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Author: Jason Pothier Page 2 of 60

Surprising Ducks Not Cup Ready Like Golden Knights

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The Golden Knights are loaded with high-ticket talent and proven leaders. When Jack Eichel makes his Vegas debut the 31st franchise will be one of the league’s most dangerous teams. Tonight’s opponent, the Anaheim Ducks are skilled but built much differently. Through the draft the Ducks became younger, cheaper and much more competitive than they had over the last few seasons. For instance, Anaheim had an eight game win streak, one of their players string together a sixteen game point streak, and currently sit one point above the Golden Knights in the standings. It’s a bit of a shock to fans of teams in the Pacific Division.

Since their arrival, Vegas is 18-3-0 all-time against Anaheim. The Golden Knights have outscored the Ducks 79-41 and allow only 1.95 goals per game. It’s been a one-sided series to say the least. This season the two teams met in late October and as usual the Vegas won 5-4. However, the box score won’t tell you Vegas blew a 4-1 lead in the 3rd period, or Anaheim scored three unanswered goals in a five minute span, or the game was decided in shootout.

If it wasn’t clear before, trading for Eichel was clear sign the Golden Knights are in a full win-now mode. Whereas the Ducks are playing without any organizational pressure. It’s all about building chemistry, experience, and making an unsuspected run towards the playoffs. Of course, every team desires deep playoff runs but few are constructed well enough to win a Stanley Cup. Vegas is one of them. Anaheim is showing early signs they could be in the future.

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Vegas Is Becoming Alex Pietrangelo’s Team

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Let’s be honest, we all thought the Golden Knights would be a lot worse off than they are today. Thanksgiving has passed and we can all let out a collective sigh knowing that if the season ended today Vegas would be in the playoffs.

The injury bug hit the Golden Knights hard but through coaching, leadership, and responsibility, the Golden Knights are currently in third place in the division.

One player that was an enormous reason why the Golden Knights kept their heads above water is defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Since Game 52 of last season, Pietrangelo has emerged as Vegas’ most important player. Sure, some deep stats will disagree but frankly, this is a case of mistaken identity. You want a stat? The Golden Knights are 7-2 when Pietrangelo registers a point. A point! Not a goal, but just one point from #7 usually propels the Golden Knights to a victory. That’s just his offensive contributions.

Clearly, coach Pete DeBoer isn’t concerned with what the data says about his most essential player. If the 31-year-old is such a deterrent than why would he be one of the most utilized defenseman in hockey? Pietrangelo is a bonafide workhorse and a fantastic facilitator for DeBoer.

Average Time On Ice: 25:16

  • 1st on VGK, 9th in NHL

Even Strengthened Minutes Per Game: 20:03

  • 2nd on VGK (1st – Theodore 20:17)

PP Minutes Per Game: 2:20

  • 2nd on VGK (1st – Stone 3:05)

Shorthanded Minutes Per Game: 2:50

  • 2nd ok VGK (1st – McNabb 2:57)

Offensive or defensive draw, up a goal or down a goal, up a man or down a man, it doesn’t matter, DeBoer is calling on #7.

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Up Two Or Down Two, Vegas Can Handle Either

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It’s been said that a two goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. Silly, right? However, there’s some truth to it.

As you might expect, the absolute most dangerous lead in hockey is the one-goal lead as 85.35% of those were surrendered. That means either a game was tied up or the opponent took the lead back from them.

A two goal lead was given up 39.52%, seeing a two-goal lead given up nearly four out of every ten times is incredible. Think of the “dead puck” era when a two-goal lead essentially meant the game was over. Now? Not so much. Of the 463 times a team held a two-goal advantage, 183 times that team gave it up.- NBCSports.com

When a club is up two or more in a game, they tend to take their foot off the gas or play with a bit of unnatural risk. Not too mention trying to stop an angry, desperate team chasing goals. On Tuesday night in St. Louis it was a rare occurrence that a 2-0 lead wasn’t good enough for Pete DeBoer and his players.

We got the start we wanted for a change, and we talked about that, and we let them back in the game.-Pete DeBoer, VGK coach

No need for panic as it was the first time all season the Golden Knights blew a two goal advantage and lost. Vegas had spoiled puckline leads in the past but always found ways to win. The season opener against Seattle and the overtime scramble against Anaheim are two instances that stand out. In St. Louis the guard was let down too early and the Blues sensed it.

Original Golden Knight David Perron liked the Blues response on Tuesday night. Perron told Bally Sports Midwest that trailing by two only fueled his team.

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Vegas Catching Up With The Eastern Conference

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After defeating the Detroit Red Wings last night, Vegas clawed back to one game under .500 against Eastern Conference teams this season. The Golden Knights received three goals from defensemen, one from veteran Reilly Smith and rookie Paul Cotter added another. Whatever coach Pete DeBoer drew up before the game, it couldn’t have worked out any better than their well-rounded 5-2 result. It hasn’t gone as smoothly against other teams from the East.

On Tuesday, the Golden Knights faced a much more complete team and lost by two at home. Carolina is one of the NHL’s best overall clubs, and happen to be much healthier than Vegas. The Hurricanes high end forwards and mobile defense troubled the Golden Knights. Star forward Sebastian Aho shot seven times, registering 2 points and the Canes took 14 shots from defensemen. Carolina boasts 3.5 goals per game and like Vegas receive a good percentage of their offense from their blue line. Injuries aside, both rosters are among the elite and would make for an entertaining final.

The NY Islanders were another Eastern Conference team Vegas struggled with, losing 2-0 at T-Mobile Arena in late October. New York played defensively, waited out mistakes, forcing Vegas into bad shots and one and out opportunities. The Golden Knights fell into the Islanders trap and outshot New York two to one, but were out scored 2-0. Games against New York are consistently uneventful and Vegas will need patience and quality shooting to win a tight, low scoring contest. Unfortunately, the Golden Knights fell in similar fashions in back-to-back semifinals, so there’s plenty to learn from an Islanders loss.

At times in an NHL season it’s pick your poison night; a slow frustrating game or an exhaustive track meet. Earlier this month, Vegas traveled and lost by four in Toronto. The loss wasn’t the problem, the concern was the Golden Knights getting blanked 4-0. We’re all aware of Toronto’s weak defense and goaltending of the past, so at full strength Vegas should capitalize.

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DeBoer Deserves Full Credit For Vegas’ Turnaround

There have been times that coach Pete DeBoer has been outcoached. Without dwelling on bad memories, his last two conference final exits were not his best moments. Last night however, was a great example of how the well-prepared, strategic leader can get the most out of his lineup.

In 14 games this season Vegas’ coach has used 29 separate players due to several devastating injuries. That’s one less than DeBoer needed all of last season. He’s needed the entire roster including a handful of Silver Knights. Not one of them are first round picks and all have incredibly limited experience. Through his leadership the rookies and journeymen have been good enough to help Vegas climb two games above .500. What makes his coaching so impressive is who the Golden Knights are winning with and without.

With

Paul Cotter: 2018 4th Round Pick, 1 Career Goal
Jonas Rondbjerg: 2017 3rd Round Pick, 1 Career Goal
Jake Leschyshyn: 2016 2nd Round Pick, 12 Career NHL Games
Keegan Kolesar: 2015 3rd Round Pick, 3 Career Goals
Michael Amadio: 4th NHL Team, 0.22 Career Points Per Game
Dylan Coghlan: Undrafted, 13:40 Career Average Time On Ice
Daniil Miromanov: Undrafted, 3 Career NHL Games

Early on it looked as if Vegas would severely struggle without their heavyweights Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson but Vegas’ ragtag bunch have performed well enough to win seven of their last nine games, which is a testament to the coaching staff.

Every skating unit for Vegas is less experienced and less talented but DeBoer has gotten the most of his replacements. Depth scoring put the team in control last night against Minnesota, receiving two of their three goals from players who had never scored before in the NHL. The coaching staff built confidence, taught patience, attention to detail, and hard work as Vegas dug out of their early ditch. Sure it’s cliché, but when the stars are hurt it really comes down their backups  understanding and executing their roles.

Without

Mark Stone: 506 Career NHL Games, 449 Career Points
Max Pacioretty: 2007 1st Round Pick, 306 Career NHL Goals
William Karlsson: 291 VGK Games, 222 VGK Points
Zach Whitecloud: 72 Career Games, 16:52 Career Average Time On Ice

While there’s still plenty of hockey left, DeBoer should be considered up to this point, a coach of the year candidate. What he’s been able to do with less is hard to ignore. His team is stacked defensively and profits from steady goaltending, but the real surprise is Vegas’ offense. A team that once had trouble scoring now boasts 3.3 goals per game.

Once the gang is back, including Jack Eichel, the Golden Knights coach won’t need to rely simply on structure. No matter how many goals they score and games they win this season, unfair or not, DeBoer’s final grade will solely be based on postseason success. For now, let’s give the third year coach major credit for getting most of his players and finding ways to win. And I don’t know, maybe it’s worth sprinkling a few bucks on DeBoer to win the Jack Adam’s award.

Jack Eichel’s Business Sense Built For Vegas

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It’s rare for an NHL player to request a trade. But when you’re an upset 25-year-old franchise center being forced to undergo an undesired medical procedure, things change.

When he went to them with a trade request, they took it very personally. There are people that can say I understand that this is business and the people don’t understand that. Jack Eichel saw this is as business. –Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Let’s face it, that type of acumen fits well with an organization that’s moved on from fan favorites, bought cap space for little return, and purchased the biggest names in the sport. We’ve learned early on in the franchise’s existence that it’s a fish or cut bait mentality. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they continue to make the playoffs.

Eichel had his own put up or shut up moment last offseason when he requested a trade.

The Pegualas saw Jack Eichel the same way the fans did as a US born savior of their team. When he asked for a trade they saw it as a betrayal… they were so hurt and so disappointed, I have no doubt it made the situation harder. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Eichel felt like he was doing his part but the Sabres organization wasn’t doing enough for him. Lack of supporting characters and a messy front office were bad enough but not allowing Eichel to chose his own medical procedure led to his cold but calculated demand.

He did a lot of research into the two surgeries and why one was better than the other and why he chose the disc replacement. It was almost like he was saying I earned the right to the make the decision. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

In 375 games with Buffalo, Eichel registered 139 goals and 355 total points. Not only did he earn the right to make decisions but the Sabres ownership backed that up by offering an $80M extension in 2017. After handing over large sums of money like that, it would suggest the Sabres wanted Eichel to have a voice in the organization. The player felt it was taken away by barring him from a selective surgery or his choice.

Eichel credited all of his agents, I think over the last couple of weeks Brisson and Berry really turned up the heat. They knew they had a really unhappy client and they were turning up the heat anyway they could. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

On top of his high end skill that will undoubtedly win Vegas more hockey games it’s the possibility of handling a pressure filled boardroom organization like the Golden Knights. Eichel has proven he’s willing to pause his career for what’s best for himself. Not many players would’ve held steadfast like the newest Golden Knight but he put himself first and the team second. And that’s completely fair.

However, when the surgery is done and his neck has healed, Eichel is strictly in the business of winning a Stanley Cup.

San Jose An Example How To Turn Around Canadian Road Trip

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It was a tough start to their four-game road trip. Travel, time zone change and adding insult to several injuries, the Golden Knights were forced to cover Austin Matthews and Mitch Marner without another impact player. The Maple Leafs’ high-end talent took advantage of a beaten up Golden Knights lineup and eventually cruised to a 4-0 victory.

Their best players were on tonight. It was one of those nights, and with the lineup we’ve got right now, we’re going to have to red line every night in all areas in order to compete, especially against good teams, and that’s a real good team. -Pete DeBoer

Sure, the odds were stacked against Vegas but it was all but over after the second goal of the game. The Leafs are an excellent 35-2-3 when Marner and Matthews score in the same game, so it would have been nearly impossible for even a healthy Golden Knights roster to win under those conditions.

The focus now shifts to how the road trip finishes.

Big ask tonight when you look at what we’re dealing with. I think our effort actually wasn’t an issue. I thought we didn’t execute against a team that puts a lot of heat on you, and they put a lot of pressure on us in tough areas. -DeBoer

This season the Golden Knights are 2-2-0 on the road with three upcoming games to improve their record. Stealing 4-6 points over the next three games would send Vegas back home with their heads held high.

A couple of weeks back Pacific rival San Jose Sharks swept their trip to Eastern Canadian. Unlike Vegas, San Jose’s first matchup began in Montreal and ended in Toronto. Against the Canadiens, the Sharks scored two in the first four minutes to ignite a 5-0 victory. Montreal was/is reeling and San Jose pounced on them in several different ways. The Golden Knights have enough weapons in their current lineup to win in a similar fashion.

The Sharks received two goals from rookie Jonathan Dahlen, one from defenseman Erik Karlsson and two on the power play. Between Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez and Nic Hague, the Golden Knights have plenty of options from the blue line. Without piling on, Vegas can’t rely on their power play but they may have enough offense to win a low-scoring affair. Now would be the time for 20-year-old Peyton Krebs to start contributing and registering points. The 2019 1st rounder is young and learning on the fly but he’s pointless through nine games this season and has just 10 shots. Vegas could really use his offensive skill as one goal could change their road trip. No matter who’s in the lineup, there should be plenty of motivation to squash the Canadiens after last season’s six-game semifinal defeat.

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How 122 Minutes Changed The Direction Of The Golden Knights Season

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It’s amazing how quickly the tides can turn for a professional sports team. For example, the Atlanta Braves were floundering below .500 in late June, holding the tenth worst record in the National League. Now, Atlanta is three games away from winning the World Series. Okay, maybe the Golden Knights two game Central sweep isn’t of the same magnitude but the tone surrounding the team and the fanbase is a stark difference from what it was on Tuesday afternoon.

There’s no arguing who’s lineup was more talented over the past two games and especially on Tuesday night. Down to their bare bones the Golden Knights did something that not even the organization expected to happen, win back-to-back road games in Colorado and Dallas. It was a tall order but coach Pete DeBoer and his makeshift roster performed as if Mark Stone was leading the way. However, the absence of Stone and others were replaced with gutsy performances by the current, less-talented Golden Knights.

Clearly, DeBoer got through to his players before the road trip began on Tuesday. In case it wasn’t loud enough the de facto leaders (Pietrangelo, Marchessault, Smith, Karlsson, Martinez) made sure the message was heard. Based off their last six periods (and OT) the healthy players were highly motivated and reminded the league on back-to-back nights that their season wasn’t finished.

It was a gutsy road trip. It was a gutsy win again today, short bench, had more guys leave during the game, so we were basically playing three lines. Guys dug deep all week. Tough circumstances and guys found a way. It was a real character test and I thought we did a great job. -Pete DeBoer

One of the reasons Vegas was able to survive and collect four enormous road points was the brilliant play from their goaltenders. As expected, Robin Lehner was Colorado’s foil, and backup Laurent Brossoit put his team in a position to win the game down the stretch in Dallas. Without sharp goaltending this week would look a lot bleaker. Several times over the last two games Vegas could have lost confidence and let the game get away from them. Up 2-1 in Colorado, the Avalanche had more than a period to tie the game but Lehner and his teammates refused to let that happen.

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Can The Golden Knights “Find” Three Goals Per Game?

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After Wednesday’s loss to the St. Louis Blues, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said his team needed to find a way to score three goals per night. Averaging 3+ goals per game almost guarantees an NHL team, and specifically the Golden Knights, a victory or at worse an overtime loss.

In 2020-21, the Golden Knights were 35-2-1 when they scored three or more goals in a game. Also, ten games ended in an overtime period or shootouts capturing at least one point.

So let’s pretend the Golden Knights will be without their weapons for 20 games. It could be more, hopefully less, but the length of time Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone are on the shelf won’t matter for this exercise.

The idea here is to try and add up averages to see if it’s actually possible for this lineup as currently constructed to reach three goals consistently.

Thanks to DeBoer, he solved the first part of the equation for us.

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How Much Lost Offense Can Vegas Make Up?

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Since their arrival, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone have been Vegas’ two statistical heavyweights. The captain is a point per game (0.99) player and his linemate isn’t far behind (0.86), so it’s safe to say their impact will be missed. Without Pacioretty and Stone for an extended amount of time, the Golden Knights will need to find scoring from within to make up for that massive loss of offense.

% Of Team Offense From Pacioretty and Stone

2018-19: (246) VGK Goals Scored
Pacioretty (32) and Stone (5) combined for 11% of team goals

2019-20: (224) VGK Goals Scored
Pacioretty (32) and Stone (21) combined for 25% of team goals

2020-21: (190) VGK Goals Scored
Pacioretty (24) and Stone (21) combined for 24% of team goals

In a full NHL season, Pacioretty and Stone score on average a quarter of Vegas’ goals. While they’re out, other Golden Knights players will have to make up for that lost offense. All fingers will point to the Misfit line but coach Pete DeBoer can’t rely solely on them. Since the inaugural 2017-18 season, the trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith have added offense on a nightly basis. Which is a big reason why all three players have scored the most points in franchise history. The Misfit line will need to find ways to add more but Vegas’ coach is already expecting a quarter of his offense to come from them as it is.

Misfit Line Contribution

2017-18: 92 Goals (WK 43, JM 27, RS 22)
Misfits combined for 34.5% of team goals

2018-19: 68 Goals (WK 24, JM 25, RS 19)
Misfits combined for 28% of team goals

2019-20: 64 Goals (WK 15, JM 22, RS 27)
Misfits combined for 28% of team goals

2020-21: 46 Goals (WK 14, JM 18, RS 14)
Misfits combined for 24% of team goals

The construction of the Golden Knights roster is heavily reliant on the top-six and somehow the team will need to replace the missing offense in order to set up for a late playoff run.

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