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Carp: Fools Gold? Or Have The Top Six Woken Up In Time?

**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.**

When the week began, my original inclination was to draw a conclusion that the Golden Knights problem with their offense isn’t with their bottom six, but rather their top six.

Actually, make that top seven as I’ll include Alex Tuch in the conversation.

Then the Knights scored six goals Monday against St. Louis. Problem solved, right?

Not exactly.

The top guns went back into cold storage Wednesday in the 3-1 loss to the Blues. So the angle was back in play.

Or was it?

Friday, the Knights scored a season-high seven goals in defeating Arizona, 7-4. Reilly Smith got two of them. Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, and Max Pacioretty also scored. The line of Smith, Marchessault, and William Karlsson combined for six points.

I left The Fortress a bit confused. Was what I had witnessed an actual wake-up by Smith and the guys? Or was it a tease and we’ll see them go back into hibernation?

I’m still not sure what to believe. Smith has always been a streaky scorer. He’ll be in deep freeze for weeks. Suddenly, he’ll be wielding a hot stick and he’ll be scoring with regularity. However, I’ve learned to never give up on him. He’s too good a competitor to stay off the scoresheet forever. And when Marchessault, that little ball of hate, gets his juices flowing, that line becomes dangerous once again.

That brings us to today’s rematch with the Coyotes and what may be the most important 24 hours of the season so far. If you read ‘Yotes coach Rick Tocchet’s postgame comments Friday, you know he was a very unhappy boss. He basically called his team out for allowing the Knights to jump them and build a 5-0 lead. Yes, his team sort of responded with a bit of push in the third period, but it wasn’t close to being enough to overcome the hole they had dug for themselves.

I will be absolutely shocked if the ‘Yotes don’t come out angry and flying this afternoon, looking to make a statement. They are fighting for their playoff lives as they are currently one point behind the Blues for the fourth and final West Division playoff berth and they figure to play with a great amount of desperation.

My concern is will the Knights match that desperation? Will they play with jump, with purpose, and with intensity? Will they not hang Marc-Andre Fleury out to dry against Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, and Connor Garland, Arizona’s primary weapons?

Most important, will the top six build off Friday’s performance and will Tuch, who last scored a goal March 13 and has one tally in his last 17 contests, find the back of the net?

There’s another facet to today’s game. The NHL trade deadline is 24 hours away. Kelly McCrimmon has publicly stated he doesn’t expect the team to make a big splash by noon Monday. But Colorado got better Saturday in upgrading its goaltending with the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk from San Jose and Joe Sakic may not be done dealing. The Avalanche currently reside atop the West Division with a four-point lead on the Knights, who have a game in hand on Colorado. The two teams have two more meetings remaining later this month — both in Las Vegas.

The Knights had organizational meetings in town earlier this week to explore all their options. Remember, they’re up against the salary cap so they’re going to have to get real creative if they want to swing a major deal. Even a secondary trade may require some heavy lifting, depending on who is involved.

If I’m GMKM, I’m watching today’s match with more than the usual interest. It’s up to him, and Prez George, to determine if there’s enough offense to beat Colorado and/or Minnesota, then be able to score often enough to win the Stanley Cup.

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Tocchet’s Honesty Says It All About Matchups With Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights had one of their best periods of the season last night and it wasn’t shocking that it came against the Arizona Coyotes. Vegas outworked, outshot and bullied Arizona up and down the ice in the opening twenty minutes. Being down four goals early wasn’t a surprise to Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet.

They have more talent than us, we get it. I just didn’t like some of our guys push early on. It looked like they were just deer in the headlights.-Rick Tocchet, ARI coach

Occasionally, Arizona has competed with the Golden Knights and did for half of a period last night. For the most part it’s been a one-sided contest with Vegas walking away with the majority of points.

Certain elements that the Golden Knights possess, the Coyotes simply don’t have an answer for. Arizona is much smaller and younger team. Vegas scares them and their coach echoed that. The advantage of size, skill and veteran IQ are the reasons why it’s mostly been a lopsided affair.

You know you’re playing against the big boys and I’m disappointed some guys couldn’t match. Couldn’t get in the forecheck, couldn’t hold on to a puck. When you’re playing the big guys you got to make sure you know what you’re doing.-Rick Tocchet, ARI coach

At times last night it almost looked like a scrimmage between the JV and Varsity teams. In the first period the Golden Knights bullied their way to four goals in nine minutes. The game was essentially over at that point. Sure, Arizona made a late push but that will happen when one team is trying to kill the clock with 51 minutes remaining in the game.

There’s a chance Vegas and Arizona will face eachother in the first round of the playoffs so it’ll be interesting if the Coyotes will play a different style or attack the Golden Knights with their speed an offensive weapons they have.

Vegas when they smell blood they’re going to give it to you.-Rick Tocchet, ARI coach

Before I declare a matchup with Arizona another easy path it’s hard not to think about last year’s postseason. Vancouver admitted to be intimidated by Vegas but learned how to absorb hits, adjust and force a deciding game seven. Could the Coyotes do the same?

Will Defensive Scoring Continue Into The Postseason

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If I told you before the season the Golden Knights defensemen would score a total of 29 goals in 38 games you’d be pleasantly surprised. If I then told you they were scoring 0.68 goals per game and only two from Alex Pietrangelo you’d call me a loony.

Since this season is 26 games shorter, offensive numbers from defensemen stand out a little more. Not only are goals from defensemen necessary, but assisting and generating them as well. This season the Golden Knights are getting it all from their blueline.

2021 VGK Defensive Scoring

Theodore: 29 Points (6 Goals, 23 Assists)
Martinez: 22 Points (7 Goals, 15 Assists)
Hague: 14 Points (5 Goals, 9 Assists)
Pietrangelo: 11 Points (2 Goals, 9 Assists)
Whitecloud: 8 Points (2 Goals, 6 Assists)
Coghlan: 5 Points (3 Goals, 2 Assists)
McNabb: 3 Points (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
Holden: 2 Points (2 Assists)
Total Defensive Points: 94 Points (26 G, 68 A)

Most of the eight defensemen to suit up this season are far beyond their pace for career years. All but two have eclipsed their points per game average. If this were a normal 82-game season it’s plausible the majority of the Golden Knights defense would cruise past their previous high campaigns.

When you add the total goals from each defensemen’s best offensive season the number is just 20 goals short of what they’ve amassed in only 38 games played this year. Lately, Vegas D-men have been so effective it’s made up for the slump Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone are currently in. Which is good sign for postseason droughts. Especially, when youngsters Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, and Dylan Coghlan are getting involved offensively.

VGK Defensemen Previous Career Highs

Pietrangelo: 16 Goals (54 Points)
Theodore: 13 Goals (46 Points)
Martinez: 11 Goals (39 Points)
McNabb: 5 Goals (24 Points)
Hague: 1 Goal (11 Points)
Whitecloud: 0 Points
Coghlan: 0 Points
VGK Defensemen in 2021: 26 Goals (0.68 PPG)
Combined Career Highs: 46 Goals (0.56 PPG)

Currently, the Golden Knights defensive unit is the highest-scoring in the NHL. When the Golden Knights get contributions from the blue line or bottom-six it softens the pressure around the stars. Which allows them to get to work and do their jobs. Also, it makes Vegas a much more potent club in the postseason.

Scoring 0.68 goals per game from the blue line will help win many regular season games, but that additional offense is even more vital in the playoffs when games tend to tighten up. It’s unrealistic to rely on Vegas defensemen to score at their regular season pace. They might bail out the top six on certain nights but Vegas can’t survive if the defense is relied upon for three or four postseason games.

VGK Defensemen Postseason Points Per Game

Theodore: 0.67 PPG (67 Games)
Pietrangelo: 0.55 PPG (92 Games)
Martinez: 0.28 PPG (84 Games)
Holden: 0.25 PPG (40 Games)
McNabb: 0.17 PPG (52 Games)
Whitecloud: 0.15 PPG (20 Games)
Combined Postseason Average: 0.345 PPG

Only Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore average more than 0.30 points per playoff game. Sure, Alec Martinez has one of the most memorable Cup-clinching shots of all time but he’s never been relied on to produce offensively. That’s not his role.

The best-case scenario would be Pacioretty, Stone, and other top-six forwards consistently driving offense in the postseason. In that situation, any point from the blue line would be an added bonus. Momentum changing, insurance type goals or series clinchers.

Ask Alec, that’s how the Stanley Cup is won.

Cody Glass Opens Up About His Brief Return To The AHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At different points this season the Golden Knights have had to make difficult decisions due to the salary cap. When fully healthy, Vegas is within a couple hundred thousand dollars of the $81.5 million limit with just 19 players on the active roster.

Early in the year, they experimented with a lineup of 13 forwards and five defensemen. At other times they’ve taken advantage of the emergency exception rules in the CBA that allow a team to exceed the cap. But when every avenue has been exhaust and Vegas wants to ice a standard 12/6/2 lineup, it’s typically been Cody Glass as the odd-man-out.

There are multiple reasons for this, a big one not related to his play on the ice. Due to his age and contract status, Glass is the only forward on the Golden Knights’ normal roster that is waiver exempt. Thus, he can freely travel between the NHL, the taxi squad, and the AHL without ever being at risk of being claimed by another team. The same cannot be said for players like Keegan Kolesar, Nic Roy, William Carrier, Ryan Reaves, or Tomas Nosek.

However, performance on the ice has played a factor in some of the decisions surrounding Glass. To put it bluntly, Glass simply hasn’t been good enough to force himself onto the roster at all times. That’s definitely not to say he’s been bad, or is even among the poorest performing players on the team (he’s definitely not), but when a decision has to be made, he hasn’t made enough of an impact to compel the front office to make a different choice.

This most recent instance was unlike any prior one though. When Alex Pietrangelo returned from LTIR, Vegas once again needed to clear space. Like before, Glass found himself on the outside looking in, however this time, instead of assigning him to the taxi squad, he was sent to the AHL… to actually play.

I just wanted to see him get a little more confidence 5-on-5. So we’d like him to go down there and play games, contribute and be an offensive player, come back and give us some juice when he returns. –Kelly McCrimmon to Las Vegas Sun

Unlike previous situations where he was assigned to the taxi squad and remained with the NHL team, this time they were looking for improvement. This time, they were sending a message about his play at the NHL level.

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Carp: Anxious Times Await NHL Players

**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.**

Welcome to Anxiety Week.

It’s that time of the year where if you’re an NHL player, you start hearing rumors that you’ll be moved at the trade deadline. You get texts from friends. Your wife or girlfriend asks you what’s up. Your kids, if they’re old enough, are freaked out at the idea they may have to move and leave their friends and have to go to a new school.

Anxious? You bet.

For a lot of NHL players, they need not be worried. Some have no-move clauses in their contracts or, if you’re someone like Marc-Andre Fleury, have a list of teams they would agree to be traded to.

But for others, this is a tough week. The trade deadline is eight days away (April 12) and trying to maintain one’s focus on their job is not an easy task. Especially if your team is currently struggling and change is imminent.

The stock answer players give when asked if they’re worried about being shipped out is “It’s out of my hands” or “I don’t worry about things I have no control over” both of which are true. They understand the business side of the game and let’s not fret over where their next meal is coming from because everyone is well compensated for their services. If they have to go to Detroit or Ottawa, so be it. They’ll pack their stuff, head to the next destination, and try to quickly assimilate within their new team.

For the Golden Knights players, being moved on or before the April 12 deadline is even more disconcerting. You’d be leaving a team that is built to compete for the Stanley Cup, was leading its division for most of the season, and has been one of the best in the entire NHL since Opening Night. Can you imagine how bummed a player would be if he got a call from Kelly McCrimmon and he tells you you’ve been traded to Buffalo?

It could happen, to pretty much anyone. Especially given the recent events of this week that have seen Vegas drop three in a row, fail to hold the lead in the 3rd period, and a power play that has been more dismal than what we’ve come to expect.

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Golden Knights Need To Rely On Others For More Offense

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last month was a big one for two of the Golden Knights’ most reliable forwards. Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone really made an impact in March, combining for an impressive 43 points in 31 days. The club benefited from the two top compilers and posted a 12-5-0 record over the month. Unfortunately, March ended and the Golden Knights began April with a shootout loss against the Minnesota Wild.

Of course, it’s only one game and Vegas picked up a point in the process so there’s no much to gripe about. Last night’s SO loss was only the Golden Knights’ 11th defeat through 35 games this season. The club has set themselves up nicely for a postseason position. However, the loss to Minnesota carried over a trend that should make Vegas fans a bit uneasy.

The Golden Knights rely so much on Pacioretty and Stone to produce offensively that when they don’t, the team struggles to score. In their 11 regulation, overtime, or shootout losses, the top two forwards have scored in just three of those games. Without Pacioretty and Stone’s one-two punch, the Golden Knights average an anemic 1.27 goals per loss.

Especially, in a division featuring a Colorado team that just scored nine in a game and a pesky Minnesota group that averages close to three goals per 60. For Vegas to eliminate both in the postseason, they’ll need to rely on more than just the top line.

Pacioretty & Stone Postseason Production Per Game

Pacioretty: 0.82 Postseason Points Per w/ VGK
0.62 Career Postseason Points Per

Stone: 1.07 Postseason Points Per w/ VGK
0.77 Career Postseason Points Per

The issue for the Golden Knights isn’t just a problem in the regular season. Going back to their first postseason series as Golden Knights in 2018, when Pacioretty and Stone’s offense dried up the team crumbled. Against the San Jose Sharks the pair tallied ten goals in the first four games of that series. Game’s 5-7, the two veterans combined for one goal. One.

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Golden Knights Have Helped Keep The Integrity Of The Game

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Before the announcement of the Golden Knights in 2016, professional sports seemed like a long shot in Las Vegas. Baseless theories of legal, local gambling influencing the outcome of games were used as excuses. When in reality, the thought of millionaire athletes risking their careers and future contracts to fix one game is, and was always, far-fetched.

Rewind five years, surprising to some the NHL took the risk and became the first league to crack the Las Vegas market. However, as revealed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman the NHL is still concerned with gambling and the integrity of the game but has nothing to do with Nevada. The league proved that last week when they harshly punished veteran official Tim Peel. The last thing the NHL could afford was a corrupt official like infamous NBA referee Tim Donaghy.

There were deep conversations about how damaging it is to your league during a crisis of consumer confidence. The CBA between the NHL and its officials now contains specific code-of-conduct references: ‘Each official agrees to abstain from habits of intemperance, gambling, immorality or other conduct likely to bring himself and/or the NHL and/or the game of Hockey into disrepute or which results in the impairment of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of NHL games or the integrity and good character of its officials.’ -Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts on Sportsnet

Last week the NHL quickly nipped a potential controversy in the bud when the official’s hot mic became a major story.

Initially, the story had absolutely nothing to do with gambling, but because of past issues in other sports, the NHL made a tough stand to ensure fans their product is genuine. Without transparency, gambling on hockey could be eliminated, and sadly to say, the interest in the sport would decrease significantly, not to mention millions in lost endorsement money for the league.

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Mark Stone’s Colorado Blueprint Must Be One And Only Focus For VGK

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche have met six times so far this season. Each team has won three but the Avs hold the slight edge as one of their three losses came in overtime.

It might sound oversimplified, but at this point in the season, every person who puts on Golden Knights clothing, be it players, coaches, management, scouts, literally everyone, should have a one-track mind from now until the end of May.

How do we beat Colorado?

With the playoff set up this season, both the Golden Knights and Avs are already essentially locked into the playoffs. It’s possible the seeds move around, but in all likelihood, they’ll each play someone else in the first round setting up for the inevitable matchup in the second round.

Everyone knows it’s coming, it’s just a matter of what the path looks like to get there. That’s why the focus should constantly be on them. The strategy at the deadline should be aimed at beating Colorado. The goalie rotation should be aligned in a way that best helps beat Colorado. Rest days, line shuffles, injury management, system tweaks, you name it, it should all be focused on that one same thing.

The good news is that Vegas has somewhat of a blueprint of how they can get it done, one Mark Stone helped lay out after the crushing 5-1 defeat on Thursday.

They have four or five really good puck-moving defensemen. If you turn pucks over they turn and go. We weren’t getting pucks in. We weren’t getting our forecheck established. If you put pucks in behind them, they don’t really want to go back and get it. But if you turn it over, they transition the puck better than anyone in the league. -Stone

The Golden Knights heeded Stone’s advice on Saturday as they took a far more direct approach on their entries and saw a five-goal against game turn into a two-goal against game.

Vegas was much more willing to dump the puck in behind the Avs and attempt to work their forecheck. The 4th line had their best game of the six against Colorado spending most of their time in the offensive zone setting up shots from the point, one of which William Carrier tipped in.

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Carp: Stone Wearing ‘C’ Well

**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.**

These days, we tend to mock decisions, using the phrase, “How’s that working out?”

So feel free to ask about Mark Stone’s captaincy of the Golden Knights. How’s that working out?

Pretty damn good I’d say.

When the Knights traded for him a couple years ago, I said in this space that he should be the team’s first captain. Not right away, but eventually. Some of you questioned that idea, which of course was your right. And a few of you even made some valid points.

But here we are, more than halfway through the 2021 season and Stone is leading, both in the dressing room and on the ice. He’s putting up the kind of numbers that gets you votes for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Peter DeBoer is stumping for him. Others around the league are saying his name too. Stone? He’s too busy scoring goals and making plays in his own end to deny the opposition from scoring to worry about it.

With March wrapping up, Stone has had an amazing month. He has 8 goals, 14 assists, five of which came in one game against Minnesota on March 1 which helped him earn NHL First Star honors on March 8. His 22 points in March are the most by a player in a single month in the brief history of the Golden Knights and there are still two more games left — Monday and Wednesday vs. the Kings.

He also has had one fight, a +6 rating, and his team is still in first place in the West Division with 47 points, one more than Colorado after Saturday’s 3-2 OT win over the Avalanche. He remains a constant presence in the lineup, having missed only one game this season. He leads the NHL in game-winning goals with seven so he has shown a knack for delivering in the clutch.

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DeBoer Will “Stick To His Guns” Says Former Assistant

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Pete DeBoer has been the head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights for about 15 months now. He’s led the team to an excellent 37-15 record including two playoff series wins.

But still, mainly due to the pandemic, it feels like we are still getting to know DeBoer and his style and tendencies.

We’ve seen surprise healthy scratches, line jumbles, and a system that is built on structure in all three zones. Because he’s only had one playoff run, and it ended with a whimper, the biggest question mark surrounding DeBoer’s coaching style is his willingness to adapt to different situations.

In the playoffs against the Canucks, and then even more so against the Stars, we saw the Golden Knights’ opponent start to play an ultra-conservative style which was focused on keeping Vegas to the outside and cleaning up and rebound chances. It led to Thatcher Demko and Anton Khudobin, two goalies far from the league’s elite, posting incredible numbers and the Golden Knights offense going bone dry for  about two weeks.

Personally, I’ll never forget DeBoer’s comment on the off-day prior to Game 5 against the Stars, as the Golden Knights trailed in the series 3-1 and had posted just six goals in four games to that point.

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