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How Important Were Faceoffs To The 2018-19 Golden Knights?

The importance of winning the faceoff battle has been a three-year reoccurring argument here at SinBin.vegas. In my opinion, it’s all about possession. When a center wins a draw his team has immediate control and should safely get the puck out of their zone. Or create an offensive push towards the opponent’s direction. Whoever wins the possession battle, should dictate the game.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Faceoffs are probably one of the most underrated stats in this league. If you can start off with the puck, your much better off. And you’ll have better scoring chances. – Nate Schmidt

On the other side of the discussion is Europa Ken.

He’s not concerned with a lost draw if Vegas’ forecheck, shooting percentage, and rebound control are positively effective. For the most I agree, but remember a forechecking attack begins with the puck, and there’s a good chance it was possessed by a winning faceoff.

2018-19 Golden Knights Faceoff Percentage Breakdown

  • Record when winning 51% or more Faceoffs: (20-11-2)
  • Record when losing 51% or more Faceoffs: (14-16-3)
  • Record when Faceoff % is 50/50: (9-5-2)

While it’s clear the Golden Knights have a better record when they win more faceoffs, the formula isn’t as simple as you’d think. At first glance the numbers support my argument, but looking deeper, the higher the FO% didn’t guarantee a Vegas victory. In five separate games, Golden Knights’ centers won 60% or more from the dot. Their record was (1-4). Even furthering the madness, Vegas was (2-2) in games they lost more than 60% of draws.

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Only So Many Minutes To Go Around

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The roster certainly may change between now and early October when the Golden Knights hit the ice for real, but at the moment, there’s an overload at the forward position.

William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Erik Haula, and Alex Tuch have all averaged at least 16:30 per game in their time with the Golden Knights. Mark Stone played just 17:39 per game in the regular season in Vegas while he averaged over 20 per game in Ottawa.

With the addition of Nikita Gusev and maybe Cody Glass, the question that has to spring to mind is, how are the Golden Knights going to manage all these minutes?

 18-1917-18VGK AverageCareer
Karlsson18:5118:4318:4716:07
Smith18:1617:5518:0516:40
Marchessault18:0917:3017:5016:35
Stastny18:0618:1818:0619:13
Stone17:3920:4017:3918:50
Pacioretty17:0019:0117:0017:34
Tuch16:4415:1516:0016:00
Haula16:3517:2216:5913:39
Eakin15:2314:3214:5815:45
 18-1917-18VGK AverageCareer
Total156:43159:16155:24150:23
Average17:2517:4217:1616:43

This is just nine of the 12 forwards. Stone’s time will almost certainly go up and Eakin’s will likely decrease, but it’s hard to imagine players like Tuch, Pacioretty, Haula or others to drop too much further below their VGK averages.

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Why Didn’t Colin Miller Play Game 1?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When a series goes seven games, it’s the nature of the beast for the losing team to look back at every play, every call, and every decision to come up with answers as to what went wrong.

Of course, it’s been harped on time and time again that the call on Cody Eakin was blown and it cost the Golden Knights a chance to still be playing today. However, there’s no denying the fact that Vegas lost three other games in the series that could have nullified that gaffe.

In Games 5 and 6, Vegas played well and close games just didn’t fall their way, but Game 1 was a much different story. When the series got underway in San Jose, the Golden Knights seemed to take a moment to really get going. By the time they did, it was too late and they instantly dug themselves a hole in the series they would eventually climb out of, only to fall right back in.

Over the course of the first six games, head coach Gerard Gallant made one lineup change. That was putting Colin Miller, who was scratched in Game 1, back into the lineup for Nick Holden.

It was a peculiar decision to bench Miller in the first place, and one that would only get weirder as questions would later be answered about the lineup move.

Miller played all 102 games last season, 65 of the 82 in the regular season this year, and all of the previous seven heading into playoffs. Also, Miller took part in 13 of the 14 prior meetings between the Sharks and Golden Knights, scoring three goals, putting up five assists, and recording a +4 rating. Vegas won nine of the 13 games Miller played against San Jose and lost the one he didn’t.

This was the reasoning for scratching Miller after Game 1 from the Golden Knights head coach.

That was… Like I told you the other day, we play 20 hockey players and there’s some good players that are not playing tonight so we decided he’s not going to play tonight. -Gallant

Is he healthy? – SinBin.vegas

Yes, everybody’s healthy. -Gallant

However, it clearly wasn’t that simple.

Miller took warmups prior to Game 1 against the Sharks. No other player (with the exception of Jimmy Schuldt days after he joined the team) skated in warmups and then didn’t play for the Golden Knights in 2018-19. In 2017-18 it happened only a handful of times and in every instance, it was precautionary to cover for a player who might be injured and unable to play.

As Gallant confirmed, no one was injured. Miller skated alongside the scratches in morning skate the day of Game 1, so the decision was clearly not made in the spur of the moment before the game.

To make matters even more confusing, Miller was instantly placed back in the normal rotation on the off-day between Games 1 and 2. He played in every game the rest of the series, and Gallant made an interesting comment when asked about Miller prior to Game 4.

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Locker Room Clean-Out Day Highlights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the final media availability of the season nearly every Golden Knights player spoke to the media. We also had extended press conferences with The Creator, George McPhee, and Gerard Gallant.

Of course, there will probably be 50 stories on this site based off many of the comments on this day, but we wanted to share some of the highlights from the day.

(If you would like to listen to every second of the nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes of locker room interviews that we participated in, go here or to our podcast feed.)

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Golden Knights Defensive Style Nullifies Sharks Potent Blueliners

The Golden Knights used the same strategy against Drew Doughty and the Kings. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the most dangerous aspects of the San Jose Sharks is their depth of defensemen with offensive abilities. Whether it’s the team leader in points in Brent Burns, or one of the league’s best puck movers in Erik Karlsson, or even the less known players like Brendan Dillon or Justin Braun, the Sharks aren’t lacking offensive production from their defensemen.

This was a major point of emphasis for the Golden Knights against the Sharks a year ago when the two met in the playoffs and will be once again this year. Vegas deploys a somewhat risky strategy in defending the Sharks glut of firepower from their defensemen, something that has not gone unnoticed by the San Jose bench boss.

If they are going to go stand up beside our defensemen up high then the forwards down low are going to have to take advantage of that space. They’ve been consistent with that against us whenever we’ve played them, last year and this year. So we know that’s probably what we are going to get. -Pete DeBoer, Sharks Head Coach

What he’s talking about is how the Golden Knights forwards defend against the Sharks when San Jose has the puck in the Vegas zone. Gallant has instructed his forwards to play as close to the defenseman standing near the blue line as possible to take away time and space and also eliminate shooting lanes.

They play our defensemen high and it ends up with a lot of low play there where you have to take the puck to the net. That’s part of the game when you play them. DeBoer on 3/30 following OT win over VGK

Last year in the playoffs, the Sharks defensemen did not score a single goal at even strength and they managed only a total of 35 shots on goal. The Golden Knights blocked 58 shots from Sharks defensemen in the series.

Over the course of the six playoff games, and even more so in the four games this regular season, the Golden Knights have put an emphasis on not allowing shots from the point. That means taking away Brent Burns’ massive shot, eliminating Erik Karlsson’s shot and passing ability, and limiting every other defenseman’s shot lanes.

You have to get on them quickly. If you give them too much time, they’ll make plays and they’ll create more open ice from that. You have to limit the time and space. That’s pretty much the best answer I can give you. They’re talented players and they’re very creative with the puck. The more opportunities you give them, they’ll make you pay.  -Reilly Smith

The other benefit of playing defenseman high at the blue line is in creating turnovers. Any slight bobble of a pass at the Sharks offensive blue line could mean a Golden Knight taking the puck and starting a break the other way. Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and others will be primary pieces in taking away shots from the point.

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Confidence Not An Issue For Vegas Against San Jose

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We’ve all seen it over the past two seasons, the Golden Knights have the San Jose Sharks number. In their 14 matchups, Vegas is 9-2-3 against San Jose in the regular season and postseason combined. I know the team won’t come out and say it but I will, the Golden Knights own the Sharks. Both teams know it, both fanbases know it.

One guy that doesn’t care about anything from the past is Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant.

To be totally honest with you, it doesn’t matter what we’ve done against them the last year and a half. It’s going to be a brand new series. It’s going to be two real good teams battling for a chance to move on in the playoffs. I don’t care. They’re a really talented hockey team and they’re better than they were last year. I think we’re better than we were last year. It should be a great series and the past means nothing to us. -Gallant

Gallant is very good at downplaying but he’s well aware of the advantage his team has over San Jose. He correctly rattled off his team’s record against the Sharks in Tuesday’s press conference. The players are well aware of their success against San Jose too. But will Vegas’ confidence get in the way? And how will the Golden Knights keep from being overconfident heading into their first round series against San Jose.

We are hoping to use that to our advantage and be confident against them. We believe we can dominate them. Go into their building and play well like we’ve proven that we can do. Historically, it’s a tough place to play but I think we’ve done a good job in that building. We’ve kind of gotten them off their game and getting into our game quickly. We’re going to try and stay confident and believe in ourselves. -Jon Merrill

Confidence aside Merrill isn’t concerned what’s going on in the Sharks locker room. The focus is all about his team, and his locker room.

We worry about ourselves. We focus on what we need to do. We’re a tight group and our success is going to come from here. -Merrill

Shea Theodore has turned into a bonafide top-four defenseman this season, and not just his skills on the ice. Theodore transitioned from a young prospect and becoming a well-paid veteran. He recognizes his team’s success and isn’t afraid to boast about it.

The games that we’ve played against them they’ve been intense, they’ve been physical. They’re a good team but when we play our style, I think we’re getting into their heads. We got Reavo and he does a pretty good job running around and chirping guys… It definitely gets us going. -Shea Theodore

Theodore wasn’t being cocky or trying to send bulletin board material for San Jose. The Sharks don’t need that, they have enough already.

Yeah, things change. It’ll be something we’ll feel and see how it goes. -Theodore

Bottom line, Vegas has gotten the better of San Jose over two seasons and they have the opportunity to continue their dominance in the first round. The question is, can San Jose do anything to stop it?

The Perfect Golden Knights Lineup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As we head towards the playoffs the composition of the Golden Knights “perfect” lineup is going to become a major topic of discussion. Assuming full health, and it appears the Golden Knights should have it barring any new injuries, the top six should be locked in as it was prior to Max Pacioretty’s injury. It looks like this:

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone

The next obvious pair of pieces are on the third line. Those are center Cody Eakin and right-wing Alex Tuch. Meaning the lineup now looks like this:

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone
XXX-Eakin-Tuch

The final obvious piece is the fourth line center, that’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Thus, we’ve got this:

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone
XXX-Eakin-Tuch
XXX-Bellemare-XXX

That leaves six players to fill just three spots. Those players are Brandon Pirri, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, and Valentin Zykov.

To me, because there are two slots open on one line and only one on the other, the focus should be on creating the best fourth line possible and then using the leftover player to fill out what already should be a promising line of Eakin and Tuch.

Because the Golden Knights prefer to roster a fairly standard fourth line (meaning it’s much more of a checking/possession/don’t give up goals line) Pirri and Zykov aren’t great fits. They’ll come back into play when we consider the final piece on the third line.

Rather than give my opinion on how it should line up, I’d rather use numbers. So, using NaturalStatTrick.com’s “Line Tool,” I’ve gone through each potential option to see how they’ve performed as a trio when together.

LineTOIGFGACorsi %SC%PDO
40/41/7576:033365.2265.71.965
40/41/289:011257.1457.14.914
40/41/925:250062.5040.001.00
92/41/75123:033453.7155.56.979
92/41/75 (17-18)85:461046.2740.981.033
92/41/2818:301068.4270.001.067
92/41/28 (17-18)151:076550.0051.411.025
28/41/75344:3410955.4657.140.993

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Timeout vs. Challenge; Gallant Prefers The Latter

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

To begin all NHL games both teams are awarded one timeout. They can use it at any time during the game except after an icing. Most coaches use it to set up a play late in a game or to give the top power-play unit a rest if they’ve been on the ice for a while and the coach wants to keep them out there.

However, there’s one other use for the timeout and it’s a big one. In the event a team wants to challenge a play for goalie interference, they must risk their timeout. If you don’t have your timeout, you can’t request a challenge.

Thus, holding on to that one timeout can be crucial, especially in a game in which a team is leading.

That’s why I don’t use it a lot. I want to really save it because if goals are scored on an interference you really want to save it. If I think we need it because our defensemen on the ice are exhausted and Gilly (defense coach Ryan McGill) wants to keep them out there then I’ll use it but it’s tough because you’d hate to see a tying goal go in when there’s a goalie interference that you might be able to challenge (and you don’t have the timeout). -Gerard Gallant

The purpose of the timeout in hockey has essentially changed.

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When Gerard Gallant And The Golden Knights Pull Their Goalie Compared To Rest Of NHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Thanks to some awesome data compilation by Meghan Hall (@MeghanMHall) of the Balls and Sticks Podcast we finally have some solid context on goalie pulls and the Golden Knights. (Here’s the website to find all the data, it’s one of the coolest workbooks I’ve seen all year.)

The Golden Knights have pulled the goalie a total of 21 times this season. They’ve been “successful” (at least tying the game) just one time and it happened to be on the first attempt of the season. Since Max Pacioretty’s goal on October 6th, Gerard Gallant has pulled his goalie 20 times and his team has not scored a single goal. In that time they’ve allowed 11 total empty netters, conceding at least one in 10 of the 20 games.

However, this is not horribly uncommon as 10 of the NHL’s 31 teams have just one successful goalie pull this year. Plus, four teams (Arizona, New York Islanders, Dallas, Pittsburgh) have all yet to tie or win a game after pulling their goalie.

That means 45% of the NHL has just one or fewer successful goalie pulls. However, that doesn’t mean the success rate of the goalie pull is poor. Actually, 14.6% of one goal games result in a tie game when the goalie is sent to the bench. Calgary, Minnesota, and New Jersey are the best at it, each successfully tying the game four times.

When down by one goal, the league average of the goalie is pulled is 1:43. Vegas is the fifth most aggressive team when it comes to time, pulling the goalie on average with 1:58 left on the clock. The most aggressive team is Toronto, pulling the goalie on average at around 2:28 left in the game.

The Golden Knights average pulling their goalie with 2:01 left on the clock in all situations. The earliest Gallant has removed the goalie was at the 3:13 mark, in the March 10th game at Calgary (down two), while the latest was with :49 vs. Montreal on November 10th (down one). Just nine of the 21 times has Gallant done it outside of 1:30 to 2:30 left.

Other teams have been far more adventurous. Tampa Bay once pulled the goalie with 9:47 to go, Dallas did it with 7:48, and Nashville recently tried it with 6:09 left. There have been more than 100 instances this season in which a goalie has been pulled earlier than the earliest Gallant has pulled VGK’s goalie.

With the goalie out, Vegas is about average at keeping the puck from going in their own net. They’ve allowed 11 empty net goals in the 21 goalie pulls. That’s good for 14th in the league. Calgary is the best allowing just four, while Dallas is the worst giving up 16.

All in all, pulling the goalie hasn’t been great for the Golden Knights, but you certainly can’t say Gerard Gallant isn’t trying.

Which Players Do The Golden Knights Miss Most (And Least) When They Are Out

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On December 13th, 2017 the Golden Knights claimed Ryan Carpenter on waivers from the San Jose Sharks. It took him almost a month, until January 5th to finally get in his first game. Since, he’s become a staple in Gerard Gallant’s lineup… much to the chagrin of many in the fan base.

Carpenter has just 13 points in 50 games this season and is a -8 in the plus/minus category. He’s among the worst on the team in just about every statistical category, yet when asked Gallant never has anything but good things to say about #40.

Carpenter is the same for me every night, pretty much. He is a solid player, he doesn’t make many mistakes. He does the right thing with the puck all the time, so we had very few turnovers tonight and he is a part of that. He did a good job on our penalty kill, so really liked his game -Gallant

He is one of the best in giveaways, just coughing the puck up 15 times in 630 minutes on the ice, and there’s no question he’s a strong penalty killer.

But let me throw another group of numbers into the mix. Whether it’s related to Carpenter or not, the Golden Knights are miserable without him. They are a pathetic 2-11-1 without Carpenter in the lineup and score just 2.21 goals while allowing 3.57 when he’s in the press box.

Here is a breakdown of all 19 players who are currently on the roster that have missed games. The numbers shown are how the Golden Knights perform without the designated player.

 RecordPts%GF/GGAGF%
Bellemare1-0-01.002.001.0066.7
Carpenter2-11-1.1792.213.5738.3
Carrier7-8-1.4692.693.0646.7
Eakin1-3-0.2502.003.2538.1
Haula27-18-4.5923.162.8652.5
Lindberg15-12-2.5522.862.5952.5
Nosek6-3-0.6673.782.8956.7
Pacioretty8-2-3.7313.312.5456.6
Reaves1-0-01.004.003.0057.1
Smith3-4-0.4293.003.0050.0
Stastny17-12-1.5833.102.7752.8
Tuch4-4-0.5002.252.6346.2
Pirri2-1-0.6673.672.6757.9
Zykov7-7-1.5002.933.1348.4
Engelland4-2-1.6433.432.7155.8
Holden4-7-0.3642.553.1844.4
Merrill14-6-2.6823.552.6856.9
Schmidt8-11-1.4252.502.9046.3
Theodore1-0-01.003.002.0060.0

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