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Playing Oddsmaker On First Golden Knights Captain

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He hinted at it months ago, yesterday he made it as clear as can be.

We’re not going to name a captain before we go back. We will have one prior to the start of next season. -Pete DeBoer

Normally, we leave the oddsmaking up to the best sportsbook in the world, William Hill, but today, I’m going to take my shot at setting the odds on who will wear the “C” when the Golden Knights stitch it on a jersey for the first time.

Mark Stone 

Stone is the massive betting favorite for a number of reasons. First, he’s the best player on the team and it’s not really all that close. That’s not always a prerequisite to be the captain, but it certainly helps. Next, DeBoer has lauded his leadership qualities since the moment he got to Vegas (Gallant did too when he first got Stone). He’s the right age, has an extended contract with the team, is clearly invested deeply in the team’s success as illustrated by his over-the-top celebrations, and he’s been an alternate captain during the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

If it’s anyone other than Stone, it’ll come as quite the surprise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy candidates.

Nate Schmidt

Most Golden Knights fans know Nate Schmidt as the loud, goofy, jokester that he comes across as in interviews, commercials, and skits, but Schmidt is, and has been, a real leader on this team for a long time. He was named the Golden Knights Player’s Association representative, he’s been an alternate captain at times during each of the first three seasons, and whenever anyone mentions the leadership group of the team he’s included.

He’s incredibly talkative on the ice, both in serious and joking manners and he’s even more talkative when you stick a microphone in his face after the games. He’s not your quintessential captain, but he certainly represents the Golden Knights.

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Marchessault Wants “Technical” Benefit That Comes From Winning Round-Robin

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Opinions about the round-robin vary pretty drastically when it comes to pundits and fans. Many believe getting the #1 seed is crucial as it will make the path to the Final a bit easier while others think they are glorified exhibition games as no matter who you play you’ll have to be the best team in the conference to advance.

Both sides carry weight and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a coach or two of the eight round-robin teams use them to experiment more than he would in a real playoff game.

As far as Vegas goes, Pete DeBoer pushed for there to be meaningful games prior to the Golden Knights’ first round matchup and he believes they have them. Kelly McCrimmon echoed the same sentiment. Jonathan Marchessault took it one step further than potential opponents and pointed towards another advantage winning the round-robin brings.

Honestly, (the round-robin games) are pretty important. The advantage of the ice like in regular times it’s a lot of the crowd and playing at home, but on the technical side, there’s ‘last change.’ It’s a big advantage to have so I think it’s going to be important. We’re facing three really good teams so it’s on us to be on our toes and be ready for that challenge. -Jonathan Marchessault

“Last change” is the ability to select your five players after the opposing team does at every stoppage of play. Prior to each faceoff, a referee skates over to the benches and directs the line changes. The away team must send out their players first, then the home team gets the chance to select theirs.

This is crucial for line-matching as it allows the home teams opportunities to create mismatches. If the away team sends out their 4th line, the home team can counter with their 1st.

Golden Knights games average 59 faceoffs per game, which means being the home team offers 59 chances to use “last change” to gain the upper hand on their opponent.

Pete DeBoer is a big proponent of finding matchups he likes both with his forwards and defensemen. He’ll work hard to match his top defensemen against the opposition’s top line and he weighs zone starts for his forwards heavily based each line’s strengths.

Winning the round-robin means that team becomes the “home” team in each series through the Western Conference Final. Thus, four games as the “home” team and only three “away” in each series. “Home” also comes with the most important game, Game 7, and we know how important any little advantage can be in one of those.

Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots, Everybody

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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

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Theodore Anything But Marginalized On A Power Play

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If you had a chance to watch SinBin’s Virtual Game Show, you would’ve seen me guess incorrectly which player leads the Golden Knights organization in power play assists. I answered Jonathon Marchessault with 27 PP assists, but was off by one.

Defenseman Shea Theodore leads the franchise with 28 power play assists. Based on games played it was a bit surprising, but when you check his man-advantage time on ice, it clearly makes sense. With over 567 PP minutes served for the Golden Knights, Theodore has become Vegas’ ace in the hole on the power play.

TSN’s Travis Yost argues over the past few years defensemen have been marginalized on the PP. Mostly because a majority of teams use a four forward unit. The Golden Knights have been one of those clubs. Sure, we’ve seen variations of 5-on-4 lines but Theodore is usually the lone defenseman. Which is why he’s gradually become more effective on Vegas’ power play. His PP statistics prove while he’s a valuable asset, blueliners overall are underutilized on offensive special teams.

It’s not a trivial data point. A few years ago, teams started to shift towards a four-forward power play because it yielded more scoring opportunities and, consequently, goals. –Travis Yost, TSN

This season, Theodore had the 17th most power play points in the NHL for a defenseman.

2017-18: 9 PP Points (1 Goal, 8 Assists)
2018-19: 8 PP Points (4 Goals, 4 Assists)
2019-20: 16 PP Points (1 Goal, 15 Assists)

Without a doubt the 24-year-old has become the Golden Knights #1 blueline option on the PP. Theodore’s PP TOI% is 70.6% (5th in the NHL), showing he’s deployed like John Carlson, Torey Krug, Rasmus Dahlin, and Kris Letang.

Need further evidence? Don’t mind if I do.

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DeBoer: “I’m A Believer In A Captain”

Since the beginning, the Golden Knights have had 23 captains. Technically, they’ve had about 10 with a variety of players wearing “A’s” through the first three seasons, but the underlying mantra of “23 captains” has been a part of the fabric of the Golden Knights’ locker room since they first got together back in September of 2017.

With the new coach in town, that could be changing in the very near future.

I’m a believer in a captain and I think we have a lot of candidates in that dressing room. I’m still getting to know the group, but that’s something I’ll have to discuss with Bill Foley and George and Kelly and see what their feeling is on it. -Pete DeBoer on VGK Q&A Podcast for season ticket holders

Vegas is one of five teams in the NHL currently without a captain. They are also the only team that has not had a captain in any of the previous three years. No captainless team has won the Stanley Cup since 1972.

I think the reason we didn’t have a captain in Vegas, to begin with, was the identity of this team, basically coming out of expansion you were getting all these guys that were left unprotected or traded for, was the strength of the team was going to be in the group. -DeBoer

That reason was repeated time and time again by management, coaches, and the players during the Gallant era. DeBoer thinks the time is near that the first “C” is stitched into a Golden Knights jersey.

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Season “End” Stat Leaderboards Lacking Many Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When, how, or if the NHL season picks back up will probably remain a mystery for a while longer, but every day that ticks off the calendar it becomes clearer and clearer the regular season will not be completed in its entirety.

They may come back and play a few games or they may even eliminate a few games and backdate the season to the 68-game mark to make it even. Either way, the stats on the board currently are likely to be pretty close to what ultimately goes down in the record books for the 2019-20 regular season.

Despite playing 71 games, with most of the rest of the league playing fewer than 70, the Golden Knights have a player listed in the top 10 of just two standard offensive statistical categories. Max Pacioretty’s 307 shots on goal have him ranked 3rd behind Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Reaves led the NHL in hits with 316.

But that’s it. No one’s in the top 10 in goals, assists, points, +/-, shooting percentage, PIM, TOI, blocks, faceoff stats, or even point shares.

Here’s a look at the Golden Knights’ highest ranking in each statistical category.

Leader – David Pastrnak: 48
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 32

Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 67
VGK – Mark Stone: 42

Leader – Leon Draisaitl: 110
VGK – Max Pacioretty: 66

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Marchessault And Doughty Show Challenge NHL Will Have Whenever It’s Safe To Restart

The prudent answers are “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” “when it’s safe,” or even “I have no idea.” Player after player after manager after owner, even the commissioner, are non-committal, uninsightful and frankly unassuring.

We’re exploring all options but when we will have an opportunity to return depends on things we have absolutely no control over. –Gary Bettman on CNN

Enter Jonathan Marchessault and Drew Doughty.

Oh, it’s impossible that it’s over. It’s just impossible. Honestly, I don’t play 70 regular season games to not play in the playoffs. I just don’t do that. I think the NHL thinks the same, because that’s why every hockey player is playing. –Marchessault to

Honestly I don’t see how the season is going to return. We’re all kind of just sitting at home obviously hoping to return to the season or hope to watch the playoffs return. I would think the NHL or whoever would make the decision would have to make some kind of decision on that soon. And it seems like it’s going to be pretty tough to return, resume the season or playoffs. –Doughty to The Athletic

Rays of truth. Polar opposites, but truth.

The challenge the NHL is presented is illustrated inside these two quotes.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On one side you have a player whose team is sitting in 1st place in the division and has his eyes set on the Stanley Cup. On the other side, there’s a guy whose season ended long ago and his focus is on 2020-21 when he and his teammates start fresh.

Both broke stride of the hockey norm to actually spew some honesty. Publicly, there won’t be many like these two, there just aren’t enough Drew Doughtys and Jonathan Marchessaults in the world. But privately, every player, every coach, every manager, every executive, every owner, and even every fan has their truth and unfortunately, there’s not a solution to please everyone.

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Playoff Participation Plan Diminishes Vegas’ First Place Finish

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Silly comments from P.K. Subban shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone around the Golden Knights. Remember this?

He knows he bit me. I’m not trying to rip his head off. I’m not that type of player… I don’t know how I walk out of there with four minutes in penalties… It wasn’t explained. They tried to apologize after the fact that they gave me four minutes in penalties. My finger is bleeding. I don’t know what you want me to do.-P.K. Subban accusing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of biting his finger, 01/23/19

Well P.K. is back, and he’s pushing the idea of a ridiculous 31-team playoff. Subban believes the NHL should allow every club a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, including his 68 point Devils team. Contenders like the Golden Knights worked hard to position themselves for a Cup run, but none of that matters to the former Norris Trophy winner.

It was kind of floated around… I saw a few things on social media and I like that. For my team specifically, we were pushing to make the playoffs down the stretch. I would like to see our team have an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. I’d love too see a 31-team playoff and give those pesky Devils an opportunity of bringing the Cup back home to New Jersey. I’d love to see that. -PK Subban on ESPN

While it might sound intriguing to certain fanbases, it makes zero sense for any legitimate contender. In fact, the real losers would end up being the Golden Knights and other elite clubs. Why should they be punished for playing strong during the 71-game paused season?

The NHL is not college basketball, or even the World Cup. The Stanley Cup playoffs is not a tournament of rewarded participants, it’s a tournament of winners. So, why would Vegas, St. Louis, Boston or Tampa want to risk playing a team that has nothing to lose, and face losing to a #16th seed? They wouldn’t, and frankly, they’d be wronged if the league forced them too.

If you’re New Jersey, you’re sitting there and you say, ‘okay fair enough we realize below the cut line.’ Then you say but Montreal, sitting with 71 games 71 points. The Devils go ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, time out, we’re three points behind Montreal with two games in hand. Why would you give Montreal a chance?’ The Devils would say ‘well Montreal can’t be a part of any postseason thing because we got a better point percentage then them.’ So, I guess that’s kind of where P.K. was coming from. -Bob McKenzie

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The Golden Knights Identity; What Is It? What Is It Supposed To Be?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Pete DeBoer was first hired a common term he would use in talking about his new team was “identity.” He said it in a number of ways but the refrain was always the same, that the team had a great identity and when they played with it they were almost unbeatable, but recently it had been lost and they were playing without it.

Here’s one example from five days after he was hired.

I think for me just playing aggressive, and dictating games and wearing teams down with our depth because we have the ability to roll four lines and be really hard to play against. I think we want to get back to that. Not that that slipped totally off the table but that’s something this team did better than anybody in the league for a long time and we want to try and get that type of identity back. -DeBoer on 1/20/20

I have to admit, it’s a term that’s always troubled me. Identity. I don’t even really know what it means. Everyone uses it, heck I’ve even used it, but if you pinned me down to explain exactly how it relates to a hockey team, I can’t do it. So to hear it over and over again from the new head coach as basically the primary focus on how to solve the issues the Golden Knights had been having, I couldn’t help but tilt my head the way Wiglaf and Rupert do when I ask them if they want a piece of cheese.

What is the Golden Knights identity? What’s it supposed to be? Has it changed?

I’ve spent the last three weeks pondering all of this and finally had a chance to ask a few players, and the coach, specifically about it. Take a listen to it all, in its raw form. First is Jonathan Marchessault, then Nate Schmidt, Paul Stastny, and it ends with Pete DeBoer.

I’ve listened to each of those four interviews about 10 teams apiece and I still have no clue how to define the Golden Knights identity.

It’s just a bunch of buzzwords that apply to every hockey team.

Relentless. Heavy. Fast. Aggressive. Play as a unit. Hard to play against.

Put that aside for a second though, I’ll get back to it.

However anyone defines it, it seems to have shifted. Well, sorta shifted. Actually, no it hasn’t shifted at all. It’s exactly the same, it just looks a little different because this team is more skilled, or to use a simpler term, better.

But it’s not. Or at least it hasn’t been when counting wins.

Both teams have the ability to check off all the buzzwords. The makeup of the team really isn’t that different aside from adding a new buzzword, “heavy,” which really just means “we have Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty now.”

So why aren’t they playing the same way? Why are they going through all these problems? Why was the identity lost in the middle of the third season?

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Jonathan Marchessault’s New Stick Helping In More Ways Than One

Marchessault’s new stick. (Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The stick for a hockey player is like the car for a taxi driver, a knife for a chef, or a phone for a blogger legitimate journalist. If the tool is not operating at peak performance the person using it can’t either.

Late last year Jonathan Marchessault felt his stick wasn’t living up to expectations. So, about two weeks before the playoffs he made a change. Swapping out the CCM brand for a Bauer.

For me, it’s all about the lightest stick and the Bauer is the lightest for me and I love it. -Marchessault

He kept that stick throughout the Sharks series (where he scored what should have been the biggest goal in team history, until it wasn’t), through the preseason, and well into this season.

But a month ago, Marchessault felt that his stick was starting to let him down again. With just five goals in his first 29 games, you’d think it was because he wasn’t putting the puck in the net,

My shot has always been good, it’s just a matter of sometimes you just get lucky. -Marchessault

Or in his case, unlucky. Instead, it was a different aspect of the game he was trying to sure up in changing sticks once again mid-season.

It’s not because of my shot but because of the stick battles that I would lose. When you go in a battle and your stick is soft, it whips. -Marchessault

He still uses the same Bauer stick, but he has upgraded the flex and the grip on his stick to make it stiffer. It seems to be working.

I’m winning more puck battles, trying to get more steals. The NHL now is all about turnovers and the way your forecheck so this is helping with that. -Marchessault

Marchessault’s old stick. (Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He’s risen to 5th on the team in takeaways with 18 and his defensive point shares number has jumped above the likes of Paul Stastny, Cody Eakin, and Tomas Nosek.

Whether it was intended or not, the goals have started to come with it as well. Marchessault has four in his last four games along with six points in his last six. Plus, he just looks like a more confident player on the ice. He’s taking better care of the puck and his forechecking has been as ferocious as ever.

It’s a little thing, changing the flex on your stick, but it can have a huge impact, even in areas it wasn’t supposed to help.

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