Last night was a good reminder. To fans, to the New York Rangers, to the rest of the NHL, and even to the Golden Knights themselves; when Vegas plays at their best, they are an absolute juggernaut.
On a night where the Golden Knights played with multiple starters still out of the lineup, they completely took it to the Rangers in all phases of the game. It was a familiar sight to those who have watched hundreds of Golden Knights games over the past five years, but one that hasn’t quite been as common this season as in years past.
Against New York, Vegas was exiting their own zone with ease, flying through the neutral zone, generating chances off the rush, and forechecking as a unit to keep the pressure on the Rangers all night long. It led to a game that appeared to be fairly close for 25 minutes to get completely out of hand by the time the full 60 had elapsed.
We started turning those pucks over at the blue line and we started defending in our D-zone instead of playing… giving them time like we’re killing a penalty. When you let them go D-to-D and get pucks to the net and win battles, you’re not going to beat that team. -Gerard Gallant, NYR coach
Vegas scored five goals in total but tallied four in the final 32 minutes of the game when their hard work early started paying off.
I thought in the 1st we were a little slow, but in the 2nd we upped our pace and caught them a few times in between. -Pete DeBoer
The main difference came in the center of the ice. While Vegas’ in-zone defending was solid the entire night, they struggled to control the puck through the neutral zone early against a good Rangers team. In the 2nd, those issues cleaned up and they looked like the team many projected to win the Stanley Cup before this season game.
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.
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.
It’s pretty much universally accepted that the Golden Knights front office dominated the Expansion Draft. Not only did they build a team that was good enough to come within three wins of lifting the Stanley Cup, but they acquired a heap of assets to go with it. Since June 21, 2017 though, it’s been a bit bumpier of a road.
I saw a tweet yesterday that got the wheels turning in my mind to go back over some of the worst moves in VGK history. As I did it, I realized just how many good moves have been made since then too. So, this has turned into a two-parter! Today we start with the five do-overs and Saturday we’ll unveil the 5 do-agains.
Following the inaugural season and the subsequent run to the Stanley Cup Final it was clear David Perron had fallen out of favor in some way with the Golden Knights organization. He missed the last week of the season, the first two playoff games against the Kings, then found himself as a healthy scratch for two of the five Winnipeg games and one Stanley Cup Final game.
This seemed to overshadow the fact that Perron was one of the most reliable players on the VGK roster the entire season and offered a unique skillset the team has never replaced. His ability to control the puck in the offensive zone, either at even-strength or on the power play opened up space for his teammates and gave the Golden Knights a different look than their usual transition-oriented attacking style.
It was sold as a rebuilding of the 2nd line due to poor defensive statistics, but it seemed to be more about Perron’s age and health than anything else. He went on to sign a four-year deal with a $4 million AAV in St. Louis that has proven to be a steal of a contract. He has 164 points in 184 games with the Blues, more than Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault in the same span.
The Golden Knights have been to the playoffs every season they’ve been in existence. They’ve won the division two of the four seasons and tied for the crown in the most recent year. They’ve been to the conference finals every year but one.
But, none of it is good enough, and the front office’s actions have proven that time and time again.
From moving on from Gerard Gallant to shipping out lovable players like Nate Schmidt, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Ryan Reaves to always being interested, and often landing, the biggest fish on the free agent market, the Golden Knights will stop at nothing to win the Stanley Cup.
In many ways, it’s everything a fan can ask for. Of course, it can be tough from time to time seeing all of the change surrounding the team, but in the end, the ultimate goal is to win and the Golden Knights are absolutely trying to do it.
From a player perspective, it should be the perfect scenario as well. Every player’s dream is to lift the Cup and see their name engraved on it immortalizing themselves in hockey history. It comes with a toll though.
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.
The Golden Knights are fortunate when it comes to ownership. Unlike many NHL cities (see Arizona), the owner in Vegas wants to win and he’ll spare no expense in a pursuit to make it happen.
He said he wanted to make the playoffs by year three and win the Stanley Cup by year six and he’s committed to making that second part happen, seemingly by any means necessary.
He’s constantly around. Watching over practices, sitting in his suite at the games, or hanging out in his office on his fancy computer scouting players on other teams.
The first couple of years I really just listened because I didn’t know the business. Now I’ve learned a little bit more so I’m a little more involved. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast
Appearing on a podcast out of St. Louis, hosted by former NHLer Cam Janssen and local media guy Andy Strickland, The Creator went fairly in-depth not only on his involvement in the Golden Knights but also in his other businesses.
My office is next to Kelly, it’s one down from George. I go to almost all of the amateur scout meetings and all of the pro scout meetings. I’m there for the four or five days before the trade deadline. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast
He continued explaining how his input really ramps up when it comes to trades.
They come to me with their proposals on who to trade, what to do, what we’re going to get, what we’re not going to get. But I try and let the guys in charge, they’ve been delegated the authority and the responsibility to make the decisions. It’s only on maybe trades that I start having some input and I try to be careful about it. If I particularly don’t like one of their ideas I say, ‘I don’t think I can do that, I just don’t know that works for me.’ That’s how I get involved on the hockey side. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast
The Nate Schmidt trade was one he took particularly hard.
I was really worried about (how it would affect the locker room). That was a very difficult decision. Kelly and George convinced me that Petro was going to be a difference-maker for us on our team. Schmidty ended up being the odd-man-out, which really bothered me. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast
Another place he said he’s involved is with the decision on coaching. When asked about the firing of Gerard Gallant, he let out a few interesting nuggets.
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.
One of the bigger changes expected with Pete DeBoer taking over for Gerard Gallant was a little more reliance on top players as opposed to rolling four lines and three pairs.
We expected to see a lot more Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, and William Karlsson, while less Nick Holden, Ryan Reaves, and Tomas Nosek. In the regular season, we saw just that with the defensemen, but the forwards actually saw their TOI decrease slightly after the coaching change.
The playoffs are a different animal though, one where coaching decisions are magnified. The largest of coaching decisions is deployment, which players play when and for how long. The expectation was there would be more of a hierarchy under DeBoer than Gallant, while in reality, there were slight changes, but not what you might expect.
Both DeBoer and Gallant used the Pacioretty/Stone line (which was centered by Stastny in 2019 and Karlsson in 2020) for exactly 31% of the game. That’s a little less than 19 minutes per night.
If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now. Robin Lehner is the Golden Knights starting goalie.
Robin (Lehner) has done what you want players to do when they show up with a new team. He has played at a level, not just in games but also through camp, where we have had to give him the net. This is not about Flower not doing something. He has been great. Robin has just been at a different level. –Pete DeBoer to The Athletic
The Golden Knights sticky goalie situation is starting to become a bigger story in the national media. With it has come a rash of opinions about the present and the future, both of which will be challenging for Vegas to navigate.
The next series, two, or three will certainly go a long way in determining where the Golden Knights head with their future between the pipes. At the same time, the reason it will be one, two, or three series is directly correlated to how the situation is handled in the present.
It’s a situation that hasn’t been easy to maneuver already and the Golden Knights have only lost a single game since arriving in Edmonton.
That’s going to be a tough one for them, there’s no doubt. Marc’s such a popular guy and a great character guy but, as I found out, it’s all about winning. They want to win, they’re thinking they’re doing the best thing for their team. They are tough decisions. It’s easy to look at it from the outside and say ‘Why isn’t Fleury playing? He’s done this and that for them,’ but you know they are on a path where they are trying to win every game and obviously they think Lehner is the better goalie right now. It’s a tough call for them and everybody knows that, every fan knows that. A thousand people have asked me that question the last couple days and I say ‘hey I don’t have to make that decision anymore.’ –Gerard Gallant to 2 Man Advantage podcast
In the shortened 2019-20 regular season the Golden Knights led the NHL with 34.5 shots on goal per game. In fact, since they entered the league Vegas has averaged the second-most shots per game over that three-season span.
Vegas led the entire NHL in 19-20 with 28 victories when they won the SOG battle. That’s 71% of their total wins for the season. The Golden Knights went 28-12-7 (.670), and are now 92-43-13 (.665) in franchise history when they’ve outshot other teams. Compare that to their 11-12-1 (.479) record this year when they were outshot and 35-37-9 (.488) all-time.
In 22 games as Golden Knights coach, DeBoer’s club outscored opponents 19 times, and went a stellar 13-4-2.
The bulk of the shots come mostly from the Golden Knights top-six forwards. Max Pacioretty led the team averaging 4.32 shots per game, followed by Jonathan Marchessault. Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch do their part as well, both creating several scoring chances per night. When DeBoer gets all of his weapons firing on net, opposing goaltenders have to play at their best, or else it’ll likely be a long night.
VGK Shot Leaders
Max Pacioretty: 4.32 S/GP Jonathan Marchessault: 3.56 S/GP Shea Theodore: 3.08 S/GP Mark Stone: 2.58 S/GP Reilly Smith: 2.38 S/GP Alex Tuch: 2.33 S/GP William Karlsson: 2.19 S/GP