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Cassidy’s Neutral Zone Adjustment Helped VGK Win Game 6, And Maybe Game 7 Too

Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas

In most playoff series the matchup of the coaches gets overblown. Talk of adjustments, line changes, goalie decisions, motivational tactics, and so much more find their way into the ether when in reality, the better hockey team typically wins despite all of it.

When it comes to the Golden Knights and Stars first round series headed to a 7th and final game, there’s no doubt the coaching has had an impact. Bruce Cassidy’s box-and-one defending style helped Vegas grab a pair of leads and hold onto them to take control of the series. Then, Pete DeBoer’s squad adjusted their exits by using the walls more to help his defensemen get the puck out before VGK’s big bruising forecheck got into the picture.

DeBoer also deserves credit for advising his forwards to leak out of the zone even earlier than they are used to catch a Vegas defense that often overloads a side of the ice against transition chances. Dallas has hit multiple stretch passes that have sent players in on clean breakaways. (Fortunately for Vegas their goalies have shut down most of them.)

As the tide of the series shifted back from Vegas to Dallas, Cassidy had to find a way to speed his team up. The Stars were making the Golden Knights look old and stodgy by limiting their ability to carry the puck through the center of the ice. In Game 6, Cassidy presented another option to his team, it unlocked the neutral zone, and made Vegas look fast again.

They’ve done a really good job at taking away the middle of the ice. We pride ourselves in that too. So, there’s room outside. So that’s what we did. We said, ok we’ve got to get the puck outside and take the ice that’s there. You’re probably not making a lot of east-west plays in the he neutral zone and we didn’t. We took what was there for the most part. -Cassidy

Here are a couple of quick examples of exactly what he’s talking about.

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Above, Below, or Meeting Expectations: Far Too Many Golden Knights Fall Into The Wrong Category

Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas

The Golden Knights are defending Stanley Cup champions.

For the last 11 months here at SinBin.vegas we’ve used that sentence to start just about every article, literally every podcast, and everywhere else possible. Tonight might be the last time we get to use it.

That is unless the Golden Knights get improved performances from a bunch of players in Game 6 and 7.

Being the reigning champions, and bringing back a roster that is similar, if not improved on paper, means Vegas doesn’t need anyone to exceed expectations. Instead, they simply need everyone to play to their ability and they should once again be the best team in the NHL.

Through 5 games in this first round series against the Stars, that is not happening. More than half of the roster is falling short of their expectations, while just a few are exceeding them.

To illustrate this, I’ve broken the team down into those three categories, exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or below expectations. For the Golden Knights to retain their title as defending Stanley Cup champions for even one more day, a bunch of players are going to have to take a step up from the category they’ve resided in currently in this series to at least one step higher.

**These are listed in order. For “exceeding,” first is the player most exceeding their expectation. For “meeting,” first is the player closest to exceeding, last is the player closest to below. For “below,” first is the player closest to meeting, last is the player below by the most.

Exceeding Expectations
Brayden McNabb, Logan Thompson, William Carrier

There’s a legitimate argument that Brayden McNabb has been VGK’s best player in this series. If you told me that was going to be the case coming in, I’d be certain the Golden Knights are behind in the series, and that’s exactly where they are. He’s been offensively involved and even better than his already high level defensively.

Thompson and Carrier are in a similar spot as both have been very good but their best moments have come in losing efforts so they get lost a bit. Thompson was out of control good in Game 3, but the team was so bad it didn’t end up making a difference. Carrier scored a wraparound goal on a wonderful individual effort, but the game-tying 1st period goal was the last Vegas scored.

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It’s Time For Vegas’ Best Game

From ESPN broadcast

It’s time.

It’s time for Mark Stone. It’s time for Alex Pietrangelo. It’s time for Chandler Stephenson and Jonathan Marchessault and Shea Theodore and William Karlsson. It’s time for the roster littered with Stanley Cup rings. It’s time for the team that went all-in at the deadline. It’s time for the lineup so stacked it’s drawn the wrath of the NHL world.

Everything is in place. Now, the players have to do it.

The front office has restocked the team to give them every chance under the sun possible to repeat. The coach has presented them with a plan that has proven to work. He subsequently pressed all the buttons at the same time to see if he could shock the system.

In this series and especially in the last three games, Vegas’ best players have not been good enough. Stone, Hertl, and Stephenson have not been on the ice for a single 5-on-5 goal. Karlsson has been out there for just one. Marchessault hasn’t come through with a clutch  late-game goal. And let’s not even get started about whatever is going on with Alex Pietrangelo.

Simply put, based on the analytics, the Golden Knights are fortunate to still have a chance to rescue their title defending season.

They can’t wait any longer and the task is as tall as it’s ever been.

They’ll face their first elimination game since 2021 and have to beat a team (and goalie) brimming with confidence. Then, they’ll have to break Pete DeBoer’s perfect 7-0 record in Game 7’s.

But if there’s anyone that can do it, it’s the Golden Knights.

We’ve seen it, literally just seven days ago the reigning champions were the favorites to win the Western Conference. They’ve shown the ability to lock down the Dallas Stars powerful offense. They’ve shown the strength to hold the puck in the offensive zone and wear down a 5-man defense unit. And they’ve been able to break one of the better goalies in the league.

It’s going to take Vegas’ best game and then an even better game after it. And it’s going to take a great performance from the captain, a controlled one from their first alternate, and a step forward by the Conn Smythe, the trade deadline acquisitions, and the rest of the depth of the team.

There’s only one way forward and it all rests on the shoulders of the players. No more excuses.

Time to rise up like the champions.

Alec Martinez’s Playoff Presence Stabilizing In Relief For Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

About a month ago veteran defenseman Alec Martinez was written off. Many were preparing his send off into retirement or jump to some team less desirable than Vegas. After adding Noah Hanifin and signing him to a long-term extension, it appeared Martinez was buried on the depth chart. That is up until his name was called for Game 2 in Dallas.

You rely on your experience. You know what playoff hockey is like. Maybe not a notch, maybe two or three notches above what the regular season is like. Seven game series, there’s a little more emotions, more physicality, more animosity built. I’m just excited to be a part of it. -Alec Martinez

There was no secret about it. When the lineup was fully intact, Martinez was the first one out. Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy sat the 3-time Stanley Cup champion nine times in the final 19 games. He held Martinez out of Game 1 against Dallas, only to activate him after Nic Hague’s latest injury. Now, it’s like nothing changed and the league’s premier shot blocker is back to shrinking shooting alleys in a playoff game.

Earlier in the series we highlighted the Golden Knights knack for shot blocking. In his three games, Martinez became the league leader in blocked shots per game this postseason. Along with teammate Brayden McNabb, Martinez has disrupted roughly nine shots per game. As the series goes deeper, Martinez ability to eat pucks will likely earn him more minutes. Heavy and hostile series tend to wear down the average player, but not for tested, workman type d-men like Martinez and McNabb.

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What VGK Did Wrong In Game 3 And How They Can Correct It

Photo from ProjectSaint in SinBin Discord

The Golden Knights’ performance to start Game 3 was unrecognizable compared to how they played in Dallas in the first two games of the series. They were outshot 30-10 in the first half of the game and if it weren’t for an other-worldly goaltending performance from Logan Thompson would have been trailing by five or six rather than just two.

Of course, Vegas stormed back into the game with a 4-on-4 goal followed by a shorthanded tally but never got their game going in the right direction at 5-on-5 for the entirety of the 76 minute game.

There were two main problems that plagued the Golden Knights in Game 3 and they worked hand in hand to allow the Stars to dictate a majority of the contest. First, VGK’s puck management in the neutral zone was poor. They turned the puck over on countless occasions leading directly or indirectly to transition chances the other way. This meant as the game went along they became more committed to dumping the puck into the offensive zone. That’s where problem two arose, Vegas struggled to slow down Dallas’ exits along the walls.

Combine them both, and it led to one way traffic coming at Thompson for most of the night, illustrated perfectly by a 27-4 edge in high-danger chances and 54-26 in overall scoring chances to Dallas.

They took it to us. We had no business being in that game. LT stood on his head and allowed us a chance to get back in it. We have to learn from it and have a better start in Game 4. -Brayden McNabb

The first issue is a simple one to fix. Game 3 was not the first time the Golden Knights have had puck management issues this season and typically they were able to correct it quickly. It’s the other aspect of the game that is a bit more concerning.

We have to play through their hands. There’s a lot of time we’re going up as defensemen or forwards coming back and we’re doing fly-bys. We need to close on that guy whether the D goes up and ends it and the forward reads off him and gets over the middle speed or the forward gets up and ends it because the D wasn’t able to get there in time and then the D recovers to the middle to get over their middle speed to neutralize it. -Bruce Cassidy

Here’s an example of what Cassidy is talking about.

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Film Breakdown: Defensive Brilliance vs DAL

The Golden Knights took both games on the road in Dallas and are now in complete control of their first round series. They’re doing it with suffocating defense all over the ice.

In this film breakdown, we show what they are doing and how they are doing it.

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0 Shots, 5 Minutes

Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas

The clock at American Airlines Center said 5:00 left in the 3rd period. Already down in the series the home team found themselves down a goal in Game 2 as well. They had to score and quickly.

The Golden Knights had other ideas.

Despite holding controlling the puck for a majority of the last five minutes and pulling their goalie for the extra attacker, the Stars did not manage to get a single shot on net the rest of the game.

We’re trusting each other. That’s huge. You have to trust the four other guys on the ice with you to do their job and I think we’ve been doing that really well. -Noah Hanifin

The goaltender, who was crucial in keeping the game tied in the 2nd period, used the same word, trust.

I’m used to it by now. I completely trust my forward group and D group in front of me. You know the team is clicking when they are getting in front of every puck. We battle for each other. -Logan Thompson

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