Here we go, it’s Day 2 of making crazy predictions (here are Ken’s from yesterday). I truly believe a couple of my predictions will come true this season. Especially, the one about Jack Eichel squaring off against Connor McDavid.
Call me crazy, but Shea Theodore will pass his career high in goals in 2023-24.
There have been theories floating over the past several seasons that Alex Pietrangelo’s presence impacted Theodore’s growth. It’s an easy assumption, considering Theodore was the Golden Knights’ biggest threat in the 2020 postseason. The Original Misfit registered seven goals in the bubble and 12 assists to go along with his breakout performance. Months later Pietrangelo was acquired and appeared to slow Theodore down.
The 28-year-old flashed some skill in the Stanley Cup Final and there’s reason to believe it will carry over to October. After playing in Bruce Cassidy’s system for 76 games, Theodore is in a position to flourish offensively. Look for Theodore to top 15 or more goals this season. Maybe enough to earn a few Norris Trophy votes.
Call me crazy, but there will be a goalie controversy at some point during the season.
We’ve covered goal-scoring, playmaking and goaltending so let’s focus on off the ice. During their eight-week run, the Golden Knights had many memorable quotes throughout the postseason. In fact, there are enough comments from Golden Knights players to fill out a Top 26 list. However, let’s focus on VGK’s six most entertaining quotes of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs.
6. Pietrangelo Shrugs Off Slashing Suspension in the Second Round
It is what it is, I’m not going to sit here and dwell on it. The league took care of it, so we’ll move on… There have been a lot of shots both ways, I’ll just say that. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on, there’s some premeditated stuff coming at me but (the Department of Player Safety) didn’t really seem to care in the meeting. I’ll get up and take it. I’m not going to lay on the ice like we’ve been seeing. I’ll get up and play the game the way it needs to be played. At the end of the day, we’ve got a job to do, they’ve got a job to do. – Alex Pietrangelo
When lead defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was suspended for his slash on Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl in the second round no one was surprised. It was a heat-of-the-moment situation and unlike anything Vegas fans had ever seen before from #7. However, Pietrangelo stated his case to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, and they required the d-man to sit for one game, much to the chagrin of the Oilers and their fans. When asked, Pietrangelo didn’t hold back.
Much has been said about the Stanley Cup-winning Golden Knights’ defensive unit. Throughout the 82-game regular season, four playoff rounds, and five finals games, VGK’s blue line was a major reason for the team’s championship run. In fact, Vegas’ defensive wealth compares to past Stanley Cup winners. Each team over the past dozen or so years has had one of the league’s elite defensemen anchoring their backend. The Golden Knights were blessed with one D-man that will be etched into silver twice.
You simply don’t win a Stanley Cup without an elite top-pair defenceman:
After the Golden Knights were eliminated by the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Western Conference Finals, the organization made a bevy of transactions. Center Paul Stastny and defenseman Nate Schmidt were jettisoned for cap room making way for one of the worst-kept secrets in team history. While the moves felt controversial at the time, the front office arguably overbid but got their man. Without publicly acknowledging it, Vegas’ front office successfully ripped Pietrangelo from the heart of the St. Louis Blues organization. It’s not a coincidence that the Blues have only one playoff series win since losing their former captain.
He was the captain of the team and been a real good player for a number of years for the Blues, won a Cup and he was a big part of it for sure. But that’s the game and people move on. -Craig Berube, STL November, 2020
The Golden Knights have a second chance tonight to take a stranglehold on the Stanley Cup Final and defeat the Florida Panthers in their building. After a game in which Vegas felt they played well but just let it get away late, they are very confident in their ability to turn the page, wash away the thoughts of Game 3, and go out and win Game 4.
We’re really good at flipping the switch and getting ready for the next game, so today’s no different. We had a good day yesterday to regroup and then today we were able to look at some things technically and get our minds right. -Pietrangelo
As they have done all of the postseason when they’ve had a day in between road games, they took the day off from hitting the ice. No practice, no trip to FLA Live Arena, and very little focus on either what went wrong in Game 3 or what they need to do to correct it tonight.
Instead, the focus is on the bigger picture and remembering exactly why they are here and what they have a chance to accomplish.
We’re all acutely aware of what we’re playing for and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to feel like they need to discuss it. I’ve made my feelings known to make sure to remember what we’re playing for. Refocus on the long-term goal and then the next day it’s back to the short-term goal with a mentality of details and what it’s going to take to get there. -Cassidy
Having a host of players on the team that have been to the mountaintop helps in that aspect.
Having been here before the biggest thing for me is to not overthink it. Worry about the game when we get there tonight. You don’t want to sit there all day thinking about the game. -Pietrangelo
The Golden Knights have lost consecutive games just once this season, and they believe it’s because of their tremendous ability to refocus their energy and get back to the style of play they know has been successful thus far.
Tonight, in Game 4, they know what’s coming from the Panthers.
I expect that they’ll want to replicate the recipe they had in the 1st period trying to get on top of us and getting in on the forecheck. That’s with pressure, the D are up forcing us to make plays under duress and reloading hard. I thought we didn’t execute as well as we could have and maybe that’s from travel or the crowd or whatever but I expect us to pick up where we left off in the 2nd period and on. -Cassidy
Typically odd-numbered games are the swing games in a series, but tonight’s Game 4 will play a massive role in how everyone views the next three days. A 3-1 series lead will have thoughts and dreams of parades and winning at home running wild, a 2-2 tie would be completely different.
For nearly 58 minutes last night, the Golden Knights were the better team. Hockey can be cruel though, and unfortunately, Vegas had to endure another lesson on the unpredictability of the best sport on the planet.
The commanding 3-0 Stanley Cup lead vanished and now the Panthers have a heartbeat where it felt like they were heading for life support.
The preponderance of the game may not have led to the outcome the Golden Knights were searching for, but that does not mean it did not exist nor that it can’t be learned from. There was plenty of good with just a sprinkle of bad. Here’s what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to change for Vegas heading into Game 4 tomorrow night.
What went right
Probably the strongest aspect of the Golden Knights’ game not only last night, but in the series as at large, has been their penalty kill. Vegas is a sterling 12 for 12 on the kill and caused the Panthers to struggle in many areas with the man advantage.
The strongest among them has been Vegas’ entry defense. Time and time again when Florida is attempting a power play breakout they’ve run into troubles at the VGK blue line. So much so that their most successful entry attempts have come by dumping the puck in. In addition, the Golden Knights have been excellent at clearing the puck when they get it on their sticks. If Vegas gets a touch, there’s a strong possibility the puck is headed 200 feet the other way.
Finally, the Golden Knights made adjustments inside of the penalty kill that helped on the later Florida Power plays.
They looked like they didn’t have the quick efficient movement like they did in Game 2 so we took some things away. What they did was hit (Sam) Reinhart in the bumper a few times and that’s something we corrected as we went along. -Cassidy
Florida was able to work the puck into Reinhart three times on a pair of power plays in the 2nd period. The final one in the 2nd and the only in the 3rd, Vegas denied that option and it further stymied the Panther power play.
Protecting the house
When you look at the shot chart from Game 3 it appears the Panthers had a lot of activity around the front of the Golden Knights’ net. However, in reality, despite the puck being there a lot more often than Vegas would prefer, Florida was not able to generate offense from directly in front of the goal.
Florida attacked from every different angle and with varying numbers advantages or disadvantages and the Golden Knights had the answer for all of them at even strength. Vegas racked up 31 shots protecting the center and there were countless numbers of stick checks that broke up plays before Florida could even attempt the shot.
Adin Hill was clean on most of his rebounds and on the ones he wasn’t the first stick on the puck in the blue paint or anywhere close was almost always by a player wearing white and gold.
Neutral zone structure
In the 2nd period the Golden Knights put on a clinic in how to defend a dangerous team through the center of the ice. Vegas constantly had at least four players between the puck and the goal when the Panthers would get it and they displayed excellent structure through the middle of the ice on every Florida breakout.
The neutral zone effectiveness led to Florida generating just four shots on goal, three scoring chances, and 0.16 expected goals at 5-on-5 in the middle frame. The Panthers were constantly caught in between on whether to dump-and-chase or try for the controlled entry and that indecision led to multiple rush chances for the Golden Knights.
What went wrong and what needs to change
Dealing with bad ice conditions
It’s something the Golden Knights have struggled with for quite some time now, at FLA Live Arena in particular. Vegas entered the game knowing they’d likely encounter some turbulence when trying to slide the puck along the ice, but they didn’t seem to react to it quickly enough at the start of the game. Florida dominated loose puck battles in the 1st period and it helped ignite their forecheck which had struggled through the first two games.
As the game went on, Vegas started to settle in, but they still believe they could have managed the poor ice better.
When the ice isn’t great sometimes you have to dumb it down a little bit and simplify the game. -Alex Pietrangelo
This really cropped up a bit late in the 3rd period when the Golden Knights began to exhibit some issues exiting the zone. Through almost all of the first nine periods, Vegas had been clean on their exits including short one-touch passes that broke Florida’s pressure. But, with the challenging ice conditions, those passes can be a bit more difficult to complete as the puck has a tendency to bounce uncontrollably.
Simpler exits can fix this. Rather than going for the clean, pretty play, Vegas may need to rely a bit more on things like dump, chip, or rim outs. This is especially important when playing with the lead as there is no longer a need to generate offense from these types of clean exits. Vegas wasn’t terrible in this department, but they definitely can improve.
Defending against the empty net
This one is obvious considering the result, but it’s been a persistent issue through the postseason for the Golden Knights. In three separate series, the first game in which Vegas faced an empty net they’ve given up a goal in the same manner. Winnipeg, Dallas, and Florida have all outnumbered Vegas in front of the goal on a rebound and poked home a massive goal to send each game to overtime.
What must change for the Golden Knights is an increased awareness of when to pressure the puck when it along the walls or at the points. Vegas’ zone defense at 5-on-5 has these keys down to a science and they’ve left the Panthers, Stars, and Jets before them all frustrated with their own inability to get to the center of the ice. But once the extra skater is out there the keys must change. On all three goals, including the massive one to tie the game last night, Vegas has found themselves losing a board battle with a defenseman away from the middle of the ice. In last night’s game, it didn’t lead directly to the goal, but it did lead to a scramble which eventually allowed Matthew Tkachuk to find inside positon on the rebound of the following shot.
There’s a fine line when playing against six skaters on when to attack and when to sit back. The Golden Knights know how to do it, and they’ve displayed it multiple times during the regular season and playoffs, they just need to walk that line a little better the next time the situation arises.
There’s a reason the NHL makes teams play seven times to determine which team is better. It’s because in this sport, the better team doesn’t always win. The Golden Knights have been the better team in all three games thus far in the Stanley Cup Final. It’s earned them a 2-1 series lead. And even though it feels like it could (maybe should) be 3-0, if Vegas continues to be the better team all series, those final two wins will come.
Jonathan Marchessault on this time vs. last time in Cup Final
“It’s not as overwhelming as it was the first year. I think we know what we are coming into this time and it feels good to be because. But, this means nothing if we don’t win it and that’s the mentality I have this year.”
Mark Stone on original members of the Golden Knights “finishing what they started”
“I’m not so sure they are here to finish what they started as much as it’s just they want to win. These guys really want to win, man. Everybody in this organization wants to win. The owner stated he wants to win badly and you’ve seen that we’ve spended to the salary cap and we’ve added top-end players and key pieces throughout the time we’ve been here. These guys will do anything it takes.”
Alex Pietrangelo on players asking him about Stanley Cup experiences
“Guys ask the questions and I’ll give them an honest answer and I hope that helps because that feeling of having that opportunity is something we all want to have at least once… if not more.”
Brayden McNabb on playing against physical forecheck
“It’s going to be a physical series. They come hard and they finish their checks and we’re aware of that. It’s going to be about having good first touches, getting to the puck first, and making good reads. There won’t be a single play we can rely on every time either, we’re going to have to moce our feet and make reads and be smart with where we go on the first touch.”
“Dallas is a great forecheck team and we got better and better dealing with it as the series went on.”
Shea Theodore on long layoff before Stanley Cup Final
“We just felt like it was such a long time. When you’re waiting for that first game sometimes it can benefit the guys who are nursing some injuries but I remember us really wanting to get after it. It kind of got us out of a little bit of a rhythm.”
“When we had the layoff we kind of were flashing back to the whole year. It was a magical run and we had a lot of key bounces and we were always scoring timely goals. And then our luck kind of ran out.”
Nic Roy on 4th line being challenged after Game 5
“We felt that challenge and he talked to us a little bit before the game. We know what (Cassidy) expects from us. He wants us to be physical, be hard on the forecheck, and set the tone at the start of the game. That was the message and I thought from the get go we did a really good job of that.”
Jonathan Marchessault on the possibility of the next word engraved on the Cup being Vegas
“It’s a lifetime achievement. You can ask anyone here, what’s your dream if you can have anything you want and winning the Stanley Cup is the answer. It’s what I’ve been working on my entire life.”
Late in Game 4 the emotion of the series finally caught up with Alex Pietrangelo. After a missed empty net bid by Leon Draisaitl, Pietrangelo rose his stick above his head and chopped down on Draisaitl’s wrists in a vicious manner. He was assessed a five minute major ending his night and then subsequently was suspended by the Department of Player Safety for Game 5.
It is what it is, I’m not going to sit here and dwell on it. The league took care of it, so we’ll move on and use it as a day to get some rest and get ready for tomorrow. There have been a lot of shots both ways, I’ll just say that. -Pietrangelo
The former Stanley Cup winning captain stood behind a podium today to speak to local media about the incident and he came with a fairly clear message.
It’s pretty obvious what’s going on, there’s some premeditated stuff coming at me but (the Department of Player Safety) didn’t really seem to care in the meeting. I’ll get up and take it. I’m not going to lay on the ice like we’ve been seeing. I’ll get up and play the game the way it needs to be played. At the end of the day, we’ve got a job to do, they’ve got a job to do, and we need to close it out tomorrow. -Pietrangelo
He says he absolutely has extra motivation when he makes his return to the lineup for Game 6.
For the better part of eight games, the Golden Knights defense have carried their team to success in the postseason. That was until last night’s Game 4 in Edmonton. Not only did Vegas’ blueliners jump start the Oilers offense in the opening period but they potentially put their team at a disadvantage for Friday’s Game 5 too.
Before the game clock hit the eight-minute mark Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore committed two slashing penalties and committed an egregious turnover. Unfortunately, the bad luck didn’t end for the 27-year-old blueliner. Edmonton cashed in on Theodore’s second slash and things began to unravel for the Golden Knights 7:38 into Game 4. Almost six minutes later, the Oilers took a three-goal edge, all with Theodore on the ice.
It’s been stressed a dozen times over the past week; do not give the Oilers power play opportunities. Although Edmonton scored just once on the man-advantage in Game 4, it came seven minutes into the game, doubled their lead and completely shell-shocked the Golden Knights. Theodore’s inability to cleanly defend opened the door for an Oilers rout. Of course, it wasn’t just the penalties taken because Edmonton was the first team to hit the box. It was a combination of over-committing, poor positioning and problems tracking the puck. It was uncharacteristic for an overall reliable defenseman.
Going back to the last series with the Winnipeg Jets, Vegas’ blueline has been the team’s most consistent unit. Last night, the shaky defense hurt VGK’s attempt at taking a two-game series lead back home for Friday’s Game 5. It’s easy to compliment the opponent’s attack but even coach Bruce Cassidy couldn’t hold back after last night’s 4-1 defeat.
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
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.
Consumer Reports consider Honda as one of the most reliable brands of vehicles on the market. In fact, the popular publication estimates the average life of a Honda is around 200,000 miles. Not bad right? Chances are Consumer Reports would likely say the same thing about Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Both engines run effectively and efficiently for years. It’s no wonder the two partnered up in 2021.
Since his arrival in Las Vegas, Pietrangelo has been heavily relied on by two coaches. Under Pete DeBoer, the veteran defenseman averaged 24:34 of ice time per game. Current coach Bruce Cassidy relies on Pietrangelo for roughly the same amount. In three seasons with Vegas, the Golden Knights’ alternate captain has led all skaters in average ice time per game. No surprise for a player that’s recorded a lifetime ATOI of 24:37.
Pietrangelo’s Time On Ice Since 2017-18
Total TOI – 9195:14 (12th)
Average TOI – 24:39 (7th)
When the Golden Knights introduced themselves to the NHL in October of 2017, Pietrangelo was leading the St. Louis Blues. Starting with that inaugural 2017-18 season, the three-time All-Star has been in the Top 25 for ice time, shifts, and situational usage. Compared with other defensemen, Pietrangelo’s engine revs now as well as it did six years ago.
Pietrangelo TOI/Shift Breakdown Since 2017-18
7336:38 EV TOI (17th)
19:40 EV Time Per Game (16th)
1031:10 PP TOI (14th)
2:47 PP Time Per Game (22nd)
122:24 OT TOI (12th)
10,406 Shifts (18th)
27.9 Shifts Per Game (14th)
Should there be a slight concern that everyday wear and tear will catch up to the right-handed defenseman? Of course, especially with the soon-to-be 33-year-old continues playing his ATOI per night. It’ll be interesting to watch how Cassidy handles Pietrangelo’s minutes down the stretch. With a likely playoff bid ahead, will the coach hold back his workhorse to freshen up for the postseason? Based on where they are in the standings by April, Cassidy could elect to use Pietrangelo and Mark Stone less frequently. It could make a difference if Vegas gets caught up in a long series.
Some of Pietrangelo’s teammates also deserve mentions for their sturdiness over this period as well. Since 2017-18, William Karlsson is ranked 23rd among centers in total ice time (7287:22) and time on ice (0:51) per shift. Defenseman Brayden McNabb has racked up the 7th most shorthanded minutes (1039:17) and is 22nd in shorthanded minutes (2:44) per contest. Lastly, and it’s no surprise, Jack Eichel averages the 18th most power play minutes (3:32) per game and the 7th most overtime minutes (1:45) per occasion.
Now to be more accurate, Pietrangelo is paid more like an Aston Martin but represents the dependability and durability of a Honda. Like his Honda Odyssey, there are a lot of miles on both but experts rarely question their reliability.