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Iole: Uninspiring Efforts Becoming Worrying Trend

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Kevin’s back today to take a look at a position of depth, one that’s been notoriously thin in years past.

Pete DeBoer was correct, of course, even though he called Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago at T-Mobile Arena “just another mid-December game.” It’s a long season and a loss to a lesser team in January isn’t anything to get too worked up about in the grand scheme of things.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I’m a lot more worked up about Keegan Kolesar’s lack of production and slowing development, and the lack of an identity for the fourth line, than I am about a loss to a weak team on home ice in the second week of January.

It’s how they lost that game that is troubling. It’s not as if the Blackhawks played an incredible game because they were fired up for Marc-Andre Fleury’s return and wanted to support their goaltender. Oh, the Blackhawks did defend hard in the final two periods in particular, and played solid hockey, but it was far from a Herculean effort by them.

The Golden Knights’ loss was more due to an uninspired effort which, if we’re being honest, has happened far too often this season for a team that fancies itself as a contender for the Stanley Cup.

On Saturday, the Knights badly missed William Carrier, who left seven minutes into the game with what the club later said was an upper-body injury. Carrier’s intensity can and often does have a trickle down effect. Without him, there were far too many passengers.

Nolan Patrick seemed out for a cruise. Kolesar’s big body is perfect for barreling over opponents and cruising to the net, but do you remember him doing that even once on Saturday? There was little urgency, or desire to win, from far too many players.

In an 82-game season, that’s going to happen, and DeBoer recognized that when he was dismissive of it.

But how could the Knights’ come out flat in a game against Fleury, a game surely they should badly want to win? Fleury was the second star, but that was mostly because no one else really stood out. Until a save on Evgenii Dadonov in the waning seconds, Fleury never made one of the five-star saves that have made him a surefire Hall of Famer. The Knights made it easy on him.

We’re still not to the halfway point of the season, and it’s happened far, far too often. They were on cruise control in two of their last three games and that’s unacceptable. Nashville played great in a 3-2 win on Tuesday, but the Golden Knights basically didn’t make it hard on them.

Then, after a stirring effort in a 5-1 win over old friend Gerard Gallant and his New York Rangers, the VGK laid an egg again against Fleury.

There’s not much DeBoer can do to change this, either. He doesn’t have the threat of making moves or sending guys down to inspire more consistently intense play.

On the surface, a Kolesar for Jake Leschyshyn swap in the lineup would probably be good, but to send Kolesar to Henderson, he’d have to clear waivers. That would be risky because he’d almost certainly be claimed.

Guys who are 6-2, 230 pounds, and can skate like he doesn’t are rare commodities in today’s NHL. Kolesar’s a big guy and big men often take longer to develop than other players do. Kolesar seemed on a nice upward trajectory early and looked as if he’d turn into that rare third- or fourth-line big man who could skate, contribute 12-15 goals, play well defensively and create havoc with his physical presence.

The Knights are going to be fighting the salary cap for several years, and it makes little sense to give up now on a guy like Kolesar who has the ability to develop into that kind of player and who has a relatively low salary.

There were some fans pining for the VGK to sign Evander Kane to a one-year deal at the league minimum after his release from the Sharks. But while Kane, though smaller, is a much more effective big man, he brings far too much baggage, and his issue with gambling means Las Vegas is the last place he should play.

It’s not a no or a NO, it’s a “HELL NO, ARE YOU CRAZY?” type of pass on Kane.

Putting Leschyshyn in for Kolesar isn’t likely to happen because it would make the Knights more vulnerable to big, physical teams.

So they’re going to have to make do with what they have and figure out a way to overcome this disconcerting trait of coming out flat far too often.

This is a good team and you have to pick to find problems. They’re the kind of problems teams like Buffalo and Arizona and Seattle and Columbus would love to have.

But when your stated goal is the Stanley Cup, you have to be picky and you have to be ruthless. The kind of effort the Golden Knights gave on Saturday and have given too often this season is unacceptable, and the leadership group needs to impress that upon the players sooner rather than later.

You can’t give away games in the NHL when home-ice advantage will be so crucial against the Colorados and Tampas and Carolinas of the world. And these games in January count every bit as much in the standings as the ones in late March or April when the playoff position push is on.

**You can find all of Kevin’s tremendous boxing and MMA work at Yahoo Sports here.**

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 2 VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 1 (23-14-1 47 PTS)

Recap: The night began with a wonderful video tribute to Blackhawks goaltender and Vegas fan favorite Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas didn’t take long to get going as Ben Hutton scored his first of the season five minutes into the game.  

Chicago picked up the pace in the middle frame scoring one early and one late. Fleury stopped all 12 second period shots to hold a 2-1 Blackhawks advantage. 

Fleury silenced Vegas’ offense in the final period to preserve a 2-1 Chicago victory. The former VGK goaltender was sharp in net stopping 30 of 31 total shots on net. 

The Golden Knights record drops to 23-14-1 falling 2-1 to Fleury’s Blackhawks. Vegas next faces the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. Puck drop is set for 7 PM. (Recap by Jason)

Analysis: Uninspired is the word that jumps to mind to describe this game for the Golden Knights. On a night where you’d expect them to be rearing to score on their buddy, they just looked like they were content to play an easy game and it didn’t turn out that way for them. It’s not often we see three consecutive periods without the passion needed to win in the NHL, but that’s what we got tonight. (Recap by Ken)


Upcoming stories from the Vegas Golden Knights vs. Chicago Blackhawks game at T-Mobile Arena.

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5 Most Anticipated Home Games On The Golden Knights 2021-22 Schedule

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After a year that involved 56 games against the same seven teams and sparse crowds throughout, it’s great to be back to a normal 82 game schedule that includes all 31 teams making an appearance at sold-out T-Mobile Arena. Here are the five home games that jump off the schedule as the most anticipated matchups of the year.

5. December 27th, 2021 – vs Colorado Avalanche

It’s a shame the first time these two teams meet won’t be at the site of the Avs demise last season, but there’s no secret these two are likely to be the class of the Western Conference once again. The collision course in the playoffs will probably be played up all year and every game between the two will be highly engrossing.

4. December 21st, 2021 – vs Tampa Bay Lightning

If there’s one thing we missed more than anything else with last year’s horrendous schedule, it was measuring stick games. About a month into the season everyone knew exactly how everyone else matched up against each other in the division, so the remaining 40+ games were essentially useless. This year, there will be plenty of those measuring stick games and this is the king of them all. The two-time defending Cup champions come to T-Mobile after the Golden Knights return home from a tough four-game road trip. VGK vs TBL games have always been a blast, this one should be no different.

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GOLDEN KNIGHTS TRADE MARC-ANDRE FLEURY TO CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The Golden Knights have traded Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks for prospect Mikael Hakkarainen.

Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, quickly tweeted a response to the trade.

The Golden Knights did not retain any salary in the trade.

Hakkarainen has spent each of the last two seasons playing in both the AHL and the ECHL. He has not registered an AHL point in his 14 appearances. Kelly McCrimmon confirmed that Hakkarainen will remain with Chicago and likely play for the Rockford Ice Hogs.

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2020 Golden Knights Playoffs “Photo” Gallery

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“Heavy” Becoming Vegas’ New Label

Throughout their series, the Blackhawks used the word ‘heavy’ 31 times to describe the Golden Knights in press conferences.

Blackhawks captain Jonathon Toews uses “heavy” to describe two things. Vegas’ size, and their ability to hold the puck once they possess it. It’s no secret, the Golden Knights are big and most of their players are hard to bump off the puck. Which was apparent right from the start of the series.

Mark Stone is 6’4″, 219 pounds but also has the puck super glued on his stick. Alex Tuch is 6’4″ as well, and his skill, speed, and size make it difficult for a defender to strip the puck. Max Pacioretty is 6’2, with the lethal combination of power and a rocket shot. These are examples of being a heavy team, and playing like one.

They play a different game then the Oilers. They’re a very structured, simple team. They play a heavy game. You got to tip your hat sometimes, they play well as a squad. -Calvin de Haan, CHI Defenseman

Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan used the word to describe differences between the Golden Knights and a faster, skill-based team like the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, but what they didn’t have was the team structure and physicality Vegas has. The Golden Knights get scoring from multiple players, not just two, they defend, and rarely veer from their gameplan.

We know they’re an excellent team. They’re a heavy team, they get on the forcheck and try and hold you down… We gave them some easy ones, easy chances. They score 3-1 and during that stretch we just weren’t very good.-Jeremy Colliton, CHI coach

Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton called the Golden Knights a heavy team after three of the five games. Again, it wasn’t just their size, it was Vegas’ forecheck. When the Golden Knights push the puck with pressure they make teams feel like they’re being weighed down. All twelve forwards have that ability allowing Vegas the fortune to use all four lines.

Then there’s the natural use of the word.

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VGK vs CHI Series Stat Dump

It took the Golden Knights five games to put away the 12-seed Chicago Blackhawks and move on to the second round. Despite the score only favoring Vegas by just four over the five games, the Golden Knights dominated just about every other major statistical category. Here’s a look at the stats from the series.

*Stats are compiled from NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick.com**

Team Stats

Goals
VGK – 15
CHI – 11

Shots
VGK – 187
CHI – 123

Scoring Chances
VGK – 167
CHI – 117

Corsi For %
VGK – 58.1%
CHI – 41.9%

Power Play
VGK – 1/10
CHI – 1/12

Faceoffs
VGK – 49.7%
CHI – 50.3%

Giveaways
VGK – 75
CHI – 69

Takeaways
VGK – 37
CHI – 44

Hits
VGK – 184
CHI – 140

Shots Blocked
VGK – 90
CHI – 100

Expected Goals
VGK – 17.44
CHI – 10.43

Shooting Percentage
VGK – 8.02%
CHI – 8.94%

Save Percentage
VGK – .911
CHI – .920

Individual Stats

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VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 3 (VGK WIN 4-1)

Recap: It was another possible clinching game for the Golden Knights who looked to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks in five games. With their backs against the wall the Blackhawks took the 1-0 lead midway through the first. Chicago extended their lead late but Max Pacioretty got Vegas within one :31 seconds before the period expired. After the opening twenty minutes the Golden Knights trailed 2-1.

Mark Stone tied the game 2-2 in the first minute of the 2nd period. Chicago regained the lead 3-2 with an even-strength goal a few minutes later. The Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez tied the game 3-3 with a 2nd period power play goal.

Alex Tuch didn’t hesitate to give Vegas their first lead of the game scoring 1:34 into the final period. He thought he had another but was waived off by the officials. Starting goaltender Robin Lehner stopped 23 of 26 Chicago shots to secure the Golden Knights 4-3 victory.

Vegas becomes the first team to clinch their series by eliminating Chicago in five games. The Golden Knights will get some rest as they wait for their next opponent. Dates for the second round are to be determined. (Recap by Jason)

Analysis: The Golden Knights offense was there from the start creating plenty of chances but a number of turnovers in the defensive end allowed the Hawks to take an early lead. Vegas kept grinding away creating a bevy of dangerous chances on Crawford and eventually they started going in. Then, when they got the lead in the 3rd, they went into lock down mode and snuffed out Chicago. Plenty of time until the next series as the Golden Knights appear to be pretty healthy and getting healthier. (Analysis by Ken)


Upcoming stories from Game 5 of the Vegas Golden Knights vs Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place in the NHL Bubble.

  • When the Golden Knights wanted to, they were able to flip a switch and shut down a powerful offense.

Ken’s Three VGK Stars
*** Alec Martinez
** Chandler Stephenson
* Alex Tuch

Sweeps Are Nice, But Plenty Of Teams Have Won The Cup Without Them

The Golden Knights looked like they were on their way to a quick, easy series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Even without playing their best, Vegas was finding ways to win and clearly displaying they are the better team. Last night, they couldn’t get the job done, missing out on the series sweep and all the benefits that come with it.

It’s widely believed that in the NHL playoffs, the fewer games you have to play, the better your chances of winning the Cup. But, all of the previous four Stanley Cup winners failed to sweep a series in the playoffs, and 11 of the previous 20 winners couldn’t win a series in four as well.

Cup Winners Without a Postseason Sweep

2002 Detroit Red Wings
2003 NJ Devils
2006 Carolina Hurricanes
2007 Anaheim Ducks
2013 Chicago Blackhawks
2014 LA Kings
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins
2017 Pittsburgh Penguins
2018 Washington Capitals
2019 St. Louis Blues

Obviously, extra rest allows an ailing team like Vegas to get healthier. Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Tomas Nosek have all missed time in Vegas’ first round series, so time off would be beneficial. A short series also gives the coaching staff more time to prepare for the next opponent. And while there’s no arguing against these added benefits, teams have proven in the past they are far from prerequisites on the quest to win 16 playoff games.

In 2018-19 the Golden Knights began their first postseason by sweeping the LA Kings. After winning in four straight, Vegas had to wait nine days until their next series. Then, after shutting down the Sharks in six, the Golden Knights sat for six days before facing Winnipeg in the Western Conference finals. After beating the Jets in five, the Golden Knights waited an additional eight days before the Stanley Cup finals began. In total, Vegas had a total of 23 days off in between series, and we know how that worked out for them.

Even without the sweep, Vegas can set themselves up for significant time off. Clinching a series in five or even six games can grants a club some extra healing time, practices, and rest. A little adversity in a series can quietly help a team’s focus as well. That’s what I suspect will happen after last night’s Game 4 loss.

Expect the Golden Knights to be at their best in Game 5, because series sweeps are overrated anyway.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 3 VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 1 (3-1 VGK)

Recap: On back-to-back days the Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks faced off for Game 4 and chance for Vegas to sweep the series. The 1st period didn’t go as planned for the Golden Knights. Chicago got on the board quickly to take a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game. The Blackhawks extended their lead 13:40 into the period, but :18 seconds later Shea Theodore cut the lead to 2-1. After the opening period the Golden Knights trailed for the first time in the best-of-seven series.

Vegas struggled to get their power play going in the 2nd period going 0/2. Thankfully, Chicago’s offense went cold as well. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford made some key saves to keep the Golden Knights from tying the game. Chicago held their 2-1 advantage after two periods in the books.

Vegas poured on the pressure in the final period but couldn’t beat Crawford for a second straight period. The Blackhawks fought off a late Golden Knights push and added an empty net goal to stay alive winning 3-1.

Vegas loses their first game of the postseason and now lead the best-of-seven series 3-1. The Golden Knights will attempt to clinch again on Tuesday. Locally, the game will air on AT&T Sports Network. (Recap by Jason)

Analysis: The Golden Knights did absolutely everything they could for 60 minutes to score on Corey Crawford and they could only sneak one by him. Only in hockey can a team’s best offensive game come in the game where they score the fewest goals, but that’s exactly what happened. Play that game 100 times and the Golden Knights win 99 of them, tonight was the one. (Analysis by Ken)


Upcoming stories from Game 4 of the Vegas Golden Knights vs Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place in the NHL Bubble.

  • Maybe not sweeping wasn’t that bad

Ken’s Three VGK Stars
*** Nic Roy
** Nick Cousins
* Alex Tuch

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