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Playoff Pietrangelo Proves He’s Worth The Money

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights inked All-Star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to a jaw-dropping $61.6M contract it sent a strong message to the rest of the NHL. In the past Vegas’ front office gleefully spoke about “big game hunting,” and they did just that by signing the former St. Louis Blues captain to a 7 year/$8.8m AAV contract. In the end the money was well spent, even if the majority was earned in 19 postseason games.

At first glance, or really first 34 glances, the 2019 Stanley Cup champion looked pedestrian. Sharp skating, good defense but he was a step behind. Surely, Pietrangelo needed time to fit and understand coach Pete DeBoer’s plan of attack. Local fans are familiar with adjustment periods after Max Pacioretty’s leap in year two as a Golden Knight. Either way, the 31-year-old didn’t impress right out of the gate.

Pietrangelo’s First 34 Regular Season Games
2.78 Shots Per Game
0.47 Points Per Game
17 Points (4 Goals, 13 Assists)

The 2008 4th overall pick began showing signs of improvement with less than a month remaining in the regular season. It was almost like Pietrangelo said to himself ‘it’s go time.’ From that moment forward the slick shooting, right-handed defenseman became more involved offensively and was, for extended periods, the Golden Knights most lethal weapon. Vegas’ alternate captain was increasingly more comfortable and more impactful when the games mattered the most.

Pietrangelo’s Final 7 Regular Season Games
4.3 Shots Per Game
0.85 Points Per Game
6 Points (3 Goals, 3 Assists)

The last seven games of the regular season were a postseason warm-up for Pietrangelo. In 19 postseason games, the first-year Golden Knight was arguably Vegas’ most reliable skater. He finished the postseason leading the team in minutes played, shots on net, and power play points. Only William Karlsson had more playoff points and points per game. The 31-year-old played up to his pricey contract and performed like a Stanley Cup winning captain.

Pietrangelo In 19 Postseason Games
4.0 Shots Per Game
0.63 Points Per Game
12 Points (3 Goals, 3 Assists)

Over his career the 13-year veteran has averaged 0.59 points per game, its nearly identical to his 0.56 points per playoff game. As Vegas fans painfully know, points are tougher to come by in the postseason.

To be honest, I thought the conversation after year one would be how Pietrangelo’s contract would end up financially haunting the organization. Based on his early play, you couldn’t blame management for having some buyer’s remorse, but then playoff Pietrangelo appeared and the cost and commitment didn’t matter. The front office paid for the player fans watched in June, not January.

Who’s To Blame For The Golden Knights Underachieving… Again

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s a sad moment for fans when a hockey season abruptly ends like it did last Thursday. Reality sets in when a Cup run is over and the 31st franchise will have to wait another year for a chance at the ultimate prize. Unfortunately, the truth is, this was another wasted season for the Golden Knights. For the second straight year, Vegas faced an inferior opponent and couldn’t find a way to force a game seven. Their leaders, coaches, and framers failed again and almost identically in back-to-back years.

Against Montreal, the Golden Knights outshot the Canadiens 193 to 165 yet had two fewer goals in the Semifinals. Keep in mind the Canadiens were the 15th lowest scoring team in the regular season and Vegas was 3rd highest. The Golden Knights fell down the same hole last postseason against the Dallas Stars. Like Montreal, Dallas was another low scoring team that found a way to outscore the Golden Knights in the conference finals. It was inexcusable in 2020, and even more so in 2021 after the organization retooled in the offseason.

So, who’s to blame?

Players

Let’s begin with the leadership group. Captain Mark Stone has built quite the portfolio in Vegas, however, his stock continues to plummet in the playoffs. For three straight seasons, Stone has provided very little offense for the Golden Knights when they needed him late in a series. Going without a single point in the entire Semifinals was rock bottom for Stone. His failure to produce in the backend of a playoff series was evident again against Minnesota, Colorado, and Montreal.

In all fairness to the captain, he owned up to it.

I can praise (the Canadiens) all I want but ultimately it falls down on myself and the top players on this team. We had some guys that produced night in and night out. As far as myself I got skunked this series. That can’t happen. I’m the captain of this team, the leader of this team, I take a lot of responsibility for what just occurred. -Mark Stone

Another concern was the continuous slow starts for Vegas. In six Semifinal games, the Golden Knights allowed the first goal four times, and were sluggish to begin the 1st period in several other postseason contests. In the final 12 games of the postseason, the Golden Knights trailed at some point in 11 of them.

Is it possible the team leaders for Vegas couldn’t motivate their teammates enough to kick off the game on time? It’s hard to comprehend why, but it’s fair to point fingers at the men with letters; Stone, Reilly Smith and Alex Pietrangelo.

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Despite Empty Season End Feeling, These Golden Knights Are Climbing

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When history looks back on the 2021 Golden Knights, it will show that they came up short. Again.

Technically, you can split hairs and say they were one win closer this season than last, but in the end, the round was the same, and the way they went out was almost identical to the year prior.

For four years running the most successful expansion franchise in North American history has been able to call itself a contender. Since the world realized how good this team can be sometime in December of 2017, it’s been fair and accurate to consider them among the most likely options to win the Stanley Cup each and every year.

But each year, it hasn’t happened and every time we’re left with the same feeling of emptiness. A feeling of “what could have been.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past four postseason failures though, is that while the bleak feeling will always exist, it feels different each time.

This one doesn’t feel like the first season. It certainly doesn’t feel like the second year that ended with an apology from the NHL. And while it should feel a lot like the third one, it doesn’t.

It’s because this team showed improvement from the last.

I thought we took a step from a year ago when we got to this point. I thought we were better during the regular season, better the playoffs against two really tough teams in Minnesota and Colorado. But we still fell off at the wrong time. There’s another door we’ve got to find a way to barge through at this time of year. -Pete DeBoer

Of course, the regular season wasn’t what it usually is, and the West Division was even more of a joke than the Pacific has been since the Golden Knights arrived, but there’s always something to take away from 56 games. What Vegas took from them was consistency. Any lapses in the Golden Knights’ play rarely lasted longer than a period, let alone a game, or a week.

Then, when the playoffs came around, they were faced with a similar obstacle to the one that tripped them up in the bubble. Dallas and Minnesota play a similar brand of defense and for a portion of the beginning of that series, it was working against the Golden Knights.

That was the first step.

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Golden Knights Beating Themselves As Much As They’re Being Beaten By Montreal

Much of the focus five games in this series with Montreal will be on the Golden Knights’ inability to score goals. Rightfully so, as they have mustered just 11 goals in the series and a measly seven since the return of Jeff Petry in Game 2. But it’s the way they are conceding that has me more concerned for the next game (or hopefully two).

Last night, the Golden Knights came out and played a pretty solid first 10 minutes. In a postseason where 1st periods have been a problem, it looked like we were headed for something much different to start Game 5.

Another failed power play, the 12th of the series at the time, could have sapped some of the Vegas energy. However, that wasn’t the case. Following the man advantage, the Golden Knights attempted the next two shots on goal and controlled play for the next few minutes. The game was going perfectly for the Golden Knights until they started making their own mistakes.

After a dump-in by Zach Whitecloud, there was a battle for the puck in the corner. The Habs outnumbered the Golden Knights for the puck, but Nick Holden read that the exit will come up the wall. He stepped forward to challenge a pass that never happened, and then when the puck did eventually make it to his player, he was caught in no-man’s land.

It’s a read Holden has made correctly time and time again in this series and aggressive pinches like this are a big reason the VGK forecheck has had success in the times it has. In this case, it was not the right read, but that one mistake didn’t lead to the goal by itself, there were still two more to come.

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Shift Back To Vegas Should Free Mark Stone Of Phillip Danault

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Four games into this Stanley Cup Semifinals series with the Montreal Canadiens, the Golden Knight’s captain, and best player, has been held without a point. He’s been on the ice for just two of the Golden Knights’ 10 goals in the series and has registered a measly five shots in four games. He’s posted a -1 rating and below 50% share numbers in Corsi, shot share, scoring chances, and expected goals.

To summarize, the Habs have bottled up Mark Stone as well as anyone has been able to since he’s become a Golden Knight and it’s a huge reason why the underdog is tied in the series with three games to go.

But, there is good news, and that’s where the next game is being played.

One of the biggest reasons for Stone’s ineffectiveness offensively in this series has been the matchup he’s been facing. In Game 4, Stone played a total of 16:15 of ice time at even-strength, an astounding 12:21, or 76%, was played while sharing the ice with Phillip Danualt. In those 12 minutes and change, the Golden Knights did not generate a single high-danger scoring chance while allowing four, they allowed 78% of the expected goal share, and they did it while taking 10 of the 14 draws in the offensive or neutral zones.

Danault has been doing this to superstars the entire postseason and he’s doing it again to Stone… when the Habs can get the matchup.

As the series heads back to T-Mobile Arena tomorrow, the Golden Knights now control last change. At every stoppage, they’ll have the final decision as to whether or not they want to put Stone on the ice at the same time as Danualt, and if series history is any indicator, they’ll shy away from that option at every pass.

Mark Stone TOIvs. Phillip Danault
Game 15:49
Game 26:19
Game 311:01
Game 411:31
Games in Vegas12:08
Games in Montreal22:32

At home, Stone is seeing more than five minutes per game extra away from Danault than he has at the Bell Centre. Most of these minutes have been against Montreal’s 3rd and 4th lines, where Stone has seen much more success territorially.

Stone has started a shift in the offensive zone 24 times in the four games. Danault has been out there for 14 of the 24, but just three at T-Mobile Arena.

For the Golden Knights’ offense to really get going in this series, they need their captain to generate scoring chances in bunches. Stone has taken just five shots himself and he’s been on the ice for 28, fewer than six other Golden Knight forwards including last night’s overtime hero Nic Roy.

Pete DeBoer and his staff came into the series knowing the challenge Danault would present to Stone, and they adjusted accordingly in the first two home games. But now, having seen four games of it, they may look to avoid the matchup even more in Game 5. It’s up to Stone to take advantage of it.

**Stats for this article were sourced from NaturalStatTrick.com*

VGK’s Top-Line “Phenomenal” Against MacKinnon And Colorado’s Best

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To beat the Colorado Avalanche, you must neutralize their top line. The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog scored 70 goals and tallied 183 points in the 56-game regular season. Since the playoffs have begun, they’ve actually upped their pace with 16 goals and 36 assists in seven games.

In the three games against the Golden Knights, the Avs best have scored seven goals and added five more assists. If that continues through the series, the Golden Knights have little to no chance to come back and win. But, when we break the numbers down a bit, Vegas have actually had much more success against the Colorado top line recently and it’s the main reason they have a chance to even the series in Game 4.

I haven’t seen the stats, but go ahead and check the numbers on our top guys tonight and see what they did compared to their top guys. It’s not close. -Jared Bednar, COL coach (after Game 3)

In Game 3, Vegas’ top line shared the ice with MacKinnon for a little more than 10 minutes. The Golden Knights outshot the Avs 7-3, they outchanced Colorado 11-4, held the Avalanche’s best to zero high-danger chances while creating six, and most importantly, scored the game-winning goal.

Digging deeper, the numbers have been that way the entire series, even during the terrible Game 1. To simplify, we’ll look just at the centers playing against MacKinnon, but the numbers are similar for each of their lines as a whole.

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Golden Knights In Much Better Place Than Previous Two Game Deficits

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have been in many different situations in their 56 game playoff history, but down 0-2 is not one they’ve ever seen before.

After being mauled in Game 1, Vegas responded with an excellent Game 2 that slipped away due to a bunch of unhappy red iron, a soft penalty in overtime, and an array of missed opportunities. Quite simply, the Golden Knights outplayed the Avalanche over the course of the 60+ minutes at Ball Arena in Game 2, but they return home without the rewards that usually come with it.

You can’t stress too much until you lose at home, so we need to take care of business in Vegas. -Mark Stone

He’s probably underselling the stress level, but Stone and his teammates absolutely should not feel down in the dumps after Game 2.

This series marks the 6th time in 10 playoff series in which the Golden Knights have trailed at some point on the series scoreboard. It’s the 1st time they’ve ever been down 0-2, but it’s not the first time they’ve trailed by multiple games. The previous pair of series they faced that, VGK went out with a whimper, losing in five to both the Capitals and the Stars.

However, this one feels much different, mainly because of the way the Golden Knights responded after being taken to the woodshed in Game 1.

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Vegas Needs Mark Stone’s Greatness To Continue Tonight

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone has been as advertised against the Minnesota Wild. He leads the team in goals, points, average minutes by a forward and has shown his true leadership this postseason. However, it’s still not enough.

In order for the Golden Knights to advance past Minnesota, Stone will need to continue supplying Vegas with offense. With his linemate Max Pacioretty out it adds stress on the 29-year-old captain to come through night in and night out in the playoffs. And unfortunately when Stone can’t produce offense the team doesn’t fare well.

Starting with Stone’s first postseason as a Golden Knight in 2018, the winger has tallied 34 points in 32 playoff games. His average points per game is 1.06, up from 0.77 before the 2021 postseason began. However, the bulk of Stone’s postseason points come in Game’s 1-4. His production drops 50% in the last three contests of a seven-game series.

Stone Postseason Points Per Game w/ VGK

Games 1-4: 20 Games, 24 Points = 1.20 PPG
Games 5-7: 9 Games, 5 Points = 0.60 PPG

Vegas’ leader shouldn’t have to take on all of the responsibility but when he doesn’t score in one of the last three games the Golden Knights record is 1-6. That’s a problem.

This trend goes back to the regular season. Vegas heavily relied upon Pacioretty and Stone’s nightly offense to scoop up two points. When the two top liners came up dry, often so did their team. That can’t happen tonight or going forward in the playoffs.

In Game 5, Stone registered a goal in a losing effort. Even when he’s producing a point per game his club has come out on the losing end. Ultimately, most of the pressure falls on Stone to create more offense when Pacioretty is unavailable and Alex Pietrangelo continues to underachieve. Against Minnesota, the captain has made up for the absence of other’s production.

My guess is Stone will be active tonight and hard to keep off the scoresheet.

Mark Stone And Kirill Kaprizov Eerily Quiet Through Two Games

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Two games, zero goals, and just one point which came in the final minute of Game 2 on a secondary assist. Those are the combined series numbers of superstars Mark Stone and Kirill Kaprizov.

Stone has been bottled up, almost looking frustrated on the ice, while Kaprizov has shown flashes of brilliance but for the most part has been kept to the outside and under heavy pressure.

Each has had one individual highlight moment, one in which Stone stickhandled through three Wild players drawing a penalty and nearly scoring, and the other where Kaprizov got in close and was robbed by a ridiculous save from Marc-Andre Fleury, but otherwise, the two main events in the series have been quiet.

Slowing down the two stars starts with defensive matchups. The Golden Knights have leaned heavily on Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb when Kaprizov is on the ice. More than half of the time Kaprizov has been out there, he’s skating into that pair. On the other side, the Wild have gone a bit more by committee against Stone. All six of their defensemen have shared the ice with Stone for at least eight minutes with Jared Spurgeon leading the way last night and Jonas Brodin taking the most minutes in Game 1.

As far as line matching, they’ve seen a lot of each other. Stone’s first line has skated against Kaprizov, Hartman, and Zuccarello for nine minutes in Game 1. That number decreased to just six in Game 2, with Stone seeing more of Joel Eriksson Ek.

Where each of the stars has started is important as well. Both Stone and Kaprizov have seen greater than 60% of their shifts start in the offensive zone. Both coaches are willing to abandon the matchup if it means an extra offensive zone start for their best player.

As the series shifts to Minnesota, the power to match lines and pairs now resides in Dean Evason’s hands, not Pete DeBoer’s. Does he look to find more favorable matchups for Kaprizov and Co. or is he comfortable with the fact that his best has been able to neutralize Vegas’?

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History Indicates Golden Knights Can Grab Control Of Series Tonight Despite Game 1 Loss

It’s one game. One home playoff game that slipped away from the Golden Knights. Sure, the fanbase has the right to be concerned with the lack of offense after Sunday’s 1-0 overtime loss, but historical data points to a victory tonight would put Vegas back in the driver’s seat.

When the Golden Knights lost Game 1 at home to the Wild, their odds to win the first-round seven-game series dropped to 42.9 percent. The first outcome of a series is incredibly important but even more so for the visiting team. The Wild greatly upped their chances by squeaking out a 1-0 overtime win in Game 1. If the series evens out tonight, Vegas will seize the momentum and snatch series control away from Minnesota.

That’s a good team we played against. It was a hard game but we’ll build off that. We got a lot more to bring. For Game 1 we did a lot of good things. -Jordan Greenway, MIN forward

The first two contests in a seven-game series are intense and physical. Not that the remaining games aren’t emotional but each club understands the importance of gaining early control. When a visiting team wins Game 1 it adds more pressure on the home team to even the series. Without that split, Vegas would be putting their Cup chances on ice as the series shifts to Minnesota.

Historically, when a home team splits the first two games they go on to advance 55% of the time.

Then, Vegas can take a stronghold on the series if they win up in Minnesota. Playoff data shows the team that wins Game 3 has a 65% chance of closing out the series. For even more optimism, if Vegas wins Game 3 on the road their odds increase to 71 percent.

Regardless of who plays with who we’ve got to get scoring and we’ve got to get depth scoring and we’ve got to be dangerous throughout our lineup.-Pete DeBoer, Vegas coach

In the second game of a playoff series coach, Pete DeBoer has a .500 record in 14 appearances. After a Game 1 loss, his record in a Game 2 (4-2) perks up. Tonight’s result could be the biggest in his career and securing a victory could guide Vegas across ten thousand lakes.

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