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The Middle Frame Has Given The Golden Knights Troubles

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Through 16 games, the Golden Knights have been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL. They’ve won 13, they’ve been the better team in almost all of them, they’ve yet to be shutout, haven’t allowed more than four in a game, and all three of the losses have been by a single goal.

Quite frankly, there’s not much more you can ask for out of a start to the season from a results perspective.

Inside of games, however, the Golden Knights haven’t been quite as steady. They’ve been the best 1st period team in the league scoring 21 (most in NHL) and allowing just eight (T-3rd in NHL). They’ve also been excellent in 3rd periods netting 21 (6th in NHL) while allowing 14 (T-6th in NHL). The middle frame hasn’t been as kind to Vegas though, and it’s potentially a reason for concern moving forward.

The overall goal numbers aren’t terrible. 14 goals for (T-20th in NHL), 15 goals against (T-11th in NHL). It’s the chance numbers that jump off the page.

On the five-game road trip in which the Golden Knights won all five games, they allowed 14 high-danger chances in both the 1st and 3rd while allowing 29 in the 2nd period.

Then, in the first game home, the trend continued. Vegas allowed just one high-danger chance in the 1st and didn’t allow a single one in the 3rd, but, they allowed seven in the 2nd, a period that ultimately cost them a chance to match the franchise’s longest winning streak ever.

Scoring chances, Corsi, expected goals, you name the stat, they are all far worse in the 2nd than the 1st and 3rd for the Golden Knights.

The question is, why?

Head coach Bruce Cassidy has a pretty strong theory on it.

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Points Aside, Vegas Could Use More Offensive Impact From Jack Eichel

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The season couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for the Golden Knights. They’re leading the West in points (14), the Pacific in goals allowed (16), and are top three in the conference goals scored (29). The Misfits are hot, goaltending has been consistent and captain Mark Stone looks like his old self. Most importantly, the team hasn’t suffered any significant injuries through nine games. All is well in Golden Knights world except for one slight concern, Jack Eichel.

In 156 minutes played, the $10 million center has eight points (3G/5A) in nine games for 0.88 points per game average. Not bad. In fact, Eichel’s eight points are tied for a team-best with Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson. So, why is Eichel’s production being brought up? Simple, he’s not doing enough when you consider his importance, salary, and talent. Especially, when you compare Eichel to other players in his tax bracket.

Points By Top Highest Paid Forwards

Connor McDavid: 15 Points (8 Goals, 7 Assists)
Artemi Panarin: 12 Points (4 Goals, 8 Assists)
Auston Matthews: 7 Points (2 Goals, 5 Assists)
John Tavares: 10 Points (3 Goals, 6 Assists)
Mitch Marner: 7 Points (2 Goals, 5 Assists)
Jonathan Toews: 5 Points (4 Goals, 1 Assist)
Aleksander Barkov: 5 Points (5 Assists)
Anze Kopitar: 7 Points (1 Goal, 6 Assists)
Jack Eichel: 8 Points (3 Goals, 5 Assists)
Tyler Seguin: 6 Points (2 Goals, 4 Assists)
Johnny Gaudreau: 8 Points (5 Points, 3 Assists)
Matthew Tkachuk: 9 Points (4 Goals, 5 Assists)

Eichel is right in the middle of his peers in points and assists but he’s on the lower end of goals and one statistic that many find a good evaluation of a player’s offensive impact. While primary assists tend to get lost in statistical blenders, they should be weighted heavier than a secondary helper. Eichel has the same amount of first assists (2) as Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud. Chandler Stephenson on the other hand has four assists and they are all primary. Let’s not forget he’s tied for the most points and second amount of minutes played for a forward. In a sense, Eichel’s stat line should look more like Stephenson’s.

Sure, it’s nit-picking, but compare Eichel’s first assists with the league leaders.

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Highlighting Two Incredible Shifts From The New Super First Line

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After six games of attempting to balance the lineup by splitting up the Misfit Line and separating Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, Bruce Cassidy had a change of heart late against Colorado that carried over into the following two games.

Instead of utilizing Phil Kessel, Brett Howden, and Michael Amadio to go along with Vegas’ six best forwards, Cassidy opted to load up. He reunited William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, and he created the super line of  Eichel, Stone, and Chandler Stephenson.

The Misfits we know all about. But the other line has come together incredibly quickly and has been just as dominant as everyone imagined it could be.

Eichel, Stone, and Stephenson have been on the ice together at even strength for a little over 27 minutes. They’ve scored four times, have outshot their opponents 26-7, generated 24 scoring chances (14 high danger), and have not allowed a single goal against. Dominant might not even be a strong enough word.

I want to highlight their two best shifts, both of which ended up resulting in massive goals for the Golden Knights. The first was against Toronto to start the 3rd period.

As you watch this, keep an eye on how much movement there is among the players, the variety of ways they generate chances, and how often the puck moves from one side of the ice to the other.

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Special Teams Not Yet A Strength For Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the NHL, a widely used benchmark to measure a franchise’s overall special teams success is the 100% rule. If the success rate of the power play plus the penalty kill adds up to 100% or more, the team is considered to have strong special teams.

After six games in 2022-23, the Golden Knights are currently operating at 86.2%, the 5th worst in the league so far. The power play has scored on four of 23 chances for a success rate of 17.4% while the penalty kill has conceded on five of 16 for a 68.8% PK.

In each of the two losses, the Golden Knights were outscored on special teams leading to the difference in the final score of the game.

Obviously, with the new coach and the small sample size, this is not something to be overly concerned about at this point in the season, but there’s no question it must improve as the year progresses.

We’re definitely not quite where we want to be but we’re trending (in the right direction) I think. -Mark Stone

Our penalty kill has had pockets of really good kills and there are times, including the two losses, where we get outscored, but I don’t want to necessarily blame them. -Bruce Cassidy

The Golden Knights currently rank 27th in the league in penalty kill, and it could be worse if not for a close goalie interference call that erased a goal in Calgary.

Alex Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, and Zach Whitecloud have been VGK’s primary defensemen on the penalty kill. As for the forwards, it’s been a bit more of a mixed bag aside from William Karlsson and Reilly Smith consistently leading the way.

Before the season, Cassidy made it clear that one of his objectives was to utilize his bottom-six players a bit more in the penalty kill to lighten the load on the top-six while also allowing a strong fresh line to hop over the boards when the penalty is killed. Karlsson is currently a 3rd line player, so he qualifies, but Cassidy knows this is still an area he must focus on moving forward.

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Power Play Variety Paying Off Early For Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Through three games the Golden Knights power play is averaging one goal per contest. A success rate that Vegas fans haven’t seen in several seasons. While it’s premature to celebrate, it’s better than shouting obscenities after failed man-advantages like fans had been used to.

You are running through different people including the more accomplished offensive defensemen here, so you may see more action from there. -Bruce Cassidy

We explained in-depth, VGK’s new look power play under coach Bruce Cassidy. One element of the strategy was getting everyone on the ice involved. The Golden Knights have three PP goals and all were scored by a different player. Not only that, seven separate players have a PP point. It’s been a cast of characters contributing on 5-on-4 situations.

VGK Power Play Points
Nic Roy (2 Assists)
Alex Pietrangelo (2 Assists)
William Karlsson (Goal)
Jonathan Marchessault (Goal)
Reilly Smith (Goal)
Jack Eichel (Assist)
Mark Stone (Assist)

Both of Cassidy’s power play units have had success, creating game-tying and go-ahead goals. Against LA, William Karlsson evened the score 3-3 midway through the 3rd period. Up in Seattle, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly stretched Vegas’ lead on man-advantage opportunities.

Another sign Cassidy’s directions are quickly catching on is the variety of ways each power play goal has been scored. Karlsson’s PPG was a deflection from a superb Alex Pietrangelo shot-pass. The sequence began with Karlsson winning the faceoff and ended with Pietrangelo using his offensive creativity.

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Just One Game, But Golden Knights Are On The Road To Establishing Consistent Style Of Play

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last year, due to a combination of inconsistent play and players in the lineup, the Golden Knights struggled to find and maintain an identity in the way they play.

One game into the 2022-23 season, there’s already one emerging.

I thought we had really good sticks. We were knocking down a lot of pucks. That’s been an identity. We’re such a long team. If we can close in little sections, that’s when we’re able to bat down pucks and go the other way. Overall it just felt like we were in sync. -Mark Stone

Where it was most noticeable in the season opener in Los Angeles was in the neutral zone as the Kings attempted their breakouts. The Golden Knights hounded LA, constantly breaking up passes or forcing them to turn back and start over. A perfect example is the game-winning goal.

With our size on the forecheck and they don’t have a huge group of defensemen, and we can skate, when we get in there it’s always going to be a battle and when we are winning those battles it’s tough to get the puck back for the defense. I know playing against big forwards that can skate it’s hard. -Alex Pietrangelo

But it extends to the other two zones as well. In the O-zone while forechecking, VGK’s length makes life difficult on the opposition by limiting passing lanes. Vegas’ active sticks disrupted multiple exit chances for the Kings and led to quick-strike offense.

In the D-zone, the Golden Knights used their new zone defense structure to eliminate passes through the center of the ice. Their size and skating skill help keep the puck to the outside and there is almost always at least one VGK body between the puck and the goal.

A key to maintaining this identity is patience, something the Golden Knights excelled at in the opener. Rather than forcing the Kings into making mistakes by creating numbers advantages in puck battles, Vegas did it with positioning and size and allowed the mistakes to come to them. For the Kings, it had to feel like there were opposing sticks and players all over the ice. This helped feed what the Golden Knights do best offensively.

The strength of our team will be transition but you have to play the game in front of you too and I thought we did a good job of that. -Bruce Cassidy

The last piece of the puzzle is another area in which Vegas experienced challenges a year ago, puck management. A big part of what made the Golden Knights tough to play against in Los Angeles was their structure. The only way to properly set up in the neutral zone, check in the offensive zone, or defend for extended periods of time in the defensive zone is with proper structure. Step one in maintaining that is not being caught out of position when the puck is turned over. Sloppy play through the neutral zone or unforced turnovers in the offensive zone leads to rushes the other way. The Golden Knights managed the puck much better than their opponent and it bled into every other part of the game.

We bought into puck management. They play a 1-3-1 in the neutral zone so if you try to get through there and try to make pretty plays that’s where LA is very effective. So I thought tonight that we managed the puck and tried to play in behind them and take what they gave us. It really worked well. -Cassidy

It’s just one game, so we’re a long way from being able to confidently say what we saw at Crypto.com Arena is what we’ll see consistently over the course of the season from the Golden Knights. But the groundwork is there for it to become a staple of Vegas’ game this year.

Length, size, skating, and active sticks make the game hard on every team in the league no matter their talent or system. The Golden Knights achieved it and played with a clear identity in Game 1 of the season.

Next step: Repeat.

Inside Look At The Crazy Final Play Leading To Mark Stone’s Game-Winning Goal

With a little over a minute remaining in regulation of a tie game, the Kings found themselves with clean possession of the puck as the Golden Knights made their final line change of the game behind the play. Defenseman Matt Roy left the puck for his partner Sean Durzi who carried it behind the LA goal where he was poised to begin a breakout.

But, instead, Durzi waited, and waited, and waited.

I honestly didn’t know he was coming out. If he would have taken it to OT, I would have stood there and waited. There’s no sense in letting him bait me. -Mark Stone

We just assumed he was going to kill the clock and take the point. -Alex Pietrangelo

Durzi had other ideas.

I was hoping he’d come out. We want to play hockey. No one wants to stand there and watch that. We didn’t want to give ourselves up and flush him out though, that’s a sucker’s race. -Bruce Cassidy

After holding the puck for exactly 22 seconds behind the goal with the crowd urging the King to get the puck forward and attempt to win the game, he did just that. Durzi skated out to his left and fired a pass 100 feet along the ice to the red line.

Here’s what he saw as he went to make the pass.

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Bruce Cassidy Not The Only Coach Frustrated With Preseason Defeats

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This weekend the Golden Knights had their worst outing of the preseason. Vegas lost 7-3 to the San Jose Sharks and their head coach was not happy with their effort.

It’s an attention-getter. You’ve played your games you’ve been at Training Camp, we’re not nearly where we need to be so we’ve got to get the hell back to work the next time we reconvene. That to me is the message that will be sent when we get back together. -Bruce Cassidy

In most cases, exhibition games are considered tune-ups and extended tryouts for prospects. However, with the brief time Bruce Cassidy has had with his new club, every shift counts. With only eight days before Vegas opens the 2022-23 season, it’s vital the Golden Knights continue to learn and execute their leader’s instructions.

After three preseason contests Vegas looked as if they had absorbed their coach’s new defensive look. On Friday night it fell apart. So of course Cassidy was frustrated with the results. This weekend, the Golden Knights coach wasn’t the only one to voice his concerns after lopsided defeats.

Tonight, a lot of the pressure in our D-zone we couldn’t handle it. We couldn’t handle their speed. Consequently they get the opportunities. We’re going to get better but it’s just not happening as quickly as I’d like it to be. -Bruce Boudreau, Canucks coach

After a 4-0 shutout, Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan told the media he was reluctant to talk about his team’s effort. In Pennsylvania’s other metropolis, Flyers bench boss John Tortorella was focused on his player’s confidence. In St. Louis, coach Craig Berube was at a loss for words.

Not enough. We didn’t do enough all around. It wasn’t a very good game. We should’ve played better for them, it was a great crowd.-Craig Berube, Blues coach

This very well could be a ploy from Cassidy and other veteran coaches to get their players’ mentally before regular season action. If you ignore the score, there were several positives to take away from Vegas’ fourth exhibition game. Offensively, Jack Eichel looks dangerous and heathy, while Mark Stone flashed his play-making abilities in his return, and Paul Cotter continued his seemingly undeniable run at a roster spot.

Also, it should be noted that Jake Leschyshyn dropped gloves and defended himself after landing a clean but hard hit on a Sharks player. That’s the character and culture stuff that un-frustrates Cassidy and other coaches.

Cassidy Unveils First Lineup And Explains How He Arrived At It

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

It’s just the first day of Training Camp, and each of the top three lines participated in separate practices, but Bruce Cassidy had months to consider line combinations and there’s certainly something to be said about the first ones he rolled out as head coach of the Golden Knights.

Following the three practices, Cassidy took to the podium to discuss his thinking on setting the lines for the first day of camp.

We want to get players that can play to their strengths, mesh with other people but still get a good combination of guys that can make a play, guys that are willing to get to the net to open ice, guys that are able to hold on to pucks low in the o-zone and how they compliment each other. There’s a lot that goes into it. That’s how we started and we’ll go from there. -Cassidy

The lineup looked like this.

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Stone Shares Laugh With Eichel Over Tight Jeans

Since 2005, league policies mandate NHL players to wear business suits before and after games. Some would argue it’s a dated policy, but the skaters abide and agree to dress as CEO’s on gameday. The Golden Knights have certainly made a fashion impact since their arrival, starting with their custom inaugural season threads several players donned throughout 2017-18. Center William Karlsson infamously accepted his Lady Byng award wearing a jacket lined with the Golden Knights emblem. Only a handful of players could have pulled it off on national TV like the 29-year-old Swede did.

This week at Lifeguard Arena, captain Mark Stone was asked by Sportsnet which teammate was the most fashion-forward on VGK’s roster. In years past, Karlsson, Ryan Reaves, and Alex Tuch were anointed as the freshest in the Golden Knights locker room, but that honor has now been passed down.

Hmm, good question. Got to give it to Eichs. –Mark Stone to Sportsnet

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Jack Eichel has the swankiest suits on the team. After all, the number one center has a high profile around the league and the extra scratch he carries around in his wallet.

He does have the best style. He has the best suits that’s for sure. –Stone to Sportsnet

Beyond the compliments from Stone, you can catch a glimpse of two teammates’ building a connection. For only having played together for a handful of games, the Golden Knights’ two biggest weapons appear to have formed a nice bond. Hopefully, it will set up for success in the regular season and playoffs.

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