Before Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty became teammates in Las Vegas they were bitter rivals. Stone’s expressive personality and Pacioretty’s endless competitiveness were always going to clash when they opposed each other. But as teammates, it was as harmonious as could be, and from the very first day Stone put on a Golden Knights jersey he and Pacioretty were essentially unbreakable as a pair in the lineup.
Over the course of the next three and a half seasons, the two played together, often centered by either Paul Stastny or Chandler Stephenson, more than 150 times and shared the ice at 5-on-5 for almost 2,000 minutes.
In that time, they were dominant together. In 139 games since 2019, when Pacioretty and Stone were both on the ice, the Golden Knights outscored opponents 122-66 at even-strength, boasted a shot share just short of 60%, and absolutely dominated the expected goals margin despite often playing against the opposition’s top line.
On the power play, with Max and Mark together, Vegas averaged 9.36 goals per 60 minutes while allowing less than one per 60 (0.71 to be exact). Both of these numbers are miles better than what it looked like with neither on the ice. And with the empty net, the Golden Knights tallied 10 times in just under 40 minutes with 61 and 67 together.
Ok, now for the problem. When Pacioretty wasn’t there, Stone’s numbers tumbled, and tumbled hard.
The Golden Knights have only scored once with the net empty when Stone is on the ice and Pacioretty is not, and that’s in about a third of the time that they scored 10 while together. On the power play, the shot volume drops by almost 20 shots per 60 minutes, goals are basically cut in half (9.36 to 5.5), and the Golden Knights generate eight fewer scoring chances per 60 while allowing three more.
And that’s not the worst of it. Even strength is. Stone has played 1,000 more minutes with Pacioretty than without, but a sample of nearly 700 minutes is large enough to still draw conclusions. Without Max, Mark’s goal share goes from 64.9% to 42.4%, his Corsi dips from 57.0% to 47.8%, and his expected goals share is also down nearly double digits (58.3% to 49.0%.)
The per 60 rates make it look even worse. 15 fewer shot attempts while allowing seven more, nine fewer shots on goal while allowing four more, two fewer goals while allowing almost one more, and four fewer high danger chances while conceding three more.
There is however a significant drop in offensive zone starts for Stone when he’s without Pacioretty. Together, they started 56% of their shifts in the offensive zone while apart Stone saw that number decrease to 47% as Pacioretty’s stayed the same.
The fact is though that Mark Stone’s numbers blow the team average out in every category when he plays with Pacioretty, while he falls short in literally every category without Max.
So, what will Bruce Cassidy do to remedy this with Pacioretty buying real estate (and finding a foot doctor) in Raleigh, North Carolina?
The first hope would be Jack Eichel. There’s plenty of reason to believe these two would thrive together, but in their short time (literally less than 40 minutes on the ice) the numbers didn’t bear it out. To be fair though, the Mark Stone that played with Eichel to end the season was a shell of the one we expect to see post back surgery to open 2022-23.
The next option is Chandler Stephenson. With Stephenson, Stone’s numbers rebound, but only to team average, nowhere near where they are with Pacioretty. There’s a 1,300-minute sample size to navigate too. When the three played together, the numbers are incredibly similar to those without Stephenson, but if you take out Pacioretty, the numbers slip to basically halfway between where they are with Mark plus Max compared to Mark minus Max.
Finally, and maybe the most exciting of the solutions, is Jonathan Marchessault. Stone and Marchessault have shared the ice at even-strength for just 211 minutes in the past three years and a lot of it came at 4-on-4. The numbers hint at success (Corsi, Fenwick, Shot Share, Expected Goals all good), but the actual results never matched (they scored just 10 times, which is significantly less than the team average in that many minutes). However, there’s always the 2018 IIHF World Championships to lean on, where Stone and Marchessault played with Pierre-Luc Dubois and dominated the tournament.
No matter who it is, it’s going to be imperative that Cassidy finds Batman his new Robin. For the Golden Knights to produce at anywhere near peak performance, they must get every ounce of production out of Mark Stone. Whether it’s with Eichel, Stephenson, Marchessault, or whoever else, Vegas needs to find a new match because since Stone got here, he’s been dominant with Pacioretty and below average without him.
**All on-ice stats for this article were sourced from NaturalStatTrick.com**