**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
I’m not sure how much Peter DeBoer is liked by the Golden Knights’ fan base. Maybe he’s revered. Perhaps he’s reviled.
I don’t know if his players love playing for him, hate him, or a little bit of both.
Here’s what I do know: The Golden Knights would not be winning their opening-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against Minnesota if he were not on the bench.
It appears virtually every button DeBoer has pushed has been the right one. And even when he miscalculates, as he did putting Tomas Nosek on the first line in Game 1, he quickly adjusted, moving Nosek down and playing Alex Tuch with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson.
Think about what has transpired over the first four games and the coach whose team owns a 3-1 lead and can close out the series Monday at the Fortress.
DeBoer’s biggest decision was who to play in goal vs. the Wild. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury seemed like a no-brainer given how well he had been playing. But the rotation with Robin Lehner was working and while DeBoer might have been criticized had he decided to go with Lehner in Game 1, he opted for Fleury. The 36-year-old veteran, who owns three Cup rings, justified his coach’s faith by playing some outstanding hockey. It’s his net and at this point, it’s going to take an injury to Fleury for Lehner to see the ice.
Then there were the challenges in Games 3 and 4. DeBoer could have ignored video coach Dave Rogowski and Mike Rosati, the goaltending coach, who DeBoer said team up to tell him whether or not to challenge. But he listened to them both times and he is 2-for-2.
In Game 3, the Knights were already trailing 2-0 and had the goal stood, chasing a 3-0 game is vastly different. Maybe DeBoer opts to yank Fleury. Instead, the goal is disallowed, Mark Stone scores huge goal in the 2nd period, the Wild unravel at the seams and the Knights score five unanswered and win Game 3, 5-2.
Saturday, Marcus Foligno appeared to encroach Fleury’s space in the crease. But you never know how they’ll rule up in Toronto when the challenges are reviewed. But DeBoer challenged, the goal was disallowed, the Knights’ 1-0 lead stood and Minnesota really never got back in it.
DeBoer also made some key personnel decisions. He opted to sit Nic Hague in Game 3 and use veteran Nick Holden. Holden was strong defensively and had a pair of assists. Saturday, Brayden McNabb was unavailable, so Hague was back in and Holden skated with Shea Theodore, knowing his principal assignment was to make sure Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota’s sensation rookie, didn’t get untracked. In four games so far, Kaprizov has just one assist.
Holden helped keep Kaprizov off the scoresheet in Game 4 and Hague, reunited with Zach Whitecloud, had a strong game.
With Nosek injured, DeBoer could have played Cody Glass or Dylan Sikura. Instead, he put Patrick Brown, who had missed eight weeks with a torn hamstring, in the lineup. Brown, playing with Ryan Reaves and William Carrier, scored a goal, won faceoffs, played responsibly in his own end, and forechecked effectively.
Notice a pattern?
We talk about players getting hot all the time where everything they touch turns to gold. It can be the same with coaches. Sometimes, every move they make is the right one. That’s what DeBoer is experiencing in this series. He has the Midas touch.
Remember, he’s without his leading goal scorer. He’s had regulars (Nosek, McNabb) miss games. Alec Martinez is obviously less than 100%, yet DeBoer wisely allows Martinez to miss morning skates and allow him as much time as possible to rest and recover. It’s paying off as Martinez has had a strong series and saved a potential goal Saturday clearing the puck out of the crease after Fleury made the initial stop.
DeBoer’s experience in coaching in the postseason is showing up here as he is managing his roster astutely. Remember, his hands were tied during the regular season after management had put the organization in salary cap hell. He couldn’t play someone like Holden even if he wanted to because the cap space wasn’t there for him to put No. 22 in the lineup. But Holden stayed ready and he has delivered.
His decision to move Tuch up has also helped two different lines. Tuch has been a force playing with Stone and Stephenson. But Nicolas Roy was exceptional Saturday with a pair of goals and Mattias Janmark and Keegan Kolesar were pulling their weight as well. It’s always nice when you’re getting offense from your bottom-six forwards and that was the case in Games 3 and 4.
But it’s not just DeBoer. The entire coaching staff is pitching in. The Knights have had the better of it in the faceoff circle and assistant Ryan Craig, who works with the centers, deserves credit for that. He’ll stay on the ice with them and work on things and I’m sure they do a lot of video study to find tendencies of opponents and maybe even the way linesmen drop the puck. Whatever he has done, it has been working.
Vegas blocked 39 shots in the two wins in St. Paul and assistant Ryan McGill, who handles the defense, has had a hand in that. He has helped position the guys on the blue line to be able to get in the way of opposing shots. Yes, it takes courage to get in front of a puck traveling 100 mph or faster, but Martinez, McNabb, Pietrangelo, and the others have answered the bell and I’m sure they have the bruises to show for it.
The Knights’ penalty kill has been perfect in the playoffs, including a critical kill of a four-minute double-minor to Whitecloud for high-sticking Zach Parise in the second period of Game 4. That’s Steve Spott’s area of expertise and it’s been a strong suit of this team all season. The power play, while not generating a lot, even looks better despite Pacioretty’s absence.
And yes, there’s Rogowski and Rosati making their contributions. I don’t know how much credit Rosati gets for Fleury’s performance vs. the Wild but Fleury has been sensational, sporting a 0.99 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage. He keeps this up and the Knights roll to the Cup, we’re talking Conn Smythe Trophy. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
It’s always easy to point the finger of blame at the head coach and make him the fall guy when things don’t go well. But DeBoer has his team on the verge of closing things out Monday and moving on to what will likely be the showdown the entire hockey world has been anxiously awaiting to see — a second-round series vs. Colorado. He has done his job handling things and he deserves to be praised for it. After all, what’s fair is fair.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**