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Reilly Smith Could Be The Right Bait This Offseason

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Every offseason it’s inevitable that there will be roster turnover and fans will be disappointed when the news breaks. It’s happened in each of the Golden Knights’ previous summers. After the inaugural season fan-favorite, David Perron, and several others were left out in free agency. The following year it was Erik Haula who departed after a season-long injury. Then after last year’s postseason exit, Vegas moved lovable defenseman Nate Schmidt in order to make room for Alex Pietrangelo. It might suck for fans but it’s just real the business side of hockey.

We’ve seen this reaction from the Golden Knights front office before, when they don’t win they get itchy. Rumors swirl and of course Vegas is always in the middle. Just last season, reports were the front office was attempting to unload Marc-Andre Fleury and/or Pacioretty’s contracts. Currently, the Golden Knights are apparently one of the teams haggling for Buffalo Sabres’ malcontent Jack Eichel.

What fan wouldn’t want to root for Eichel? Vegas fans would sure like to, but like last offseason, they won’t be thrilled when a popular player or two will no longer be Golden Knights. In order to upgrade there has to be casualties. The trade bait we’re talking about today is one of the few remaining original Misfits, Reilly Smith.

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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.

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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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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.

Pacioretty: We All Thought We Were Capologists

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Golden Knights goal leader Max Pacioretty opened up this week when he joined former NHL’er Ray Ferraro and NHL reporter Darren Dreger on the Ray and Dregs podcast. The forward that recently crossed 600 career points and 800 career games touched on the competitive culture in Vegas, his bromance with Mark Stone, and trying to resolve the Golden Knights salary cap issues.

It’s a pretty volatile league right now and we have been steady. A lot of that has been our depth. We have run into salary cap problems where we couldn’t dress enough players and on some nights even two. Currently, we have a D-man stepping in the forward position. I think all of that adversity and all of those different situations brought us together a little bit closer as a group. I think everyone has felt a little more important about their role on the team. –Max Pacioretty on Ray and Dregs Podcast

When word got out that the Golden Knights organization would have to juggle the lineup in order to be cap compliant, the locker room stepped up. However, it didn’t take long for the players to realize they weren’t qualified.

It was wild because we all thought we were capologists. ‘Why don’t we this and do that? We could’ve played that guy.’ Nobody knew the rule that you have to miss one game and then call up an emergency. We were so out of touch with what the rules were. It was funny at first. Everyone was trying to figure out a solution and it just never came. The fact that everybody has had the right mind set in those situations it’s let our team play differently on some nights and being able to adjust that and being able to win hockey games ultimately while doing so. –Pacioretty on Ray and Dregs Podcast

Maneuvering through murky cap waters was just one example proving Vegas’ dedication towards their future endeavors. It became apparent to Pacioretty how driven the players and front office were when arrived in the summer of 2018.

The 13-year veteran also came to realize how many of the NHL’s top players want to play in Vegas, and the organization was willing to acquire them. The Golden Knights win-first culture is no secret around the league.

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Golden Knights Need To Rely On Others For More Offense

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last month was a big one for two of the Golden Knights’ most reliable forwards. Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone really made an impact in March, combining for an impressive 43 points in 31 days. The club benefited from the two top compilers and posted a 12-5-0 record over the month. Unfortunately, March ended and the Golden Knights began April with a shootout loss against the Minnesota Wild.

Of course, it’s only one game and Vegas picked up a point in the process so there’s no much to gripe about. Last night’s SO loss was only the Golden Knights’ 11th defeat through 35 games this season. The club has set themselves up nicely for a postseason position. However, the loss to Minnesota carried over a trend that should make Vegas fans a bit uneasy.

The Golden Knights rely so much on Pacioretty and Stone to produce offensively that when they don’t, the team struggles to score. In their 11 regulation, overtime, or shootout losses, the top two forwards have scored in just three of those games. Without Pacioretty and Stone’s one-two punch, the Golden Knights average an anemic 1.27 goals per loss.

Especially, in a division featuring a Colorado team that just scored nine in a game and a pesky Minnesota group that averages close to three goals per 60. For Vegas to eliminate both in the postseason, they’ll need to rely on more than just the top line.

Pacioretty & Stone Postseason Production Per Game

Pacioretty: 0.82 Postseason Points Per w/ VGK
0.62 Career Postseason Points Per

Stone: 1.07 Postseason Points Per w/ VGK
0.77 Career Postseason Points Per

The issue for the Golden Knights isn’t just a problem in the regular season. Going back to their first postseason series as Golden Knights in 2018, when Pacioretty and Stone’s offense dried up the team crumbled. Against the San Jose Sharks the pair tallied ten goals in the first four games of that series. Game’s 5-7, the two veterans combined for one goal. One.

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League Leading Top Lines

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are leading the league in several categories this season but one in particular is a bit surprising. Vegas forward Max Pacioretty scored two 1st period goals last night to give him a total of 16 on the season. Pacioretty’s production has him five goals behind superstar and league leader Auston Matthews. However, that’s not a shocking statistic.

Most Goals Scored By Line
VGK: Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone (24)
BOS: Pastranak-Bergeron-Marchand (17)
NYI: Lee-Eberle-Barzal (16)
VAN: Boeser-Miller-Pettersson (16)
COL: Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen (15)

Not only is Pacioretty scoring, but his linemates are as well. The support from captain Mark Stone and center Chandler Stephenson have transformed Vegas’ top line into the best scoring trio in the NHL. Considering the heavy offensive lines in Boston, Edmonton and Toronto it’s unexpected to see the Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone lead the entire league.

Vegas fans have seen the chemistry all season. All three complement one another and serve important roles when they’re on the ice together. We know Pacioretty is out there to sling the puck, but Stone and Stephenson have elevated the entire line by their playmaking abilities. The captain has 24 assists, meanwhile, the top line center has 11. The trio combined has a running total of 83 points or 33% of all Golden Knights points.

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Pacioretty Calls Fleury The “Heart and Soul” Of The Team And Organization

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Tonight against the St. Louis Blues, the Golden Knights will be without their leader. Sure, Mark Stone will be in the lineup but he’s not the only captain on the team. Marc-Andre Fleury will miss some unexpected time after being placed on the NHL’s COVID list yesterday afternoon. Not only will Vegas be without their star goaltender, but without their “heart and soul” as well.

Indescribable how much that guy means to our team. On and off the ice. It’s really nice to see him get rewarded this year with amazing performances this far. -Max Pacioretty to NBC Sports during 3/10 game

Teammate Max Pacioretty shared his feelings about his goaltender during an interview with NBC Sports during the last Golden Knights game. His comments almost sounded like a reminder to any of the Fleury doubters from last season. Pacioretty didn’t need to convince teammates, and certainly not the Golden Knights the fans. The city adores Fleury, and not only because he occasionally treats them to a dozen donuts.

This season has gone relatively smooth on the ice for the Golden Knights, but off the ice it’s been a bit hectic. Fleury joins several other teammates to be placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list this season. When the team’s schedule was previously interrupted, no one was as sharp as the 36-year-old goaltender. Off a long layoff or playing a back-to-back, Fleury settled down the Golden Knights with his confidence, consistency, and reliability. Which is somewhat surprising, considering his role was undetermined to begin the season.

But it’s way beyond that. He’s the heart and soul of this team, of this organization and we’re just so happy to have a guy like that. -Pacioretty to NBC Sports during 3/10 game

As a former NHL captain, Pacioretty can identify and understands what it’s like to be a leader. His acknowledgment of Fleury’s importance suggests that they weren’t even sure what to expect, especially coming off a postseason and offseason of uncertainty. The goaltender didn’t know where he stood with the organization, but he knew where he stood with his teammates, which is one of the reasons why he’s so respected. Even in a mountain of confusion, Fleury shed the outside distractions and performed like a number one goalie. It’s subtle, but that’s leadership.

When I look back at my career he’s going to be one of those guys you’re just thankful you’re able to come to the rink everyday and be around. -Pacioretty to NBC Sports during 3/10 game

Not only will Pacioretty, other current and former teammates look back and be thankful for Fleury but so will the fans. In hockey, things tend to work themselves out. Thankfully, everything worked in net and Fleury’s back to leading his team on and off the ice.

Tonight though, Vegas will have to do it without their heart and soul.

“Tighter-Checking” Last Game Of Series To Be Expected

Max Pacioretty called it a week ago.

I think you’ll probably see that often that it’s going to be a tighter checking game in the second game of the series. -Pacioretty

Talking about adjustments after the second game of the season he said the format reminded him of a college schedule. As a former college hockey standout himself, he’s used to that style of schedule and made a prediction that couldn’t have come more true in the final game of the four-game series against the Coyotes.

The format allows you to kind of make adjustments after a game and while it’s fresh in your mind go out there and try to play a team you were just studying and breaking down. -Pacioretty

I’m not sure he expected a goalless game for the first 59 minutes yesterday, but tight-checking is about as perfect a description of that game as you can find, especially from the Golden Knights.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Vegas gave up just 16 shots against the Coyotes Sunday afternoon in a game that featured just 18 high-danger chances, the season-low in a VGK game (previous low was 19, in the second game against the Ducks).

Vegas did a wonderful job keeping the Coyotes to the outside in the offensive zone, forcing them to play a style they aren’t necessarily comfortable with, especially without Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the lineup.

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Vegas’ Cup Contending Offense On Display Last Night

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No matter how many games an NHL regular season has, no game’s are alike. Sure, the first few games had similarities, Vegas won all three but didn’t look good doing it.

Something had to break.

We were talking before the game that we hadn’t really pitched in too much… It’s kind of convenient that we did tonight, and I thought it definitely helped our overall game. -Shea Theodore

With the exception of the first few minutes, the Golden Knights put together their best attack of the season and were handsomely rewarded from it. Ten players collected points in Vegas’ 5-2 victory against Arizona and not a single one of them were cheap empty-net points either.

All five goals were examples of how dangerous this club can be. Alex Tuch scored Vegas’ first power play goal of the season, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty paired up once again, and the star defensemen found the net three times.

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