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Special Teams Cost Vegas In New Jersey

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night the Golden Knights lost a gut-wrenching 3-2 overtime final to the New Jersey Devils. However, there’s an argument to be made that the game was lost with 10:26 in the 3rd period. Up to that point, the Golden Knights were leading 2-1 and controlled the game with strong 5-on-5 play. With ten minutes to go, New Jersey’s Brendan Smith spoiled the flow by hooking Jack Eichel and sending Vegas to the power play.

Five-on-five we did a lot of what we asked. What let us down today was probably our power play. We didn’t generate nearly enough in terms of extending the lead. We have to find a way to generate more. That’s where I thought we could have grabbed another goal for comfort. -Bruce Cassidy

Had the Golden Knights scored on their lone 3rd period power play the outcome likely would’ve changed. Cassidy’s team failed to extend their lead and barely challenged goaltender Vitek Vanecek. Instead of closing the door on New Jersey, Vegas mustered two low-percentage shots during a crucial 3rd period power play. Not only did the score remain the same but VGK’s listless PP gave life back to a dangerous Devils offense.

New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff had a sense his team would get another chance after Vegas’ ill-fated man advantage.

You have to stay around in games. You look for that opportunity. You know you are going to get two or three opportunities. If you stay with the program, you’re looking for the opportunities. In a 2-1 game we got rewarded by a 6-on-5 goal and then we finally got our power play opportunity in overtime. -Lindy Ruff, NJD coach

All combined, Vegas recorded three shots on net in four power play minutes. To make it worse, none of those attempts came from power play specialists Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel, Alex Pietrangelo, or Chandler Stephenson. Vegas generated just six total shot attempts in their six minutes of power play time and mustered up just 0.63 expected goals.

We gave up some big chances on some careless puck play. We could’ve developed more speed. We weren’t crisp with some of our passing and some of our rush execution. We turned some pucks over in our zone that we’ve been good with. Those were plays were Vitek had to make some huge saves for us. -Ruff, NJD coach

An additional moment Cassidy left out was the poorly timed tripping penalty committed by Ben Hutton in the overtime. Unfortunately, those are the risks a team faces when forced to shift a depth defenseman in a 3-on-3 situation. Don’t get me wrong, Hutton’s 2nd period dart earned him more ice time. However, he was overmatched in overtime.

Last shot was PK coverage. We thought we had a loose puck situation so we left the good ice and it squirts out. -Cassidy

Overall, the Golden Knights missed out on a golden opportunity but the team can take some positives away from their OT loss. Vegas overcame a 2nd period deficit, earned a point against a quality opponent, and thankfully gifted a point to an out-of-conference team. At this stage in the season every point exchange matters.

Clean Breakouts Key Vegas’ Comeback Win Over Panthers

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights are playing at their best it starts in the defensive zone, or more specifically, how quickly they are getting out of the defensive zone.

For Vegas to be consistently successful, they need the game to be under their control in all three zones. From generating large numbers of chances based on extended offensive zone time, to having the proper setup through the neutral zone, to breaking the puck out of the defensive zone, each piece relies upon the next.

Last night against the Florida Panthers, the Golden Knights saw both ends of what it looks like when the breakouts are going well and when they are not.

For almost a 20-minute stretch from the middle of the 2nd period to the 12-minute mark of the 3rd the Golden Knights could not consistently break the puck out of their defensive zone. It led to mountains of chances for the Panthers and one of the longest shot droughts Vegas has experienced all season.

It culminated in a 5-on-3 power play for the Panthers that could have buried the Golden Knights in what appeared to be a winnable game. VGK’s penalty kill stepped up and from that moment on, the breakouts improved which started the ball rolling towards a three-goal 3rd period and Vegas’ 8th comeback win of the season.

We got better when we played a little bit more north-south because they are a very aggressive team. We forced their D to pinch down on us to keep a puck alive because when they don’t, now you are in foot races for odd-man rushes. -Bruce Cassidy

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Eichel Benefitting From Extra Center As Linemate

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the Golden Knights continue to return to health, the number of lineup options for Bruce Cassidy begins to grow. As players have funneled into and out of the lineup we’ve been able to see a good number of different combinations with the forward groups.

With it has come quite a bit of information. Some of it’s been good, some not as much. We’ve certainly learned that Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone can succeed without Jack Eichel. We also know that the 4th line seems to operate best with Nic Roy in the middle. And while “Plan E” of Michael Amadio fits at the moment, it took Plans C, D, F, and G to settle on this one.

Another particular piece of knowledge that has been gained across the month of lineup mishmash has been the value of having another center on the line with Jack Eichel.

In his 28 games this season Eichel has played on three different lines. First, it was Eichel with Smith and Kessel, then he found his way to the most consistent line with Stone and Stephenson, and finally, yesterday’s return to the lineup matched with Smith and Roy. It’s been easy to see that in the games in which he’s had another center on his line, the group works more seamlessly in all three zones.

It’s huge to have another center on the ice. Both of us can take draws and you are interchangeable when you need to play low in the D-zone. -Eichel

The typical responsibilities of the center in Cassidy’s system (and most systems for that matter) involve playing much closer to their own goal in the defensive zone. And while Eichel has certainly put forth a better defensive output this year than much of his career, the benefit of having someone else doing that job can help unlock Jack’s speed and prowess through the neutral zone when the puck is eventually broken out.

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Avalanche Trying To Manage Injuries As Successfully As Golden Knights

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Monday was an example of two NHL powerhouses at limited capacity. Several key weapons were missing in the Western conference battle, including the Golden Knights highly-skilled center and the Avalanche’s heart and soul. Nevertheless, one injured collection defeated another in an entertaining one-goal affair.

It’s a good hockey team we played. Effort was there. We had a lot of good looks in the third, really buzzing, which is a good sign. There’s no quit in our room, which is a good thing. Moving forward, we just need to get healthy, we just need to get healthy. Guys are battling but it’s tough. – Nathan MacKinnon, COL center

This season, both contenders have had players in and out of their lineups due to injury. At this point, the Golden Knights have adjusted quicker than their counterpart. Certainly, it’s worth noting there are various reasons for the Avalanche’s slow starts including injuries, chemistry, and possibly a championship hangover to boot.

Without impact players Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault, and Shea Theodore the Golden Knights beat the reigning NHL champs with role players stepping up. Vegas received all three goals from depth players rising to the occasion. Elevated forward Michael Amadio evened the score in the 1st period continuing his current pace for the best offensive season in his NHL career. Versatile center Nic Roy added the game-tying and game-winning goals in the middle period, proving again the Golden Knights can win without their stars.

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Brayden McNabb Puts Forth 1st Star Quality Performance In Colorado

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Prior to yesterday in Colorado, the last time the Golden Knights played a 3rd period Brayden McNabb watched on TV from somewhere in the basement of T-Mobile Arena. Having been ejected from the game due to a high hit, McNabb was unable to help his team which had also lost another defenseman due to injury.

Against the Avs, he got his redemption.

No, McNabb did not score a goal. Nor did he even record a point. He wasn’t on the ice for the game-winning goal and he didn’t make some heroic play to swipe a puck off the goal line (something he has actually done before).

Instead, he played the best Brayden McNabb-style game we may have ever seen out of Brayden McNabb.

McNabb’s gap control was excellent. His decision-making on the puck was perfect. He challenged passes through the slot and cleared rebounds. He discouraged plays along the wall with his menacing reputation. And maybe most importantly, he made his partner, a 21-year-old playing his 2nd career NHL game, look comfortable, confident, and steady.

Nabber is super easy to play with. He was talking to me the entire time. -Kaedan Korczak

To most fans, McNabb is known as a bit more of a soft-spoken guy. He’s not flashy on or off the ice, which in many ways makes him the classic veteran defense-first defenseman. However, his teammates, especially those who are partnered with him on a D-pair know him in a much different way.

McNabb is widely known in the locker room as one of the best on-ice communicators on the team. He’s been in every situation and seen every different type of play which allows him to talk his partner through anything that’s thrown at him on the ice.

He’s succeeded with puck-moving offensive players like Shea Theodore and Dylan Coghlan, defensive veterans like Deryk Engelland and Alec Martinez, and young players like Daniil Miromanov and Korczak.

Last night in Colorado, McNabb was called upon to shoulder a massive defensive load with three of VGK’s top-six defensemen out injured and a pair of youngsters in the lineup. He played almost six minutes on the penalty kill, dealt a lot with the Avs’ 2nd and 3rd lines, and was called upon to get the Golden Knights to the finish line in the 6-on-5 empty net situation.

McNabb’s final shift of the game was 3:04 as the Avalanche pressed for the game-tying goal. McNabb and his partner at the time, Alex Pietrangelo, constantly locked down the center of the ice while also reading every play perfectly to help Vegas clear the puck five times in the final two minutes.

It wasn’t just his last marathon shift though. McNabb played 10:44 in the 3rd period including five shifts that lasted longer than a minute. In his final three shifts, from the 8:19 remaining mark on the clock, McNabb was on the ice for 5:57 and allowed just three shots on goal. His 24:29 total time on ice is the most he’s recorded in any game this season and he finished the game with a +1 rating.

The Golden Knights outshot the Avs just 10-7 with McNabb on the ice, and they racked up 13-3 scoring chance edge including a 9-1 mark at high danger. McNabb was on the ice for just 0.17 expected goals against, by far the best of any Golden Knight per 60 minutes.

The veteran guys have to step and speak up, demonstrate on the ice, and lead by example. -Bruce Cassidy

McNabb could not have done a better job of that in helping the Golden Knights to a 3-2 win over the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

It’s not often the best player on the ice is a stay-at-home defenseman who plays a game that he does nothing but stay-at-home. For the Golden Knights at Ball Arena last night though, that’s exactly what happened, and Brayden McNabb was that guy.

Using Ice Below The Goal Line Has Helped VGK’s In-Zone Offense

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have always been a pretty good offensive team. They currently rank 7th overall in total goals since 2017 and sit in 5th this year after what was considered a down year finishing 12th.

One of the main reasons for that has been how deadly they’ve always been off the rush. From the moment the Golden Knights stepped on the ice for the first time, transition offense has been their calling card. James Neal helped VGK to their first-ever win on a quick-strike chance off the rush and they’ve been doing it ever since.

However, over the course of the last two years, there have been extended stretches in which that style of offense has dried up for Vegas. The most notable instances came in postseason series against the Canucks, Stars, and Canadiens.

When Bruce Cassidy was brought on board as the third coach in team history, he knew that had to change. Of course, no one would want to take away from the Golden Knights’ most consistent avenue of generating offense, but it was clear they had to build other roads to success as well.

Even though we’ve been good all year I think it’s been more rush. We’ve really focused on our power play and the pace of that and I think it has shown up well for us lately. Now it’s about building in some O-zone play where we don’t get chances off the rush. -Cassidy

That focus has started to shine through for the Golden Knights, especially in the last few home games, a trio of wins.

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The Goalie VGK Have Owned The Most Strikes Back

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Over the course of the Golden Knights’ six seasons in the NHL, there’s no goalie in the league they’ve had more success against than Anaheim’s John Gibson. The numbers are astounding, especially considering the career pedigree of the 29-year-old American netminder.

Prior to last night’s game, the Golden Knights had a record of 20-3-0 with Gibson in the goal for the Ducks. Vegas had scored at least three goals on Gibson on 18 separate occasions. They reached four 11 times and scored at least five four different times.

Earlier this season marked the second time in Gibson’s career against the Golden Knights he was pulled from a game. Vegas put four goals on 18 shots and the Ducks lifted Gibson for the 3rd period. In 2018, Vegas scored three times on their first 12 shots against the Ducks goalie and he was relieved before the halfway point in the game.

In more than 1300 minutes against the Golden Knights, Gibson had recorded just one shutout, three wins, and allowed 76 goals, about one every 17 minutes of action.

Even in shootout, the Golden Knights owned him. Before last night’s game, Gibson stopped just three of seven Vegas shootout attempts in contests held in 2017 and 2021, both VGK wins.

Then, last night happened.

He was on tonight. He was the best player on the ice. -Bruce Cassidy

Gibson stopped 49 of VGK’s 51 shots before keeping the Golden Knights on both attempts in the shootout. He racked up 2.54 goals above expected and only conceded on a shorthanded breakaway and a puck that was kicked by his teammate into the goal.

Despite shutting the Golden Knights out once in his career back in 2021, this was easily the best performance Gibson has ever posted against Vegas. He’s only been above .900 in 13 of his 24 career appearances and found himself on the losing end of 10 of them.

I don’t know if they had 50 shots or whatnot, but the next save was better than the next and the next. I hate to say I’m (not) surprised, but we are lucky to have that guy between the pipes, for sure. -Trevor Zegras, ANA forward

The win hardly made a dent in VGK’s dominance over Gibson though. His new record against the Golden Knights is 4-15-5 with a .905 save percentage and 3.41 goals against per game.

I don’t think we’ve fared too well against them in the last few years, so it’s nice to get a win. -John Gibson, ANA goalie

For the Golden Knights, it certainly feels like a lost point on the road against one of the worst teams in the NHL. However, sometimes you just have to tip your cap, especially to a guy you’ve gotten the best of for the better part of six years.

Shootout Bench Celebration Breakdown

In the final game before the Christmas break the Golden Knights used a late-goal and a win in shootout to earn a much-needed come from behind home win.

From my seat in the press box I was able to capture the bench reaction for both of VGK’s shootout goals. The first from Chandler Stephenson to keep the Golden Knights alive, and the second by Mark Stone to win the game. (Video of both celebrations below.)

This is analysis of every player’s celebration style.

McNabb – Very tight celebrations. Hands close to his own chest, almost like someone scared him. Takes a moment to celebrate on his own, then joins in with others. Has a habit of punching people late in the celebration.

Miromanov – Does not like to sit for the big moment. Standing in one, then leaning way over the boards in the other. Classic two hands in the air holding up the stick. Instantly looking for high fives, including from those not willing to give them. Focus quickly turned straight to opening the door on the game-winner, courteous, great teammate.

Pietrangelo – Had a hard time seeing much of the Stephenson goal because Miromanov was standing in his way. Strong chin, taking an errant high-five/punch to the face from Miromanov. Small jump on game-winner, but definite air under both skates. Initiates massive hug with Martinez. Odd right-glove decisions. He took it off to wipe off his face prior to the shootout attempt, then nearly drops it upon the goal, recovers, but does not put it back on for the hug with Martinez. Probably wants that back as it likely caused an awkward hug grip.

Martinez – Sheer relief on the game-tying goal. Head down, both fists up. Wants high fives next, but struggles to find a good partner. Pietrangelo isn’t ready and Hague is already engaging with Miromanov, so he punches Hague’s other hand. Not ideal, but better than being left hanging. Terrified of Stone’s attempt shown by placing his chin directly on the boards. Explodes into celly though with a two-hand convulsing motion. Stellar hug reciprocation.

Hague – Has a signature celebration but with levels of intensity based on importance. Huge right-handed fist pump while opening entire body to rest of the bench. Already the tallest player on the team, he reaffirms that by also being the highest jumper. Poor dismount going over the boards including a dropped stick (possibly caused by an unintentional kick from Carrier). Definitely wins the award for most excited player on the bench.

Pachal – Strength is an issue here as he’s nearly knocked over by Hague on the winner. Possibly looking for high fives from the coaches who are only interested in non-players. Rookie inexperience definitely shines through here.

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The Special-est Of Teams

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Christmas has come early for the Golden Knights’ special teams. A pair of units that have been under massive scrutiny for the last few years (months for the penalty kill) have kicked it into high gear and are now carrying the team.

Over the past 11 games, since December 1st, the Vegas power play has converted on 12 of 30 opportunities. The 40% success rate is good for 2nd in the NHL in that span, behind only the Edmonton Oilers, and it’s on pace to be the highest power play percentage of any month in VGK history.

Over the same span, the penalty kill is sitting at just 77.8%, a touch above the team’s season-long number of 75.6%. However, in the past seven games, the Golden Knights have killed 10 of 11 power plays they’ve faced. And, they’ve scored twice on the penalty kill, meaning they’ve outscored the opposition on their power play 2-1 since the Philadelphia game, seven games ago.

For both units, it goes beyond the numbers though. On the power play, the puck is moving much quicker in the zone, the entries have been much more consistent, and puck retrieval has been stellar. The top unit of Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, Reilly Smith, and Alex Pietrangelo are zipping the puck around with a diversity of options that’s never been seen on a Golden Knights power play.

Obviously, it’s led to a bunch of goals, 12 in the last 10 games, but it has also meant opportunities for everyone. Look at the list of power play goal scorers and who has collected the assists since December 1st.

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Cassidy Weighs In On Why Golden Knights Are Struggling At Home

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Why do the Golden Knights stink at home?

It really is the million-dollar question right now and everyone likely feels the same as Reilly Smith after the last game.

I feel like if we knew, we’d have flipped it around a while ago. -Smith

The players mostly seem to be on the same page chalking it up to coincidence and/or the randomness of an 82-game season more than anything else.

The coach, on the other hand, has a much more specific view of what’s going wrong.

At home our problem is that we’re trying to make plays early in the game against every team that comes in here. They’re ready to play and it’s not working out. It’s what we do well on the road to other teams. It’s checking well, getting pucks back, and taking advantage of our opportunities. -Bruce Cassidy

The buzzword for Cassidy is puck management.

That’s the mindset I’ve got to get across to the guys at home, we have to manage the puck better. Once they go over the boards, the onus is on them. They’re the ones that have to have to manage the puck better and that’s our problem right now, that’s why we’re .500 at home. -Cassidy

The head coach believes pressing for offense is not only what is keeping his team from being able to score, but also forcing them to concede. His stress has been on taking what the game gives you, which changes against each team they play.

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