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Golden Knights’ Focus On Limiting Odd-Man Rushes Is Paying Off Early

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights’ most dangerous weapon offensively for pretty much the entirety of their existence has been dominance off the rush. When teams allow Vegas to get odd-man rushes, the Golden Knights tend to make them pay.

This year, especially against Los Angeles, Seattle, and Winnipeg, those chances have been plentiful and it’s a huge reason why the Golden Knights sit at 4-1-0 and in 1st in the NHL.

However, even more impressive has been their ability to limit them going the other way. With Bruce Cassidy at the helm, Vegas saw four new forward line combinations, a switch in neutral zone system, and a different plan in the defensive zone as well. Through all of the change, they’ve allowed hardly any 2-on-1 or breakaway chances through five games.

What we wanted to execute was fewer and fewer Grade A chances off the rush. That was brought to my attention this summer so we’ve put some things in place and the players have bought in and believe in it as well. -Bruce Cassidy

The NHL doesn’t publicly offer statistics on odd-man rushes, but having watched every game live and rewatched them all a second or third time, I can confidently say Vegas has allowed fewer than 10 odd-man rushes on the young season. It’s a big reason why the goaltenders have gotten off to a hot start and it’s been crucial in why they haven’t conceded more than three goals in any game this year.

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Vegas Doesn’t Do Much Of What Makes A Team Hardest To Defend

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Brayden McNabb is among the best defense-first defensemen in the NHL, and certainly one of the best on the Golden Knights. He’s played more than 600 regular season and playoff games in the NHL, so it’s fair to say he’s seen just about every type of player, offensive system, and situation a defenseman can face.

Following the season, I asked McNabb a question that generated an answer I found telling, even if he didn’t mean it to be taken the way I’m about to take it.

The question was simple, “what makes a team hardest to play against for you as a defenseman?”

If they play fast. If they are putting the puck in and forechecking us and you are getting slammed into the boards every time they do that I don’t care who you ask no one really likes that. Teams that move around in the O-zone, make it difficult by making you make hard reads and making it confusing. -McNabb

It all makes perfect sense and nothing in his answer should be surprising to anyone.

But it made me think…

Do the Golden Knights do any of it?

“Play fast.” At times, sure, I’d argue that the Golden Knights played a fast brand of hockey this season, specifically in transition. When they were turning pucks over in the neutral zone or defensive zone, they sprung into the attack quickly and would often demolish teams on the rush.

In the offensive zone though, fast is not a word most would use to describe the VGK offensive style. They were much more methodical, placing a high preference on puck possession as opposed to quick passing.

Next is forechecking with physicality. This was rarely a part of the Golden Knights’ game this season at all. Vegas was not a heavy dump and chase type team and when they were forced to do it, throwing bodies was not exactly the preferred method of retrieval. Instead, Vegas would send the first player into the zone trying to force the puck along the boards to where the second forechecker would usually be. They’d then try to turn the puck over and hit their third forward coming through the center of the ice, or recycle the puck to eventually generate shots from the point.

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Golden Knights 2021-22 Locker Cleanout Press Conference Audio

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights conducted their season-end media availability today at City National Arena. This is the complete unedited audio of every press conference.

0:00 – 31:47 – Pete DeBoer

31:47 – 1:07:24 – Kelly McCrimmon

1:07:24 – 1:23:10 – Alec Martinez

1:23:10 – 1:39:20 – Max Pacioretty

1:39:20 – 1:48:27 – Shea Theodore

1:48:27 – 2:01:44 – Jack Eichel

2:01:44 – 2:13:20 – Zach Whitecloud

2:13:20 – 2:26:48 – Mark Stone

2:26:48 – 2:38:01 – Jonathan Marchessault

2:38:01 – 2:47:46 – William Karlsson

2:47:46 – 2:57:56 – Brayden McNabb

“Just Being Good Is Not Good Enough Right Now”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Injuries have dominated the storyline for the Golden Knights this season and they are a huge reason why the team is where it is in the playoff picture with 11 games to go.

Recently though Vegas has started to see a few key pieces return to the lineup and with them has come a growing confidence that they can push through and claim one of the final playoff spots.

I think when a player comes back it’s a boost for the team. The team does a little bit extra to try and make it good for you. -Robin Lehner

This has been on full display for the Golden Knights recently. From the three-goal comeback against Chicago in Alec Martinez’s return to the shutout in Seattle when Brayden McNabb stepped back into the lineup to the overtime win in Vancouver in Lehner’s return.

The challenge is to keep it up. Not only for the team to continue playing at a “boosted” level, but also to get consistent performances from those who have been out of the lineup and are likely not fully healthy.

I feel I’m close, but this time of year I need to be better than my 100 percent. It’s time to raise the bar. All of us. We need to win and there’s no other option. Just being good is not good enough right now. -Lehner

Lehner likely speaks for most players in the Golden Knights’ lineup. Rarely is any player completely healthy at this time of the season, but with a year like Vegas has had it’s to be expected that most guys are less than 100%. Adding Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone back into the mix will only muddy up these already muddy waters as well.

It’s going to be up to Pete DeBoer to find the balance necessary to get everything out of his players without asking too much from those who aren’t physically capable of it.

We have the luxury of not having to load up anyone on defense with the group we have back there. Up front we’re not as deep with the group we’ve got out we don’t have an option but to load up some of those guys. We can’t leave any bullets in the gun for playoffs until we clinch a ticket to make sure we are there. -DeBoer

Vegas does have the benefit of time between games for the rest of this week but then the schedule tightens up substantially for the final six games.

Decision-making will be paramount down the stretch because one wrong move could be fatal for a team that needs every win they can possibly get.

With Or Without You Standings: Which Players Absence Hurts VGK Most?

The great modern-day philosopher Bono once wrote, and then subsequently sang like 100,000 times, “I can’t live, with or without you.”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Unfortunately, for the Golden Knights, they haven’t had that option. 62 games into the season, not a single player has played in every game on the schedule, and just six have missed fewer than six games. They’ve been doing a lot of “living without you.”

Whose absence has hurt the most though?

For that, we go to the WOWY (with or without you) standings to find out the answer is clearly Keegan Kolesar. But seriously, it’s been Reilly Smith, Brayden McNabb, and Mark Stone.

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McNabb, Amadio, Thompson Signings: FAQ On What These Signings Mean For VGK

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Sunday was a busy day on the contract front for the Golden Knights. Brayden McNabb, Logan Thompson, and Michael Amadio all signed new contracts extending each of their stays in Las Vegas.

McNabb signed a three-year extension with an AAV of $2.85 million per year, locking him up through the 23-24 season.

Thompson and Amadio both signed league minimum salary deals with Thompson’s being for three seasons and Amadio’s for two.

Despite the contracts all being fairly straightforward, there’s a lot to consider in regards to the timing and what they say in relation to the upcoming trade deadline on March 21st. So, let’s fire up another edition of frequently asked questions.

**If you have a question we did not cover, post it in the comments or tag us on social media and we’ll add it into this article.**

Do these contracts have any impact on the Golden Knights salary cap this season?

No, they do not. Each of these three are technically new contracts that begin next season. So, the cap hit for each player remains the same for the rest of this year. McNabb – $2.5 million. Thompson – $800,000. Amadio – $750,000

Why sign now?

For McNabb, it was in the best interest of both the player and the team to have a resolution to his contract status for next season. As a pending unrestricted free agent, the Golden Knights were in a situation where they would have had to consider trading McNabb so they didn’t lose him for nothing in free agency. This deal gives McNabb a slight pay increase, he gets to stay in Las Vegas, and it has him under contract through the age of 34. Both sides benefit in giving each a clear picture of the future.

As for Thompson, the deal is essentially a no-brainer for the Golden Knights. Thompson has proven capable at the AHL level and still potentially has an NHL future. Signing him for the league minimum comes with only upside as he’ll either be as cheap a player as possible in the NHL, or not count against the salary cap in the AHL. For Logan, the second two years of the deal are one-way contracts, meaning he’ll earn the full $775,000 whether he’s in the majors or minors.

It’s a similar situation for Amadio. Vegas gets a useable league minimum player while Amadio is guaranteed more than $1.5 million over the next two years no matter where he plays. For a player who was on waivers a few months ago, that’s not half bad.

Can the Golden Knights still trade McNabb to create salary relief?

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2021-22 VGK Opening Day Trivia: Who Am I?

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There’s nothing more exciting than Opening Night. It’s a new season with new players, new rivals, and new objectives. As we prepare for tonight’s matchup against the 32nd franchise let’s have a little fun.

2021-22 Golden Knights Opening Night Trivia: Who Am I?

Surprise, I have the most opening night points in franchise history with 4 (2 Goals, 2 Assists). Who am I?

Click for answer
Mark Stone

 

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to suit up and join the boys tonight but I’ll be cheering loudly. Not sure if you remember, but last season I scored the franchise’s only opening night empty net goal. Who am I?

Click for answer
Alex Tuch

 

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Hunting Career Highs: Defensemen And Goalie

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Though hockey is a team sport and the ultimate goal for every player involved is hoisting the Stanley Cup, individual numbers matter too. Each guy is always looking to build what they’ve done so far in their respective careers. With a pair of shortened seasons in the books, the last two years, and the Golden Knights primed to be one of the best teams in the NHL, many players have a chance to put up career-high numbers in numerous statistical categories.

We’re taking a look at each individual player and choosing the statistic they are most likely to set their career high in this season. Today we start with goalies and defensemen, later in the week we’ll move on to forwards.

Robin Lehner
Stat: Wins
Career High – 25

Lehner has his name engraved on the Jennings Trophy twice in the past three seasons. He has also received Vezina votes in two of those years. He did both of those as part of a goalie tandem though. Before that, he was the starter in Buffalo but for just two seasons, neither of which were his best. Now, Lehner has been handed the reins in Vegas and will likely be looking at 55-60 games in the net. His career-high mark in wins is just 25, the year he came in 2nd for the Vezina. Assuming health, he should get there with ease.

Other options: Shutouts (6), Quality Starts (32), Games Started (58)

Shea Theodore
Stat: Points
Career High – 46

Shea is the perfect guy to break through statistically this year because he doesn’t even need to improve his game to do it. In the 71 game season, in which he finished 6th in Norris, Theodore posted 46 points, an awesome number, but very reachable with 11 more games. He improved on it last year going off for 42 in 53 games. That’s 0.8 points per game. To set his career-high this year, he’ll need just 0.57 points per game.

Other options: TOI (1,588), Assists (34), Shots (219), Goals (13), Power Play Points (16)

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New York In Need Of Vegas’ Toughness

When former Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant was hired by the New York Rangers earlier this summer nobody in the hockey world was surprised. One of the league’s better coaches was officially a free agent and it was only a matter of time before someone scooped him up. It so happened to be the young, slick skating Rangers, that in ownership’s opinion hadn’t grown enough under their last regime. One area that needed addressing was NY’s lack of toughness. With that in mind, the Rangers added some of the street toughness the Golden Knights are known for.

When you’re a good team and you are ready to win that’s when you start filling in your roles. You get these guys you need to help push you over the top. When you have nine, ten, eleven kids that have to play. I get a kick out of people who said ‘we lacked toughness.’ I knew we weren’t that tough in New York. I knew we needed to get to it.-Jeff Gorton, former New York Rangers GM on Cam and Strick Podcast

After four seasons and one coaching change the Golden Knights have built a reputation for being tough as nails. And it’s not just about throwing bodies around. The word is out, it’s unlikely Vegas backs off from blocking a shot. The Golden Knights have been racking up points and early round playoff wins by wearing down their opponents with size, skill and taking bruises. None of that was happening in Manhattan.

https://twitter.com/camjanssen25/status/1430247771601264641?s=21

In one swift move the Original 6 team spent their offseason firing an established front office and a bright, young coach to be more like the 31st franchise.

You look at the lineup and you see a team ready to take the next big step. I want to be the hardest-working team in the league – to work hard, to battle hard, to make other teams say, ‘That team works hard every night.’-Gerard Gallant, NY Rangers Head Coach

At his introductory press conference in NY the former Golden Knights leader sounded as if it were 2017 again. His hard working style turned the highly motivated Misfits into a Stanley Cup contending team. Playing fast, along with quick decision making led the Golden Knights to the Finals, not necessarily the heavy, physical style we would see later in Vegas. It was the second season when the local club became bigger, heavier skilled players were added to the roster. The past two seasons Vegas was the biggest and beefiest team in hockey and it’s earned them three trips to the conference finals in four seasons.

Those guys are completely valuable. That’s why you see the Rangers go after Barclay Goodrow. That’s what they’re going after Reaves.-Jeff Gorton, Cam and Strick Podcast

One of the uglier incidents last season occurred in front of Ranger fans at historic Madison Square Garden. NY star Artemi Panarin was unfairly assaulted by Capitals power forward Tom Wilson during a meaningless late season contest. Ownership was furious with Wilson, on ice officials, NHL’s Department of Player Safety and their own personnel. The one-sided scuffle in essence changed the direction of the Rangers, leading to an organizational house cleaning.

NY ownership realized to compete, you have to be able to play like the big boys, or like the Golden Knights. Vegas has become a team other franchises are beginning to emulate. One thing we know Gallant and DeBoer both agree on is mixing it up and playing some old school hockey once in a while. Or old man hockey as Ken would say. Maybe it’s Vegas’ success, or maybe other coaches believe it’s also the style to play to make the promise land.

VGK Defensemen Struggling To Get Shots To The Net

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Pete DeBoer came on as head coach of the Golden Knights one aspect of the game we expected to see change was the way the team was going to try and generate offense. Where Gerard Gallant teams thrived in transition and on opportunistic chances, DeBoer wanted to bring a much more reliable style of offense to the fold.

One piece of that is generating offense from the back to the front. The concept is to work the puck in deep and then send it low to high back to the defensemen. From there, the defensemen can make a number of decisions about what to do with the puck, but if a shot lane is there with traffic in front, that’s the preferred choice.

This was majorly successful with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in San Jose, it worked with Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky in New Jersey and it worked with Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe with the Panthers. Now, with Vegas, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo are among the top five players on the team in shots per game and the Golden Knights lead the West division (and the NHL) in points from blueliners.

There is one concern with this strategy though, and that’s when shot attempts from defensemen are blocked or don’t hit the net. Blocked shot attempts have a chance to quickly lead to rushes the other way while missed shots force forwards to work to recover the puck and can lead to easy breakouts.

A bit of excellent research from JFreshHockey shows us that a few Golden Knights are struggling at the skill of hitting the net from the point.

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