Praise Be To Foley, Vegas Golden Knights Hockey Website

Author: Steve Carp Page 1 of 6

Time To Look Ahead

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

There’s no sense in continuing to rehash the events of Tuesday’s third period of Game 7. What’s done is done.

If you feel like there’s a wee bit of vindication from the NHL apologizing to the Golden Knights and putting referees Dan O’Halloran and Eric Furlatt on the shelf for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I can’t say I blame you.

For some of you, you’re still pissed off at what took place and no amount of apologizing will change that. I understand that too. If you want to join general manager George McPhee and take the high road, fine.

But as we head to the remainder of spring and into the summer without hockey in Las Vegas, be prepared for the fact the team you love is going to look different come September when training camp opens.

How different? That remains to be seen. But it comes with the territory. No team stands completely pat, even when they win a Stanley Cup. So changes are coming.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

McPhee has to get William Karlsson signed, hopefully, long term and at a reasonable price. Deryk Engelland and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are unrestricted free agents. Both want to remain with the Golden Knights. Together, they made $2.95 million this season. Clearing their salaries could help with Karlsson though.

UFAs Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter are less likely to remain. Tomas Nosek is an RFA but he too could find himself moving on.

Space needs to be created on the roster for Nikita Gusev and perhaps Cody Glass and Nic Hague, maybe Jimmy Schuldt. Erik Haula will be ready to resume his career after the gruesome knee injury he sustained in November.

And who knows what’s going to happen in the NHL Entry Draft in late June where the Golden Knights will pick 16th or 17th overall (depending on Colorado’s second round series). Will GMGM trade to move up? Will he trade down? Will he keep the pick and select someone the amateur scouting staff really covets?

They may lose assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon as well. Both Edmonton and Seattle are reportedly interested in bringing in McCrimmon on board as their general manager. And that piece of the plan may not be so easy to replace were McCrimmon to bolt Vegas though maybe Vaughn Karpan, the team’s director of player personnel, could be elevated into McCrimmon’s spot should he leave.

So believe it when I tell you this roster and opening night lineup figures to look different come October.

Hopefully the rules will be different too. McPhee was kinda lukewarm on the idea of being a proponent for change regarding the referees having the ability to look at replay to determine if a major penalty was committed. Owner Bill Foley had a much more definitive take:

I believe it should be a reviewable play, coaches challenge. I think a coach should be able to challenge in the playoffs. That’s going to be up to the league to make that determination. I believe the league is thinking about it and I think it’s going to be receptive to that kind of change. We will have a Board of Governors meeting here in a couple of months and I’m sure it will be brought up and we will talk about it. I think that will be a good solution, despite the fact the Sharks fans were going crazy over the perceived hit. If it would have been a coach’s challenge, it would have been reviewed and that wouldn’t have been a penalty. -Foley

When I asked GMGM directly about changing the rule, here was his response:

I don’t know how to answer that question. I think that’s for the league to determine, if they want to anything additional. If a five-minute penalty going to be called, should the referees review it to make sure they got it right? Or should they simply just call up to the supervisor upstairs, who has covered the whole series and that have the replays? They can tell the guys I have nothing on this one.

That’s for the league to determine and I haven’t thought it through. I have had a lot of time to think it through the last couple of nights since I haven’t slept, a lot of flashbacks. -McPhee

If I were a betting man on this issue, I’d put my money on Foley. I believe we will see a new policy adopted by the league for next season.

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A Tough Way To End

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

On April 16, the Golden Knights held a 3-1 series lead over San Jose. Everyone was making plans for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Whether it was how you were going to pay for your playoff tickets, where you would attend a watch party or merely rearrange your schedule to watch or listen, you had every reason to believe your team was going to be playing hockey in May.

Problem was, no one bothered to tell the Sharks.

And while it will be part of the team’s and the NHL’s history that the third-period call on Cody Eakin which resulted in a five-minute major penalty that led to the Sharks scoring four times and ultimately eliminating the Knights 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night at SAP Center, the fact remains the Knights failed to seal the deal.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

They got outplayed in Game 5. They failed to capitalize on numerous Grade-A chances in Game 6. They had a 3-0 lead in Game 7 with just under 11 minutes to play.

You want to blame the referees? I’m not going to dissuade you. The call wasn’t only egregious, it was on the wrong player. Yes, Eakin cross-checked Joe Pavelski. But it was Paul Stastny who hit Pavelski and caused him to fall to the ice. If anyone deserved to be sent off, it was No. 26.

Obviously the decision to assess a major rather than a two-minute penalty had a tremendous impact on the game. In addition to having played well Tuesday and scoring the second Vegas goal, Eakin was one of the Knights’ top penalty killers and with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare not even playing, that’s the team’s top two front-line killers missing.

Yet the Knights still had enough quality people on the ice to kill off the penalty. Reilly Smith, Tomas Nosek, Will Karlsson, Mark Stone, Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb — all took regular turns killing penalties this season and had been effective doing so.

The penalty kill essentially evaporated as the Sharks took full advantage of their man advantage to take the lead.

You still give up four goals on a power play, that’s just too many. Whether or not it’s a penalty or not, you still can’t do that. -Nate Schmidt

To the Knights’ credit, they found a way to respond with Jonathan Marchessault tying the game with 47 seconds left in regulation and forcing OT.

That said, the Sharks deserve credit for their resiliency, going back to Game 5. They never gave up and whether or not they deserve to advance against Colorado can be debated given the call. But no one can question San Jose’s resolve.

It was a hell of a series, one that will be memorable for numerous reasons.

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It’s Not Over – Yet

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

The stunned silence inside T-Mobile Arena Sunday evening was deafening.

Tomas Hertl’s shot from the high slot had managed to elude Marc-Andre Fleury and the San Jose Sharks remain very much alive in this opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Golden Knights following their 2-1 double-overtime win.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Watching from the press box as the Sharks celebrated, I couldn’t help to think what was going through the minds of virtually all of the 18,458 who had come to watch their team advance to the next round, were expecting handshakes but instead left wondering if this was their last visit to their beloved Fortress.

After all, it had been a strong effort by the home team. They had unleashed 59 shots on the other team’s goaltender. They had dominated play for good portions of the contest. They had spotted the visitors a 1-0 lead with 6.5 seconds left in the first period only to come back to pull even.

So why aren’t we talking about the Knights playing the Colorado Avalanche this morning? Why is there still unfinished business with San Jose?

The Sharks deserve the lion’s share of credit for extending this series to a deciding Game 7 Tuesday. They are a tenacious, opportunistic bunch. Their goaltender, Martin Jones, has rediscovered his game and his coach, Peter DeBoer, stuck with him when everyone was demanding he start Aaron Dell in net for Game 5.

Jones has played great in his last two games and it starts with him when looking for any explanations as to why this series is still ongoing.

I think our group has never lost faith in him. I think we knew he was capable of this and we needed him tonight and he was our best player. -DeBoer

Jones said he’s just trying to play the right way and not overthink things. It’s working out pretty well of late.

I’m sticking with it and just trying to read the game and play loose for the last few games. Trust my game and trust our team. -Jones

The Knights tipped their cap to the San Jose goalie. What else could they do?

Yeah, we were all over them. We had great pressure and forced a lot of turnovers. Martin Jones was pretty good tonight; you have to give him credit. -Jonathan Marchessault

But it’s not just San Jose’s goalie that has the Knights in this position. Hertl and Logan Couture, two players I had said before the series that the Knights had to contain, have dominated. Couture got the first goal and he has four in the series. Hertl has five goals. As a team, the Sharks have 18 goals, so that’s two guys generating 50 percent of the offense.

Yes, both are tough to play against. But if the Sharks advance beyond Tuesday, they’ll be the reason why.

(Hertl’s) confidence is as high as he wants it. You can see that, and you feed off him. He’s been a huge piece for us -Joe Pavelski

How has this series flipped in the last 72 hours? In the first four games, the Knights’ top line was Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Combined, they had 12 goals and 28 points. The last two games? Zilch. Stone had a gift 1:25 into Game 6 as he had an empty net to shoot at. His backhand was wide. If he scores, it changes the entire complexion of the game.

Pacioretty also had an open net and it took a great play by Pavelski to deny him as he managed to get his stick on Pacioretty’s at the right post before he could score.

Tomas Nosek and Reilly Smith also had Grade A chances in the opening 20 minutes and both failed to convert. If any of those go in, we’re probably talking about Colorado.

But hockey is as much mental as it is physical. And as we head to Game 7, the onus is on the Golden Knights to reboot mentally and emotionally.

You could see those seeds being planted immediately after the game from Gerard Gallant and his players.

You get ready to play, you forget about tonight, it’s over with now and you move on and get ready for the next one. We played a heck of a game tonight. I’m proud of our guys. The way that they competed; 59 shots on net. It wasn’t our night, but there is still another day for us, fortunately. We will get ready for Game 7 and be ready to go. -Gallant

And this from Marchessault:

We’re confident in the group we have here. We’re a confident group and a great hockey team. Just have to keep going and stick with it. I think if we keep playing the right way, like we did tonight, I think we’ll get rewarded. -Marchessault

What it boils down to is the Knights’ best players have to show up and outplay San Jose’s best. That has not happened in the last two games. Fleury has to play better. The Stastny line has to play better. The Knights’ entire defensive corps has to play better.

And while it is encouraging to see Marchessault and his line starting to generate some offense, it may not be enough. The bottom six need to help with the heavy lifting. Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch have only a goal apiece. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves have been kept off the scoresheet the entire series.

There’s nothing you can do when flukey things happen. Shea Theodore tried to prevent Hertl from scoring in the second OT and he got his stick on Hertl’s stick a split-second too late. And yes, maybe Fleury should have stopped that one, but that play all started by the Knights’ failure to maintain possession while on a rare OT power play. So if you’re looking to assign blame, you can point to all six players on the ice for Vegas.

But what’s done is done. As the players said afterward, you turn the page and you move on. But the stakes are obviously raised at this point. There’s no more cushion to fall back on. No more house money to play with. It’s one game, winner take all.

So why will the Knights win?

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It’s All About The Goaltending

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

Before the opening-round playoff series between the Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks had begun, I pointed out that Vegas would win and it would do so because of superior goaltending.

Hey, I’m no Scotty Bowman, but you didn’t need to be to know that Marc-Andre Fleury was better than Martin Jones and/or Aaron Dell.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

And as this series heads to SAP Center Thursday for what could be a series-ending Game 5 following an impressive 5-0 victory at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday night, it’s a fact Fleury has been a big part of why the Knights hold a 3-1 series lead.

He’s getting better with each period of each game. He wasn’t great in the 5-2 loss to the Sharks in Game 1. And after letting in three late first-period goals in Game 2, Fleury has been virtually unbeatable.

I’m not blaming him for the loss or the trio of goals allowed in Game 2. But he’s doing what you want your goalie to do — stop the easy ones, make a few spectacular saves, be the first line of defense on the penalty kill and keep your team in the game.

He’s tracking the puck with laser precision. He’s always a step ahead of the Sharks in anticipating where the play is going to be. His positioning is spot on. And he’s moving well in his crease and post to post.

In other words, Fleury is being Fleury. He stopped all 28 shots he faced in recording his 15th career playoff shutout, tying Chris Osgood for fourth place on the NHL’s career list.

I have felt good all playoffs. They are a good team, it’s not over obviously. It was a big game tonight and a big win for us. One game at a time. -Fleury

The win, Fleury’s 78th in the playoffs, moved him past Mike Vernon into seventh place on the all-time list for goaltender wins. Next is Ken Dryden, who had 80 postseason victories.  Patrick Roy is the career leader in playoff wins with 151.

It is really cool. I have been very fortunate to play on a lot of good teams and again this year. It is very humbling to be amongst these guys who I grew up watching. -Fleury

His play Tuesday did not go unnoticed by his coach, his teammates and his opponent.

He played awesome the first two periods. We weren’t happy with our game. Obviously, we got out to the 1-0 lead in the first shift fortunately for us so that was big, but we didn’t play our type of game for two periods. I thought and we played a lot better in the third. Fleury was huge, when we needed him, he was huge. -Gerard Gallant

This from Shea Theodore:

I think when you watch him out there and he makes those saves, you see how confident he is. Even when he is playing the puck, he is confident with it and he always makes the right decisions. –Theodore

And San Jose coach Peter DeBoer tipped his hat to Fleury.

I thought we created a lot of chances on the other end, but you have to give Fleury credit. He frustrated us tonight and allowed them to be in the position they were in the third. -DeBoer

The Knights have done an awful lot of things well in this series. The line of Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have dominated and the Sharks still haven’t found an answer for them. They’re doing the little things well, like winning faceoffs. They’re outhitting the Sharks.

What Vegas has not done well is avoiding penalties. They’re taking way too many, and it’s going to catch up with the Knights. Maybe not in this series, but perhaps in the next round. Fleury has been tremendous in standing up to the barrages of shots the Sharks have fired at him when they have the man advantage and that’s what you hope your goalie will do. Tuesday, San Jose went 0-4 on the power play and they are just 3 for 20 in the series (15%).

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Golden Knights In Good Shape Despite Sloppy Play

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

You’re the road team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Your main objective is to get a split and take home-ice advantage away from the other team.

The Golden Knights got what they were looking for, splitting the first two games of their opening-round series with San Jose. It is now a best-of-five series with three of those games potentially at T-Mobile Arena, where you can expect a frenetic crowd both inside and outside the building.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As for how the Knights got the split can come into question and leave pause for concern heading into tonight’s Game 3. There are so many obvious points: mainly stay out of the penalty box and don’t turn the puck over in your end. You know that, so there’s no sense in belaboring the point.

Give Vegas credit for not completely folding after squandering a 3-0 first-period lead. The Knights showed some resiliency in regaining command of the game and eventually posting the 5-3 victory Friday.

The Knights may very well go on and win the series and advance to the conference semifinals. But they’ve got a few things to clean up in Game 3 in order for that to happen.

San Jose continues to try and take liberties with Marc-Andre Fleury and the Knights’ skaters need to send a message to the Sharks that it won’t be tolerated. Especially when Evander Kane is looking to stir the pot. Kane is so talented but he plays with a certain edge that sometimes crosses the line. He needs to be accounted for. Same with Timo Meier who has no problem crashing the net and getting in Fleury’s face. Ditto Joe Pavelski, Barclay Goodrow, Logan Couture, and Michael Haley.

If you’re a Golden Knight and you’re going to beat the snot out of someone who messes with your best player, I can live with that kind of penalty. Fleury is your most valuable commodity. You can’t let the other team have carte blanche and run at him whenever they feel like it.

I see Jonathan Marchessault always willing to come to the aid of his goalie. Marchessault is one of the smallest players on the roster in terms in size. In terms of heart, he’s one of the biggest.

Marchessault said it’s the responsibility of any Golden Knight who is on the ice to protect Fleury.

They know he’s our best player. When you hit the goalie, it’s a matter of respect. If I had a chance to hit (Martin) Jones, I’m going to be smart and pull up. But if they hit Flower, everyone who’s on the ice needs to do something. The shit’s going to go down, basically. –Marchessault

Fleury doesn’t believe the Sharks are out to hurt him. But he knows they are trying to make things uncomfortable and try and get him off his game.

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Why The Golden Knights Will Defeat The Sharks

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

Let’s just cut to the chase — the Golden Knights will win their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the San Jose Sharks.

Why? That takes a little explanation, though most of you know the edges that go to Gerard Gallant’s team.

For starters, the Knights have the superior goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury is better than either Martin Jones or Aaron Dell.

While both teams boast balance among their four lines, I believe Vegas has a little more depth and talent spread out across its four lines than San Jose.

The Knights can win on the road. They’ve played well at SAP Center in the past and no matter what clever phrases the Sharks’ marketing people come up with to get the San Jose crowd going, it’s not going to throw Vegas off its game.

With all that said, it’s not going to be an easy series. The Sharks are a good team too. They’re getting defenseman Erik Karlsson back at the right time and he’ll be a force to deal with, especially when San Jose goes on the power play.

Joe Pavelski’s going to play and he’s always been tough to contain for the Knights. And I would fully expect Timo Meier to play, bad wrist and all.

Gallant said Monday the team is as healthy as it has been all year and if you take him at his word, the Knights are going to have the flexibility to move people in and out of the lineup. Whether it’s Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek or Will Carrier filling in those left-wing spots on the third and fourth lines to play with Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch or with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan Reaves, there’s going to be lots of maneuverability for Gallant during the series. And I haven’t even brought up Brandon Pirri or Valentin Zykov, though it’s unlikely they’ll play unless a rash of injuries suddenly materializes.

But if you’re looking for three keys to the series aside from the ones I previously mentioned, here they are:

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

First, can the Sharks contain William Karlsson? Wild Bill has scored 10 goals and has eight assists in 14 games against San Jose in his two years with the Knights, including the postseason. He appears to be in Jones’ head, though good luck to getting anyone to admit to it. The Sharks to date still haven’t been able to consistently take away Karlsson’s time and space. And with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault able to get him the puck, Karlsson remains a true nemesis for San Jose.

I seem to be in the right place at the right time. They seem to play me the same way. I don’t think they put any particular focus on me. -Karlsson

Maybe it’s time Peter DeBoer did change it up and try and watch Karlsson a little closer. They did manage to keep him pointless in Games 4 and 5 in last year conference semifinals so maybe they’ll figure it out.

The second key is about containment the other way. The Knights have their own demons to deal with, that being keeping Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl in check. The duo has been a constant pain for Vegas and last year in the playoffs they combined for five goals and 12 points.

Hertl’s a guy who’s big and fast and just makes plays. Couture’s just a slippery guy. he makes a lot of plays all around the ice. It’s all about how we contain them and as defensemen not let them get position to where they can use their body to shield pucks away from us. We keep those guys off the scoreboard, we have a much better chance of winning the series. –Nate Schmidt

The third variable in all this is Alex Tuch. The second-year winger will be on the third line with Eakin and whoever Gallant opts to put on the left side. He learned a lot from his first playoff experience a year ago and you can expect him to be much more comfortable in this high-intensity setting.

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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: 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, 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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Time For Flower To Bloom

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

It was a simple transaction announcement Tuesday afternoon — Maxime Lagace was being returned to the AHL Chicago Wolves.

But the news behind the news was huge. It meant Marc-Andre Fleury was returning to active duty for the Golden Knights. And the timing couldn’t have been better.

Or more critical.

We last saw Fleury in goal back on March 15 in a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars in Texas. Since then, he had been given time off, reportedly having sustained a lower-body injury. His wife Veronique was also giving birth to the family’s third child, this time, a boy. And it didn’t hurt for Fleury to reboot things mentally as well as heal up physically.

No doubt the time off had to have done him a lot of good. And the reality was the Golden Knights weren’t catching Calgary and winning the Pacific Division. So the decision to shut Fleury down was a wise one.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He has had a wonderful season, arguably one of his best of his NHL career. In 59 games, he has a 35-19-5 record, eight shutouts, a 2.46 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He probably won’t win the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s top goalie, but he had played himself into the conversation over the first half of the year.

Don’t forget, he’s no kid anymore. The guy is 34 years old, but given the high standard of his play, Fleury remains the most critical piece of the Knights’ puzzle going forward into the postseason next week.

He will be expected to put the team on his back and take them as far as he can. That was the case last year as Fleury was brilliant through the first three rounds of the playoffs and he played well in the Stanley Cup Final too.

He’ll get some playoff preseason work in Thursday against Arizona in the regular-season home finale at T-Mobile Arena and he’ll probably be in net Saturday in the last game of the year in Los Angeles against the Kings. It’ll give him a chance to get his timing back, to reconnect with his defensemen, to help give the Knights some momentum going into the opening round of the playoffs against San Jose and to be back where he is happiest — on the ice.

I don’t know too many players who simply love playing hockey the way Fleury does. It’s almost child-like in his affection for the game. You watch 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds scamper all over the ice and having fun. That’s Fleury, even at age 34.

That kind of love becomes infectious inside the locker room. The players see their goalie having fun and it energizes them. They all tap into the little boy inside each of them.

Yes, this is their job. Yes, they’re paid to win. Yes, there’s tremendous pressure and high expectations on all of them, Fleury included. But when you strip all of that away, it reverts back to why you laced up your skates and grabbed a stick in the first place. There’s something special about riding to the rink, getting on the ice and skating and shooting, or, in Fleury’s case, stopping the puck. Hockey should be fun, even at the NHL level. To Fleury’s credit, he never forgot that.

A word or two about Malcolm Subban if I may.

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They’re In, So What’s Next For Golden Knights?

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

X marked the spot Friday as the Golden Knights secured their spot in next month’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Give a stick tap to the Colorado Avalanche which beat Arizona to allow the Knights to clinch.

Now comes the awkward part that will put Gerard Gallant squarely in the crosshairs. How does he handle the final three games of the season?

If last year is an indication, expect a lot of different lineups.

You may recall Brandon Pirri was called up late in the year and he delivered with goals against Vancouver and Edmonton. Then Reilly Smith returned to the lineup against Calgary and we never saw Pirri again.

We’ve seen Gallant do that already with Valentin Zykov. He gave Zykov a couple of games to get the rust off and he could find himself on the ice, especially considering Paul Stastny, Mark Stone and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are nicked up and Gallant may opt to put them on the shelf for a day or two.

It is a tricky dance for a coach. On one hand, you want to get your team as physically close to 100 percent as possible. On the other, you want to build some positive momentum going into the playoffs.

But is momentum overrated? Consider the Knights opened the 2018 playoffs against the Kings on the heels of back-to-back losses, 4-3 to the Oilers and the 7-1 debacle vs. the Flames. They went on to sweep L.A. and advance to the conference semifinals against San Jose.

Gallant may have tipped his hand after Friday’s game on how he will handle the final week.

You get ready for every game because if you don’t get ready for the game to play, bad things happen to you. I want us to play well. Again, like I said, we want to play our team game. There are some little nagging injuries. We’re going to make sure what we’re doing now is taking care of that stuff. When we play the game, when the game starts, we’re ready to play hockey. -Gallant

The players don’t figure to go through the motions. Remember, there’s still ice time to earn in the playoffs and there’s a glut of forwards and not everyone can play. Someone’s going to sit.

One thing that needs to change regardless of who is in the lineup is the recent trend of starting games slowly. The Knights let Minnesota get the jump on them Friday and it resulted in chasing the game all evening. And while the final push late nearly got the game tied, the fact is it was a loss to a team that played with more energy and far more desperation. It was almost a carbon copy of Wednesday’s performance against Colorado.

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Aren’t You Glad Cody Eakin Stayed In Vegas?

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

The Golden Knights are currently holding voting for their Seventh Player Award which goes to the player who exceeded expectations.

Fans can go online to the team’s website and cast their vote for one of four finalists.

Considering some of those who will be voting wanted him gone before the season began, can there be a better choice than Cody Eakin?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The 27-year-old center from Winnipeg is having the best season of his NHL career. Going into tonight’s game against Colorado in Denver, Eakin has 20 goals, 18 assists, and 38 points playing primarily on the third line for Gerard Gallant. He is a superb penalty killer, arguably Vegas’ best faceoff man and is extremely responsible in his own end of the ice. He is the quintessential “200-foot player” Gallant always talks about.

Eakin is one of four nominees, along with defenseman Jon Merrill, and forwards Ryan Reaves and Brandon Pirri. I can make a strong case for Merrill too as he was another Knight that many thought didn’t deserve to wear the steel grey and black sweater. But Merrill is also having a career year and has had a terrific second half of the season on the VGK blue line after struggling early in the season when he was getting more ice time while Nate Schmidt served his 20-game suspension.

Reaves has also performed admirably. He leads the NHL in hits and has nine goals, the most of his career. You can certainly make a case for Reaves.

Pirri got called up, was hot early but has tailed off the last month or so.

The popularity contest the team is running aside, Eakin has not only been one of the most improved players on the Golden Knights, you can make a case he has been the team’s Most Valuable Player, though it would be hard not to look at Marc-Andre Fleury as the MVP given what he has done this season.

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