovers tonight and he is a part of that. He did a good job on our penalty kill, so really liked his game -Gallant

He is one of the best in giveaways, just coughing the puck up 15 times in 630 minutes on the ice, and there’s no question he’s a strong penalty killer.

But let me throw another group of numbers into the mix. Whether it’s related to Carpenter or not, the Golden Knights are miserable without him. They are a pathetic 2-11-1 without Carpenter in the lineup and score just 2.21 goals while allowing 3.57 when he’s in the press box.

Here is a breakdown of all 19 players who are currently on the roster that have missed games. The numbers shown are how the Golden Knights perform without the designated player.

 RecordPts%GF/GGAGF%
Bellemare1-0-01.002.001.0066.7
Carpenter2-11-1.1792.213.5738.3
Carrier7-8-1.4692.693.0646.7
Eakin1-3-0.2502.003.2538.1
Haula27-18-4.5923.162.8652.5
Lindberg15-12-2.5522.862.5952.5
Nosek6-3-0.6673.782.8956.7
Pacioretty8-2-3.7313.312.5456.6
Reaves1-0-01.004.003.0057.1
Smith3-4-0.4293.003.0050.0
Stastny17-12-1.5833.102.7752.8
Tuch4-4-0.5002.252.6346.2
Pirri2-1-0.6673.672.6757.9
Zykov7-7-1.5002.933.1348.4
Engelland4-2-1.6433.432.7155.8
Holden4-7-0.3642.553.1844.4
Merrill14-6-2.6823.552.6856.9
Schmidt8-11-1.4252.502.9046.3
Theodore1-0-01.003.002.0060.0

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Gallant Happy With Third Line; “Want Them To Keep Doing What They Are Doing”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the trade deadline fast approaching, the buzz around the Golden Knights is almost squarely focused on the third line. It’s a line with only one stable piece, the center, Cody Eakin, and filled with imperfect wingers such as Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter, and Oscar Lindberg.

Most, including all three who write on this website, believe for the Golden Knights to reach the top of the mountain, something needs to change with that line. Whether it’s an addition from within, a piece added at the deadline, or reinforcements from the current top six, here at SinBin.vegas, we see the third line as the primary weakness for the Golden Knights.

The head coach, who happens to be the reigning Jack Adams award winner, does not agree.

I want them to keep doing what they are doing. People make a big deal of it that supposedly they don’t score enough. I don’t. We’ve got guys who can put the puck in the back of the net. Those guys have to come out and play their roles. I love a lot about our hockey team, I’m not too concerned at all. -Gerard Gallant

Gallant, speaking on the VGK Insider Show with Frank Harnish and Ryan The Hockey Guy on Fox Sports 98.9 FM, says he thinks his team is just fine offensively, even with the third line as currently constructed.

Well you know what, I think people overreact a little bit saying ‘oh this line needs to be better’ or ‘you’ve got to make that line better.’

I’m not worried about scoring. I know we’ve got the scoring in there. I’m worried about team chemistry and making sure we’ve got the right players playing at the right time. -Gallant

In fact, he went on to make an even bolder statement, declaring this year’s team as good as last year’s.

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What Should/Will The Golden Knights Do With Brandon Pirri And Their Roster Crunch In The Coming Weeks?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The emergence of scoring wizard Brandon Pirri, coupled with injuries to Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty, and the waiver claim of Valentin Zykov has left the Golden Knights in a roster pickle, with 25 players and only 23 available spots.

There are a few questions on just about every Golden Knights fan’s mind and we’ll attempt to answer every single one in this article. Read on.

The Facts

As of this moment, the Golden Knights roster stands at 23 with Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty on IR.

Pacioretty skated with the team in practice yesterday, is expected to do so again, and will likely play either tomorrow or Sunday. Miller skated before practice yesterday, will likely do so again today, and shouldn’t be much more than a week or so away from making his return to the Golden Knights lineup.

Valentin Zykov was claimed on waivers from the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Per NHL rules, if the Golden Knights want to keep Zykov, he must remain on the NHL roster for the remainder of the season.

Brandon Pirri has scored six goals in seven games with the Golden Knights and has played on the 2nd line with Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny in all seven games. Per NHL rules, Pirri is allowed to be sent back to the AHL without clearing waivers if he does not play in 10 games OR is on the active roster for fewer than 30 days. Thus, if he plays three more games or is on the roster for another 15 days, he would have to once again clear waivers to be sent back to the AHL.

Through 43 games, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard-Bellemare, Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves are the only forwards on the roster to have been scratched by Gerard Gallant without being on IR. Reaves, Pacioretty, and Bellemare were each scratched once and they all are believed to be injury or family/medical related. Carpenter has been scratched three times, Nosek has been scratched four times, and Lindberg has been scratched 23 times. However, in the past six games that Gallant has had to choose two of those three, he has scratched each one of them two times. The most recent player to be scratched was Nosek.

Reading Into It

I was specifically warned against doing this, but what’s the point of the Internet if not to do things people tell you not to and make them angry (Sorry, I’m not sorry Turk).

Let’s start with Zykov as he’s the biggest unknown of all of this. The Golden Knights could instantly clear one spot on their roster by immediately putting Zykov back on waivers. That would allow either Pacioretty or Miller to come off IR and the roster remain at 23.

However, Gallant made a comment in a recent press conference that he started watching film on Zykov “the first time he went on waivers” which indicates that Vegas may have wanted him originally. They did not have priority so he went to Edmonton, then when he hit waivers again, Vegas claimed him and got him. Thus, it makes sense that this is not a short-term rental that won’t be given a chance, but instead that McPhee/Gallant see something they like and they want to give him a shot.

He’s expected to finally make it into the country today after having some immigration issues. He’ll probably practice a few times with the team before getting in a game, but if he remains on the roster when Pacioretty comes back, it should be expected that he gets at least some game action with the Golden Knights.

So, let’s say we expect him to stay, at least for a little while. When Pacioretty comes off IR someone is going to have to be taken off the roster to comply to the 23 man limit.

The easiest option would be for another injured player to be placed on IR. At the moment, the Golden Knights do not have any other players we believe to be injured. In January of last season, when VGK was in a similar bind, Jon Merrill was placed on IR with what was described as an “undisclosed injury,” to make room for Luca Sbisa who came off IR. Clearly, it is against the rules to declare a player that is not injured, injured, however, don’t be completely stunned if there’s a surprise injury that we were unaware of that leads to an IR stint which opens a roster spot for Pacioretty.

If that were not to happen, then McPhee would have to choose one player to be sent back to Chicago. The most likely options are the three forwards previously mentioned (Carpenter, Lindberg, or Nosek), one of the commonly scratched defensemen (Merrill or Hunt) or Brandon Pirri. Before we move on, let’s address Pirri.

Can you really send Pirri back to the AHL?

The short answer is yes, they absolutely can, and the reason is not that he’s not good enough to be on this team. The main reason is that if he doesn’t hit that 10th game, he’s the only guy on the roster (aside from Tuch and we know that’s not happening) that can go to the AHL without risk of being lost on waivers.

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Golden Knights Quick Hitters

We promise something new on SinBin.vegas every day of the year (except Sundays) no matter whether the team is on the ice or it’s the middle of summer. Normally we pick one topic and throw everything we can possibly jam into one article at you and call it a day, but today we’re going to change it up a bit. Nothing really warranted a full story, so instead, we present you with “quick hitters.”

 Single Game Tickets On Sale Today

If you are following @GoldenKnights on Twitter, you’re probably already aware of this as they’ve found about 47 different creative ways to remind you, but if not, single game VGK seats go on sale at noon today.

Here’s the link to get tickets.

McPhee Stays Unbiased During Draft

With the 135th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Golden Knights selected Brandon Kruse from Bowling Green State University. BGSU just so happens to be GM George McPhee’s alma mater, however, in an interview with FloHockey.tv, he says that had no impact on his decision to draft Kruse.

It’s a coincidence. I leave our drafting up to our scouts. I’m happy that they drafted him because he’s a terrific player, and I’m glad that they weren’t influenced by me; there’s no bias involved, they took the best player available, who happened to play at Bowling Green. I’m excited that it provides another reason to get to Bowling Green this year and watch them play. -McPhee

100 Point Projection

The creator of Corsica.hockey released a projection for every team and had the Golden Knights once again eclipsing the century mark.

This model is widely regarded as one of the most accurate out there. Unlike most who had the Golden Knights in the 60’s or 70’s last season, Perry projected Vegas at 82, one of the highest we found. Hopefully, he’s 25 points short again. 

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Gallant Pulls Perfect Strings To Once Again Unleash The Big Game Golden Knights

A few moves by Gallant and all of a sudden the Golden Knights looked themselves again for the biggest game of the year. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Individual awards in hockey are earned in the regular season. That’s why Gerard Gallant already has the Jack Adams Award sealed up. However, heading into Game 5, the soon-to-be Coach of the Year made some big boy decisions, and boy did they pay off for his Golden Knights.

Gallant inserted three players into his lineup, two of which hadn’t seen the ice in the playoffs, and made a line swap in an attempt to jump-start the 2nd and 3rd lines. 60 minutes of hockey later, and if there was a Coach of the Playoffs award, Gallant’s name could begin to be engraved on that one too.

Just some hungry guys ready to play and I wanted competitive guys in there playing tonight. When you lose a game sometimes you go through with your coaching staff and look around and say Lindberg has been working really good in practice, Carpenter has been a solid player for us all year long and he missed a couple of games, and Sbisa was due to get back in our lineup sooner or later. I thought all of them performed really well tonight and it was a good night for them. -Gerard Gallant

The additions to the lineup and the move to switch David Perron and Alex Tuch were some of the biggest reasons the Golden Knights took the 3-2 lead in the series.

Tuch was unbelievable. Lindy first game of the playoffs, wow, he was great too. Carpy on the 4th line was a big boost. He was all over the ice. -David Perron

Tuch scored twice. Lindberg and Carpenter each got assists, and Perron looked like himself for the first time during the playoffs netting two assists and creating a ton more chances.

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Major Lineup Shuffling Furthers 1st Period Importance

Game 4 was the first time in the eight-game playoff history of the Golden Knights where they were severely outplayed. It ended as a 4-0 beatdown and the Sharks had evened the series.

In response, Jack Adams finalist Gerard Gallant appears to be making a host of lineup changes. Based on morning skate, it seems Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, and Luca Sbisa will be placed into the lineup, while Tomas Tatar, Tomas Nosek, and Jon Merrill will all come out.

Last year, Lindberg was tremendous in the playoffs. If he does it tonight, Gallant is going to look like a genius. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This will be the first game the Golden Knights will be without Nosek since February 11th, and just the 3rd game all year in which Nosek will be a healthy scratch. Oddly enough, the last time Gallant chose to scratch Nosek it was a 5-4 overtime win against the Sharks on November 24th.

If Sbisa returns, it will be his first game action since February 27th. Lindberg would also be making his Vegas playoff debut having been out since the final game of the regular season on April 7th

You do what you have to do. You put your best lineup in that you think gives you the best chance to win that evening. We’ve done it all year, guys come in and play different spots and play different roles, it’s all you can do. You go with your decision, you talk to your coaches, and you do the best you can. -Gerard Gallant

The changes magnify the 1st period, however. With multiple players who have been out for over a month returning to the lineup and potential changes to three of the four forward lines (see below), the Golden Knights are vulnerable early. It often takes players a bit of time to get back into the flow after missing games, but Vegas can’t afford to fall into a hole.

Throughout this entire season, when the Golden Knights have really needed a game, they’ve usually gotten it. But beyond that, they’ve almost always started out those games well. That was the case the last time they had to “flip the switch” back on going from a disastrous loss in Calgary to the playoff opener, but the time before, against the Flames at home, it took a period or so to really get going.

This team has it in them to play a good game tonight, no one is debating that. They just have to do it right away. They can’t play anything but their best from the moment the puck is dropped, and that’s what makes the lineup changes concerning. The Golden Knights have home-ice advantage in a best of three series, now they have to take advantage of it, and they can’t let cold legs and unfamiliarity get in the way.

Projected Game 5 Lineup

Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault
Perron-Haula-Neal
Lindberg-Eakin-Tuch
Carpenter-Bellemare-Carrier

Schmidt-McNabb
Theodore-Engelland
Sbisa-Miller

12th Forward

He was added to give the Golden Knights depth for the playoffs, now that they are here, will he even play? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Due to the string of injuries down the stretch and a slew of maintenance days over the final week, the All Star head coach Gerard Gallant has never had a full complement of players in which to choose his lineup. However, as the team prepares for a first round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings, it appears the Golden Knights have just about everyone healthy, which means choices for Gallant.

The top six is almost a guarantee to be set as it has for much of the season. A first line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, and a second line of Erik Haula, James Neal, and David Perron.

Using our judgment here at SinBin.vegas, we believe Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Tomas Nosek are also all guarantees to be in the lineup come Game 1. That leaves two spaces open that need to be filled with a group of 5 players. Those players are Tomas Tatar, Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Ryan Reaves, and Oscar Lindberg needing to fill roles as third and fourth line wingers.

At the trade deadline, Geroge McPhee added Tomas Tatar to be the third line winger with Eakin and Tuch. Due to the injuries, he has bounced around lines and his play has never quite lived up to what was to be expected of him. However, now that the playoffs are here and the top six are all expected to be back, Tatar will almost certainly find his way into the position he was brought to play in and draw the start against the Kings.

That leaves us with four guys to fill one vital role for the Golden Knights, fourth line winger. On the other 11 forwards, we’ve got a pretty strong idea, on this one, we’re clueless as to which way Gallant will go. So, we’ve put together a list of pros and cons for each of the potential option and then took our stabs at who each of us believes will draw into the lineup on Wednesday.

Ryan Reaves
36 Playoff games
(1 goal, -1, 7:56 ATOI, 23 PIM)

Pros: We all know what Reaves brings to the ice. Love it or hate it, he can be effective. Over his career, he dressed for 36 of 58 playoff games his teams played in. Last season, he played in all 11 games adding 42 hits, nine blocks and eight penalty minutes. Reaves was brought in just in time for the home and home with LA. Possibly a sign that Gallant could decide to go with Reaves in the first round.

Cons: Lack of speed, finishing ability, and potential to slow down transition game. The Golden Knights high tempo could earn Reaves a scratch or little TOI. His forechecking ability has led to penalties, specifically in the two games in which he played for the Golden Knights against the Kings. He’s considered a playoff type player, but his career record in the playoffs is 15-21.

Oscar Lindberg
14 Playoff games
(3 goals, 4 points, 52.6 FO%, 10:27 ATOI)

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Goals Coming From Unlikely Places During James Neal’s Absence

After last night’s victory in Philadelphia, the Golden Knights are 6-4-0 without 40-point producing forward James Neal. At times during the 10-game intermittent stretch, Vegas has struggled to put the puck in the net. For instance, the Golden Knights have been shutout or held to one goal nine games this season, three of them have been in Neal’s absence.

Carpy Deuces chipped in with a big one last night. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Without Neal, the Golden Knights have scored 31 goals in those 10 games. Forwards Alex Tuch, Ryan Carpenter and Cody Eakin stepped up offensively for Vegas. Plus, all three Tomas’s lit the lamp, and the blue line added some help on the scoreboard as well over this span.

VGK “Bottom-6″/Defenseman Goals During Neal’s Absence

02/19: Lost 2-0 vs. Anaheim

02/21: Won 7-3 vs. Calgary
Goals by Ryan Carpenter, Alex Tuch, Luca Sbisa, Tomas Nosek, Cody Eakin

02/23: Won 6-3 vs. Vancouver
Goals by Tomas Hyka, Tomas Nosek

02/27: Lost 4-1 vs. LA

03/02: Lost 5-4 vs. Ottawa
Goals by Colin Miller, Carpenter

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