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Bruce Cassidy Not The Only Coach Frustrated With Preseason Defeats

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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

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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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Feisty Golden Knights Head Into Camp With Similar Misfit Energy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last season the Golden Knights missed the playoffs. This offseason they traded away Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Dylan Coghlan and watched Mattias Janmark leave in free agency. Then, they found out starting goalie Robin Lehner will be out for the season after undergoing double hip surgery.

The combination of all of this has many believing the team not only is no longer a true Cup contender, but wondering if they are even a playoff team at all anymore.

The Golden Knights captain has taken notice of these opinions.

That’s fine. People can think what they want. After spending the summer in Canada, you wouldn’t believe how often I was told how bad we were. It’s great. I like that. All of a sudden we’re David instead of Goliath. It’s alright. I believe in this team. I believe in the guys, I believe in the leadership. –Mark Stone to Gary Lawless on NHL.com

So has the presumptive starting goalie.

It was too long of an offseason for us, and I think we’re hungry. The whole hockey world is doubting us right now, so we’re looking forward to getting back at it and showing people wrong, proving people wrong. It’s similar to how my career is, everyone has always pushed me to the side. I like it for our group, like I said we’re going to come out hot and hopefully prove a lot of people wrong. –Logan Thompson to Fox 5 Las Vegas

Even Jack Eichel got in on the action, seeing himself listed at #41 on NHL Network’s top 100 players list.

Obviously, I haven’t put a lot on tape over the last two years so I’m not going to argue with that. Do I think I’m the 41st best player in the NHL? No, but I don’t care about their rankings. –Eichel to Gary Lawless on NHL.com

It appears the Golden Knights are officially past the woe-is-me stage and are into the fiesty, almost angry, prove-you-wrong phase many non-playoff teams go through.

Vegas isn’t used to missing the playoffs and they really aren’t used to entering a season anything other than the Pacific Division favorites and Stanley Cup favorites.

They are neither this year and it appears to have struck a nerve with the roster. To a degree, it’s similar to the first season when the team banded together under the Misfits moniker. That team had an axe to grind with every team in the NHL and they made it their mission to embarrass as many as they could. This team seems to have its anger more pointed towards the rest of the world, which could be even more powerful.

The Golden Knights are confident in themselves and they are confident enough to take on all those who challenge them head-on. Now they need to do what the Misfits did and transfer that energy to the ice.

McCrimmon Shares Details On Stone’s Health, Hague’s Contract, And Goalie Outlook

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Training Camp is right around the corner. Trust me, it actually is, the long wait is so close to being over. With it a number of questions will begin to be answered for the Golden Knights. From lineup to systems to personnel to health, much of the picture will start to clear up every day we get closer to October 11th.

Until then, we must rely on snippets of information from the most important people in the organization, and recently we got some from the general manager. Speaking on the VGK Insider Show on Fox Sports Radio, Kelly McCrimmon dipped into the latest on Mark Stone’s health, contract negotiations with Nic Hague, and the goalie picture.

First, on Stone. A few days prior to Stone’s surgery at a press conference McCrimmon shared the news of what they expected the offseason to look like for the captain.

Mark Stone has been seeing consultants and meeting with doctors and it appears quite likely he’ll have back surgery on Wednesday. He would be available for Training Camp and rehab over that period of time. That’s not 100% for certain but it’s certainly the most likely outcome at this time. -McCrimmon on May 16th

Three days later, following the surgery, the team released this statement via Twitter.

Mark Stone underwent a successful lumbar discectomy with Dr. Robert Watkins, IV at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital. He is expected to be ready to play for the regular season. -Golden Knights Official Statement

McCrimmon has spoken a few times and reiterated the expected timeline of Stone returning to the team for the first game of the season. In the interview with Fox Sports Radio, McCrimmon continued along the same path.

No different than what we’ve been saying all along. Mark’s in town, he’s skating. Our expectation is that he’s going to be available for the opening of the season. What that means exactly with respect to training camp, we’ll see. When you have these offseason surgeries, Laurent Brossoit is another one, really you don’t have that definitive timeline until the players get here, they get with the medical team, you see how they respond to certain treatments to certain levels of intensity. There’s a reason that teams at times appear to be vague with respect to timelines on injuries because it’s hard to pinpoint. My answers I’m giving here today are exactly I think as what we’ve said throughout the offseason and that’s the information we’re working with and the expectations we have. So that’s how we’ll play it out and once we get on the ice and see how players react that are coming off injuries or surgeries or lengthy rehabs we’ll know more at that time. –McCrimmon on VGK Insider Show

So, it still appears Stone is on track to be in uniform with the team on October 11th, but his availability to start Training Camp on September 24th remains in doubt.

On to the next order of business, restricted free agent Nic Hague.

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Four Prerequisites For The Golden Knights to Miss the Playoffs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Yesterday we looked at the four prerequisites that had to happen for the Golden Knights to win the division. Today, we’re doing the opposite. Here’s what would have to happen for everything to go wrong for Vegas and see them miss the playoffs yet again.

Jack Eichel leads all centers in goals against per 60 at even-strength

Last year Eichel actually led the team with the fewest goals against per 60. Eichel finished slightly better than William Karlsson, and all of VGK’s other regular centers, while wearing a VGK uniform. However, the last seven games nearly saw Eichel blow the lead as he was on the ice for seven goals against down the stretch, mostly in games the Golden Knights lost.

If Eichel takes the step forward defensively that Bruce Cassidy and the entire VGK organization are hoping for, it’ll completely change the makeup of the way they can utilize their lines. Karlsson will no longer have to play the heaviest defensive minutes and Eichel could potentially pair up with Mark Stone on defensive zone draws against opposing top lines, something Cassidy will likely avoid early in the season.

This isn’t saying Eichel needs to turn into a Selke candidate, or anything close, but if he doesn’t become a reliable defensive option, the rest of the team will struggle to make up for the shortcoming.

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Wing Support Crucial To VGK Success

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The wing position in the NHL can be very grueling. More often than not a right or left wing is in the corner pushing and shoving to gain possession of the puck. It’s not as glamorous as snapping off ten pucks a night and hearing your name called by the great Bruce Cusick. Due to the proximity of the boards, wingers must play a more physical style. It’s just the nature of the game. Thankfully, Vegas has the skill on both sides to battle, possess, and ultimately score.

Over the years the Golden Knights have been well built on the wing. Mark Stone is one of the league’s best along the boards, using his stick to create a rush or a turnover. His ability and 6’4″ frame make it difficult for defenders to stop the Golden Knights captain from disrupting and attacking the offensive zone. It goes without saying how much Stone’s presence was missed in 2021-22.

Vegas’ other top RW plays differently than Stone but shares the same high hockey IQ every coaching staff desires. Plain and simple, Reilly Smith is dangerous in all situations. Since the inaugural season, Smith has registered 230 points, third only to his linemates William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Not only is Smith creative but he’s extremely reliable. Coach Bruce Cassidy is inheriting a player that skates top six minutes, facilitates on the power play, and is a major threat on a penalty kill.

Right Wing PK Points Since 2017
Reilly Smith 16 (321 Games)
Connor Brown 15 (355)
Cam Atkinson 12 (318)
Mitch Marner 10 (350)
Tom Wilson 9 (334)

The other bonafide top-six wing might be the most beloved Golden Knight on the roster. Maybe it’s his natural ability to score and pump up a crowd, or his emotions and sharp tongue, either way, Marchessault won over the fanbase from the jump. As the leading scorer in team history with 291 points, the LW always seems to come up big in the right moments. I know it’s tough to look back, but directly after the infamous major penalty in San Jose, Marchessault scored sending the game into a series-deciding overtime. Had the results been different, we are talking about one of the most memorable goals in franchise history. If Marchessault continues to net 27+ and tick off opposing players, then he’s doing his job.

If the trio can match season averages, the Golden Knights can pencil in 70 goals and 100 assists from Marchessault, Smith, and Stone. Obviously, Cassidy will come up with the best alignment as well as finding a fourth top wing. It could be a converted center, Phil Kessel, or an elevated forward from the bottom six. Injuries aside, expect all three top wings to be highly effective this season. The season will depend on the production of VGK’s top players and the core will undoubtedly accept the challenge.

Miscommunication Unfortunately Shaping VGK Roster

(Photo Credit: Jason Pothier, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights have had a not-so-memorable offseason. The roster has changed dramatically and devastating injury news continues popping up week after week. A lot of it seems to stem from miscommunication between various parties.

Earlier this week, NHL.com reported that Mark Stone would shockingly miss all of training camp. The reporter was quoting from her conversations with Golden Knights center Jack Eichel and head coach Bruce Cassidy. One or the other likely unintentionally let too much slip out in his interview with Spiegel. Later in the day, the reporter tweeted the team had clarified some of the comments.

While the organization cleaned up some comments they never offered a concrete response to Stone’s training camp expectancy. “Availability is questionable,” is not a full response, and McCrimmon’s comments in his press availability left plenty of room for a timeline on Stone’s return. Vague information leads to speculation from the fanbase and they’ve done enough of that. From all accounts, Stone was on track to attend training camp on time with the rest of his teammates. That’s what the Golden Knights captain implied on NHL radio earlier this summer.

I’m battling a pretty bad back and ended up getting a discectomy and should be ready to go first day of training camp. – Mark Stone on NHL Network Radio in June 2022

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Finding Mark A New Max

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Before Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty became teammates in Las Vegas they were bitter rivals. Stone’s expressive personality and Pacioretty’s endless competitiveness were always going to clash when they opposed each other. But as teammates, it was as harmonious as could be, and from the very first day Stone put on a Golden Knights jersey he and Pacioretty were essentially unbreakable as a pair in the lineup.

Over the course of the next three and a half seasons, the two played together, often centered by either Paul Stastny or Chandler Stephenson, more than 150 times and shared the ice at 5-on-5 for almost 2,000 minutes.

In that time, they were dominant together. In 139 games since 2019, when Pacioretty and Stone were both on the ice, the Golden Knights outscored opponents 122-66 at even-strength, boasted a shot share just short of 60%, and absolutely dominated the expected goals margin despite often playing against the opposition’s top line.

On the power play, with Max and Mark together, Vegas averaged 9.36 goals per 60 minutes while allowing less than one per 60 (0.71 to be exact). Both of these numbers are miles better than what it looked like with neither on the ice. And with the empty net, the Golden Knights tallied 10 times in just under 40 minutes with 61 and 67 together.

Ok, now for the problem. When Pacioretty wasn’t there, Stone’s numbers tumbled, and tumbled hard.

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College Football Metrics Point Vegas To The Playoffs

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Each year NFL and NCAA football experts publicly predict the fate of every franchise or program in the country. Many have made a living off their accuracy. I’m an enormous college football fan and found Phil Steele to be an incredibly knowledgeable analyst. Steele’s must-read annual season preview is jam-packed with valuable information. Historically, he’s been successful in forecasting whether teams will improve or decline from their previous season. Steele and his fellow prognosticators like to use certain formulas to lead them to their conclusions.

Some ways to project a team’s rise or fall is through certain factors, even unlucky factors. These can be costly turnovers, execution breakdowns, and yep, even injuries apply. For fun let’s use Steele’s formula to predict if the Golden Knights will improve next season.

The Turnover Battle

One fumble or interception can critically change a football game. Obviously, we cannot compare the severity of football turnovers to a giveaway in hockey. Sure, a giveaway (GvA) can lead to a scoring opportunity but NHL players aren’t benched for surrendering a puck to make a line change.

Last season Vegas turned the puck over 8.20 times per game. They were 16th in the league with a total of 681 giveaways in 2021-22. A stark difference from the previous season.

VGK Giveaways Per Game (NHL Rank)
2021-22: 8.20 GvA (16th)
2020-21: 5.51 GvA (2nd)
2019-20: 8.19 GvA (8th)
2018-17: 8.60 GvA (10th)
2017-18: 8.93 GvA (15th)

Although Vegas turned the puck over at a higher rate than half the league, it wasn’t a drastic change from franchise averages. In fact, the organization’s best team had more giveaways than last season’s non-playoff lineup. Overall, the Golden Knights are 10th in the league for the least amount of giveaways since 2017. That alone suggests improvement to Vegas’ puck protection problems.

Tight Game Outcomes

Another metric to project improvement is a club’s record in one-score games. The college football galaxy usually balances itself out and teams that lose close games go on to win more of them the following season. The same can happen in hockey, or at least with the Golden Knights. Last season Vegas lost the seventh most one-goal games and won the 12th most one-goal games. Roughly 30% of VGK’s season was decided by one score. Since 2017, the Golden Knights are fifth in the NHL with 89 one-goal victories. Historically, Vegas has won the majority of tight games. That should reappear.

Lost Players

It doesn’t matter which sport, unexpected injuries will topple any team. The Golden Knights had never been as depleted as they were last year. Injuries to Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, Alec Martinez, and others gutted the roster and were a huge reason for the team missing the playoffs. We should anticipate injuries but it’s safe to say it won’t be like last season. Based on their five-year history, Vegas fans can expect a healthier lineup in 2022-23.

 

No matter what formula you use or how ridiculous the exercise was to get the conclusion, all signs point towards the postseason for the Golden Knights. Fans should expect exciting and successful hockey. Vegas should have better outcomes in tight games and fewer injured players. If all comes to fruition, the Golden Knights will most certainly compete for a top seed in the Pacific Division. They may struggle to score but Vegas is talented enough to make a run. With a healthy Martinez, Smith, and Stone the Golden Knights are a much more intimidating team. It’s just too bad they can’t sign some of the blue-chip prospects from Alabama or Georgia.

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