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Splitting Up The Second Line

Last week on the SinBin.vegas podcast, the Golden Knights second line combination scenarios were a big focus. As it currently stands, it appears the Golden Knights have seven forwards that can fill top the six roles. Of course, messing with the top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith is foolish, so that leaves Erik Haula, Paul Stastny, Alex Tuch and Tomas Tatar to fill three spots.

10 more goals from Tuch changes the entire outlook of the changed VGK made in the offseason. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Unless, as we discussed, Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant chooses a more balanced attack by splitting the four into pairs of two rather than a full line and a leftover. That would leave an open spot on both the second and third lines. Possibly, the distribution of points would create more offense throughout the entire lineup while not sacrificing the offensive talents of one of these four by sticking them on a defensive-minded line.

Let’s put it to the test statistically. To do so, we’ll start by comparing possible combinations of 2nd lines using three of the four available players and compare it to that of the line of David Perron, James Neal, and Haula.

The Perron, Neal, and Haula line produced 70 goals, 95 assists, and 165 points while posting a combined 2.8 defensive point shares.

We used last year’s stats to come up with combined line totals for each of the four potential lines. Each line is named by which player is missing, so “w/o Haula” means a line of Tuch, Tatar, and Stastny.

LineGoalsAssistsPointsDPS
w/o Haula51731244
w/o Tatar60851344.4
w/o Tuch65771313.9
w/o Stastny64621153.3

Before you go scrolling back and forth trying to figure out the difference between each line and that of Perron, Neal, and Haula, we did the math for you.

LineGoalsAssistsPointsDPS
w/o Haula-19-22-411.2
w/o Tatar-10-10-311.6
w/o Tuch-5-18-341.1
w/o Stastny-6-33-500.5

Unsurprisingly, the numbers come up way short offensively. Defensively, however, any of the four options would be better. The biggest concern though is the play of the leftover player. Could Tuch, Haula, Tatar, or Stastny thrive on a line with players like Cody Eakin, Ryan Carpenter, Daniel Carr, or Tomas Hyka? That’s yet to be seen, but it’s also why the idea of splitting the four high-end forwards came up.

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Stastny Mentions Tuch And Haula When Asked About Potential Linemates

The number one storyline (maybe number two behind Theodore’s contract) heading into the 2018-19 season is the mystery behind the third center spot. With the signing of center Paul Stastny it’s assumed either Erik Haula or Cody Eakin will no longer man the middle of the ice for the Golden Knights.

Haula has said in the past that he “obviously likes playing in the center” and his career year statistically backs up his claim.

Appearing on the Golden Knights official podcast, SLGND, Stastny was asked by Gary Lawless, “Is there a player you think will fit nicely with you?” Stastny was anything but committal in his answer, but the names he mentioned, and more importantly the one he didn’t, might give us a little preview into the Golden Knights’ plans for the second line heading into training camp.

Yeah, I don’t know… From what I heard, Tuch kind of came into his own as the season went on. I thought he blossomed really well and did really good the second half of the season. And then if potentially they might put Haula on the wing, and I wouldn’t mind that because someone like that with so much speed… sometimes it’s easy to play with those guys. Especially who has a background at center because you don’t have to be the first guy back all the time. It’s easy to kind of switch positions and always be moving and play on the fly.

This picture shows he at least knows Tatar exists. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It comes across much stronger as a transcribed quote than it does actually hearing him say it, so be sure to give it a listen, but Tomas Tatar’s name is nowhere to be found in that answer.

If indeed Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant chooses to put Tuch, Haula, and Stastny together, that would leave Tatar to play with Eakin and another winger like Ryan Carpenter, Daniel Carr, Curtis McKenzie, Oscar Lindberg, Tomas Hyka or another “bottom-six” type player.

After coming to the Golden Knights at the deadline, Tatar never quite found a home in the Vegas lineup and his stats suffered mightily. Heck, he couldn’t even get in the lineup during most of the playoff run. Putting him back on a third line without bonafide playmakers like Stastny, Tuch, and Haula likely sets him up to struggle once again.

Gallant is in a tough spot at the moment, basically with seven forwards to fill six slots. There are a lot of different combinations in which he can go, the question will be, does he try to find the best combination of three without any worry of what happens to the leftover player, or will he attempt to return to a more balanced lineup and possibly break the four non-first line guys into two pairs? Or, will a player or two emerge in camp to help fill the offensive void currently left on the third line?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m ready to be done with the speculation and get some answers. Unfortunately full training camp is still three weeks away. So, let the speculation continue.

Offseason Shoulder Surgery The Latest “Why Tatar Was Bad” Theory

Don’t really care what the problem was last year, Tatar needs to be good this year. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There have been a lot of excuses made for Tomas Tatar’s struggles after coming to Vegas in a trade just minutes before the deadline in February. The winger who had scored 19 or more goals in each of his previous four seasons only netted four in 20 games with the Golden Knights before finding himself a healthy scratch during a majority of the postseason.

The preeminent theory for Tatar’s decline was a lack of continuity in linemates.

It wasn’t fair to Tomas really. When we got him at the trade deadline we were trying to add depth to our hockey club and our team was playing so well at the time it was tough for him to get into the lineup. Here he is a 20 goal scorer who can play with any team in the NHL but the way our lines were going and the way our team was playing at that time it made it really tough to put him in a situation in which he could succeed. –Gerard Gallant on Technically Correct w/ Tyler Bischoff

In his first 14 games in Vegas, Tatar played with the same pair of players just once.

I think (consistency of linemates) is huge. He played some right wing when Reilly Smith was out, he played some left wing when James Neal was hurt so he was back and forth with the top three lines. He’s a guy that can play all over the place but he really never had any linemates where he could get comfortable with and that makes a big difference. -Gallant

However, there’s another theory, which was recently brought up by George McPhee on the VGK Insider Show on Fox Sports Radio that may make even more sense.

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Drawing Penalties Could Be A Problem In 2018-19

James Neal’s face seemed to attract sticks to it last year. VGK might need a new stick/face magnet if they want to keep up the scoring pace in 18-19. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over the course of the 2017-18 season, the Golden Knights drew 249 penalties, good for 15th in the NHL. Vegas converted on 53, ranking them 12th in power play goals scored and 10th in power play percentage at 21.4%. Compare that to the 3rd overall ranking in even strength goals and it’s fairly clear the Golden Knights did not rely on a man-advantage to win games.

Nonetheless, power play goals remain the easiest way to score in the NHL (aside from empty netters of course) and the Golden Knights certainly cashed in on a few big ones along the way to a Western Conference Championship.

During the year 26 different Golden Knights drew penalties. Two players made up for 55 of the 249, or 22%. Those two players are now members of the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues.

James Neal led the Golden Knights drawing 29 penalties in the regular season while David Perron was right on his heels with 26. The next closest Golden Knights were Jonathan Marchessault and Colin Miller, each with just 19. (Plus, Neal missed 11 games and Perron missed 12. Math says if they had both played the entire 82 game season they would have drawn a combined nine more penalties.)

55 penalties at a scoring rate of 21.4%, what the Golden Knights finished the regular season with, adds up to nearly 12 power play goals created off drawn penalties by only Neal and Perron.

The Neal, Perron, Haula line drew 68 penalties while the top line of Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson drew just 40.

Tomas Tatar and Paul Stastny, the two players expected to replace a majority of Perron and Neal’s minutes drew a combined 36 penalties.

The numbers are alarming, especially considering Tatar has yet to show the success he’s had elsewhere in Vegas. It’s not crazy to think however that Tatar, Stastny, and the increased role for Alex Tuch can help to replace the 41 goals Neal and Perron produced, but expecting these same three guys to draw 50+ penalties is probably asking a lot.

The real bummer is this likely means fewer times to chant “shame” at the guy sitting in the box too.

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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Golden Knights 2nd Line Needed To Win Game 2

Must be more of this in Game 2. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

0 goals. -3 rating. 18:00+ minutes on ice.

That was the output of the Golden Knights 2nd line of Erik Haula, David Perron, and James Neal in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

To make it even worse, between the three of them they did not record a single shot on goal.

That is not good enough.

Vegas’ 2nd line spent a majority of their time on the ice against the Winnipeg 2nd line of Patrik Laine, Paul Stastny, and Nikolaj Ehlers as well as their 2nd defensive pairing of Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom.

This matchup will continue to be one of the keys to the series. Not only because the Golden Knights need scoring out of that line but because they must avoid allowing those Jets to score. In Game 1, it was 1-0 Jets when those eight players were on the ice, but the shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances were heavily in favor of the Jets as well.

The Jets 2nd line shut down the Predators 2nd line and it’s a big reason why the Jets are here, while the Golden Knights 2nd line had success against the Sharks. Vegas is best when they are rolling multiple offensive lines, if their 2nd best scoring line disappears, their chances to win this series dimish drastically.

David Perron did not skate this morning while Tomas Tatar skated in his place both in line rushes and on the power play. Whether it’s Perron or Tatar, the Golden Knights need more from the 2nd line. Otherwise, they’re going to be staring at a 2-0 deficit when they board the plane to come back to Las Vegas.

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

McPhee/Gallant Relationship Not As Straightforward As It Once Seemed

VGK’s early success leaves unanswerable questions. They aren’t a problem now, but they could be at some point. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On April 13th, 2017 Gerard Gallant was named head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights. At the introductory press conference, there was a specific quote from George McPhee that stuck out to me at the time. I’ve carried it as somewhat of a pillar of how the organization was going to be run ever since.

Basically, the way we’ll work is we’ll provide the players and Gerard coaches them. We’re not going to tell him how to coach and he’s not going to tell us how to find players. -George McPhee on 4/17/17

With every move the Golden Knights have made, or not made, from sending Vadim Shipachyov back to Russia to healthy scratching Griffin Reinhart every game he was on the active roster to acquiring players like Malcolm Subban, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Tatar and Ryan Reaves, I’ve viewed the decisions through the lens of that quote. McPhee gets the players, Gallant coaches them.

During the Expansion Draft, that’s how it was. In fact, I can specifically remember speaking to Gallant at an event during the 72 hours the Golden Knights were on the clock, and he sounded as if his opinion was completely unnecessary to the process. However, as the season has worn on the lines of that quote have blurred a bit. When the trades were made, Gallant admitted to having a bit of say on who McPhee would bring in. The Shipachyov saga had the coach’s fingerprints all over it, and the Subban/Pickard goalie situation at the beginning of the year put Gallant in a hole he likely was not terribly comfortable with.

Then came the Tomas Tatar situation. With David Perron returning from injury in Game 3 of the Kings series, Gallant had a decision to make. He basically had three options available to him, and one was going to look awfully bad on his GM. Being up 2-0, he could have left the lineup as is and kept Perron on the shelf. Or, if he wanted Perron back in, he had to choose between Tatar and Carpenter as the player to come out. One player was a waiver addition that cost McPhee nothing to acquire, the other was a deadline trade addition that cost three draft picks including the Golden Knights 1st round pick next year.

Based solely on play, Tatar was the right man to come out. He never quite gelled with a line in Vegas and hadn’t shown the ability that made him a 19+ goal scorer each of the last five seasons. But, he didn’t come cheap, and sitting him in the Golden Knights biggest game of the season would be viewed as an immediate indictment on McPhee’s trade.

You don’t think I talk with George when we make lineup decisions? I’m the coach, I’m going to put them out there if I want them out there, but we talk every day and he knew before I made the decision. We said, listen, this is what we think is best and he agrees with most of the things we do. If he didn’t agree with it he didn’t tell me. (He says) you’re the coach put your best lineup out there. -Gerard Gallant

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Next Man Up, Just Not Yet

It won’t come in Game 1, but there will come a time where Luca Sbisa is needed, and he’s a nice weapon to have in waiting. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the Golden Knights head into their Second Round series with the Sharks they do so as healthy as they’ve been all season. There’s only one active player listed on the injury report and he’s considered ready to play when the team needs him.

It’s incredible, but the Golden Knights might just be the deepest team of any left in the playoffs. When they drop the puck against San Jose, Vegas will have a perennial 20 goal scorer and their highest paid forward on the bench sitting alongside a defenseman that one was considered “shut down” for the Golden Knights and only lost that title due to injury, not a decline in play.

They get even deeper when you throw in Oscar Lindberg, a penalty killing forward with excellent hands and solid speed, Brad Hunt, a power play specialist defenseman, and Ryan Reaves, a physical specimen waiting to unleash some fury into a series.

Coming off a first round sweep and allowing just three goals in 14 periods, no lineup changes are expected for the opening game of the series to begin later this week. However, that depth is going to be needed eventually, and we’re here to illustrate not just how many players the Golden Knights have to fill-in in case of injury, but how wide-ranging they can be allowing All Star head coach to feel comfortable no matter what happens.

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Benching Tatar Bold But Correct Move By Gallant

Heavy haul for a healthy scratch (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On the day of the trade deadline, the Golden Knights sent three future draft picks, a 2018 1st, a 2019 2nd, and a 2021 3rd round pick, to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Tomas Tatar.

Tatar is a perennial 20 goal scorer, he’s got great speed, a good shot, and looked to be the perfect fit for the Golden Knights. Through 20 games with Vegas, that hasn’t exactly been the case, and now Tatar is set to be a healthy scratch in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs.

The initial question is whether or not giving up three picks for a player that can’t crack the lineup was worth it. The answer is still incomplete, even with tonight’s benching, because Tatar wasn’t only added to help the Golden Knights for the 2018 playoff run. He has multiple years left on his contract and could still turn out to be a useful top six forward in Vegas.

However, part of the high price tag on Tatar at the deadline was getting him for this playoff season. McPhee traded Brendan Leipsic and figured he’d found an upgrade in Tatar. He hasn’t been. Instead, he’s been nothing more than a competent player who now can’t get in the lineup over a player Vegas claimed for free on the waiver wire back in December.

This is not a failure of a trade, yet, but it is a bold move that shows All Star head coach Gerard Gallant does indeed have full control over his lineup. He was handed a player that was supposed to be an upgrade, and his GM paid a massive price to get him, and yet Gallant still feels comfortable sitting him in the biggest situation of the year.

Here’s more good news, Tatar has never had consistent linemates. He should be better if/when that happens in the future. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There is good news for the Golden Knights, and that’s depth. If Vegas continues in these playoffs they will encounter injuries, and likely at least one to a significant player. Having Tatar available to fill that void absolutely has value, the same goes for Ryan Reaves if a bottom six forward were to be forced out. However, it’s not a good look for McPhee who still has the Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat trade hanging over his head.

Time will tell on the trade as a whole, but this decision tells us a lot about the organization, including the most important part, Tomas Tatar is the 13th best forward on this roster on April 15th, and unless that changes it will go down as an avoidable disaster at the Golden Knights first trade deadline.

***

Projected VGK Lines

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

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