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Injuries Affecting Golden Knights Defensive Continuity

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Continuity is crucial when it comes to defending in the NHL. Playing with the same defensive partner for an extended period helps in every aspect. Last year, the Golden Knights had that luxury to start the season and in the playoffs. This year, they haven’t, and it’s starting to show.

Last year, Vegas used the same set of six defensemen for each of the first 20 of the first 21 games. Those six defensemen then went on to play 21 of the 22 playoff games with the exact partnerships from the beginning of the year. This season, Vegas has been forced to cobble together their lineup from Opening Night.

Before the season even began, both Zach Whitecloud and Alec Martinez were sidelined. By the time Martinez returned, Alex Pietrangelo had gone out. When Whitecloud returned, Hague was out. When Hague returned, Martinez went back out and then Theodore followed right behind him.

Vegas has used their preferred group of six defensemen just one time this season. This has led to a major shift in the minute load each player has had to take on.

(Thru 31 games)2023-24 Minutes2022-23 MinutesDifference
Pietrangelo628540+88
McNabb622627-5
Theodore467633-166
Hague434505-71
Hutton40066+334
Whitecloud313500-187
Martinez270619-349
Korczak2470+247
Pachal22314+209
Miromanov0103-103

The minutes that were being eaten up by Theodore, Martinez, Whitecloud, and Hague last season have gone to Ben Hutton, Kaedan Korczak, and Brayden Pachal this year.

In addition, it has meant a ton of different pairings. Last year over the 82-game regular season and 22-game postseason run, the Golden Knights used 19 different defense pairings. This year, through just 31 games, they are already at 15.

The Golden Knights have remained a strong defensive team through all of it, but it’s clearly been slipping a bit in the last few weeks.

Anaheim’s Third Period Rally Taken From Vegas’ Playbook

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On Sunday night the Stanley Cup-winning Vegas Golden Knights dropped their first regulation game of the season. Think about that again, it’s November 7th and the Golden Knights have secured 23 out of their opening 26 points of 2023-24.

Well, I give our players a lot of credit. It’s their fourth in six days. They’ve played their asses off. We give up three chances, and they all ended up in the net. That’s going to happen some nights. -Bruce Cassidy

3rd period scoring is one of the major reasons the Cup champions have the record they do in early November. A couple of days ago the surprising Anaheim Ducks gave Vegas a taste of their own medicine. The Golden Knights are among the top of the league in 3rd period scoring but after Sunday’s game, so are the Ducks.

NHL’s Top 3rd Period Scoring Teams

  1. Detroit Red Wings: 20
  2. Vegas Golden Knights: 19
  3. Anaheim Ducks: 19
  4. Minnesota Wild: 18
  5. Carolina Hurricanes: 18
  6. LA Kings: 17
  7. Vancouver Canucks: 16

While the cluster of clubs are close in numbers, we have to figure in empty-net goals. Not taking anything away from Vegas but they’ve shot and scored into an empty net on four separate occasions. When all is said and done, an ENG usually results in two points. Anaheim and LA are slightly different in the sense that their goals tie or put them ahead with their final frame tallies.

We’re a veteran group, and we should be able to finish that game, but credit to them. They came hard and they got some bounces, and they were able to put a few in the net. -Brayden McNabb

Anaheim’s flurry of 3rd period scoring on Sunday got them back in the game, evened the score, and covered the reverse puckline for good measure. It was unlike any final frame Vegas has skated this season. It’ll also likely be one of the few poor 3rd periods we will see in the future.

The Golden Knights’ ability to create goals when it matters isn’t fading because of an overdue loss to start the season. Dating back to the 2023 playoffs, crucial and late-game goals secured key wins for Vegas and eliminated four competitive opponents. It’s certainly carried over to this season. Sunday night was tough, but from the looks of it, it’s an aberration, not the start of a trend.

“You Just Keep Pushing And You Believe You Are Going To Come Back”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Frustration is a huge part of hockey. No matter how well a team is playing, there will come points in every season where a game just does not seem to be going the right way. The Golden Knights faced that last night as they fell behind the Philadelphia Flyers and couldn’t seem to find their way back.

At the end of the 2nd period, Vegas had attempted 43 shots yet only 15 made it to the goalie. They were struggling to navigate a gummed-up neutral zone, and the Flyers’ physical brand of hockey was forcing a much tighter game than the Golden Knights had been used to early this season.

However, these Golden Knights aren’t like most teams in the NHL. As reigning Stanley Cup champions, they’ve seen it all, and a few tough periods will not discourage them.

We trust our game. Sometimes we get away from it but we are a veteran group and we’ve been together long enough that we know when to pull it in and get back to what we do best. We’ve done a good job of that these first seven games. -Brayden McNabb

3rd period dominance has been a theme as Vegas has raced out to the best start as a defending champion in NHL history. Last night, they made a few adjustments in the final intermission, came out, and started applying endless pressure on the Philadephia net until the dam eventually broke.

The 2-0 3rd period score ups VGK’s goal differential to +8 in the final frame over seven games. The Golden Knights have outscored their opponents in six of the first seven 3rd periods with the lone outlier a 1-1 tie against Dallas.

You just keep pushing and you believe you are going to come back even when you are down. We just trust it because there’s no crystal ball telling you what’s going to happen so you just have to do what we do best and it’s worked out so far. -McNabb

A huge reason why it has worked out is the variety of players Vegas has seen step up in the 3rd period of games. Brayden Pachal, Jonas Rondbjerg, Nic Roy, and now Paul Cotter have all scored late-game goals to help the Golden Knights win. Sure, Jack Eichel and William Karlsson have come up with a few big ones too, but it truly can be anyone on any night for this team.

Sometimes you need one guy to go in and make a move like that and it’s pretty on par with what he’s done in practice so it’s great to see him get it done. -Theodore on Cotter’s goal

The train keeps rolling on Friday afternoon with a rematch with the feisty Chicago Blackhawks. There may not be a crystal ball to tell us the outcome of that game, but if the Golden Knights keep playing like they have in the 3rd period, we may not need one to know.

VGK’s Top 6 Stanley Cup Playoff Saves

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The success of the Golden Knights goaltenders in the 2023 playoffs will be talked about for years to come. Heck, it’s already being studied by other organizations. We’ve gone over the top offensive plays, so let’s turn our attention to the few that kept the puck out of the net.

6. Brossoit Dazzles in Game 2 vs. Winnipeg

Golden Knights fans will never forget which goaltender began the 2023 Cup run. Adin Hill earned Conn Smyth votes and a massive post-playoff payday but Laurent Brossoit will always have a special place in team history. Brossoit started eight games, eliminated Winnipeg, and picked up another win in the second round. In his group of playoff games, Vegas’ opening goalie made a few outstanding saves that some might have forgotten. His stop in a deciding Game 5 is worth watching on a loop. After making the initial save, Brossoit was forced to desperately slide across the crease and stop a wide-open shot. The Jets offense was stunned. If it hadn’t been a blowout, LB’s save would have been ranked higher.

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Starting The Misfits

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The opening shift of a Stanley Cup Final game is not typically a time to get sentimental with decision-making. The Golden Knights still needed to win one more game to reach the mountaintop, and they knew they were facing a team that had been in a 3-1 hole before and dug themselves out.

For Bruce Cassidy though, he knew the time was right.

To start Game 5, Cassidy went off script of both his forward lines and standard operating procedure and chose to tug on some heartstrings instead.

The starting lineup he selected was Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore, and Brayden McNabb. Five of the six original players from the inaugural season that began Vegas’ love affair with the Golden Knights.

I apologized to Will Carrier, I told him, I’m sorry, I can only start one left winger. -Bruce Cassidy

Cassidy reunited the greatest line in Vegas history and used McNabb and Theodore to start a game for the first time during the entire postseason. It was a risk, but he knew it was one worth taking.

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Golden Knights Player Quotes From Stanley Cup Final Media Day

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

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.”

Defensemen Must Successfully Walk Fine Line In Possession vs Gap Control

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In Game 3, Zach Whitecloud scored the first and only goal this postseason from a Golden Knights defenseman. An overlap in coverage by the Oilers found Whitecloud walking in on goal all alone where he ripped a beautiful shot short-side past Stuart Skinner.

In that situation, it was a no brainer for Whitecloud to carry the puck deep into the zone and fire a shot on goal. This series though, Vegas defenseman have had to be ultra careful when they’ve abandoned the blue line to extend plays in the offensive zone.

I th0ught the first 10 minutes of the game opened up because we they were exiting the zone quickly and we gave up some odd-man rushes. That’s a part of the game we’ll look back and say we need to correct that because it could have worked against us. We have to be cognizant of how they can transition quickly to create offense. -Bruce Cassidy

In the 1st period, the Golden Knights gave up three two-on-ones and another even-man break that ultimately led to Edmonton’s only goal of the game. All four followed a similar pattern. When the puck was turned over the Oilers were able to hit one quick pass that eliminated a Vegas defenseman. Once it was a chip past Whitecloud in the neutral zone, another was a pass behind Hague after Nic missed on a shot attempt, and the other two were simple stretch passes to Oilers forwards who had already exited the offensive zone.

Every possession in the offensive zone for the Golden Knights in this series is crucial. To beat the Oilers, Vegas has to spend extended periods of time with the puck as far away from their own goal as possible. This forces the Edmonton’s elite forwards to defend, puts stress on a below-average Oilers’ defense, and if done right, when the puck turns over, makes Edmonton travel through five Vegas players on their way across the offensive blue line.

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