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Best Against The Best

They are also 1-1 against these guys, the back-to-back champs, but they didn’t come close to the cut-off with their .571 points percentage. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have been masterful against the entire NHL this season, but equally as successful against the league’s elite. In fact, they’ve actually been better against the good teams than they have against the not-so-good teams.

For the purpose of making this article look as impressive as possible, we made the cut-off for a good team a .600 points percentage. Nine teams other than Vegas (.704) qualify, all are currently sitting in a playoff position.

Tampa Bay (.713)
Boston (.712)
Nashville (.689)
Winnipeg (.664)
Washington (.639)
Dallas (.625)
St. Louis (.623)
Toronto (.616)
Los Angeles (.602)

Let’s start at the top, like the very top. The Golden Knights have earned six out of eight points against Boston and Tampa Bay.

VGK vs. Teams with .700+ Points %
.750 Point Percentage
3-1-0 Record
4 Games
6 Points
2-0 vs. Tampa Bay
1-1 vs. Boston

When you add in other league contenders the Golden Knights point percentage drops a bit, but it still would qualify them as the best team in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal are still haunting Tampa, Washington, Dallas, Nashville and Winnipeg.

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VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4 (30-11-3 63 PTS) TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING 1

Golden Knights got one within the first minute from a re-direct by James Neal off a Deryk Engelland shot (Engelland’s 100th point). Vegas continued outskating the Lightning for a majority of the period and after missing a few good chances, Nate Schmidt was able to drive another one home. The Lightning power play did what it always does to make it 2-1, but an insane David Perron toe drag (see below) recovered the Vegas two goal lead into into the 3rd. The Golden Knights kept their foot on the pedal with an early 3rd period goal and then coasted to the finish line. Win number 30.

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights at Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena

  • Podcast #95: More Heavy
  • Perron’s ability to control the puck is unmatched and irreplaceable for the Golden Knights.

Three Stars
*** James Neal
** David Perron
* Marc-Andre Fleury

Days since last broken stick due to losing to VGK: 0

Steven Stamkos Unknowingly Predicts Golden Knights Success… In 2015

One day we are going to get a player to admit that this is the reason they are so good at home. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen) 

Exactly two years before the Vegas Golden Knights hosted their first home game, superstar center, and mortal enemy for the next 10 hours, Steven Stamkos was predicting their future. On October 10, 2015, Tampa’s captain joined an NHL roundtable with Sidney Crosby and Erik Karlsson. Host George Stroumboulopoulos served up easy one-timers, chatting everything from the league’s best goaltenders to Lebron James. Near the end of the discussion, the trio was asked about the NHL’s best cities to play in, and that’s when Stamstrodamus was born.

(The whole video is great, but the the moment of interest is at 7:15)

What’s the best arena to play in, if it’s not yours? -Stroumboulopoulos:

Montreal.- Crosby

Same. -Karlsson

Yeah that’s probably me too. -Stamkos

Will your answer change if there’s a team in Vegas? Stroumboulopoulos

They might have the best home record in the league. -Stamstrodamus

There you have it. Nine months before the Golden Knights were awarded to The Creator and Las Vegas, a prophet in Tampa hinted at a flu that would only effect visiting NHL teams. Not only does Vegas hold the league’s best home record, but Stamkos and the Lightning were one of the 18 teams to aid VGK’s home-ice advantage.

Yeah, that’s a crappy way to lose a hockey game. We fight back to tie the game. I don’t think anyone would’ve complained if he doesn’t call that penalty on them at the end. That’s an iffy call. Then I think he feels the need to make up for a mistake. At that point in the game, the puck’s in the corner, there’s a battle going on. I know it’s tough. I just think it was the wrong call at that time in the game.- Steven Stamkos after December 19th game at T-Mobile Arena

Tampa will try to avoid a season sweep by the Golden Knights. Heck, it could’ve been the other way around had present-day Stamkos listened to himself from 2015.

Bye Week Returning The Favor; Next Three Opponents Coming Off Bye

Coach Gerard Gallant is not a fan of the CBA mandated bye week the Golden Knights just returned from. In fact, he pretty much blamed the loss to the Oilers on the break.

Tonight was all about having five days off, for me. We weren’t sharp, we didn’t do the right things, we didn’t play our typical game. -Gallant

It’s easy to say that your team is rested and you’re ready to jump. But when you have five days from your break, it’s tough to get going. -Gallant

Where the bye week taketh, the bye week really giveth too. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the mind of the man behind the bench, the bye week took a point away from the Golden Knights.

Of the 14 teams to have played after their bye, 12 of them played each other, the other two are the Golden Knights and the Coyotes, who both played Edmonton. Both Vegas and Arizona lost.

The same trend occured last year.

As of February 21, 2017 there have been 25 teams that have completed their league mandated holiday and those teams are a staggering 7-18 (28%) in their first game back. Breaking down this unique situation even further, teams returning from their mid-season vacations on home ice are a pathetic 4-13 (23.53%). -Rob Hansen, Covers.com

Ok, now time for the good news. The Golden Knights next three opponents are ALL coming off the bye to play Vegas. Yep, Nashville’s bye ended yesterday, Tampa Bay’s ends on Wednesday, and Florida’s ends Thursday.

The Golden Knights felt fortunate to get a point out of their first game back, now they’ve got a chance to to get that point back, and then some, with three straight games in an envious position.

It’s not quite VegasFlu, but hey, ByeWeekFlu might be just as good this week.

(stick tap to @HockeyResearch8)

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4 (22-9-2 46 PTS) TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING 3

The best team in the NHL comes to Vegas. Tampa got a couple power play goals in the first, but Vegas stormed back with a pair of man-advantage goals of their own in the 2nd. 3rd period hero Erik Haula (10 3rd period goals this year) tips in another one on an early power play, but Tampa ties it up. Shea Theodore wins it with just 2.3 seconds left in regulation. Vegas wins again, back in first place. The house always wins!

Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at T-Mobile Arena.

  • Forecheck, forecheck, FORECHECK!

Three Stars
*** David Perron
** Erik Haula
* Shea Theodore

How In The World Do You Stop The Tampa Bay Lightning?

Theodore, Merrill, and the VGK defense were superb against Pittsburgh. Can they do it again to an even higher powered attack? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s a question being asked all around the league and very few have the answers. We chatted with young Golden Knights defensemen Shea Theodore and Jon Merrill to get their thoughts on shutting down Tampa’s high-scoring offense.

When you have teams that come in with strong players, you have to keep it simple and zone in on those guys. Sometimes when you give them too much respect, that’s when they’re at their most dangerous. As a d-man that’s when your gap starts to slide and you’re doing too much watching. -Shea Theodore

It’s no secret the Lightning’s top line is lethal. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov have scored 48 goals as a top unit. To compare, the Golden Knights top line has a combined 35 goals. Theodore believes the Golden Knights defense is getting comfortable with defensive challenges.

As you play more and more games you get more comfortable playing with those kind of players. For example, the game against Pittsburgh I thought me and Engo were matched against Crosby all night and we did a good job shutting him down. We tried to eliminate as many scoring chances as we could and I felt like we did a good job. -Theodore

Will Vegas defensemen change their strategy and play more conservative against Tampa?

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Nikita Gusev Still A Year Away

On the night of the Expansion Draft, the Golden Knights agreed to select Jason Garrison from the Tampa Bay Lightning. In exchange, Vegas was to be sent a 2nd round pick in 2017, which the Golden Knights eventually traded for Keegan Kolesar, a 4th round pick in next year’s draft, and a 24-year-old forward from Russia, Nikita Gusev.

Gusev has been playing in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg since 2015, and has played on the same line as Vadim Shipachyov for a majority of the time. Gusev also played in the IIHF World Championships, again on the same line as Shipachyov, where he scored seven goals and had seven assists in 10 games in route to winning a bronze medal.

But since the trade that sent his rights to Vegas, we haven’t heard much about the Golden Knights’ future plans of the left winger.

Gusev was a seventh-round pick in 2012. He is a playmaking wing who has one year left on his KHL contract with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia. Gusev has no immediate plans to return to North America, his agent, Dan Milstein, said. Yzerman said he didn’t know if Gusev ever would return. –Joe Smith, Tampa Bay Times

He has one year left on his contract in the KHL, and his agent has made it clear he would like to play in the Olympics.

That’s at least a year away, we knew they when we traded for him it might be a year away. But he came for a little bit and we think he liked what he saw, but we’ll have to revisit that next spring. -McPhee

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NMCs Causing All Sorts Of Expansion Speculation

Never before has the NHL world cared more about No Movement Clauses. The most obvious candidate to waive his NMC, Marc-Andre Fleury signed his paperwork after his third ring-fitting. Others like Dion Phaneuf were asked, and though it’s expected he declines, we may have to wait to see the lists to get the final answer.

With the buyout period looming and roster lockdown a few days away, NHL clubs are scrambling to get prepared for the Expansion Draft. However, some teams appear willing to stand pat and take their Vegas lumps.

In Florida, the first reports were that Panthers front office had asked defenseman Keith Yandle to waive his NMC. The 30-year-old signed a seven-year deal last offseason and apparently Florida was willing to chance him in expansion. Updated reports now confirm Yandle was never asked and will not be exposed. Out guess, Yandle was asked, politely declined, and then the team covered his back by saying they never asked.

Either way, Yandle’s exposure would’ve created an interesting dilemma. Had the Golden Knights selected the All-Star defenseman they could’ve scored big in a flip. Established teams are desperate for blueliners and a rock like Yandle would draw plenty of interest. Or, with the long term deal, would the Golden Knights have thought to keep him and make him part of their “Cup in 6” plans.

Other notable players with NMC’s that were not asked to waive; Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Andrew Ladd, Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, David Backes.

A lot of things are out of my control right now. I don’t know what other teams are discussing with regard to expansion and Vegas. I know what I’d like to do, but we’ll see how it plays out. -Steve Yzerman, Tampa GM

In Tampa, despite speculation, the Lightning did not ask Ryan Callahan to waive his NMC. Reports are GM Steve Yzerman reached out to the Golden Knights and is interested in protecting more players in exchange for picks. The Lightning are also rumored to be shopping stud Jonathon Drouin possibly for a defenseman in Anaheim or Minnesota. Opposing GM’s are calling McPhee but they’re texting one another as well. But even if teams make offers to the Wild it doesn’t mean they’ll agree to a deal prior to the roster lockdown.

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Golden Knights Expansion Trade Rumor Roundup

In less than a week George McPhee will finally have the protection lists in his hands and the Golden Knights will be on the 72 hour Expansion Draft clock. Until then, the hockey world will be buzzing about all the trades that are being discussed in the lead up. It’s time we take a moment to round em all up into one post, and try to make sense of what’s set to go down on June 21st.

Before we start though, we need to clarify something. While McPhee is making calls and probably coming to agreements, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman confirmed no deals will be made official, or even be announced, prior to June 21st. So, tread carefully out there, everyone’s trying to make a name for themselves.

Chicago Blackhawks – The chatter with Chicago started in late May from a pair of tweets from TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

The main question is which way the picks would be going, if any are involved. Chicago has three defensemen with NMCs, so van Riemsdyk would have to be exposed unless one of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, or Niklas Hjalmarsson waives their NMC, and/or is traded. So, in theory, Vegas would be getting picks in exchange for taking on Marcus Kruger‘s salary, and simply select van Riemsdyk in the Expansion Draft.

Many news outlets, including most notably a news anchor from Kansas City (why?), have reported that Kruger to Vegas is done. The most common return is a 3rd round pick from Chicago. But there’s likely another piece to the puzzle here that’s missing. Whether that’s Chicago “moving a core player” as reported by WSCR’s Jay Zawaski, or Kruger being flipped through Vegas is yet to be seen. Either way, it’s highly probable McPhee makes a deal (or two) with Chicago, but the details out there currently, are likely not telling the whole story.

Columbus Blue Jackets – In Elliotte Friedman’s “30 thoughts” column he mentions murmurs of trade discussions here. The name mentioned is David Clarkson, who is Expansion Draft exempt due to a long term injury. Clarkson’s back will likely keep him off the ice in 2017-18 and could be career ending, however, his cap hit remains at $5.25 million through 2020 (three more seasons). Freidman mentions the 24th overall pick as well as “some young forwards at the AHL level” as possible compensation for Clarkson’s contract. Once again, the details are fuzzy because this would occur outside the parameters of the Expansion Draft. Vegas would still have to select a player from Columbus, so there’s another piece in the mix. Joonas Korpisalo just signed a team-friendly deal, is he involved? Vegas would get rewarded handsomely for taking Clarkson off Columbus’ hands, but there still has to be an Expansion pick, so more is certainly to come on this one.

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Impact Of Ben Bishop’s Injury On Expansion And Las Vegas

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop had been on an absolute tear and was a huge reason why the Bolts find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals. That all changed in a moment when Bishop had to be stretchered off the ice with an apparent left leg injury. 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy will now be forced to step in.

With the proposed Expansion Draft rules allowing for teams to only protect one goalie, any news involving solid goalies is significant to Las Vegas.

Bishop has one year left on his contract which will leave him as an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2017-18 season, the expected inaugural season in Vegas.

With Vasilevskiy on the roster and the Expansion Draft looming it’s possible the Bolts could simply let Bishop walk. But based on Bishop’s play throughout the season and in the playoffs it is likely the Lightning would prefer to re-sign him at the end of this year in order to keep him from hitting the free market the following season.

Now with Bishop sidelined, Tampa Bay, and maybe more importantly, the rest of the NHL will have an opportunity to take a look at Vasilevskiy in the most pressure packed games hockey has to offer.

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