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Time To Break Up The Top Six

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night was an eye-opener for the 2018-19 Golden Knights. After a tough loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the fourth straight at home, Gerard Gallant delivered a strong message in the locker room following the game. The team followed it up with a lengthy, competitive practice on Friday and then went without morning skate on Saturday. It appeared they had hit rock bottom and appeared primed to start the turnaround.

Last year’s team had its moments too, but every time they would come back, play great, and win. This team didn’t.

Instead, this team got outmanned in a game they simply came up short in the talent department. The foursome of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nyander, and Mitch Marner scored three goals and tallied seven points while the entire Golden Knights top six (Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stastny, Tuch, and Pacioretty) had two goals and four points with half of that damage coming on a shorthanded goal.

The VGK 2nd line was a combined -8 and the 1st line put up a miserable 25% Corsi For percentage as a group. Matthews’ line ate up Stastny, Pacioretty and Tuch scoring twice and posting seven scoring chances to Vegas’ one. All in all the Golden Knights top six played 20 of the 36 minutes of even strength action and accounted for one goal while allowing three and created just seven scoring chances compared to Toronto’s 17 while they were on the ice.

Here’s the good news. Despite all of it, and while playing the worst hockey in franchise history, the Golden Knights were right there. They had a lead in the 2nd, tied the game in the 3rd, and had a power play chance to take the lead inside of 15 minutes remaining in the game. This is still the same team that posted 60 points in their first 48 games and positioned themselves safely in the playoff picture.

With just four games before the trade deadline, it’s time the Golden Knights look in the mirror and realize they have to win with balance. No longer is their first line so dominant that they can be relied upon to not only shut down the oppositions top line but score while they’re at it. They can’t expect their 2nd line to pick up the slack left behind by the inevitable regression of that 1st line. They need to return to what became their identity last year and what was at times earlier this season. A balanced attack that never stops applying pressure.

The best way to do that, break up the top six.

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Top Line Reboot

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into this season the Golden Knights top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith were expected to lead the charge. A combined +116 with 92 goals a year ago between just the three had them as one of the best lines in all of hockey.

The chemistry they had in the regular season extended into the playoffs. It picked right back up when the trio was reunited in preseason to start this year. 20+ games in, the numbers weren’t quite as staggering as a year ago, but there was no question Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith were the best line the Golden Knights had and remained a force to be reckoned with.

But recently, it’s hit the skids. Prior to the game in Detroit, the last time Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith all had a point in the same game was on December 14th (a stretch of 12 games playing together and 23 total). Smith’s injury put a halt to the line altogether, but even before it, the previous 10 games they were together, they managed just 10 total points and only five goals. As importantly, the defense appeared to be slipping as well.

During Smith’s absence, it did not improve for Marchessault and Karlsson, instead it got much worse. The pair combined for five goals in nine games (four of which were scored in the same game), just four assists, and they posted a miserable -17 over the three-week span.

Yet, when Smith was ready, he wasn’t put back on the line with Marchessault and Karlsson, instead, Gallant gave them Valentin Zykov for a couple games, and there was a level of success. However, midway through the game in Detroit, following a penalty kill, Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith found themselves on the ice together once again, and it looked like the old days again.

They were a combined +5 in Thursday’s game, scored three goals and had five points, but more importantly, their shifts were dominant almost every time they touched the ice.

It wasn’t really a plan, I didn’t think the line was going as good as it could have, so sometimes you shake things up a little bit and piss people off a little bit maybe. It works sometimes. -Gerard Gallant

I’m not sure who Gallant was trying to “piss off” but it appeared to work… at least for one night.

It feels like a reboot and sometimes that’s just what a line needs. A fresh start, which they now have.

They’ve been real good. They’re finding some life there a little bit and I thought the last game was excellent. It’s all about timing, and I expect them to be good for the next 25 games. -Gallant

Tonight is a tough test against a terrific defensive team in the Blue Jackets. The last two times Vegas has faced Columbus, the Golden Knights scored a total of one goal.

However, the time before, the only trip Columbus has made to T-Mobile Arena, Vegas dropped six on them, including two from Karlsson and a pair of assists from Marchessault.

The Golden Knights need Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith to produce, whether they’re playing together or not. For now, they’re reunited. Hopefully, it keeps feeling as good as it did Thursday night in Detroit.

William Karlsson Embraces Being A Role Model To Kids In Las Vegas

I grew in the era of high-profile, wealthy athletes proudly stating “I am not a role model” to their young fans.

For those of you that don’t remember, NBA legend Charles Barkley starred in a semi-controversial Nike ad in the 90’s. While the message by Barkley was actually quite important, kids like myself had no clue what Sir Charles was expressing. We just assumed he didn’t care about us or the game and was only in it for the money.

But times have changed since Barkley played. Social media and other outlets have made it easier for players to interact with fans. Some grasp it, and some don’t, but either way, players have much more access getting their message out to fans.

One guy that understands the responsibility of being a local role model is Golden Knights center, William Karlsson.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There are little kids watching and looking up to you, and you want to make a good example for those kids. Overall, in life you just try and be the best person you can be. And if that’s what being a good role model is, then I hope I am. -William Karlsson

Karlsson and I chatted a few weeks back about striving to become a good example for kids on and off the ice. In his point of view, it’s critical for the 26-year center to represent himself and the city of Las Vegas with class.

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Don’t Touch The New Top Six

Say hello to a new top six. Marchessault-Karlsson-Tuch & Pirri-Stastny-Smith. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It took until Game 8 of the Golden Knights inaugural season to find the combination of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, but once the eventual Jack Adams award winner Gerard Gallant found it, he rode it for all it was worth.

The oft-described “top line” of the Golden Knights took the league by storm scoring a combined 92 goals, 213 points, and an insane +116 rating. They found themselves in the debate as the best line in hockey and helped power an expansion team to a division and conference title.

But then, in the matter of literally a second, the line was broken up.

It was a gut feeling and wanted to change things up a little bit. -Gerard Gallant

Coach comes and tells you, Tuchy you’re going with Marchy and Karly and Smitty is going to go with your line. -Alex Tuch

I told Pirri just keep playing the same because we were playing well. -Paul Stastny

Down 2-1 in the game, Gallant swapped Tuch and Smith creating a line of Karlsson, Tuch, and Marchessault, and another of Stastny, Smith, and Pirri. From then on, the Golden Knights completely took over the game.

Vegas dominated possession, scored three straight goals (and another that was taken off due to an offside challenge) and completed a come back from a two-goal deficit to win their 6th straight home game.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We just wanted to change it up a little bit, fortunately for us, it worked. -Gallant

When you have a lot of depth at forward you can kind of juggle lines a little bit, there’s a fine line of doing it to much, but sometimes you need a little spark and that kind of just got a spark for the whole team. -Stastny

It’s not like it’s a demotion or anything, any line you can play on with this team is pretty special. It brought us a lot of momentum and energy to our game. -Smith

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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.

It Felt Like It Was Happening Again; Then It Didn’t

Say it ain’t so, ref! (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Here we are, 8:40 into the 1st period at T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights are buzzing, creating chances left and right, and defending about as well as they have all year, when Shea Theodore skates through nearly the entire Buffalo Sabres team to score a highlight toe-drag goal. The arena is going crazy, the Golden Knights are celebrating, and that nervous feeling that’s been plaguing Vegas early this season feels like it’s fading away, but then, the referee skates to the red line, turns on his mic and says “Buffalo is challenging if the play is offside.”

Oh no.

Watching the replay, it was clearly offside as Max Pacioretty entered the zone early. That feeling of euphoria, gone.

We knew right away the goal was offside as soon as we looked down. It wasn’t a big deal. We knew it was coming. -Gerard Gallant

When something like that happens it all part of the game, you’ve got to regroup from it. It’s still an unbelievable play by Shea, it’s still a highlight. -Brad Hunt

Wrong little guy skating to the box, but you get the point. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Ok fine, no big deal, right? But then, minutes later, Tomas Hyka took a hooking penalty, and all the good the Golden Knights had done in the 1st 10 minutes was ready to disappear into thin air if the penalty was not killed off.

It’s an all too familiar story seven games into the season, and a feeling every Golden Knights fan had the second the penalty box door opened. Here we go again.

Yeah, it felt like that was our luck at that time, but you know, what can you do? It’s in the past and all you can do is battle forward and I’m proud of the way we did that. -William Karlsson

That’s exactly what the Golden Knights did. They killed that penalty (and like a thousand others), they kept battling through the misfortune, and they made it change. Jonathan Marchessault scored a power play goal, Cody Eakin raced for a shorthanded one, and Karlsson even got on the board for the first time this year as well.

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MAX PACIORETTY (F) SIGNS 4 YEAR EXTENSION AT $7M AAV

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Moments after being traded to the Golden Knights, the former Montreal Canadiens captain signed a four year, $28 million extension in Vegas.

Pacioretty had one year left on his previous contract so is now signed with the Golden Knights for the next five seasons through 2022-23.

His contract has a limited No Trade Clause that beings in 2019-20 that will allow him to veto a trade to 10 teams.

Zero Golden Knights Among NHL 19 Top 50 Players

Following a season in which the Golden Knights had 12 players hit career highs in points, 10 set career highs in goals, and as a team made a run to the Stanley Cup Final you would think individuals from one of the best story in sports would start getting some recognition.

No respect at all I tell ya. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The geniuses at EA Sports don’t agree. They released their top 50 ranked players for the upcoming NHL 19 game, and there’s not a single Golden Knight to be found.

No William Karlsson, who finished 10th in MVP voting. No Jonathan Marchessault, who scored eight goals and tallied more than a point per game in the postseason. No Nate Schmidt, who was the key cog in helping the Golden Knights stifle the Kings, Sharks, and Jets in succession. And worst of all, no Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, that put together the best season of his career and carried an expansion team to the Final.

Instead, players like Jakub Voracek, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Toews, and Frederik Andersen made the list.

In fact, 10 goalies ranked higher than Marc-Andre Fleury. Ten!

The game drops on September 14th, when we’ll learn the ratings of all Vegas players, but until then, we leave you with the one Golden Knight who did have his NHL 19 rating revealed.

You’re not alone Nick, the disrespect for the Western Conference Champions is real.

A Study On The Expected Regression Of William Karlsson

The name William Karlsson and the word “regression” have been joined at the hip this offseason. Following his breakout season scoring 43 goals, posting a +49 rating, winning the Lady Byng, and finishing top 10 in both Selke and Hart, it seems like everyone assumes a decline in 2018-19.

Personally, I’m not a fan of assumptions, I prefer facts, or at least stats I can package as something resembling facts. So, I set out to see if regression for William Karlsson is indeed inevitable, and if so, how major it may be.

The normal way to project a player’s statistics in the NHL (or any sport for that matter) is to look at that player’s career history. However, with Karlsson that doesn’t really work. To begin his career he was seeing minimal ice time, playing on the fourth line, and had defensive responsibilities similar to those of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s on the Golden Knights. In Vegas, he’s the top line center, is used in all situations including the top power play and penalty kill units, and plays on a line with two high-level offensive players. His stats in Columbus are essentially hogwash because his role has changed so much, but at the same time, simply using his one mega season in Vegas feels like a bit too small of a sample size to project his future.

Actually kind of surprised we even have a picture of him NOT scoring. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

So, I had to find another way. The way I chose to go about it was to examine the follow-up seasons for players who have had years in which they put up numbers similar to Karlsson’s.

What I found, in short, is that there’s basically no chance William Karlsson repeats his incredible 17-18 season. Literally, every player (except one) who scored 40 goals, every player who shot better than 20%, every player with a massive +/- rating, every player with a high shooting percentage, and every player with impressive defensive numbers saw their statistics decline the following year. That’s 47 of 48 players over the course of the last five years.

I’ll prove it in a second, but before you go jumping off the cliff, while the numbers suggest a drop-off, they do not suggest Karlsson’s going to become an average player. Instead, they show just the opposite. Using this method of comparing players with similar statistical seasons to Karlsson, he should be projected to score 35 goals, shoot at around 16%, and stay a legitimate Selke award candidate.

Here’s how I conducted the study. First, I found every season in which a player matched (or led the league) in the best statistical categories for William Karlsson. Those are Goals (Karlsson had 43, 3rd in NHL), Shooting Percentage (Karlsson shot 23.4%, led NHL), Plus/Minus (Karlsson was +49, led NHL), Even Strength Goals (Karlsson had 31, tied for 3rd in NHL), and Defensive Point Shares (Karlsson had 3.5, led all forwards in NHL).

After finding all the players who had qualifying seasons, I looked up what they did in that same category the following year. I added up all of the follow-up season numbers and divided it by the Karlsson-esque season numbers to show the percentage of regression to be expected in each category. Here are the numbers.

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