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Vegas Will Need More From Pietrangelo In The Postseason

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Before Alex Pietrangelo suited up for the Golden Knights he was a 0.59 point per game player. In a COVID, injury-hampered season the defenseman has only been able to contribute 13 points in 27 games (0.48). It hasn’t just been his lack of offense that’s been concerning though. Last night in LA, NBC Sports analyst Jim Fox was perplexed by a shift from Pietrangelo that led to the King’s second goal.

Alex Pietrangelo was all over the place. Look at number seven, he’s at the red line. He’s a defenseman. I was watching Pietrangelo the whole shift, he was lost and out of position. -Jim Fox, NBCSN analyst

Overall, it’s been an up-and-down first season for the 31-year-old, but there’s still time to redeem himself.

Pietrangelo is heavily leaned on by coach Pete DeBoer. He leads the team with 25:18 of ice time per 60, is second in power play minutes, and third in shorthanded TOI. Last week in St. Louis the alternate captain skated for 31:00 minutes against his former team. Currently, Pietrangelo ranks 5th in the NHL in average time on ice but 46th in points per game for a defenseman. Clearly, he’s getting the opportunity to return back to form, it just hasn’t quite happened yet.

The workload paid off last night when Pietrangelo flipped one past LA goaltender Cal Peterson. The puck was deflected by a Kings player but it was a great example of the defenseman generating offense. Also, in the 2nd period Pietrangelo calmly controlled the puck in the offensive zone and ripped a shot on net. The puck was blocked out of play but he recognized a quality scoring chance and snapped a shot without hesitation. The $8.8 million dollar man needs to factor in nightly, especially when facing Cup contenders. The production concerns of an expensive player can easily wash away if he performs in the postseason.

In 92 postseason games, Pietrangelo has accrued 51 points (8 goals, 43 assists), which averages out to be 0.55 points per game. When the former Blue led his team to a Stanley Cup championship he totaled the most assists of any player in the playoffs.

The veteran was expected to be that final piece to the puzzle and he still can be. If the defenseman returns back to the offensive threat he has been in years past, the Golden Knights will be extremely tough to defend. As long as Pietrangelo is creating offense and defending top lines Vegas will have a much better chance of advancing.

If he doesn’t, there will be a lot of puzzled looks coming his way.

Tocchet’s Honesty Says It All About Matchups With Golden Knights

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The Golden Knights had one of their best periods of the season last night and it wasn’t shocking that it came against the Arizona Coyotes. Vegas outworked, outshot and bullied Arizona up and down the ice in the opening twenty minutes. Being down four goals early wasn’t a surprise to Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet.

They have more talent than us, we get it. I just didn’t like some of our guys push early on. It looked like they were just deer in the headlights.-Rick Tocchet, ARI coach

Occasionally, Arizona has competed with the Golden Knights and did for half of a period last night. For the most part it’s been a one-sided contest with Vegas walking away with the majority of points.

Certain elements that the Golden Knights possess, the Coyotes simply don’t have an answer for. Arizona is much smaller and younger team. Vegas scares them and their coach echoed that. The advantage of size, skill and veteran IQ are the reasons why it’s mostly been a lopsided affair.

You know you’re playing against the big boys and I’m disappointed some guys couldn’t match. Couldn’t get in the forecheck, couldn’t hold on to a puck. When you’re playing the big guys you got to make sure you know what you’re doing.-Rick Tocchet, ARI coach

At times last night it almost looked like a scrimmage between the JV and Varsity teams. In the first period the Golden Knights bullied their way to four goals in nine minutes. The game was essentially over at that point. Sure, Arizona made a late push but that will happen when one team is trying to kill the clock with 51 minutes remaining in the game.

There’s a chance Vegas and Arizona will face eachother in the first round of the playoffs so it’ll be interesting if the Coyotes will play a different style or attack the Golden Knights with their speed an offensive weapons they have.

Vegas when they smell blood they’re going to give it to you.-Rick Tocchet, ARI coach

Before I declare a matchup with Arizona another easy path it’s hard not to think about last year’s postseason. Vancouver admitted to be intimidated by Vegas but learned how to absorb hits, adjust and force a deciding game seven. Could the Coyotes do the same?

Will Defensive Scoring Continue Into The Postseason

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If I told you before the season the Golden Knights defensemen would score a total of 29 goals in 38 games you’d be pleasantly surprised. If I then told you they were scoring 0.68 goals per game and only two from Alex Pietrangelo you’d call me a loony.

Since this season is 26 games shorter, offensive numbers from defensemen stand out a little more. Not only are goals from defensemen necessary, but assisting and generating them as well. This season the Golden Knights are getting it all from their blueline.

2021 VGK Defensive Scoring

Theodore: 29 Points (6 Goals, 23 Assists)
Martinez: 22 Points (7 Goals, 15 Assists)
Hague: 14 Points (5 Goals, 9 Assists)
Pietrangelo: 11 Points (2 Goals, 9 Assists)
Whitecloud: 8 Points (2 Goals, 6 Assists)
Coghlan: 5 Points (3 Goals, 2 Assists)
McNabb: 3 Points (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
Holden: 2 Points (2 Assists)
Total Defensive Points: 94 Points (26 G, 68 A)

Most of the eight defensemen to suit up this season are far beyond their pace for career years. All but two have eclipsed their points per game average. If this were a normal 82-game season it’s plausible the majority of the Golden Knights defense would cruise past their previous high campaigns.

When you add the total goals from each defensemen’s best offensive season the number is just 20 goals short of what they’ve amassed in only 38 games played this year. Lately, Vegas D-men have been so effective it’s made up for the slump Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone are currently in. Which is good sign for postseason droughts. Especially, when youngsters Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, and Dylan Coghlan are getting involved offensively.

VGK Defensemen Previous Career Highs

Pietrangelo: 16 Goals (54 Points)
Theodore: 13 Goals (46 Points)
Martinez: 11 Goals (39 Points)
McNabb: 5 Goals (24 Points)
Hague: 1 Goal (11 Points)
Whitecloud: 0 Points
Coghlan: 0 Points
VGK Defensemen in 2021: 26 Goals (0.68 PPG)
Combined Career Highs: 46 Goals (0.56 PPG)

Currently, the Golden Knights defensive unit is the highest-scoring in the NHL. When the Golden Knights get contributions from the blue line or bottom-six it softens the pressure around the stars. Which allows them to get to work and do their jobs. Also, it makes Vegas a much more potent club in the postseason.

Scoring 0.68 goals per game from the blue line will help win many regular season games, but that additional offense is even more vital in the playoffs when games tend to tighten up. It’s unrealistic to rely on Vegas defensemen to score at their regular season pace. They might bail out the top six on certain nights but Vegas can’t survive if the defense is relied upon for three or four postseason games.

VGK Defensemen Postseason Points Per Game

Theodore: 0.67 PPG (67 Games)
Pietrangelo: 0.55 PPG (92 Games)
Martinez: 0.28 PPG (84 Games)
Holden: 0.25 PPG (40 Games)
McNabb: 0.17 PPG (52 Games)
Whitecloud: 0.15 PPG (20 Games)
Combined Postseason Average: 0.345 PPG

Only Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore average more than 0.30 points per playoff game. Sure, Alec Martinez has one of the most memorable Cup-clinching shots of all time but he’s never been relied on to produce offensively. That’s not his role.

The best-case scenario would be Pacioretty, Stone, and other top-six forwards consistently driving offense in the postseason. In that situation, any point from the blue line would be an added bonus. Momentum changing, insurance type goals or series clinchers.

Ask Alec, that’s how the Stanley Cup is won.

Golden Knights Need To Rely On Others For More Offense

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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

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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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Possibility Vegas Could Win Their First Cup On Neutral Ice

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It’s still a long way away but it’s possible the Golden Knights hoist their first Stanley Cup on neutral ice. If the Canadian and American governments cannot broker a COVID-19 travel agreement by the postseason we could be looking at another Cup Final not on home ice.

As Vegas and the rest of the NHL teams gradually allow fans inside NHL arenas, the league is also keeping an eye on decreasing infection rates and percentages of vaccinated citizens. If the strict Canadian quarantine rules still exist this summer, the North Division winner will have no choice but to travel and try their luck at destiny in the US. Depending on if restrictions are lifted or not, Vegas would welcome any scenario that kept them in the States throughout the postseason.

Normally, the Canadian influencers in the league would get their way though. Last year, when the league was scouting locations for a playoff bubble they ended up settling on two Canadian locations. No surprise. However, this time around the suits in Toronto won’t have a choice. If their government continues with quarantine protocols the league will be forced to send the North Division winner down south. Remember, it’s three against one this year.

So what does this mean for Vegas? On TSN’s Insider Trading segment, Frank Seravalli ran down a scenario where a Canadian team is forced to finish their playoff run in the United States. He added that to avoid an unfair home-ice advantage, some games could be played at a neutral site. However, Seravalli didn’t confirm if the entire series would be played in one location, or split in American arenas. It’s almost certain the league would want the Golden Knights to host their home playoff games at T-Mobile Arena, but would there be fans allowed in a neutral site game “hosting” a Canadian team?

Another question that has to be asked is what time zone will the neutral location be in? If the Golden Knights get matched up with Toronto or Montreal, would the site be in the Eastern time zone? If so, that could mean a lot of unexpected travel for Vegas.

Normally, they wouldn’t travel far for the first few rounds but this postseason, the mileage could pile up. The Golden Knights could possibly play two teams already from the East. It’s realistic the path to the Cup for Vegas is Minnesota (1,650 miles), Denver (750 miles), Boston (2,700 miles), and then Toronto (2,200 miles). Moving a Canadian team down to the States could cut it down, no matter what, Vegas’ travel will end up looking more like year one when they took a trip to DC for the Cup finals.

Beyond not having to cross the border, another positive for Vegas is the possibility of hosting postseason games in their home arena with fans in the building. The player’s union assured their constituents that they would not accept another playoff bubble. This more than likely means if there will be a neutral site, it’ll only be used for the Canadian champions’ home games, and if they follow the MLB model, fans could potentially be allowed in to watch.

No matter where Vegas plays their road games in the third round or finals, we know they’ll be fans in the building screaming “Knight” during the American anthem.

Can Vegas Put Postseason Scoring Drought Behind Them In 2021?

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Over their history, the Golden Knights have scored a total of 877 franchise goals, 738 in the regular season, 139 in the playoffs. In 238 regular season games, Vegas’ average comes out to 3.14 goals scored per game. In all three seasons, Vegas tallied more than the league average, and are ranked 8th in the NHL in goals since their inception.

The big offseason question was can the Golden Knights score enough in year four, and most importantly, in the playoffs?

2017-18: 268 Goals, 3.26 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
2018-19: 246 Goals, 3.00 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 25 Goals, 3.57 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
2019-20: 224 goals, 3.15 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)

Coming into the Vancouver series, the Golden Knights were on a torrid offensive pace. Three round-robin games and a five-game whooping of the Blackhawks had Vegas scoring at a 3.75 goals per game clip. Then, it hit the skids. In 12 postseason games against Vancouver and Dallas, the #1 seed in the Western Conference averaged only 2.25 goals per game. In the last eight games, they scored just 12 goals or 1.5 per game.

After the season, it was mostly written off publicly by players, coaches, and the office as just a rough patch and a pair of hot goalies The offseason was centered around one major move, though one that should help the team offensively.

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Vegas’ Cup Run Got Tougher With New Playoff Format

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With the new divisional alignments, the NHL needed to create a playoff format that fits. Canada has its country-wide division intact, and the US will provide the other three. The Golden Knights will be in a division with most of their Pacific buddies, but will also have to deal with two top Central teams in Colorado and St. Louis.

East: Bos-Buf-NJ-NYI-NYR-Phi-Pgh-Was
Central: Car-CBJ-Dal-Det-Chi-Fla-Nas-TB
West: Ana-Ari-Col-LA-Min-SJ-STL-VGK
North: Cgy-Edm-Mtl-Ott-Tor-Van-Wpg

With a mish-mash of divisions and conferences, the NHL decided to come up with a plan to reward the team that preserves from each division. Essentially, the Golden Knights will have to beat two teams from their division to secure a spot in the final four.

Any other season, the Golden Knights would regularly begin the postseason by playing a Pacific division team. In 2018, Vegas swept a first-round series against LA and in 2019, San Jose controversially sent the Golden Knights packing after the opening round. This year though, without wild cards, Vegas will have to be the best in the West to win the Cup.

The new playoff format throws a wrench at tradition. Since divisional realignment in 2014 (with exception of the 2020 postseason), every Stanley Cup champion was forced to defeat two divisional rivals. This season will have more of a twist. Each division will have a four-team playoff to decide one team to advance to the NHL semifinals.

With temporary divisions in place, the Golden Knights may end up having a difficult path to the Finals. Depending on their seeding, Vegas could face both Colorado and St. Louis to reach the semi-finals. Talk about some heavy lifting. If we simply go off paper, the Avalanche, Blues and Golden Knights are the top three teams in their expanded division. Leaving one spot for Anaheim, Arizona, LA, Minnesota, or San Jose.

Of course it’s not a foregone conclusion the Golden Knights will secure one of the four open playoff seats, but I think we all agree it would be a major surprise if they didn’t. Which is why it’s imperative for Vegas to get off to a strong start. A sluggish beginning to a shortened 56-game schedule could mean a lower seed, and a tougher path through the Colorado and St. Louis.

Unlike last postseason, there are no lightweights in the 2021 playoffs.

Behind The Scenes Look At Golden Knights and Stars Series From “We’re Not Going Home”

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It’s always interesting to get a behind the scenes look at an NHL playoff series, especially from this year’s playoff bubble. Although the Golden Knights last played 60 days ago, this week we got some visual details from their series with the Dallas Stars.

The Stars released an “all-access journey” through their 2020 postseason run, and spent time focusing on the Western Conference Finals (the entire show is embedded below). In “We’re Not Going Home,” Dallas sounded extremely confident heading into their seven-game series with Vegas. The Stars were vocal about the Golden Knights’ easy path to the Conference Final.

They haven’t played a fucking team like us boys. Their first two rounds, it was pretty fucking easy. Send a fucking message early. They played two light teams, they’re in for a rude awakening.-Jamie Benn, Stars captain in “We’re Not Going Home”

Of course, Dallas’ Captain was confident at the time after his team beat Calgary in six, and Colorado in seven. It wasn’t just the players either, Dallas’ coaches felt comfortable with the matchup after watching and studying Vegas’ previous series.

Dallas assistant coach, and former LA Kings head coach, John Stevens questioned if Vegas had been pushed enough by Chicago or Vancouver. Stevens believed if the Stars played physical, and their rugged brand of hockey they would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

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The Golden Knights And The Success Of High Cost Teams

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The St. Louis Blues did it, same with the Washington Capitals, so why can’t the Golden Knights do it? I’m not only talking about winning a Stanley Cup, but doing it with one of the highest payrolls in hockey.

2019-20 Highest NHL Payrolls (per CapFriendly.com)
Arizona: $85.1M ($3.59M LTIR)
Toronto: $95.2M ($13.7M LTIR)
Dallas: $82M ($525K LTIR)
St. Louis: $83.2M ($1.75M LTIR)
Vancouver: $83.9M ($2.42M LTIR)
*** 9. Vegas: $81.8M ($668K LTIR)

LTIR= Long-Term Injured Reserved

The Creator is a rare owner driven to win and willing to spend to the limit, and he’d probably spend over it if he were allowed. That’s why the Golden Knights owner is considered a fan’s owner.

We all know about the cap jam Vegas is in and there’s no doubt they’ll fix it by the next time they play. It’s might’ve cost them a lot, but it’s hard to question their elite-level talent and championship-caliber roster. The Golden Knights are not only a highly rated team but they’re also built to win championships.

Cup Winners (Payroll Rank)
2019-20: Tampa Bay (18th)
2018-19: St. Louis (7th)
2017-18: Washington (3rd)
2016-17: Pittsburgh (6th)
2015-16: Pittsburgh (6th)

With the exception of the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the past handful of winners were in the upper quarter of the league’s salary threshold. When the Capitals beat the Golden Knights in 2018, Washington boasted a $75.3M cap hit, while Vegas was #18 on the list with a $68.7M payroll. Clearly, a difference in cost and expensive talent helped result in a five-game Capitals win. Washington’s high-priced talent paid off and could’ve been a motivating factor towards the Golden Knights direction of signing league stars to big contracts.

This year, all ten of the highest cap teams made the postseason, but I think it’s safe to say we can throw out the 24-team bubble playoff format. Going back to 2015-16, teams in the top 10 have no missed the playoffs often.

Highest Payroll Teams To Miss Playoffs
2015-16: Vancouver (2nd), Toronto (9th)

2016-17: Philadelphia (2nd), Arizona (4th), Detroit (7th)

2017-18: Chicago (2nd), Dallas (7th), Detroit (8th), Vancouver (9th), St. Louis (10th)

2018-19: Detroit (1st), Edmonton (4th), Anaheim (8th)

Although it’s happened over the years, it’s a small percentage of teams (13/50 since 2015) that missed the postseason. Also, many of those teams were mismanaged or at the end of their playoff windows.

Assuming the Golden Knights remain within the top ten highest payrolls next season, fans should confidently expect them to clinch a playoff berth. And possibly go on another deep run. Vegas’ window was open before but after this offseason, it’s wide open right now.

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