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Category: Game Analysis (Page 1 of 18)

Expectations Should Be High For Nate’s Return

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**

Nate Schmidt’s return to the Golden Knights’ lineup is exactly a week away. Suffice to say, he has been missed more than anyone ever realized.

I’m not going to get into the 20-game suspension the NHL meted out to the defenseman after testing positive for a banned substance prior to the season. We’re never going to learn the real circumstances as to what happened or what the substance was.

But if NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr is smart, he’ll demand that transparency be built into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. It will benefit the players to not have to hide behind a bunch of legalities when and if someone gets popped.

It would have been nice if Schmidt could have come clean and told the world exactly what happened. But what’s done is done. And as we look ahead to next Sunday and beyond, Schmidt’s return is not only welcome, it is critical to the team’s breaking out of its early-season morass and get itself into contention in the Pacific Division.

You all know the numbers. Schmidt leads the team in time on ice. He will help give Vegas’ anemic power play a boost. He’ll help make the penalty killing unit stronger as part of the second unit (Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb are the top D pair on the PK).

Then there are the intangibles that come with having Nate on the ice. He usually is skating against the opposition’s top forward and does a very good job of limiting the opponent’s chances. He will help the Knights’ transition from defense to offense because he is such a good passer and he sees the ice so well. He also will join the rush and support the attack.

I’m sure his teammates will be glad to have him back. He was warmly received in Ottawa the other day as he practiced with the team. He probably regaled the boys with stories of his time in Austria and how he helped the Vienna Capitals maintain their grip on the top spot in the Austrian League by his presence on the ice at the Caps’ practices.

That’s all well and good. But now is the time to step in, produce and lift up the Golden Knights. They sure could have used him Saturday at the Bell Centre. To cough up leads of 2-0 and 4-3 and lose to Tomas Tatar and the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 and come away with zero points should have left the players angry.

The Knights wrap up the four-game road trip tonight in Boston. They’re two games below .500 (7-9-1) with 15 points. When you’re swimming upstream and you have a chance to get to .500 and you let it get away, it’s the kind of night that come the off-season, you’ll look back on it and say, “How the hell did we let that one get away from us?”

And while you can say the Knights didn’t have Schmidt, Engelland, Paul Stastny and Erik Haula Saturday in Montreal, the fact is they had control of this game and there are no excuses.

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Hockey Central Rips Pacioretty, Golden Knights

Any time the Golden Knights head to Canada, specifically Toronto, the major media heads north of the border tend to weigh in on what they are seeing from Vegas. Following the 3-1 loss at the Maple Leafs, the voices of Sportsnet’s Hockey Central were not shy in tearing down the reigning Western Conference Champs.

Vegas played fast last year. They were a fast relentless team. I remember sitting down at breakfast with Gerard Gallant this summer and I said, you know Stastny, he slows things down. I mean I hope the pace is (still) pretty good. Then you throw Pacioretty on that wing and all of a sudden you are saying where’s the pace, where’s the speed with this group. -Doug MacLean, former NHL GM and head coach

We’re all in agreement that the shine on some level for many reasons has worn off on that Vegas team. -David Amber, Hockey Central host

They also had a singled out a specific new member of the Golden Knights.

I watch Pacioretty and he is not the 30 goal scorer we saw in previous years with the Montreal Canadiens. For me, he’s just not engaged, involved. He’s got to find a way to start getting into the trenches to score goals again. I don’t know whether or not it’s just the needle moving at the speed of the game the last two or three years, but if you don’t have that dynamic step it’s tough to get into spots to score goals. -Nick Kypreos, former NHL player

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First Line Has Gone Quiet

What the heck is happening to our beloved 1st line?!? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over the course of the first 10 games of the season, the Golden Knights top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith tallied 10 of the teams 21 goals. They also accounted for 24 of the team’s 49 points. In short, as we wrote about at the time, they were carrying the team.

Unfortunately, that has come to a screeching halt. In the past five games, the top line has scored just two goals, racked up a measly three assists, and have a disastrous combined -11 rating. They’ve also allowed four even-strength goals after allowing just four in the first 10 games.

To make matters worse, their shot totals, scoring chances, and high danger chances are all down, while their goals against, shots against, and chances against are all up. We also haven’t seen the killer forechecking we’ve grown so accustomed to over the past five games either. Quite simply, they are no longer carrying the team, and with the injury to Erik Haula, that has to change.

I’m not sure I’m ready to say it’s time to break them up, but with the lineup in a bit of turmoil, it has to at least start creeping into consideration. A move like this could ignite Max Pacioretty, it could breathe a little more scoring into the 2nd line, and if reigning Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant decides to really shake it up it might lead to the return of the balanced attack that the Golden Knights became known for a year ago.

Much like a majority of last season, the top line had been scoring almost three points a game as a unit, but it’s been nearly two weeks since that’s been the case. If it returns, all will be well, but if it doesn’t, that line may look a lot different in the next two weeks.

Man Down; What Now?

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**

At first glance, it looked like a typical hockey play.

Erik Haula had just released the puck and Patrick Marleau was finishing his check on the Golden Knights’ center just over five minutes into the third period of what would be a 3-1 Toronto Maple Leafs win. But Haula landed awkwardly, clutching his right knee.

Obviously, this was serious.

Haula was stretchered off the ice at the Scotiabank Centre and it’s likely he’s going to be out for a while. Gerard Gallant said he’ll know more today, but even he admitted after the game it didn’t look good.

So what do the Knights do?

They can call someone up from Chicago of the AHL. They can play one of the current members of the 23-man roster, Ryan Carpenter perhaps. Or maybe general manager George McPhee works the phones and trades for someone. That would likely depend on the length of time Haula is out.

Paul Stastny is still a few weeks from returning to the lineup. Max Pacioretty returned to the ice Tuesday after he missed four games. He actually looked O.K. playing on the line with Haula and Alex Tuch.

I’m tempted to call that trio “The Jinx Line.” Tuch was out at the start of the season with an injury. Then Pacioretty missed some time. Now, it’s Haula’s turn.

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Patience The Cure For Knights’ Ills

**Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**

We’ve all had the flu. And what happens? We’re in bed. We’re lethargic. We essentially feel like crap.

And here’s what else that happens. There’s no magic cure. You’re not going to instantaneously get better. The doctor says you have to let it run its course.

Which brings us to the Golden Knights.

Think of your favorite team as a flu-ridden patient that is trying to get better. Right now, the Knights have the bug, and I’m not talking the infamous “Vegas Flu.” They lack consistency. They are lacking focus in certain areas. Some of the team’s top players are in a funk while others are simply struggling (we see ya, Jon Merrill!).

Coach Gerard Gallant is doing everything but provide chicken soup for the hockey soul. But he is limited in the number of remedies he can use. He benched the struggling Merrill in St. Louis Thursday for Brad Hunt. He returned Marc-Andre Fleury to the crease against the Blues. He continues to juggle his third line in the hopes of finding a spark.

But the team dropped both games on the brief road trip to Nashville and St. Louis earlier in there week. However, they bounced back with a solid effort Saturday to beat Carolina 3-0 at home with Hunt scoring the game-winner in the first period.

How big was the win? For starters, it snapped the modest two-game losing streak. It also pulled the Knights to within a game of .500 at 6-7-1. The 13 points ties Vegas with Anaheim for sixth place in the Pacific Division and they’re just five points out of first place, a number that’s hardly insurmountable on Nov. 4.

Finally, it gives the team some positive momentum going into the upcoming four-game road trip which begins Tuesday in Toronto. Pick up a few points on the East Coast swing and suddenly the sky isn’t falling.

“I thought we played three or four really good games and this one was in the mix for sure,” Gallant said of the consistent effort his team gave over 60 minutes Saturday. “I hope it carries over and continues on the (road) trip.”

We all know this team is missing some key pieces. Not having Nate Schmidt on the blue line has impacted the Knights far more than anyone could have imagined and his return is still a couple of weeks away. Paul Stastny is out for another month or so. Max Pacioretty will return soon, but his absence has been noticeable.

Combined, that’s three players who would be making a major impact on any given night.

However, you knew what the reality was, especially with Schmidt. That 20-game suspension, which Gallant said he treated like an injury, has really hurt this team. Unlike a year ago when Fleury missed 29 games with a concussion, the Knights managed to hold together their goaltending situation. The defense has not been able to do that this year with Nate out of the lineup.

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Top Line Doing It All, But That’s Okay

If the top line scores, the Golden Knights usually win. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At this point last year, William Karlsson had 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) and was on pace for 52 points. He ended up with 78, averaging 0.95 points per game. This season, Karlsson has 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) through 11 games, scoring 0.82 points per game. At this rate, he’s projected to reach 68 points, 17 points ahead of last year’s pace less than a month into the season but 10 short of his final tally.

If you’re generating chances, it means you’re doing something right. We just have to execute a little more and get them in the net. I’m not worried. Our line is doing pretty well. -William Karlsson

Karlsson confidently assured fans not to be concerned about the team’s lack of scoring, as long as his line generates scoring chances. Something the Golden Knights top line does game in, and game out. Could they have more goals? Sure, but the entire team should as well.

The top trio has 25 combined points and the rest of the team has 32 total points.

The real panic button would be if we didn’t create anything. As long as you’re generating chances, eventually it’ll come back and the puck luck will be there. -Karlsson

Can the top line do it alone?

The Golden Knights are 5-3-0 this season when their top line scores. Last season, Vegas’ record was 46-15-4 when Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith or Karlsson registered a point. Looking back, it feels like the top three did do it all.

In 2017-18, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith combined for 16 game-winning goals and recorded 213 of the 711 Golden Knights points. Just like the star Swede, Vegas’ coaching staff isn’t concerned about top lines production but would like more scoring balance throughout the lineup.

There are good things happening for our team. We look at the stats after the game, and the stats look good, the shots are going towards the net. The analytics are good but the wins aren’t good enough. But there are still lots of good things from this team. -Gerard Gallant

The buzzword around the locker room is execution. Players are aware 2.27 goals scored per game isn’t enough to have success in the NHL. Thankfully, the team can heavily rely on one of the best lines in hockey. Pretty sure the top line won’t mind. I think I can hear Marchessault tapping his stick for the biscuit right now.

The Tide Might Just Be Turning

If things really do start to turn around for VGK, remember Alex’s two goals against Ottawa. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Oh, what a goal it was. Alex Tuch started from the center line, chased a player down behind his own goal, dislodged the puck, then picked it up and sped past not one but two players before he slid a shot under Craig Anderson’s pad. You hear about 200-foot players, that was a 300-foot play and a potential season-changer for the Vegas Golden Knights.

He made an end to end rush that was an outstanding goal. It made everyone excited. It made our fans really excited and I know the guys on the bench were pretty happy. It sort of broke the ice in a game that we weren’t having much luck. -Gerard Gallant

He should have said “in a season that we weren’t having much luck.”

There was nothing lucky about Tuch’s goal though, and a few minutes later, when Ryan Reaves tapped home a rebound, there was nothing lucky about that one either.

The Golden Knights have been getting chance after chance after chance, but they just haven’t been putting them away. Against Ottawa, twice in less than five minutes, they scored goals that were unstoppable by any goalie in the league. Then, after conceding again, a tip from Tuch squeaked its way through Anderson’s pads. That one had a touch of luck on it, but as Gallant had said maybe the ice has been broken.

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An Attempt To Explain The Worst Power Play In The League

The PP that led to this goal was a beaut. Unfortunately, it’s one of just two all year. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s the question that’s going through the mind of every Vegas fan nine games into the season, what in the flying (expletive) is wrong with the Golden Knights power play?

We are getting better on the power play. Obviously it’s difficult when you are mixing guys in and out, guys have been hurt and come back from injury. I thought tonight we had a couple chances to score, I had one Hyka had one, so I thought it’s getting better. You want power play to be a difference. -Max Pacioretty

We’re not talking about it too much, we just try to bear down and work harder every day. We work on it a lot and I think it’ll come over time. We just have to work out a few kinks in the breakout and a little bit different work in the zone. Couple more pucks on net and need more traffic in front. Sometimes the puck just doesn’t bounce your way. -Alex Tuch

Just one of those things, just get back to basics. We had lots of chances, so it’s not like we didn’t have chances or anything. We just have to put the puck in the net we’ve got to put it in the net. There’s no reason to think we took a step back though. -Brad Hunt

The Golden Knights are now 2 for 28 on the power play good for a miserable 7.1%. That number would lead any sane human being to believe there’s something majorly wrong with what Vegas is doing when playing a man up. However, every player and coach seems to disagree. So, we dove into the numbers to see if there’s something wrong with the process or not.

We start with one of the most important stats when it comes to scoring goals, how often are you getting chances? According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Vegas has 37 scoring chances on the 28 power play attempts. For comparison we picked teams at the top, in the middle, and near the bottom of the pack in power play success.

#1 Washington – 38.7% – 31 opportunities/35 scoring chances
#4 Winnipeg – 32.1% – 28 opportunities/34 scoring chances
#13 Detroit – 24.1% – 29 opportunities/29 scoring chances
#25 Chicago – 12.9% – 31 opportunities/41 scoring chances
#31 Vegas – 7.1% – 28 opportunities/37 scoring chances

The chances are indeed there. Digging deeper, the high danger and Grade-A scoring chances and are even pretty darn good for the Golden Knights. Yet, the puck will just not go in.

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Tuch’s Return Need To Spark Power Play

One of the slickest PP goals of the year came against San Jose and it was all Alex. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With Alex Tuch back in the lineup tonight against Vancouver, maybe, just maybe the Golden Knights will start scoring power-play goals. The Golden Knights are just 2 for 24 with the man advantage. That’s not only last in the league in percentage at 8.3% (next closest is Nashville at 9.7%) but it’s also the fewest number of PP goals of any team as well. Not putting any pressure on Tuch, but he kind of needs to be the missing link that completes both PP units.

The Golden Knights had a total 53 power play goals last season, tied with San Jose and Vancouver for 12th best in the league. It was roughly 0.65 power play goals per 60 minutes. In 2018-19, the Golden Knights are on pace for 21 power play goals. Scary drop off right?

The difference with Tuch is the lineup is pretty stark.

Old PP Units
Marchessault, Karlsson, Smith, Pacioretty, Hunt
Haula, Eakin, Hyka, Miller, Theodore

New PP Units
Marchessault, Karlsson, Smith, Tuch, Hunt
Haula, Pacioretty, Hyka, Miller, Theodore

Huge difference.

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Return Of The Golden Knights Forecheck Has Meant A Return To Winning

The entire night it looked like VGK had an extra man on the ice. At times they did, but most of the time it was because of their tenacious forechecking. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Midway through Saturday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, I tweeted this.

The Golden Knights were up 2-0 and were all over the Ducks in all three zones, but what prompted the tweet was a specific shift by Cody Eakin, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter, Brayden McNabb, and Colin Miller that belongs in an instructional video on forechecking.

There were plenty of others similar to this shift, but this one is spectacular. Eakin actually loses the draw, but Carpenter jumps into the play and saves it. The puck is then sent in deep and that’s when the dominance begins. The Ducks have possession of the puck four different times and never come close to getting out of their zone. The puck is put into the crease on three different occasions, all high danger scoring chances, and the only reason the Ducks end up escaping is because Eakin unfortunately steps on the puck on a great pass from Miller that could have been another great scoring chance.

They’re a good skating hockey team. If we don’t execute with the puck in our zone, they’ll be on us all night. -Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks forward

That is what led the Golden Knights all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s what’s been missing over the course of the first five or six games of the year.

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