We all watched with our own eyes on Thursday night. Vegas’ 5-2 victory over Anaheim got off to a quick but hectic start. In the opening eight minutes of the 2021 season, the two teams totaled four early goals. We know what happened later in the game, but let’s focus on the first eight minutes of the game.
If you’re playing in a normal season, and we get up two nothing like that the building is rocking. We got to learn to continue to push, we kind of let our foot off the gas after going up two nothing. -Mark Stone
In the initial 2:13 of the 1st period it looked like Vegas had turned the game into a one-sided contest. Jonathan Marchessault and Tomas Nosek nabbed their first goals of the season, temporarily giving the feel of a normal Golden Knights drubbing of the Ducks. Minutes later things quickly changed.
With their backs against the wall, Anaheim battled back and scored two of their own. Like the Golden Knights, the Ducks netted two in a matter of minutes.
The first eight minutes were messy but that wasn’t a shock to the players or coaches involved.
With no preseason you have to evaluate your game. We had some breakdowns a little too much in front of our own net. Some mental breakdowns but we also battled back. We gave up two goals early and we were able to respond the way we wanted to. -Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks captain
After a long time off the ice and a short training camp, it was expected both teams would come out rusty. However, both offenses came out hot and surprised the defense and goaltenders right from the opening faceoff. According to Anaheim’s head coach Dallas Eakins, the early flow of the game was sort of a reality check.
As we inch closer to the Golden Knights’ opening night, here’s a friendly reminder that time is running out on placing 2021 future odds. Ken picked sides on William Hill’s team point totals earlier in the month, now I’m attacking league leaders and player award odds.
In last year’s shortened season Max Pacioretty finished with a team-leading 32 regular season goals. The veteran’s total was good enough for 13th most in the NHL. This year, in an even shorter season, Pacioretty is 22-1 to lead all scorers in goals.
NHL’s Leading Scorer odds: Auston Matthews +500 Alex Ovechkin +600 Connor McDavid +850 Leon Draisaitl +850 Nathan MacKinnon +1000
Golden Knights to be NHL Leading Scorer odds: Max Pacioretty 22/1 William Karlsson 75/1 Mark Stone 100/1 Reilly Smith 125/1
It’s a tall order for any of the Golden Knights to outscore super offensive studs like McDavid, Ovechkin, and Matthews but it is a unique season and there may be value with a couple of Vegas forwards. It might seem like a long shot but dropping a sawbuck or two on Karlsson to lead the league in scoring would bring back a nice return. Remember Karlsson’s 43 goals scored in 2017-18 was done playing with Marchessault and Smith, who he is set to play with again this season.
Even though we’re watching Alex Pietrangelo suit up in a Golden Knights jersey day in and day out in camp, it’s still tough to see videos of Schmidt somewhere else. We always knew it would be the case, but Schmidt is already making an impact in Vancouver.
Vegas fans knew what Vancouver was getting when they acquired Schmidt this offseason. A reliable defender with the ability to pitch in offensively and a whale of a personality. The Canucks are seeing it in person and the reviews have been high.
The Canucks got better when the Golden Knights front office made the tough decision to move #88. Not only will Schmidt boost the blueline but he’ll add some veteran presence surrounding emerging star Quinn Hughes.
Not quite at Quinn Hughes level, not many are in terms of generating offense but this guy doesn’t miss an opportunity with his skating to jump up into the rush. He loves to be the trailer, loves to add another layer of attack. –Paterson, TSN Vancouver on TSN 1040
Over their history, the Golden Knights have scored a total of 877 franchise goals, 738 in the regular season, 139 in the playoffs. In 238 regular season games, Vegas’ average comes out to 3.14 goals scored per game. In all three seasons, Vegas tallied more than the league average, and are ranked 8th in the NHL in goals since their inception.
The big offseason question was can the Golden Knights score enough in year four, and most importantly, in the playoffs?
2017-18: 268 Goals, 3.26 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs) 2018-19: 246 Goals, 3.00 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 25 Goals, 3.57 Goals Per Game (Playoffs) 2019-20: 224 goals, 3.15 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
Coming into the Vancouver series, the Golden Knights were on a torrid offensive pace. Three round-robin games and a five-game whooping of the Blackhawks had Vegas scoring at a 3.75 goals per game clip. Then, it hit the skids. In 12 postseason games against Vancouver and Dallas, the #1 seed in the Western Conference averaged only 2.25 goals per game. In the last eight games, they scored just 12 goals or 1.5 per game.
After the season, it was mostly written off publicly by players, coaches, and the office as just a rough patch and a pair of hot goalies The offseason was centered around one major move, though one that should help the team offensively.
The change from Gerard Gallant to Pete DeBoer brought about a slightly new style of play, but more so it seemed to bring a new emphasis on how the Golden Knights would go about creating their offense.
Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, we specifically highlighted one stat that indicated the exact difference between his way of generating offense and Gallant’s. At the time it was written as an example of what Vegas needed to stop to win the series, but now, it’s what the Golden Knights need to work to be successful in 2020-21.
That stat is percentage of team shots attempts taken by defensemen. Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, his teams were consistently among the league leaders seeing about 40% of their shot attempts coming from blue liners. Vegas, under Gallant, came in with significantly less, at around 34%. Over the course of the 2018-19 season, that meant about 300 fewer shot attempts from Vegas defensemen than San Jose’s.
It didn’t take long for DeBoer to begin implementing that style of offense here in Vegas. Thanks to some dandy research by SanJoseHockeyNow.com‘s Sheng Peng, the increase in shot attempts from Gallant, to pre-Pause DeBoer, to post-Pause DeBoer was massive.
The addition of Alex Pietrangelo will change everything in how the Golden Knights look on the back end. As opposed to having a more balanced group as they’ve had in the previous three seasons, they’ll come into this one with a much more clear hierarchy, Pietrangelo being at the top.
The most ice time any Vegas defenseman has averaged in a given season was 22:14 which was achieved by both Shea Theodore in 19-20 and Nate Schmidt in 17-18. Pietrangelo hasn’t averaged less than 24:00 in any season since his first full NHL year back in 2010-11 and has crossed 25:00 per game in six seasons.
Pietrangelo’s impact will be most felt on Theodore, who had risen to become the Golden Knights’ best offensive defenseman and TOI leader last year.
In a Q&A on the Golden Knights website, head coach Pete DeBoer was asked about Pietrangelo’s effect on Theodore.
I think Theodore is obviously on everyone’s radar now with how he’s played. He’s one of those guys now that every time you’re playing Vegas you’re going to circle his number on the board and he’s going to get a lot of extra attention. His benefit to Theodore, but also to a lot of other guys, is be able to free them up. –DeBoer to VegasGoldenKnights.com
The first thing I think of when I hear the word insulates from an NHL coach is in relation to competition. As the top offensive defenseman on the roster, Theodore was always going to draw the toughest defensive opponent, but with Pietrangelo here now, that may change.
It’s no secret Alex Pietrangelo is an elite defenseman in the NHL. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been the captain of a Stanley Cup champion, he wouldn’t have received Norris Trophy votes in seven different seasons, and he definitely wouldn’t have signed a $62 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.
But what is it that makes him special and worthy of garnering the title of highest-paid player in Golden Knights history? Well, I dug into the film to figure it out.
It starts with what he does in the defensive zone. He’s about as sound of a blueliner as you will find in the entire NHL. I’d make a highlight tape, but it would be about as exhilarating as watching paint dry, so I’ll spare you.
But that’s not what really sets him apart. There are plenty of lockdown d-men in the league and none get paid the way Pietrangelo now does.
Where he really separates himself from most is the way he reads the game offensively. He’s absolutely elite at becoming a part of the offense as a defenseman. Whether that means activating off the blue line, replacing the forward on a cycle play, or joining the rush, Pietrangelo does it all at an incredibly high level.
This makes him unbelievably challenging to defend against and should have VGK fans drooling about what they are going to see when the games finally get back underway.
Let me illustrate.
This is likely a set play off the faceoff, but it’s a play that very few players in the NHL can make. Pietrangelo sees the draw is won and the puck heading to the half wall. So, he activates off the blue line towards the goal. Watch the path he takes though. He wants to head directly to the back post and catch the feed across, but there’s a bit of traffic in front, so when he hits the faceoff dot, he alters his route slightly towards the slot, with his stick on the ice the entire time presenting himself for the pass. Then, he gets it, receives it perfectly, and pulls off a dazzling inside-out move that embarrasses both a defenseman and the goalie. Mesmerizing.
Next, here he is replacing a forward who is heading towards the blue line.
As the Golden Knights roster continues to churn, the balance of importance on that roster changes with it. Many guys who were once the most vital on the team are no longer here and other stars have stepped into their places.
So, when discussing which players are the most indispensable for the Golden Knights this season, the exercise is not as simple as it would seem. The great Kevin Iole, Jason, and I had a discussion about this very topic and realized the options are so plentiful that we had to bring it to the site. We each picked three and between us we came up with six different players.
3rd Most Indispensable Kevin – Cody Glass Jason – Robin Lehner Ken – Mark Stone
Kevin – The 2017 NHL Entry Draft was loaded at the top. Nico Hischier, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson are already elite NHL players. The Golden Knights’ thought Glass would be a player of that caliber and jumped on him when he was available at No. 6.
Now, Paul Stastny has been traded and they need someone to plug into that second line. The best way it could work out for the Golden Knights is if Glass could finally live up to his draft status. He showed glimpses last year, but wasn’t able to stay healthy and went long stretches while doing little.
If he comes up big and the Golden Knights can put Chandler Stephenson on a third line with Alex Tuch and Nic Roy, they can create a huge match-up problem with the third line while have two very strong top lines.
If Glass struggles, Stephenson moves up to center one of the top two and the third line suddenly isn’t as much of a scoring threat. Glass’ success will tell much about the kind of season the VGK will having in 2021.
Jason – Is this a trick question? Of course, it’s Lehner, without him the Golden Knights don’t have a goaltender. Sure, they have two now but by the time the season begins Fleury will be gone, leaving Lehner as the only starting goaltender in Vegas. I understand we were told by the Golden Knights that the plan on keeping both goalies but I don’t see that happening. In a shortened season, a condensed schedule may require a sturdy backup but how many nights do they plan on sitting Lehner? 10-15 games? The 29-year-old has started more than 34 games in the last four seasons, so it doesn’t make sense to relieve him with an expensive backup like Fleury?
Both sides have said the right thing over the past few months but in reality, keeping both isn’t good business. If the Golden Knights are seriously trying to win the Stanley Cup it won’t be by spending $12M in net. They’re too smart for that. And with that, Robin Lehner’s presence in the VGK lineup is paramount.
Ken – I originally had Lehner, for all the reasons Jason spelled out, plus the fact that losing him for any amount of time would further the lunacy of keeping them both. But, while both goalies are on the roster, I just couldn’t bring myself to rank Lehner above Mark Stone.
Stone has been the engine of the team since the moment he got here at the deadline in 2018-19. When he’s scoring or helping others score, the Golden Knights are basically unbeatable. Think back to the Sharks series. He drops 10 points in the first four games and VGK leads 3-1. Goes silent in Games 5 and 6 and they lose them both. (He had two points in Game 7, which still remains a win in my book.)
Yes, the Golden Knights have replacements, but no one can do what he can do. The season isn’t over if they lose Stone, but you can forget about winning the Cup if he’s not out there and dominating.
How they run it out for 2020-21 is still to be determined, but the options are fairly minimal. Three of the six projected starters are absolutely locked into one side of the defense with a fourth basically a foregone conclusion. The three are Pietrangelo (right), McNabb (left), and Whitecloud (right). Theodore is the fourth, he played 90 of 91 games on the right side last season, including the playoffs.
That leaves just a few moveable pieces thus limiting the combinations Pete DeBoer has to work with. Here are each of the possible options, starting with the one most likely to be used by the Golden Knights when they open the 2020-21 season.
This combination leaves two pairs intact from the playoff run and slots Pietrangelo in with a good fit in McNabb to play first pair minutes. Martinez has shown to be a great option with Theodore and the Holden/Whitecloud pair have held the fort on the third pair. The main question with this grouping would be how much McNabb holds back Pietrangelo’s offense. At times, Schmidt’s offense was neutered a bit playing with McNabb as they found themselves hemmed in the defensive zone against the opposing top line. Pietrangelo is an upgrade over Schmidt which should help that issue, but he wasn’t brought to Vegas to spend a majority of his shifts trying to exit the zone. The Golden Knights want offense from Pietrangelo, and if it’s not coming in bunches with McNabb by his side, they won’t hesitate to switch things around. Probability: 80%
The Golden Knights franchise is not new to working in new players, and more recently, new stars. Some have thrived immediately, others have taken some time. With Pietrangelo, he’s going to have to have it figured out pretty quickly or this team is going to struggle along with him. Dealing with the new environment, first time with a new team, and the pressure to perform having signed the mega-deal all add up to the new guy feeling some heat, but he’ll have plenty of built-in excuses plus $61 million to relieve a lot of it. Pressure Index: 5
The likely partner for Vegas’ newest superstar has been one of the steadiest players in Golden Knights history. It’s hard to believe anyone would be a bad match for Pietrangelo but any failures Alex has early will be blamed at least in part on his partner. Throw in the fact that as a pair they’ll be playing against the opposition’s best players every night and likely starting a majority of their shifts in the D-zone and it’s a tall task for anyone. Simply put, McNabb has to have a great season or his place as VGK’s most reliable defensemen will be lost quickly. Pressure Index: 6
No one has higher expectations for the 2020-21 season than Shea. After a masterful postseason most believe Theodore’s name should be in the mix for the Norris trophy this year. The statistical expectations most have for Theodore are probably unrealistic though. He was able to post 19 points in 20 games in the playoffs which leads many to believe he should be pushing 80 points in the regular season. His career-high is just 46 in 71 games. Maybe he can reach the insane numbers he’ll be projected for, but more than likely he’ll be looking at about a 50 point season with 10-15 goals. He needs to drive offense consistently for this team to succeed. There’s no reason to believe he won’t, but the weight of expectations will be heavy. Pressure Index: 8