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Remembering The Last Time VGK Used Four Starting Goalies In 10 Games

Exactly one month ago, February 9th, the Golden Knights were sitting as pretty as they have all season between the pipes. Logan Thompson was posting a strong game against the Minnesota Wild and played great in the games leading into the break, Adin Hill played well in the previous game, and Laurent Brossoit was healthy and performing in the AHL.

28 days later, Jonathan Quick is set to start tonight’s game for the Golden Knights in Tampa Bay, Jiri Patera will back him up, and AHL goalie coach Fred Brathwaite served as the backup for the Silver Knights last night.

And maybe the craziest part about it all is… this isn’t new for Vegas in its sixth season in the NHL.

Let’s hop in the time machine for a moment to remember the 10-game stretch back in early 2017 when the Golden Knights also lost not one, or two, but three goalies to injury inside of a month.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It all started when Marc-Andre Fleury took a nasty knee to the head in the Golden Knights’ fourth regular season game ever. The game would go down in history as the first defeat in franchise history, but the short-term effects were more on the mind at the time.

That thrust Malcolm Subban into action, a goalie who just days earlier was described as “not quite sure he’s ready for this level” by the team’s GM, George McPhee. Subban had recently been claimed on waivers from Boston which led to the trade of Expansion Draft selection Calvin Pickard. The Golden Knights acquired just a 6th round pick for what they expected to be an extraneous goalie. It turned out, he was far from that.

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DeBoer’s Goalie Workload History

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the 2019-20 regular season winding down, the Golden Knights are blessed to have two elite goaltenders to get them through the home stretch. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner are proven starters capable of handling a postseason load, but for now they have 14 regular season games to split. Or will they? Without knowing the plan coach Pete DeBoer has drawn up, we have his history to look back and give us an idea of how things may go down in net.

We have great depth at that position. -Pete DeBoer

In his 11 completed seasons as an NHL coach, DeBoer has led his teams to the postseason five times; each of the previous four and twice to the Stanley Cup Finals. In both Cup runs, his goaltenders Marty Brodeur and Martin Jones stood on their heads. In the 2011-12 postseason, Brodeur held his opponents to 2.12 goals per game. Same goes for the 2015-16 season. Coming off a Stanley Cup victory as Jonathan Quick’s backup in 2014, Martin Jones was a rock for DeBoer in the 2015 Cup run. Jones allowed 2.16 goals per game and led the playoffs with 3 shutouts.

Based on those two extended postseasons you would think his goalies were well rested and prepared for the playoffs. However, games played per goalie suggests differently. The Devils were jockeying for playoff position, leading to a heavy workload for Brodeur. However, it worked out and New Jersey won their last six regular season games. The Hall of Fame goaltender played in five of those final six contests.

2011-12: Games Down The Stretch

  • Brodeur 16 Games Played (9-5-2)
  • Johan Hedberg 4 Games Played (4-0-0)
  • Lost in Cup Finals

In their 2015 Cup run, San Jose was also battling to secure a playoff position down the stretch. Which led DeBoer to rely heavily on Jones. The Sharks starting goaltender played in 12 games going 6-6-0 in the final months. However, backup James Reimer picked up his club winning six of his final eight starts.

2015-16: Games Down The Stretch

  • Martin Jones 12 Games Played (6-6-0)
  • James Reimer 8 Games Played (6-2-0)
  • Lost in the Cup Finals

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Backup Advice Is Part Of The Culture In Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

NHL coaches like to use their entire roster. Even though a coach can only play 19 players at a time, there are 20 players suited up each game when you include the backup goaltender. Former coaches have fessed up to seeking regular advice from their backups. Hoping the sitting goalie notices something different that they can relay to the players, coaches, but more importantly the starter.

There’s a lot of validity to that because we see things so differently. To me actually, that’s a mark of a really inquisitive coach doing all of his homework. -Mike McKenna, Retired NHL goaltender and VGK TV analyst

Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury was a spectator last week when Malcolm Subban got the nod against St. Louis. It was a wild, multiple lead changing game that the Golden Knights came from behind to win. With the night off, Fleury was able to watch the 6-5 goal fest from a chair, wearing his snapback hat.

I think you get a different perspective when you sit there and see the whole play develop. It’s different when you’re just watching the puck when you’re in net. You think ‘I should’ve had that one, and that one’ but other times guys get good chances with some time, or on the back door. So, it’s good to have a better view of the game. -Marc Andre Fleury

The conversation goes both ways in Vegas. When he’s in net, Fleury often chats with Subban and goalie coach Dave Prior about certain plays, goals or saves. The open discussion offers the starting goaltender a view outside of himself, and from people they trust.

Yeah, we talk a little bit. Even when I play too we usually always have a little talk about goals, little plays, weird plays. Stuff like that. -Fleury

McKenna spent plenty of time viewing the game from the bench. He felt offering information to the starter was an important part of his job, being part confidante, coach, and shrink.

By the time I was in my late 20’s I realized I was in a role that realistically I was being a goalie coach in some ways too. They would bounce things off of me a lot but I would never cross that line of providing information the player was thinking or feeling. -McKenna

That was an area that McKenna stressed over and over. The advice or information needs to be asked for and accepted. Since most goalies are rare birds, it was important to recognize early on how each individual goaltender felt about discussions in between periods. McKenna was overly careful making sure his insight was wanted.

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Goalie Rotation Plans Changing Due To Standings

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This year they vowed to be different. From the head coach (the old one) to the front office to The Creator himself, the Golden Knights said they knew they needed to use a bit more of a goalie rotation than they have in the past.

You are going to see more of Subban this year, you will. George and Kelly and the coaches have it figured out and they have games identified for Subban and you are going to see him more. It’s part of what needs to happen. We want to make sure Flower is really ready for the playoffs. –The Creator on Sportsbook Radio in October 2019

After running Marc-Andre Fleury out for 61 games last season the Golden Knights were headed for a much lighter workload this season, especially after Fleury missed a few weeks following the death of his father.

However, that plan appears to be out the window now as the playoff spot everyone expected Vegas would have isn’t as secure as they would like.

We’re in the sprint to the finish here and we’re fighting for our playoff spot. We’re going to put the best lineup and the best starter out there to give us a chance to win every night. This isn’t preseason planning where you can map out, we want so many games for this guy or so many games for that guy. That’s in the rearview mirror. -Pete DeBoer on Tuesday

This was yesterday (Tuesday) before the game in Minnesota. On Monday, appearing on the Jim Rome Show, he was asked about “load management” and his answer was a bit different.

We’ve got Marc-Andre Fleury here in net in Vegas. You know he’s a 35-year-old goaltender that’s our starter. We talk about load management with him, both about starts and in practice time. We aren’t at the NBA point where we’re scratching players yet but it’s definitely in our conversations as far as practice days and off days. -DeBoer on Jim Rome Show

Fleury has started eight of the nine games under DeBoer and has been in the goal for 15 of the last 17, with one of the two being the game he missed due to suspension. He’s now started 41 of the team’s 58 games.

The Golden Knights did not have both goalies available for much for the start season so their rotation was somewhat dictated to them through the first few months.

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The Golden Knights Are Not Using The Right Goalie Combo On Back-To-Backs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are set to close out their 6th back-to-back of the 2019-20 season and 31st in franchise history.

They actually fare pretty well as a whole when playing games on back to back nights.

Overall – 31-23-6 (.567)
1st End – 16-11-3 (.583)
2nd End – 15-12-3 (.550)

Historically, they’ve been swept (losing both) in 10 of the 30 back-to-backs, but they’ve only exited without getting at least one point in six of those 10. All six are when both games are being played on the road.

However, this isn’t meant to be an article about how Vegas plays in back-to-backs (that will probably come later as they have a bunch of them coming up.) Instead, it’s meant to take a look at goalie selection in regards to back-to-backs.

Yesterday, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic posted an article challenging the norm of switching goalies on back-to-backs.

For the past six years, every team in the league has quickly adopted the same method to managing goalie starts on back-to-backs: splitting starts between their two goalies. That was based on data, data that created a rule each team learned to follow. Six years later, that same data has changed with the effect size being significantly smaller than initially thought. It might be time to break that rule. -Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic

I wondered if the Golden Knights were seeing the same effect.

The Golden Knights have actually been one of the most aggressive teams in using the same goalie for both games of a back-to-back. In 2017-18 the same goalie played both games in 5.1% of NHL games, 2018-19 saw the number decrease to 4.2%, while this season it’s a paltry 2.6%.

However, Vegas has used the same goalie in 11 of their 30 back-to-backs (37%). They’ve done it twice this season with Fleury playing against Calgary and Los Angeles early in the year and Subban playing against the New York Rangers and New Jersey last week.

Of course, both of those instances were forced upon the Golden Knights. Subban was injured for Fleury’s and Fleury was away with the passing of his father for Subban’s. Of the 11 times the Golden Knights have done it, I consider eight of the 11 to be “forced.”

That being said, the numbers indicate the Golden Knights should actually be using this strategy way more often, on purpose, every time they have the chance.

Of the 11 times, the Golden Knights have won both games in six. They’ve gotten at least two points in eight of the 11, and they’ve only been swept in regulation just one time!

Marc-Andre Fleury is an incredible 7-1-2 when playing in both games of a back-to-back. Malcolm Subban is a fantastic 6-1-1 as well. Max Lagace’s 0-3-1 pulls down the average. So, with either Subban or Fleury playing both games, Vegas is 13-2-3!

Same Goalie In Both: 13-2-3 (.801)
Switch Goalies: 18-21-3 (.464)

Clearly, the Golden Knights need to be using the same goalie in both games of back-to-backs every single time. But, let’s just try to be fair and say that’s not possible due to the need for rest. Look at these numbers.

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Carp: Malcolm Subban Has Won Me Over

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t think Malcolm Subban was the Golden Knights’ answer as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup.

I had concerns about his durability. I wasn’t sure if he had the technical side of things down. And I wasn’t convinced he was reliable.

And for the first two years, I think I was right. Subban had shown a propensity for getting hurt. He let in a lot of soft goals. And his record wasn’t the greatest.

But I had to remind myself he’s still only 25. Goalies take longer to develop. And I have never questioned his work ethic or his commitment to his craft.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Still, this is a results-driven business. He knows that. So when Fleury left the team for 10 days to deal with the death of his father in Montreal, here was Subban’s chance to prove to doubters like myself he does indeed deserve to be part of the Golden Knights’ present, and, perhaps more importantly, their future.

Watching him perform the last two weeks, I came away with the vision that Subban is making progress. He is showing a good compete level between the pipes. He is coming up big when he needs to and the soft goals he had been allowing in the past were less frequent.

I also think he was aided by the fact that the guys in front of him are playing better, particularly his defensemen. Nic Hague is developing well and I like the pairing of Hague with Shea Theodore. Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt seem to have recaptured their chemistry playing alongside each other and Deryk Engelland’s game has picked up noticeably the last three weeks.

Perhaps it’s due in part to the changes in philosophy when it comes to defending as the Knights have used more of a zone than a man-to-man coverage in their end. Maybe it’s a confidence thing. But the Knights have allowed just 16 goals in their last six games and Subban has had a hand in that.

He also appeared to be gaining the trust of his coach and his teammates.

Subby’s been terrific. He’s given us a chance every night. -Gerard Gallant

You can see his confidence growing every game. You see the way he moves the puck, the way he’s talking to guys back there. He’s starting to settle in and he’s more comfortable. When you’re playing with confidence, you feel like you can take on the world and he’s been awesome for us. It was an awful circumstance that happened (to Fleury) but he stepped in, took advantage of it and he made some big saves for us. -Nate Schmidt

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Expecting Another Golden December

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Kelly McCrimmon spoke with the media yesterday to formally announce the Chandler Stephenson acquisition. He also mentioned his high expectations for the month of December.

We’re trying to get all little bit of traction. December has for one reason or another traditionally been a really good month for this organization. We’re hopeful we can get a solid footing and play good hockey. -McCrimmon

Vegas’ GM should feel optimistic about the next 13 games in December. A month his players annually shine.

Win Percentage in December
2017: .846 %
2018: .600 %
Overall: .714 %

Point Percentage in December
2017: .923 %
2018: .800 %
Overall: .857 %

Including last night’s game in New Jersey, the Golden Knights have an exceptional franchise record of 22-4-4 in the month of December. Beginning the month 2-0-0 is a good sign their holiday tradition will continue. Vegas plays 13 more games this month including seven at home and only three are against teams in the top 3 in their division.

Historical Breakdown

December 2017
13 Games: 8 Home/5 Road (11–1-1) Record

  • Goals For: 49 Total
  • Goals Against: 33 Total
  • Win Streak: 7 Games
  • OT/SO Games: (4-1)
  • 2+ Goal Wins: 5
  • Pacific Division Points: (8 points)
  • Wins vs Playoff Teams: 8 (Anaheim x 2, LA, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Toronto, Washington)
  • William Karlsson: 10 Points (7 Goals, 3 Assists) +9
  • Jonathan Marchessault: 14 Points (5 Goals, 9 Assists) + 9
  • Reilly Smith: 11 Points (3 Goals, 8 Assists) +10
  • Alex Tuch: 8 Points (3 Goals, 5 Assists) +3
  • Marc-Andre Fleury: (4-0-1) 1.56 GAA, .948 Save%, 8 Goals Allowed
  • Malcolm Subban: (6-0) 2.25 GAA, .920 Save%, 14 Goals Allowed

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