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2nd Line Shows Out In Game 3 After Critical Self Evaluation Of Games 1 And 2

Whether Ehlers plays or not, VGK’s 2nd line must keep scoring goals and keeping Winnipeg off the board. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Before the series on the SinBin.vegas Podcast I harped on the importance of the 2nd line in the Western Conference Finals against Winnipeg. Then after Game 1 I followed up with another article claiming they had to be better in order to Vegas to win the series.

Well, apparently it wasn’t just me thinking it. In fact, all three players mentioned during their press availability before Game 3 that they needed to play better. Game 3 happened, they did, and to no surprise, the Golden Knights got the result they were looking for.

As a line, we played a lot better. We were able to capitalize on a couple of opportunities. Felt good offensively. I still think we need to be a better defensively. I thought our wall play was a little poor at times, especially myself, so I’ve got to be better. -Alex Tuch

James Neal was on the ice for all three Golden Knights goals, and Erik Haula and Tuch were out there for the second and third. They did not allow a goal while on the ice and the line as a whole put up by far the best advanced stat numbers of the game for Vegas.

I thought tonight they were more involved on the offense. They played really well and had a great two periods and fell off a little bit in the third. -Gerard Gallant

The Vegas 2nd line now has the advantage in every major statistical category on the line of Paul Stastny, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers including the most important one, goals scored. However, the Golden Knights’ 2nd line center still isn’t satisfied.

We look in the mirror every morning and we know when we need to be better. We need to be right up there with Karlsson’s line. -Erik Haula

Haula admitted his line played better, but he appears well aware how crucial they are to the outcome in the series. If the 2nd line gets on the board a couple more times in Game 4, the Golden Knights will probably be heading north of the border looking to claim the Campbell Bowl.

Deeper Dive Into What Happened With James Neal’s Injury

Step 1: Pass concussion protocol Step 2: Dominate (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s time to step back from last night’s thrilling victory and take a minute to applaud the Golden Knights medical staff and the NHL.

In the first period of Game 3, James Neal took an elbow to the head from the guy they call Big Buff.

I think Dustin Byfuglien just hit me with his elbow right. It just got me in the eye and mouth, and then you have to go off for protocol. -James Neal

After the collision, Neal took time returning to his skates and eventually to the bench. This began the initial protocol.

Here are excerpts from the NHL’s concussion evaluation and protocol guide:

If any of the following symptoms or signs occurs after a direct blow to the head (including contact with the glass, boards and ice) or an indirect blow to the head (such as a blow to the body that causes acceleration/deceleration of the head), the Club shall remove the Player from the playing environment for an acute evaluation:

1. “Symptoms”: The Player reports or exhibits one or more “Symptoms” of possible concussion, including:

Headache, Pressure in head, Neck Pain, Nausea/vomiting, Dizziness, Blurred Vision. Balance Problems

2. Sign: “Lying Motionless on the Ice”: A Player lies motionless on the ice or falls to the ice in an unprotected manner (i.e., without stretching out his hands or arms to lessen or minimize his fall).

3. Sign: “Motor Incoordination/Balance Problems”: A Player staggers, struggles to get up or skate properly, appears to lose his balance, trips or falls, or stumbles while getting up, trying to get up, or skating.

4. Sign: “Blank or Vacant Look”: A Player has a blank or vacant look.

5. Signs: “Slow to Get Up” or “Clutches his Head”: A Player is slow to get up or clutches his head (including any part of his face)

Golden Knights trainers immediately spoke with Neal on the bench, but he had his head down and was shaken up. It was concerning enough for team medical staff and league spotters.

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Golden Knights 2nd Line Needed To Win Game 2

Must be more of this in Game 2. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

0 goals. -3 rating. 18:00+ minutes on ice.

That was the output of the Golden Knights 2nd line of Erik Haula, David Perron, and James Neal in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

To make it even worse, between the three of them they did not record a single shot on goal.

That is not good enough.

Vegas’ 2nd line spent a majority of their time on the ice against the Winnipeg 2nd line of Patrik Laine, Paul Stastny, and Nikolaj Ehlers as well as their 2nd defensive pairing of Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom.

This matchup will continue to be one of the keys to the series. Not only because the Golden Knights need scoring out of that line but because they must avoid allowing those Jets to score. In Game 1, it was 1-0 Jets when those eight players were on the ice, but the shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances were heavily in favor of the Jets as well.

The Jets 2nd line shut down the Predators 2nd line and it’s a big reason why the Jets are here, while the Golden Knights 2nd line had success against the Sharks. Vegas is best when they are rolling multiple offensive lines, if their 2nd best scoring line disappears, their chances to win this series dimish drastically.

David Perron did not skate this morning while Tomas Tatar skated in his place both in line rushes and on the power play. Whether it’s Perron or Tatar, the Golden Knights need more from the 2nd line. Otherwise, they’re going to be staring at a 2-0 deficit when they board the plane to come back to Las Vegas.

Golden Knights Weren’t Just Off In The First Eight Minutes

Wonder if Gallant makes any changes to the lineup. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

NBC announcers Joe Micheletti and Pierre McGuire used words like panic, upset and frustrated to describe the Golden Knights in Game 1. In the first period, Micheletti even said “Winnipeg is the quicker team” and he wasn’t wrong, at that time. The Jets deserve a ton of credit jumping on Vegas early and winning the series opener.

However, outside of the first twenty minutes of play, the final numbers tell a different story. The Golden Knights average game stats were all out of whack but can take away some positives.

Shots on goal
VGK – 21
WPG – 26

  • Vegas tied their lowest SOG total over the entire regular season and postseason
  • First game this season without a shot from Erik Haula, Colin Miller, James Neal and David Perron
  • First game since 2/21 (loss at Wild) that James Neal failed to register a shot on net
  • Colin Miller now has four postseason games without a shot on net
  • David Perron has three postseason games without a shot on net

Giveaways
VGK – 11
WPG – 14

  • Third highest total of giveaways in a playoff
  • Vegas is 1-3 when they turn the puck over 10+ times in a game

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UFA Updates; James Neal, David Perron, James van Riemsdyk

Perron has VGK Captain written all over him, but to wear the C, he has to still be wearing a Golden Knights sweater next season. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the regular season comes to a close, agents and their unrestricted free agent clients are licking their chops, waiting for July 1st. James Neal and David Perron, two key elements for the Golden Knights success are UFAs this summer.

Sportsnet focused on the latest reports regarding the top UFAs around the NHL. Neal and Perron are considered top ten UFAs available July 1st. The Golden Knights were also mentioned when it comes to prize winger James van Riemsdyk.

Here’s a bit of what they had to say. The entire article is here.

on James Neal

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos has suggested that Neal will be asking for as much as $6.5 million or $7 million per season on a long-term deal. Despite having the cap space to make that work, the belief is that Vegas is hesitant to commit long-term to players 30 and older. -Luke Fox, Sportsnet

I think they (Vegas) want to keep him too… More likely than not, they would like to keep him there. If he goes to market, James will command a lot of attention. -Pierre McGuire

 

on David Perron

McPhee is keeping mum publicly with his plans for these veteran wingers. There is value in keeping Perron beyond 2017-18, but the temptation to let Perron walk and use his cap space on younger, cheaper talent will be tempting. There’s no guarantee Perron produces this well again. -Fox

on James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leaf forward

Van Riemsdyk is still integral to the Leafs’ potent first power-play unit but is otherwise seeing third-line minutes. On another squad — Carolina? Vegas? New York? Jersey? San Jose? — he’d be a top-six fixture again. -Fox

Golden Knights Injury Updates; James Neal, Reilly Smith, Malcolm Subban, Luca Sbisa, William Carrier, Oscar Lindberg

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

James Neal
Injury: Hand/Wrist
Injured on February 26th vs. Kings

Neal has missed 10 of the last 11 games. He played in the Kings game on the road where he left after falling behind the goal, seemingly on the same hand that was injured last year in the playoffs.

He did not travel with the team on the recent five-game road trip, but was seen skating many of the days while the team was away. Neal participated in the most recent morning skate wearing a red no-contact jersey.

James is doing real good. He’s skating today. He’s not playing tonight but we’ll see him in the near future. -Gerard Gallant

Reilly Smith
Injury: Wrist/Shoulder
Injured on March 6th vs. Blue Jackets

Smith left the game after a hit in the 2nd period in Columbus. He remained on the road trip for a short time following the injury before returning to Vegas.

He has not participated in a practice since the injury but was seen putting on skates and pads to take the ice for an individual practice today.

A source indicated to SinBin.vegas that the team initially feared Smith had broken a bone in his hand that could have ended his season, but an MRI confirmed otherwise. The same source put the timeline at about two weeks from the injury following the news of no broken bones.

He is not playing tonight. Day to day. Getting better. -Gallant

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Goals Coming From Unlikely Places During James Neal’s Absence

After last night’s victory in Philadelphia, the Golden Knights are 6-4-0 without 40-point producing forward James Neal. At times during the 10-game intermittent stretch, Vegas has struggled to put the puck in the net. For instance, the Golden Knights have been shutout or held to one goal nine games this season, three of them have been in Neal’s absence.

Carpy Deuces chipped in with a big one last night. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Without Neal, the Golden Knights have scored 31 goals in those 10 games. Forwards Alex Tuch, Ryan Carpenter and Cody Eakin stepped up offensively for Vegas. Plus, all three Tomas’s lit the lamp, and the blue line added some help on the scoreboard as well over this span.

VGK “Bottom-6″/Defenseman Goals During Neal’s Absence

02/19: Lost 2-0 vs. Anaheim

02/21: Won 7-3 vs. Calgary
Goals by Ryan Carpenter, Alex Tuch, Luca Sbisa, Tomas Nosek, Cody Eakin

02/23: Won 6-3 vs. Vancouver
Goals by Tomas Hyka, Tomas Nosek

02/27: Lost 4-1 vs. LA

03/02: Lost 5-4 vs. Ottawa
Goals by Colin Miller, Carpenter

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Where To Play Tomas Tatar When Everyone’s Healthy

Since being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings, Tomas Tatar has played in four games. He has one goal, seven shots on goal, a -5 rating, and an average ice time of 15:36. The team is 1-3-0 in those four games.

Now, before we go killing the new guy, let’s start by pointing out that he’s played on four different lines, all with significantly different characteristics. Tatar has played with Hyka and Eakin, Perron and Haula, Tuch and Eakin, and Carpenter and Eakin. To this point, none of them have been a match, but of course, we are judging each on a single game.

The fact of the matter is that Tomas Tatar is not coming out of the lineup anytime. He’s far too talented on the power play, way too fast, and has too much skill to be taken out of the lineup in favor of a Tomas Hyka, Oscar Lindberg or William Carrier.

So, much like we did with Alex Tuch back in November, this is an exercise in finding Tatar the right linemates to help him thrive, and in turn, create a third scoring line heading into the playoffs.

The initial plan when Tatar was brought in was for him to slot into the Leipsic/Lindberg/Hyka third line wing slot. The main question though is whether or not he will fit with Tuch. In just a short time together, Tuch and Tatar have not been a match. Their Corsi For % is just 35%, they’ve allowed eight shots on goal while just creating one, and have yet to create much by way of scoring chances. In fact, for a majority of the game in which they played together, they were hemmed in their own end.

James Neal: Third Line Winger? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If Tuch and Tatar are not a fit together, that means one of them must make their way onto the Haula/Perron/Neal line. In James Neal’s absence, Tuch has quietly become a force on the second line. He was moved up when Neal went out in the first Kings game, and it took a little while for them to gel. But when it did, they’ve become a versatile offensive line that has put up big advanced stat numbers since. Against Columbus, that line outshot the Blue Jackets 15-3 and accounted for the Golden Knights only goal.

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News And Notes From VGK vs CBJ

These two weren’t playing together, but they both played well. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Bounce Back for D

  • Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland played a big role shutting down the Devils young, quick forwards.
    • McNabb TOI – 24:55, 11 Hits, 11 Defensive Zone Starts, -1 Rating
    • Engelland TOI – 24:27, 3 Hits, 10 Defensive Zone Starts, +1 Rating, 1 Goal
  • Golden Knights allowed less than 10 “High Danger” scoring chances for the first time in their last six games.

Ending the Losing Streak

The victory ended the Golden Knights three-game skid. Along with eight other teams, Vegas hasn’t dropped four straight games this season. All eight teams are playoff contenders.

Minnesota: (1) 3 game losing streak
Nashville: (1) 3 game losing streak
Tampa: (1) 3 game losing streak
Winnipeg: (1) 3 game losing streak
Washington: (2) 3 game losing streaks
Dallas: (3) 3 game losing streaks
Pittsburgh: (3) 3 game losing streaks
Vegas: (3) 3 game losing streaks

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McKenzie: “Vegas Was Supposed To Be A Seller At The Deadline, They’re Not Selling”

“If those two players walk at the end of the season, they walk. Vegas will deal with that.” (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If you have an hour or so, take a listen to TSN’s Hockey Bobcast with Bob McKenzie. It’s on my weekly must listen list. This week the Bobfather discussed the needs of all thirty-one NHL teams as he looks ahead to the February 26th trade deadline. Here’s what he had to say about the Golden Knights.

Vegas, my goodness what a story the Vegas Golden Knights are this season. Never seen anything like it in all my time covering the game. They’re not just a good team, they are legit. They look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Now how the hell can we be saying that? -Bob McKenzie, TSN

McKenzie had been running in circles trying to figure out this Golden Knights team. Now he’s starting to sound like George McPhee. McKenzie is confident Vegas management won’t “derail” the team’s success.

This is a legitimate threat, they cannot weaken their team between now and the deadline. -McKenzie

According to the TSN analyst, any open rumors about McPhee listening to offers for pending UFA’s James Neal and David Perron are officially dead.

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