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What Did We Learn About The Golden Knights In Round 1

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke,

Just like five years ago, the Golden Knights completed the gentleman’s sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, dropping Game 1 before then rattling off four straight wins. As the series went Vegas’ game continued to grow while Winnipeg’s felt like it was deteriorating. What appeared like it was going to be a long, hard-fought series turned into a one-sided affair that culminated one of VGK’s best games of the year to close it out.

Win or lose, there’s always plenty to glean from a playoff series. Here’s what we learned from Vegas’ five-game win over the Jets.

Balanced lineup held up in all situations

Heading into the series Bruce Cassidy had a lot of decisions to make with Mark Stone returning to the lineup. Rather than loading up, he opted for a balanced lineup highlighted by three pairs of top-end players on each of the first three lines. Danger lurked after Game 1, but as the series wore on it became clear all four Vegas lines could be trusted in any zone against any line of the Jets.

Nine different Vegas forwards spent at least 20 minutes on the ice against the Jets’ most dangerous player in the series, Kyle Connor. Whether it was home or away, the Golden Knights did not have to chase matchups in this series and it allowed for each line to have great moments at different points.

Plus, Cassidy was able to spread the wealth in regards to minutes load, which clearly had an impact in Game 5. The Golden Knights looked like the fresher team and it’s because they were.

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“In The Long Run It Might Be A Better Way To Win”

(Photo Credit: @GoldenKnights on Twitter)

After two periods in Winnipeg, the Golden Knights were in complete control. It appeared as though the Western Conference’s #1 seed was ready to lock it down and coast to the finish line in Game 3, securing their first series lead along the way. That is not what happened.

From the number of screenshots of heart rate warnings on Apple Watches I’ve been sent since the game ended, I know the final 44 minutes of that game were excruciating for Golden Knights fans. Despite the positive outcome, I’d imagine most would have preferred a less exciting 3rd period as the team headed down an all too familiar path.

The head coach disagrees though.

In the long run it might be a better way to win to be honest with you. We’ll see about that but yeah we found a way. -Bruce Cassidy

It’s not just a gut feeling either, he has his reasons.

More minutes on them and it’s a little bit demoralizing when you come back that far and then you don’t get it done. They’re already down a D-man and there’s a lot of stress on their D whereas we’re a little more balanced in our minutes. -Cassidy

Looking at the scoresheet, it’s clear to see he has a point. Five Jets skaters topped the 30-minute mark including three defensemen. After losing their superstar Josh Morrissey early in the 1st period, the Jets were forced to rotate through just five D-men the rest of the way. Neal Pionk, who averages 22 minutes a game and has not hit that mark in either of the first two games of the series, spent nearly half of the 84-minute game on the ice, logging a career-high 41:08. Meanwhile, on the Vegas bench, just one player topped 30 minutes, Pietrangelo at 34:30.

Maybe it builds something in us where we’re like ‘hey, even though we didn’t have our best, we found a way to win.’ For us, if we get in this situation again the guys will know they’re never out of it. -Cassidy

The Golden Knights have been through this before. Early in the season, Vegas blew leads in eight of their first 19 games. They came back to win five of those eight. Then, later in the year, VGK had a tough time closing games out as they allowed seven goals against the empty net in a span of fewer than 30 games.

You live and you learn, right? Sometimes things happen and maybe you’ve had success in those situations and then you take a step back and kind of look at what you can do better to shut opponents down. -Alex Pietrangelo

Tough on the fans or not, Game 3 in Winnipeg could easily go down as one of the most important games of the playoffs for the Golden Knights. While getting the preferred outcome, they were delivered a healthy reminder of just how crazy games in the postseason can be.

Hopefully they’re right. We don’t need people being on the verge of heart attacks for nothing.

Penalty Drawn Before OT Changed Tenor Of Locker Room During Crucial Intermission

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke,

When the Golden Knights walked off the ice at the end of regulation, they had to be in disbelief. Vegas had not surrendered a three-goal deficit at any time this season, and they had won 34 of 37 games in which they held a lead at the start of the 3rd period.

Yet here they were, headed back to the locker room with 18 minutes to prepare for an overtime period knowing if they don’t score next, it’ll go down as one of the worst losses in franchise history.

At that moment, there’s shouldn’t have been much positive to draw on. They’d blown a massive lead and turned what was a subdued environment into the most hostile one they’d played in for years. However, they did have something to hang their hats on, which offered a sense of calm and belief.

After the Jets scored to miraculously tie the game with 21.9 seconds left, captain Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, and Chandler Stephenson hopped over the boards looking to make something happen in the short time they had left. Stephenson won the draw, Eichel moved it back to Shea Theodore who stretched it into the zone back to Stephenson. He carried the puck with a purpose below the goal line and sent a centering pass to Stone. Brenden Dillon blocked the pass, but Stone kept working towards it and was hauled down by Pierre-Luc Dubois. Penalty!

I know the power play hasn’t been good but we had two tonight and we were feeling good about it. The message was that we have the power play and almost a full two minutes of one with good ice. Obviously we didn’t get it done but it was definitely something that we were able to look forward to and allowed us to get right back to pushing. -Chandler Stephenson

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One Major Momentum Swing Has The Series Tied

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke,

For the first four periods of the series, the Golden Knights looked like they were trying to catch up with the Winnipeg Jets. Vegas generated just 26 shots in the first 80 minutes of action, mainly because of their inability to consistently possess the puck in the offensive zone.

Then, it was almost like a switch was flipped. In the 2nd period, Vegas came alive, scoring two goals, putting 19 shots on Connor Hellebuyck, and flying around the ice at a speed the Jets hadn’t seen to that point in the series.

The Golden Knights continued that success into the 3rd period where they broke the game open and eventually took home a crucial victory to even the series.

That’s playoff hockey, the momentum swings. -Bruce Cassidy

Typically, playoff series tend to see plenty of swings like this over the course of each individual game. Two games into this series, we’ve seen just one swing, a massive one from the Jets looking like far and away the better team to suddenly Vegas exerting their dominance and looking like the #1 seed.

The term momentum does a lot of heavy lifting in the hockey world as somewhat of a catchall to explain why things go from good to bad or vise versa in a hurry. What it doesn’t do is actually explain what changed in the way the teams are playing that caused it to happen.

Clearly, the momentum of the series did shift in favor of the Golden Knights. But why?

For us a lot of times it’s puck management. In the 1st period on the 2nd shift of the game we give their best line opportunity after opportunity, we get the huge saves but it just gives them life. So we got that corrected. If you look at the scoresheet, our top guys are all over the sheet tonight, their guys were all over the sheet the other night in Game 1. -Bruce Cassidy

Cassidy also pointed to the first goal of the game that energized the crowd and seemed to wake up the Golden Kights.

Maybe the other team feels a little pressure to be cleaner and all of a sudden we’re on top of them. -Cassidy

On the other bench, they felt the shift in the game was mostly self-inflicted.

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Examining The Line Matchups VGK Preferred In Game 1

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With Mark Stone back in the lineup, the Golden Knights had to do a bit of line shuffling to begin their opening-round series with the Winnipeg Jets. The captain found his way back onto the right wing of Chandler Stephenson, while Jack Eichel stayed with Jonathan Marchessault and Ivan Barbashev, and Phil Kessel was placed with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith.

It was meant to be a well-balanced lineup focused around three pairs that have played together for extended stretches.

There’s a few moving parts because of Mark Stone’s recovery and we all knew that may or may not happen. It is happening now so we’re going to try to make the pieces fit around it if he’s available to us. -Bruce Cassidy

About halfway through the game, Cassidy opted to shift some players around to try and inject some offense into what had been a fairly listless performance to that point from the Golden Knights.

He started with


Then switched to


That came with a significant boost in minuted to each of the top six while the remaining group filled in the gaps.

With Game 1 in the books, Cassidy has elected to return to the lineup he began the series with, hoping for more success the second time around.

Looking back at usage, there were a few matchups Cassidy seemed to prefer when he had the opportunity with last change. First, he typically turned to Stephenson, Stone, and Amadio when the opposing 1st line would hit the ice. It didn’t take long for the Golden Knights’ head coach to show his hand with that matchup, going to it just 37 seconds into the game on the first defensive zone draw. He then went back to it three more times in the 1st period including twice in the defensive zone.

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VGK Forecheck Failed In Game 1

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke,

Before the series even began, the Winnipeg Jets head coach detailed one of the most important aspects of the game for the Golden Knights.

Play as fast we can. To do that, your D have to get back, your forwards have to get back and help out, make that first outlet pass. Don’t be looking for second or third options, you have to make that first option and go. -Rick Bowness, Jets coach

To start the game, the Golden Knights were all over the Jets on the forecheck, forcing critical turnovers that could have led to the game’s first goal. Vegas’ forwards pressured the puck deep in the offensive zone and Winnipeg’s reads were not fast nor correct.

Here are two examples from the first four minutes of action.

Roy throws the puck into a good area where the goalie cannot go back and retrieve it and then gets on his horse to go pressure it. The key is the challenge on the second pass from Kolesar. He flies into the zone to push the second defender off of the play, leaving the puck available for Roy to move it to Howden for a Grade A+ chance.

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Eichel Has Shuttered Any Concerns Over Defensive Willingness

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Coming into the season one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Golden Knights was the 200-foot game of #1 center Jack Eichel. Finally playing on a team expected to play consistent meaningful games, many wondered how Eichel’s commitment to defending would hold up over the course of the regular season and into the playoffs.

82 games, 67 of which he played, later and on the brink of his first postseason appearance, that concern has been put to bed.

He bought into defensive play right away. Any question about Jack only caring about offense or if anything of that came up, I’d say watch the games, just watch the games. He’s one of our best defensive centers. He closes as quickly as any center on our team. He cares about defense and he’s done a good job for us. So that challenge was accepted easily for Jack. -Bruce Cassidy

Eichel finished the regular season with a +26 rating and was on the ice for 56 goals for and only 35 against at 5-on-5. That’s good for a 61.5% goal share, the best of any Golden Knight that played at least 700 minutes (15 players qualify), and top 25 of all forwards in the NHL (301 players qualify).

There have never been issues with backchecking, his defensive positioning has been stellar, and his strength and speed have made him crucial in breaking the puck out of the defensive zone.

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Film Breakdown: Reloads By Forwards Help Beat Kings

Bruce Cassidy has used the term “reload” a lot when describing what he wants to see from his forwards.

In today’s film breakdown, we explain what he means and show how it can impact a game.

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Kings Humbled By Golden Knights 1st Period Domination

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last night most Golden Knights fans were prepared for an entertaining, nail-biting battle with the LA Kings. The problem was, only one team showed up in time. Sure, the math wasn’t in their favor but coming into Thursday’s clash but the Kings had a chance to make things uncomfortable for the Pacific Division’s leader. However, the Golden Knights came out firing and sunk the Kings in the opening 11 minutes.

We got a break with the disallowed goal. That helped us. We talked a little more in depth about LA’s system and a little deeper dive than maybe some other teams we played. Our forecheck was outstanding. Guys were real dedicated to that game plan tonight. I always say against teams that are very good defensively, play a certain way and if you get a lead, it may take them out of their structure a little bit. A lot of playoff hockey mentality. -Bruce Cassidy

Before the game was 22 minutes old, the Golden Knights were up a handful of goals. The Kings looked disengaged, out-of-sorts, and tired. After the opening goal was called back, Vegas pounced on the reversal and took charge of the game and the division.

Not only did the Golden Knights crush any chance the Kings had at moving up the standings, but they left the visitors questioning their effort and focus.

The other day I gave credit to the team as whole. I said it was a team win, tonight was a team loss. There were very few players that were engaged early. You can’t play like that at this time of the year. We haven’t had one of those periods in a long, long time. It’s a little humbling when it does happen. That won’t be good enough for the rest of the season and the playoffs. We know that. All of their damage was done in the first seven minutes so you shouldn’t be worn out at that point. You just weren’t ready to play. – Todd McLellan, Kings coach

Just about the only statistic the Kings were in control of was hits. While LA threw their bodies around, Vegas possessed the puck and heavily pressured the offensive zone. Outside of a couple of special teams tallies, the Kings were completely overwhelmed by the Golden Knights attack. According to Cassidy, his team executed their plan to clog and control the inside of the King’s net.

Power play got us a good goal early on. Stephenson’s line had lots of jump and got rewarded. Phil took one to the net. All of the little things. Inside hockey. We talked about it; you’ve got to get inside. At least two goals on top of the crease. A lot of good things. -Cassidy

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VGK Used Physical “Competitive Advantage” To Generate Offense Against Minnesota Wild

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Typically, when we think of tall, heavy teams in the NHL, we equate them with big hits, strength along the walls, and boxing out in front of the goal.

For the Golden Knights, one of the physically largest teams set to compete in the playoff this year, it tends to materialize in a different way.

Vegas ranks just 12th in the league in hits and they have only one player in the top 40 in the category. They certainly are strong along the walls but rarely will we see a game dominated by VGK pushing the opposition off the puck. And while Bruce Cassidy’s zone defense has helped with winning pucks in front of the goalie, of playoff-likely teams only the Edmonton Oilers have allowed more rebound goals at 5-on-5 this year.

Where size has helped the Golden Knights most is when they are in possession of the puck. Vegas has been one of the best teams scoring goals off the rush in the NHL, but when they spend time in the offensive zone they are not the most creative. So, instead, they rely on wearing down opponents and exposing lapses in coverage to score. The best way they’ve done this is with extended puck possession, especially by one player holding the puck for 5-10 seconds at a time.

When VGK are at their best, they begin to control games by holding the puck near the faceoff circles in the offensive zone. Jack Eichel, Nic Roy, William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault, and many other Golden Knights forwards are excellent at fending off defensemen to maintain possession of the puck. The longer they are able to hold it, the more options open up as the defense scrambles to stay in position. From low-to-high passes that bring VGK’s offensive-minded defensemen into the play to cycling the puck behind the net to let the next forward hold it, eventually, better more dangerous passing lanes become available.

This has all been especially evident in the last two games against the Minnesota Wild, and Cassidy has a theory as to why.

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