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Author: Jason Pothier Page 2 of 64

Playoffs A Reminder Health Isn’t Only Factor For Success

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs certainly has a different feel without the Golden Knights as participants. As we’ve been over many, many times since their season finale, injuries played a significant role in why the team is on the outside looking in. Halfway through the first round, it’s clear Vegas needed more than just their health to advance.

Western Conference Playoff Summary

  • 14-0 Team Scoring First
  • 8-6 Home Team
  • 4.25 Winning Team Average Goals
  • 3.22 Average Goal Differential Per Game
  • 1.8 Power Play Goals Per Win
  • 10-4 When Scoring PPG

Down the stretch, the Golden Knights had trouble picking up the first goal of game, received very little output from their power play, and lacked the ability to climb back and win from behind. On most nights in the playoffs, those elements would be a recipe for disaster. Not surprising, early consistent scoring is paying off in the postseason. So far, there have been 14 games played in the Western Conference, the team that scored the opening goal went on to win to all of them.

Naturally, lower-scoring teams focus on winning defensive battles helping them survive in a long series. Last night the LA Kings defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 and evened the series by playing their signature suffocating style. The Oilers are +7 in goal differential but are in no better shape than the Kings.

The sixth highest-scoring team in the NHL’s regular season has only mustered up three goals in three games. The Calgary Flames averaged 3.55 goals per game in the first 82 but have been held to 2 goals or less in the last three. Yet, the 2.84 goals per game Dallas Stars hold a 2-1 series lead.

Western Conference Goals Scored Per Game

  • Colorado 5.33 (1 ENG)
  • Edmonton 4.25
  • Minnesota 3.25 (2 ENG)
  • St. Louis 3.00 (1 ENG)
  • Dallas 2.00 (2 ENG)
  • Nashville 2.00
  • LA 2.50 (1 ENG)
  • Calgary 1.0

Subtract empty netters, and the averages decrease for several Western Conference contenders. Making most games much tighter than the averages show. No matter who Vegas faced off against their periodic offensive struggles could’ve haunted them in the first round.

Turn back the clock to Vegas’ run to the semifinals last year. In six games against the Montreal Canadiens, the Golden Knights averaged 2.18 goals per game, scored the opening goal twice, and were blanked on the man-advantage.

Without a doubt, the Golden Knights’ front office is tuning in nightly like all of us. We’ve heard dozens of times the NHL is a copycat league, it’s possible VGK execs are picking up plays for their grease board. Why not take a few notes on Colorado’s lethal PP, or some offensive strategies from Edmonton, Minnesota, or St. Louis. Maybe, it’s best to watch Dallas and LA’s suffocating, everything to the outside type of defense. It may be the difference between making semis or the finals.

VGK’s Collective Failure Began In Early January

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Since January 1st, the Golden Knights were statistically one of the worst teams in the NHL. Over the last four months, Vegas finished in the bottom ten in; Wins, Regulation Wins, Goals For, Goals Per Game, 5-on-5 Shooting Percentage, Losses When Outshooting Opponents, Wins When Outshooting Opponents, Goals Scored in 1st Period, Goals Scored in 2nd Period, Power Play Percentage, Penalties Drawn, Hits, Shootout Win Percentage, and Wins When Trailing First.

Incredibly enough, they only finished a few points behind the final Wild Card spot.

We got to camp and we were never at full health. You’re tired of hearing it, I’m tired of talking about it for as much as we have but clearly it’s the overarching issue that dominated our season. -McCrimmon

The numbers not only show Vegas was a below-average team in the second half of the season but struggled in a myriad of offensive statistics. Leading the way was the Golden Knights’ now notorious inadequate power play. Yet the organization is looking beyond the numbers.

I have great faith in the coaching. I’m not absolving responsibility on us as coaches either. We’re going to look at everything and I think we showed that in what we did during the season. We changed responsibilities, we had different voices, different looks. We’re going to keep looking at this until we get it right and I’m confident we will. -Pete DeBoer

Of course, it was an unfortunate, injury-plaqued season but it’s fair to ask if coach Pete DeBoer and his assistants adjusted enough in the final four months. Did the staff design or tweak enough to help generate more offense in the first 40 minutes of games? Unfortunately, it felt like DeBoer stuck with having “great faith” in what most would consider status quo.

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VGK’s Frustration Visibly Noticeable To Opponents

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It’s been eerily quiet since the Golden Knights season finale. There hasn’t been a peep from any of Vegas’ players, coaches, or executives since their postgame press conferences on Friday night. It’s almost as if The Creator and his staff are choosing the next Pope.

Without any knowledge of the conversations being held it’s impossible to guess which direction Vegas is heading. Whatever it may be, it was apparently obvious to many lineups across the NHL.

I had a few teams tell me today that Vegas was always a very together team. Through good and bad. This year was the first year they really saw them as a frustrated team. Doors slamming in games, players showing frustration or snapping at each other occasionally during games. I don’t want anyone to take that I think the Vegas Golden Knights all despise each other because I don’t know if that’s true. –Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

It’s no secret, Golden Knights fans witnessed their team’s frustration almost weekly. That’ll happen with extensive injuries, poor performances, and a struggling power play. However, we can’t hear the doors slamming or snapping on the bench. Mark Stone and other team leaders keep their locker room tight but it’s hard to believe it felt the same without the captain for most of the year. Add in injuries to Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez and the chemistry had to have taken a hit.

When you’re losing and your season is slipping away that’s normal. Teams noticed it more this year. Was that just as frustration of the injuries and the season slipping away or is there any chance the fabric of this team has been changed and they have to address that. I don’t know. Teams noticed it this year, more than ever. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman’s advice to the Golden Knights is to address the goaltending situation. Over the weekend, the Sportsnet reporter continued to stress that Robin Lehner’s frustration and season ending injuries were sensitive matters.

The number one thing they have to deal with is Lehner. People are telling me wait. This is not over. There’s still more to go here. What’s everyone going to say? This is going to take some skill and handling. There are the possibilities of aftershocks. Is this something that the league and the Players Association are going to have to get involved in? Depending on where all of this goes. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

It doesn’t take a spyglass for an opposing team to hear or read about the tension between Lehner and the coaching staff down the stretch. It was on full display after Vegas’ late-season loss against the New Jersey Devils.

Is there a way to deal with this so that it can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction mentally, and physically, and emotionally without a series of aftershocks that further damage the franchise. If it’s not dealt with in a proper way it’s going to get worse before it gets better. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight, unfortunately without the Golden Knights. On the bright side, missing the cut allows Vegas more time in the offseason. A head start helps examine prospects, target free agents, trades or anything else they feel they need to get sorted out. The next few days will reveal what the organization’s plans are going forward. Lehner, DeBoer, slamming doors, and teammates snapping are areas that need immediate attention.

Organization Requested Injured Lehner For Failed Stretch Run

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Last night the Golden Knights were officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Vegas failed in shootout for the third straight game, ending what was supposed to be a highly successful season. Over the past week, the team was desperate for points, and Logan Thompson, on no rest, gave them the best chance to succeed. It wasn’t ideal. Late season back-to-backs, four straight extended games, and endless pressure was one of the reasons the organization pleaded with Robin Lehner to play out the final few games.

He was unhappy with some of the criticism he was getting and being pulled. There were talks about how can we make this work, can you at least play through the season. Then he saw the doctors, he’s legitimately injured. They announced one surgery but I think there are two or three different injuries. –Elliotte Friedman, The Jeff Marek Show

Surely, had Lehner been available coach Pete DeBoer would have considered starting him against the Blackhawks. Or at the very least use him to support Thompson. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and the team was left with one option while Lehner prepares for season-ending surgery.

Lehner’s playing with two, possibly three really tough injuries. I just don’t know if it’s one thing or more than one thing. He’s left the team at times, he’s been injured at times. He’s tried to play through it, he’s competitive. It’s definitely effected his ability to be at his best. He’s not at his best but he’s competing. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman reported the team had asked Lehner to finish out the season and fight through his injuries. I’m sure that’s a common conversation players have with coaches this time of year. In this case, Vegas’ goaltender was battling too many ailments to suit up. Playing through injuries and being publicly criticized must have annoyed and frustrated Lehner. Which shouldn’t surprise DeBoer or the front office.

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Lehner’s Plan For Season Ending Surgery Another VGK Communication Breakdown

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Coach Pete DeBoer had time to reflect on Wednesday’s season saving comeback win against Washington. His team controlled the puck overtime and in a matter of minutes Vegas remained in a playoff hunt. Also, with yesterday’s day off the Golden Knights head coach was able to further internalize his controversial but successful goalie change in a 1-1 tie.

The decision to start him, we pay him to start games like this. It’s the most important time of the year. He’s healthy he’s fresh he’s got a lot of energy. We need him at this point of the year. After that NJ game I felt like I wanted to give him the opportunity to bounce back. -Pete DeBoer, 04/20

After Wednesday’s victory the head coach answered questions about why he decided to start Robin Lehner in net. DeBoer explained that the higher paid goaltender should get the nod in big games. 20 minutes into the game he clearly felt differently. The veteran coach also emphasized that Lehner was not injured and that the goalie was rested.

He’s healthy he’s fresh he’s got a lot of energy.-Pete DeBoer, 04/20

But the latest information refutes DeBoer’s claim. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan and The Athletic’s Jesse Granger both reported that Lehner will undergo season ending surgery.

Normally, these type of conflicting reports are further cleared up by the organization. That is if, they had the same information about Lehner’s health. However, today after Golden Knights practice things got weird.

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Vegas Needs Consistency To Manage Challenging Schedule

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Overall, it wasn’t a great weekend for the Golden Knights. They were unable to secure more than three points on their three-game road trip. The Kings, Predators, and Stars all won games as well. Time is running out. So, after an unrewarding weekend the Golden Knights need to quickly find consistency in their game and will need a little luck along the way as well.

Let’s start off positive. The Golden Knights play the 26-42-7 New Jersey Devils tonight at home. NHL computer models predict Vegas will defeat New Jersey fairly easily, so tack on two points to their total. That places them with 89 points, one point behind LA, and two behind Dallas and Nashville. With five games left that keeps Vegas in the hunt. At this late stage of the season that’s all you can really ask for.

We knew we weren’t going to run the table. We talked about that two weeks ago. We were going to drop some points along the way. We’re still right in the thick of things. -Pete DeBoer

After tonight’s game against the Devils, the Golden Knights schedule becomes more demanding. On paper, Vegas has the lineup to win out. Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty’s legs and lungs are building back to form. Thinking optimistically, if they contribute in all remaining games the Golden Knights can win most, if not all.

We’ve got to find a way to score goals in these tough games. In tight, especially. Teams are going to really tighten up in the D-zone here moving forward so we’ve got to find a way to bear down up front. -Alex Pietrangelo

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Pacific North Teams Won’t Make It Easy On Visiting Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Vegas is arguably on their most important road trip of the season beginning tonight in Vancouver. Three games against three hungry Canadian teams from the Pacific Division. The Canucks are desperately scratching and clawing, the Flames are in 1st place, and the Oiler’s high-powered offense has likely fueled them to the playoffs. There’s no understating, the next set of games are vital to Vegas’ postseason pursuit.

We’re doing whatever it takes to win. Whether it’s killing big penalties or scoring big goals on the power play. We have the ability in our room. It’s just a matter of us going out there and do it. -Bo Horvat, VAN captain

Let’s start with Vancouver. As Golden Knights fans watched last week the Canucks are not a team to take lightly. The team in green and blue are riding a three-game win streak and have no room for mistakes.

We all know how we have to finish this season. There’s no point of putting all of the stress on yourself. Every game is stressful because it’s do or die. We’ll play the right way and give ourselves a chance. It’s right in front of us. -JT Miller, VAN forward

Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau has his players loose and motivated for a chance to shock the conference. If Vegas drops tonight’s game, Vancouver will be only two points behind them. Vegas fans are already scoreboard watching LA, Dallas, and Nashville games, there’s not enough energy to keep tabs on another. That’s why the Golden Knights must play sound defensively, take advantage of second chances and get their star players back to form. Most importantly, leave British Columbia with two points.

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McCrimmon: If We Can Get In… We Will Be A Tough Out

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There are no guarantees in professional sports. In all leagues, there are highly-regarded teams each year that miss the postseason. Some by a large margin and other times by a few percentage points. Sadly, the badly wounded Golden Knights are one of those teams at risk of missing their mark.

I never anticipated that the injuries would last so long and just compound, one after the other. Sunday, we had eight guys out. In Seattle, we had nine guys out. Take that many guys out of your lineup and you lose your depth. –Kelly McCrimmon to Sportsnet

Injuries as we know are impacting results but last night’s effort wasn’t only about injuries. It was a lousy performance by 19 relatively healthy players, and it could cost them their season. Coach Pete DeBoer never mentioned missing players or a banged-up lineup in his postgame press conference. He only wanted to move on.

We were awful. We were awful in front of the net, we were awful in breakouts, we were awful everywhere. We were no good. So we’re going to flush it, move on, and get ready for Saturday.  -Pete DeBoer

Golden Knights fans have seen it countless times, some nights certain teams just don’t have it. Normally, it happens in November, or off a back-to-back or when families visit for a mild-weathered Christmas. Unfortunately, injuries make it difficult to predict when a dud of a game will occur.

If we can get in, I think we know what to expect at playoff time. We will be a tough out. –McCrimmon to Sportsnet

Last night was not the best example of Golden Knights hockey and they didn’t look like a desperate club trying to make the playoffs. It’s concerning DeBoer couldn’t get his team to play up to their abilities in such an important game. His superiors reminded Sportsnet it’s difficult to coach on any given night without their top performers.

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It’s All About Points Not Image For The Golden Knights

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As of today, the Golden Knights stand one point ahead of the Dallas Stars for the last wildcard spot. Since LA lost last night, Vegas is within striking distance of a top-three Pacific Division postseason slot as well. There are many moving parts but the local club muddied the waters and made up ground during their latest five-game winning streak.

Who are they when they get in there? The Vegas standard has risen so much. They’ve had so much success and they’ve had so many expectations. –David Backes on Jeff Marek Show

While coach Pete DeBoer and his players are taking care of their end, pundits across the league are still having trouble believing in Vegas’ postseason success. Former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes joined Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek to express his concerns about the Golden Knights’ identity after a season marred with injuries.

It’s a team that’s got a lot of great pieces but whether it’s due to injury, and when you’re losing your captain for long stretches, or if you’ve lost character guys in the room. I feel like they missing some direction and identity. I think you’d rather be a team that was undermanned and under skilled with identity than a team that’s got skill and all of the pieced without identity. –Backes on Jeff Marek Show

It’s possible by Game 1 of the postseason the Golden Knights are close(r) to being a healthier team. Captain Mark Stone and sniper Max Pacioretty would add significant boosts to Vegas’ offense and esteem. Both have the ability to take over a game with Stone’s two-way play and Pacioretty’s nasty wrist shot. However, how healthy will they be? And will their lack of action hurt team chemistry? Keep in mind, Stone has never shared the ice with Jack Eichel. Sure, both are incredibly rare talents but all professional athletes need familiarity to maximize success.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek presumes Vegas may not rebound this season. Not only due to several devastating injuries but also because of the organization’s intense culture.

It’s tough when faces of the franchise leave. We’ve talked a lot about how Vegas has a ruthless pursuit of the Cup. It’s at all costs. If we can improve the team it doesn’t matter what this guy or that guy has done for the squad. You’re gone. Whether it’s Ryan Reaves, Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps the best example. Maybe Gerard Gallant, who had the nerve to take the team to the Stanley Cup Final. Nate Schmidt is another great example. All jettisoned. You understand it, this is the business the hockey. –Jeff Marek on Sportsnet 590

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Seattle Tonight, Eager Vancouver Next

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I’m sure many Golden Knights fans were up scoreboard watching last night hoping the Dallas Stars and LA Kings would each drop two points. Unfortunately, both teams teased local fans and won in overtime and a shootout. My suggestion, pace yourself. With many tight races there could be some stressful nights ahead.

Tonight, the Golden Knights will play an opponent they have and should handle easily. Of course, it’s possible Seattle ends Vegas’ three-game win streak but in reality, the visiting team should leave with four points. It’ll alleviate some pressure heading into Sunday’s game against Vancouver.

I told a story today. I said my first year coaching in the NHL we needed to win 12 out of the last 13 games,” and we did. And we had to win the last seven and we did to get in by one point. These things happen. By no stretch does anybody, unless they’re lying to me, think that we’re done. But, I mean, we have to go on a pretty good run.-Bruce Boudreau, Canucks coach

After Seattle, Vegas will face an eager Vancouver team in an old-fashioned home-and-home matchup. The two teams meet up a final time on April 12th. While the playoffs look dim for the Canucks, they are led by a coach that thrives as an afterthought. There’s no doubt Vancouver will be in postseason mode against Vegas. Essentially, their season could come down to the next two games.

I try to stay away from the big things and try and make it more palatable. They can buy into and say ‘all we have to do is play good tonight and let’s worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.’-Bruce Boudreau, Canucks coach

I’m sure Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer has his own anecdotes and stories he passes along to his players as well. The only difference is Vancouver needs a miracle to survive while Vegas is expected to participate in the playoffs. DeBoer would be ecstatic picking up another win tonight and four combined points against the Kraken. The Golden Knights longest winning streak is five games so he’s aware it’s unlikely to continue against other desperate teams. It’s vital to pluck points from every lottery team left on Vegas’ schedule.

  • Tonight @ Seattle
  • April 9th vs. Arizona
  • April 18th vs. New Jersey
  • April 24th vs. San Jose
  • April 27th @ Chicago

The Golden Knights are fully aware that if they take advantage of lighter opponents the playoffs will be in their grasp. They cannot afford to let games slip away so it’s only worth focusing on one game at a time. Take control of the next three games and Vegas will nearly eliminate Vancouver, and be in a temporary playoff position. Then they’ll likely need to sweep their Alberta trip and leapfrog Dallas in the final week of the season.

Nevermind my earlier advice, after tonight the stress level will be unbearable. Hopefully, we’ll get a night off from scoreboard watching.

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