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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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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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The Play That Beat The Ducks

The play of the game. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Unlike baseball where there’s one pitch or football where there’s one play, hockey is not a game that is often decided, or even swung, by an individual moment in a game. However, during the game against Anaheim, Tomas Nosek and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare combined to make a play that flipped the course of that game and if all goes well, could end up changing the course of the season.

It came late in a somewhat sloppily played first period. The Golden Knights had taken a penalty and appeared like they could be headed for the all too familiar fate of falling behind early. The penalty kill begins with Bellemare winning the draw,  Brayden McNabb clears the puck, and the Golden Knights stop the first entry. But then, the Ducks maintain possession for 20 more seconds before setting up a shot from the high slot. It’s wired, Bellemare courageously blocks it, he then finds it first and springs Nosek into open ice. Here, give it a watch.

 

Nosek picks up the puck and drives directly toward the goal drawing a penalty, thus killing off the current penalty and earning Vegas a power play. But it’s not just the block and the breakaway, it’s when it happened in the shift. Penalty kill shifts are meant to be as short as possible, :20-:30 is great for forwards. Once you can safely change, you are supposed to do it. The normal play there would have been to send the puck down and get off the ice, but Nosek dug deep into his gas tank, already :50 seconds into the shift, and went straight to the net. 

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TOMAS NOSEK (F) SIGNS 1 YEAR EXTENSION AT $962,500

VGK’s Secret, Semi-Secret, And Not-So-Secret Weapons; They’re All Named Tomas

One was signed before the Expansion Draft, another was selected in the Expansion Draft, and the third was acquired at the trade deadline. Tomas Hyka, Tomas Nosek, and Tomas Tatar combined to play 97 games for the Golden Knights in 2017-18 in which they scored 12 goals and tallied 12 assists.

Aside from a few magical moments from Nosek and a couple solid postseason efforts from Tatar, the trio of Tomases were nothing but role players for the Golden Knights in their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In 2018-19, that should change.

By letting David Perron and James Neal leave via free agency and signing just one NHL-caliber forward, George McPhee has signaled that he believes the team has enough fire-power already within the organization to pick up the 90 points he let walk out the door.

That’s where the Tomases come in. All three should have expanded roles as Tatar is expected to move up the depth chart to become a second line winger, Nosek has a legitimate shot at making his way onto the third (or even second) line and any production out of Hyka would be a bonus compared to the Brendan Leipsic era.

More of this would be good. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Tatar is a perennial 20 goal scorer but never hit his stride after coming over from Detroit at the deadline. He’s almost certainly going to be placed in a more offensive role, likely playing with some combination of Erik Haula, Paul Stastny, and Alex Tuch. Tatar posted a 94.0 PDO in his 20 game stint with the Golden Knights, a full five points below his career average, and the worst on-ice shooting percentage for and on-ice shooting percentage against numbers of his career. These are heavy indicators that as poor as Tatar appeared, it’s probable he’ll bounce back. (If you forgot what PDO is, click here) He’s the not-so-secret weapon. A weapon the Golden Knights can’t afford to have struggle again.

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Arbitration For Golden Knights: Good? Bad? Neither?

All three of… (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights made “news” yesterday by confirming William Karlsson, Colin Miller, and Tomas Nosek have all filed for arbitration. In reality, this isn’t really news at all. However, based on the wide range of reactions we received on Twitter, Facebook, and face-to-face, it feels like a good time to explain how this all works and why the three Golden Knights filing for arbitration is not a good or bad thing for either the player or the team.

In the NHL, when a player reaches the end of a contract they are placed into one of three categories.

  1. Unrestricted free agent (UFA)
    • Any player 27 years old or older
    • Any player with 7 seasons in the NHL
  2. Restricted free agent with arbitration rights (RFA)
    • Younger than 27 years old
    • Meets experience requirement based on age when signed first contract. (10 NHL or AHL games = 1 year)
      • 24-27 years old when signed = 1 year of NHL experience
      • 22-23 years old when signed = 2 years of NHL experience
      • 21 years old when signed = 3 years of NHL experience
      • 18-20 years old when signed = 4 years of NHL experience
  3. Restricted free agent (RFA)

James Neal, David Perron, Luca Sbisa, and Ryan Reaves were all older than 27, so they all became UFA’s.

William Karlsson -20 y/o when signed + 5 years experience = RFA w/ arb
Colin Miller -20 y/o when signed + 5 years experience = RFA w/ arb
Tomas Nosek -22 y/o when signed + 4 years experience = RFA w/ arb
Shea Theodore -20 y/o when signed + 3 years experience = RFA
William Carrier – 20 y/o when signed + 3 years experience = RFA

…these guys scored pretty… (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

That brings us to the difference between the three categories. In short, the difference is how much freedom a player has to negotiate.

An unrestricted free agent (UFA), as the name suggests, has no restrictions. He can solicit offers from all teams and can sign with whichever one he pleases.

A restricted free agent (RFA) on the other hand can only negotiate with his current team and is not free to leave for a new team. If the team wants to retain the player, he will be extended a “qualifying offer” and must sign it if he would like to remain in the NHL. If the team does not extend the qualifying offer he then becomes a UFA and is free to sign with any team.

(The Golden Knights offered qualifying offers to all of their RFAs. William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek, William Carrier, Colin Miller, Shea Theodore, Teemu Pulkkinen, Philip Holm, Oscar Dansk)

An RFA with arbitration rights has one more step in leveraging a better contract. Rather than being forced to sign the qualifying offer, he can choose to file for arbitration. In other words, he can ask for a raise.

So, let’s go through the steps of the process for RFA’s without arbitration rights, like Theodore and Carrier.

  • Step 1: Team decides if they want to retain each player
    • If yes: Extend qualifying offer
    • If no: Do not extend qualifying offer (Player is released)
  • Step 2: Player signs qualifying offer

That’s it. The player has no negotiating power and is essentially stuck signing the offer. The dollar value of a qualifying offer is determined by the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The team hands the player a contract and their either sign it or leave the NHL.

The process for RFA’s with arbitration rights, like Karlsson, Miller, and Nosek adds one more step, giving the player that bit of negotiating power. Rather than being forced to sign the qualifying offer, the player can file for arbitration. Arbitration means both sides will present how much they believe the player is worth and then a third party will decide the contract the team and player will sign. Of course, the player must remain with their original team, so the negotiating power is significantly less than that of a UFA who can negotiate with all teams.

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Nosek And Theodore Talk About The Goal That Won Game 1

Tomas Nosek has a knack for the big goal. He scored the 1st goal in T-Mobile Arena history too. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Tomas Nosek’s Game 1 winning goal was a Stanley Cup moment we’ll see for years to come. The men behind the tiebreaker were understandably laughing, smiling and in quite the jovial mood the following day.

In those type of games you just want to get pucks on the net and create a rebound. He made a good play popping out and a lane just kinda opened right up, and I found it. -Shea Theodore

Theodore’s first thought was to shoot the puck but hesitated because his aim was off earlier in the game.

A couple of plays earlier I tried walking in and had a terrible shot that missed the net. You go through ups and downs throughout games. -Theodore

Nosek created open space off to the side of the net, allowing Theodore to make a beautiful pass.

At this time of the year no shot is a bad shot. You want to get pucks to the net and create rebounds. You want to create some havoc around there. -Theodore

The 25-year-old Czech showed immense emotions in Game 1, something Golden Knights fans don’t often see from #92. At one point in the game, Nosek skated back to the bench and repeatedly slammed his stick on the boards. It was clear he was frustrated about something.

It was probably after the Oshie hit. There’s a lot of emotions in a game and sometimes you need relief a little bit. -Tomas Nosek

Is that why Nosek erupted in celebration after scoring his game-winning goal?

Maybe, yeah. It’s the Stanley Cup Final, you don’t get a chance to play in it every day. When you score a goal, and you help your team win a game. It’s perfect. -Nosek

Both players are relishing the moment of playing on the NHL’s biggest stage. They’re feeling confident and ready to make an impact in Game 2. Nosek and Theodore are normally reserved on the ice, so fans should appreciate the emotions in the Stanley Cup Finals. Because it’s working.

Stanley Cup Final Game 1, Only In Vegas

It was always going to be special, just how special though was yet to be seen. The opening game of the Stanley Cup Final, in Las Vegas, with an expansion team taking the ice. The stage was massive and the expectation was for something never seen before.

This site was created to follow a hockey team, one that just won a game in the Stanley Cup Final, so we kind of have to start with the actual hockey.  Thus, we’ll go at it backwards, beginning with the empty netter to seal the win and ending with some combination of Lil Jon, Travis Barker, Lee Greenwood.

William Karlsson scored, but his line tallied an uncharacteristic 0 +/- rating. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights hockey team cannot be defined in one way like many often attempt to, and on the biggest stage the sport has to offer, they proved it once again.  Most of this postseason it’s been about Marc-Andre Fleury’s dominance between the pipes, yet tonight was far from his best. The Golden Knight defense has been carrying the torch slowing down the potent Jets and Sharks and allowing the Kings virtually nothing, yet tonight, they were a kind of a mess. The top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith can usually be leaned on to dominate stretches of the game, yet tonight they were hot and cold.

Normally when plans A, B, and C go by the wayside a team is sunk Not the Golden Knights because they have narratives for days. Tonight’s is not a new one at all, it’s one that’s followed them all year and is constantly referenced even when not on display in a game. Tonight was about depth.

It’s great when you see those guys get rewarded. They got three huge goals for us tonight. -Gerard Gallant

After playing a series in which there were zero lead changes in five games, the Golden Knights and Capitals Game 1 saw four, the most in the history of a Stanley Cup Final game. The last one was because of a trio of unanswered goals from none other than Ryan Reaves and Tomas Nosek, who scored two.

Sometimes we can’t create a lot of offense, tonight somehow it bounced right for us. It’s not really magical play we are doing, there’s not really a crazy recipe. We are just trying to outwork who we are playing against and tonight we got rewarded. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

The storylines are always different, but kinds of remain the same. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There are so many different weapons in the Golden Knights arsenal. If it’s not Fleury, it’s the defense. If it’s not the defense, it’s the top line. If it’s not the top line, it’s the depth players. If it’s not the depth players it’s luck or bounces or opportunity or something completely else. In the end, no matter the path, it usually results in the same thing, a win.

But the night was not just about the on-ice product, it was everything. Gladys Knight, Criss Angel, Lee Greenwood, Lil Jon, and of course Michael Buffer. Like the Expansion Draft with the players, it didn’t all make sense, no one really knew how or if it would all fit, but it did.

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