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Will The Pacific Division Be More Challenging For Vegas in 2021-22?

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After four NHL seasons the Golden Knights have benefited by playing in the Pacific Division. Since 2017, Vegas has played 113 games against their divisional “rivals” and tallied a total of 168 out of a possible 226 points. That’s an astonishing .743 Points % against the Pacific Division in four seasons.

Hockey’s been a little bit tough with our team not being very good the last few years and not getting back to the playoffs… Things are looking up for us now. We got some new players and some young guys coming up. I’m excited for this season to start.- Drew Doughty, LAK defenseman on 32 Thoughts Podcast

Let’s be honest, it’s been easy street for the Golden Knights since they entered the league.

VGK All-Time Record vs. Pacific Division

vs. Anaheim: 20 Games (17-3-0) 34 Pts, .850 Pts %, 74 Goals For, 37 Goals Allowed, +37 Goal Differential

vs. Arizona: 20 Games (14-6-0) 28 Pts, .700 Pts %, 57 Goals For, 46 Goals Allowed, + 11 Goal Differential

vs. Calgary: 11 Games (8-3-0) 16 Pts, .727 Pts %, 42 Goals For, 31 Goals Allowed, + 11 Goal Differential

vs. Edmonton: 11 Games (6-4-1) 13 Pts, .591 Pts %, 35 Goals For, 31 Goals Allowed, +4 Goal Differential

vs. LA: 21 Games (11-8-2) 24 Pts, .571 Pts %, 63 Goals For, 60 Goals Allowed, +3 Goal Differential

vs. San Jose: 20 Games (16-1-3) 35 Pts, .875 Pts %, 78 Goals For, 40 Goals Allowed, +38 Goal Differential

vs. Vancouver: 10 Games (8-0-2) 18 Pts, .900 Pts %, 45 Goals For, 26 Goals Allowed, +19 Goal Differential

Since their existence the Golden Knights have proven to be the team to beat in the Pacific. Vegas has a positive goal differential against every team in the division and holds an overall goal differential of +123, talk about dominance. All indications show it should be the same in 2021-22.

Only a few west coast teams have kept their games with Vegas competitive but still not enough to threaten their path to the playoffs. Sure, San Jose won their seven game series in 2019 but in the regular season it’s been embarrassingly lopsided. Since that series three postseasons ago, the Sharks have been a non-factor in the Pacific, same goes for Anaheim, Calgary and Vancouver. However, two clubs that will make things more difficult for Vegas this season are the Kings and Oilers. Each team has challenged Vegas in the regular season being edged out by one game in their series history with the 31st franchise.

While it’s hard to make judgements based off two exhibition games but it’s safe to say that Los Angeles is an improved club. Even with a lack of talent in their lineup the King’s have competed in most matchups. Coming into 2021-22, LA and Knight killer Philip Danault will continue to frustrate VGK’s offensive threats. Coveted prospects are performing at a high level and LA’s star veterans could create further problems for Vegas and the rest of the Pacific Division.

There’s not much to say about Edmonton. As long as they dress Connor McDavid every game is up in the air. Same can be said for the newest team in hockey. Seattle is the biggest wildcard in the division. Based on what the Golden Knights did in their inaugural season you’d be a fool to count out the Kraken. Calgary, San Jose and Vancouver are expected to finish below Vegas but one of those three teams could make a surprising push for the postseason.

All in all, the Pacific Division is still considered relatively weak but has improved. Vegas is the only team that isn’t being doubted by analysts across the league. The other seven teams have questions to answer and it should be a tight battle for two of three divisional playoff spots. Although the Pacific may have gotten better and could make it more difficult for Vegas to run away with the division but it’s still the Golden Knights to lose.

Golden Knights Lack Defined Roles Come Postseason

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the most used cliches in hockey revolves around each team playing “their game” as opposed to adapting to their opponents. You’ll hear it from coaches, players, management, heck, even media and fans will jump on board insisting if their team plays the way they always play the opposition won’t matter.

Since Pete DeBoer took over as head coach of the Golden Knights the term “our game” has become a staple in his rhetoric before and after games. But does anyone really know what that “game” is?

Are they an offensive team? Defensive? Fast? Heavy? High-event? Low-Event? Puck possession? Rush reliant?

For the most part, the Golden Knights’ “game” is winning. DeBoer’s Golden Knights have amassed a 55-19-4 record, getting there in a variety of ways. Along the way, they certainly have developed into one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, as evidenced by the 2021 Jennings Trophy.

However, in both seasons with DeBoer behind the bench, the Golden Knights went out in a similar way. Against both Dallas and Montreal, Vegas fell into a scoring drought against a team committed to defending the center of the ice.

Which got me to ask, does the Golden Knights “game” not match up with this style of opponent, or do the Golden Knights not really have a defined “game?”

There are a million ways to define a hockey team stylistically, especially one like the Golden Knights. But there is one way to truly hone in on each players’ role inside of a team, and that’s by looking at usage. Every time play is stopped, the head coach and his assistants have a choice to make, which line and which pair are they going to put on the ice next. When you need a goal and the draw is in the offensive zone, who goes? When you are protecting a lead and the faceoff is in front of your own goal, who do you lean on?

These decisions help define a player’s role on a hockey team. Most players in the NHL have a specific skill set that lends either to being more adept offensively or defensively. Then there are the Golden Knights who seem to twist and turn with these decisions depending on who they are playing on any given night.

I went back over the past six playoff series and the regular season to try and figure out the offensive and defensive roles on this team. I broke each series down individually and used the 2021 regular season as a whole to give us seven data points on every Golden Knight.

Does each player start more or less than the team average in offensive zone draws? This will help show us which players are more relied upon for their offensive contributions and which are for defense.

For example, the Golden Knights took 215 faceoffs against the Minnesota Wild. 122 of those, or 56.7%, were taken in the offensive zone. Thus, any player with an offensive zone faceoff percentage higher than 56.7% is considered “UP” and anyone below is considered “DOWN.” Here’s the chart of each player for the past six series and the regular season.

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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.

Canadiens Say The Pressure Is On Vegas

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According to our friends at William Hill, the Golden Knights were heavy favorites to win their Semifinals series against the Canadiens. The odds have adjusted (-340) since Montreal picked up two victories in four games. However, most believe Vegas is the better team and should advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

**Don’t forget, you can get a free VGK jersey by signing up for a new William Hill account using promo code SINBIN100. Click here for full details!**

So as the series goes deeper, is pressure building for the Golden Knights?

You come into this series and obviously there’s a certain rhetoric of how the series is supposed to go. I’m not saying they bought into it or believed it, we definitely didn’t. There is a certain expectation on their side. The longer this series goes, the more pressure falls on them.-Brendan Gallagher, MTL forward

Gallagher brings up some valid points because let’s face it, there are hefty expectations from the Golden Knights organization. This is their third semifinal in four seasons and management has built an expensive, experienced club. And we can’t forget about The Creator’s “Cup in six” decree. So yeah, to say there are expectations in Vegas is putting it mildly.

The Golden Knights have performed well as a favorite and also a slight underdog. Maybe coach Pete DeBoer and captain Mark Stone felt they proved the hockey world wrong by cutting down Colorado in six, but in reality, it was cute rhetoric to stay positive. The semifinals against Montreal is completely different. Vegas might be the better overall team but being widely chosen to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals can add a layer of internal pressure. Pressure that only mounts when you consider how things ended last year.

It’s great that we tied the series, but at some point the big guys are going to kind of have to come out and step up here, including myself. I think it’s not good enough for the forward group that we have only three goals in four games. Obviously, we’re facing an unbelievable goalie, but that’s no excuse. It’s the same thing last year against Vancouver, Dallas. It’s the same thing, we’ve got to find a way and we don’t have any excuses, we need a solution ASAP, and we need to help our team wins some games here. -Jonathan Marchessault

The Canadiens have proven the doubters wrong but with three games left to decide a winner and two at T-Mobile Arena, the series is set up to favor the Golden Knights. Game 5 isn’t a must-win for Vegas but a loss on home ice would ramp up the pressure the Canadiens forward suggested.

We get more and more comfortable in these situations and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve shortened it to a best of three. We’ve gone into Vegas and we know what it’s going to be like, an electric atmosphere for sure. They definitely feed off their fans but now that we’ve experienced it we’re going to be more and more comfortable. -Gallagher, MTL forward

Of course, pressure and stress can build the deeper an elite team advances but it hasn’t overwhelmed the Golden Knights yet this postseason.

The Golden Knights came back against Minnesota in Game 3. Vegas beat the Wild in Game 7, started another comeback in Game 3 against Colorado. They beat the Avs in Game 4 to even the series and won Game 5 in OT on the road. All the pressure was on the Golden Knights in Game 4 in this series, and Gallagher knows how that one went.

Every crucial moment the Golden Knights needed focus and urgency they got it. Expect the same tonight.

Will Vegas Solve Montreal’s Stingy Defense

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s possible in Game 1 the Golden Knights defeated a Canadiens team that didn’t play to their full identity. Clearly, Vegas executed theirs by pressuring Montreal resulting in four goals scored against goaltender Carey Price. However, things were different in Game 2 and likely for the remainder of the Semifinals series.

Everybody who was supposed to be who they are identity wise for the Montreal Canadiens played to their role. And it got Vegas uncomfortable. Where Vegas hasn’t been uncomfortable before. -Aaron Ward, Former defenseman and TSN analyst

Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry was absent for Game 1 but his presence on Wednesday allowed the Original Six franchise to clean up their endzone coverage and move the puck effectively. In their second matchup, the Canadiens pushed Vegas shooters wider than they had in Game 1. The Golden Knights had only eight low-quality attempts on net as opposed to 11 in Game 2.

This postseason with Petry in the lineup the Canadiens allow 2.20 goals per game and given up 3.00 without him.

My best asset is my legs my skating ability. Just focusing on that and closing quickly. -Jeff Petry, MTL defenseman

Tonight, Vegas will need to find ways to utilize the traffic in front of Montreal’s net. 13 of the 32 goals the Canadiens have allowed in the playoffs were from defenseman, including five in six periods from Golden Knights blueliners. Alex Pietrangelo’s goal in Game 2 was a great example how to get around Montreal’s stingy defense. The former Cup winner patiently waited for a screen to develop and slipped a shot through Petry’s legs and past Price. There’s not much an elite goaltender can do when he can’t see the puck.

The Golden Knights have scored on mobile defenseman this postseason but neither of their prior opponents were as big as the Canadiens defensive unit. To combat that, Vegas can match with their own size to jam, screen, and stuff in front of the goaltender. And of course taking advantage of rebounds, loose pucks, and all the grease that occurs in the playoffs.

Since their Game 6 loss against Minnesota, Vegas has responded well after a playoff loss. There’s no reason to believe they won’t tonight for Game 3 in Montreal. Sure, with a full deck the Canadiens will be more difficult to break through but Vegas has the creativity, size, and skill to neutralize any club’s defense. Price can’t bail his teammates out the entire series.

Block Party! Golden Knights Blocked Their Way To The Semi-Final

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have battled and bruised their way through 13 tough games this postseason and with two series under their belt and another a few days away, Vegas seem to have found a simple yet painful approach to beating their opponents. Blocking shots.

We presented the numbers after Game 2 against Colorado and the trend continued throughout the six-game series. The Golden Knights have become a shot-blocking brigade. After last night, the Golden Knights are 7-1 in the postseason when they block 18 or more per game. In their Game 6 clincher, VGK blocked 34 shot attempts from Colorado. We can only imagine the extra-long ice bath Alec Martinez needed after the 6-3 victory.

Playoff Blocked Shots By The Numbers

VGK 249 Total Blocked Shots (1st)
VGK 19.00 Blocked Shots Per 60 (2nd)
Alec Martinez 52 Blocked Shots (1st)
Alex Pietrangelo 36 Blocked Shots (2nd)
Zach Whitecloud 30 Blocked Shots (4th)

When Pete DeBoer took over as the Golden Knights coach he stated shot blocking would be a heavy factor in how the team defended and it was non-negotiable. Well, the coach wasn’t kidding. His players lead all playoff teams with 249 total blocked shots and have 47 more than the NY Islanders who are next with 198 blocked shots. Painful as it is, game after game the Golden Knights have sacrificed their bodies to frustrate snipers like Nathan MacKinnon.

Vegas’ next opponent the Montreal Canadiens will most likely fall victim to clogged shooting lanes and dud shot attempts as well. After two rounds the Canadiens opponents averaged 15 blocked shots per game. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets blocked a total of 170 shots in 11 games against the North Division champion. Vegas should be able to match if not exceed the average amount Montreal has faced all postseason.

The Golden Knights will need to be aware of facing shot-blockers like themselves. Defensemen Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmunson, and Jeff Petry log heavy minutes and average four or more blocked shots per game. It’s not in Martinez’s neighborhood but the Canadiens have guys that are willing to throw themselves into a hard slap shot as well.

Shot blocking isn’t the sole reason the Golden Knights have advanced to the semifinals but it’s been effective. If Vegas continues to frustrate sharpshooters and defensive weapons on the blueline they should be to limit Montreal’s offense, like they did to Colorado. Facing a goaltender like Carey Price, goals will likely be tough to come by. Relying on basic, fearless hockey could be the difference for Vegas in the penultimate series.

Just think, Martinez has 50 or so shots left to block before he can hoist the Cup. Luckily he’ll have plenty of time for his puck-sized bruises to heal in the offseason.

“Run It Until They Stop It”: VGK’s Plan To Continue Stopping Colorado’s Top Line

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After the Golden Knights won a crucial Game 3 against the Avalanche, we pointed out the strong performance by the Golden Knights top line’s compared to the highly touted Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen line. It’s only gotten worse since for the Avalanche’s best players.

They’re frustrated for sure. -Jared Bednar, COL coach

The Golden Knights top-six have outplayed, outproduced, and outworked the Avalanche’s top performers for the past three games. Vegas’ impact players have held the MacKinnon trio to just four points since their eight-point explosion in Game 1. In the following nine periods, Vegas allowed only one goal from Colorado’s big three.

MacKinnon/Landeskog/Rantanen Line vs. VGK

Game 1: 8 Points (5 Goals, 3 Assists)
Nathan MacKinnon 2 Goals, 1 Assist
Gabriel Landeskog 2 Goals, 1 Assist
Mikko Rantanen 1 Goal, 1 Assist

Game’s 2-4: 4 Points (2 Goals, 2 Assists)
Nathan MacKinnon 0 Goals, 1 Assist
Gabriel Landeskog 0 Goals, 1 Assist
Mikko Rantanen 2 Goals, 0 Assists

It’s tough checking, especially for those guys. They’re not just dealing with one line, they’re dealing with multiple lines. People saying, ‘well you got to get them away from the Stone, Stephenson and Pacioretty line’ but then they got the Karlsson line who’s doing equally as good a job. There’s some heavy lifting there and we haven’t found a way. -Bednar, COL coach

Once the series shifted to Las Vegas, Colorado’s stars went dark. Landeskog failed to register a shot on net, MacKinnon was -3, and Rantanen hasn’t recorded an assist. A pretty stark difference from the 5.00 goals scored per game the Avalanche averaged in their first five postseason games. Execution, momentum, and will shifted when the Golden Knights hit home ice.

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Blocked Shots Key To Series Turnaround

In the First Round series against Minnesota, the Golden Knights threw their bodies in front of as many pucks as possible. It was effective and clearly frustrated the Wild’s top scorers. Vegas carried over their strategy into the Second Round against Colorado. Game 2 was a good example of how Vegas can quiet some of hockey’s best snipers by clogging up the shooting lanes.

Of the eight teams remaining in the playoffs, the Golden Knights lead in total blocked shots (191) and rank second in blocked shots (16.9) per game. Being vigilant in the D-zone has been one reason why they’ve won four postseason games so far. Since Vegas’ offense has had trouble finding the back of the net, they’ve found success by blocking opponents’ shots before it can get to Marc-Andre Fleury.

VGK’s Postseason Blocked Shots

16.2 blocked shots per game vs. MIN
18.7 blocked shots per game vs. COL

In Game 2, the Golden Knights were able to hold Colorado to just two goals through 60 minutes. That’s an achievement considering the Avalanche are averaging five goals per game in the playoffs. Vegas limited Colorado by stepping in the way of 28 shot attempts on Wednesday night. The outcome didn’t fall the Golden Knights way but in contrast to Game 1, an increase in blocked shots sharply impacted the Avalanche’s offense in Game 2.

Game 1 vs. Colorado
VGK 10 Blocked shots: Lost 7-1

Game 2 vs. Colorado
VGK 28 Blocked shots: Lost 3-2 OT

If the Golden Knights can continue to obstruct the Avalanche’s chances it could earn them their first victory of the series. Against Minnesota, when Vegas blocked 18 or more shots they won. In four of their five postseason losses, the Golden Knights blocked 13 or fewer shots.

It’s frustrating. It’s not just the shots but it’s great opportunities that weren’t going in. -Kevin Fiala, MIN forward

Not only are the Avalanche difficult to slow down but they are committed defensively as well. In Game 1, Colorado blocked more shots than Vegas and added 17 more in Game 2. The Golden Knights cannot afford to lose that battle tonight at T-Mobile Arena.

Vegas is fully aware that it’s an uphill battle and Game 3 is a must-win to have a real chance at eliminating Colorado. Sacrificing bodies and blocking shots will be how Vegas can compete in the game but it won’t win them a game. There aren’t enough shots to block to make up for a struggling offense.

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.

Vegas’ Salary Cap Management A Topic Around The League

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It hadn’t happened in 11 years, and it probably won’t happen for 11 more. The Golden Knights’ decision to only dress 15 skaters on Monday night in a critical game against the Colorado Avalanche was a bit of a shock. General Manager Kelly McCrimmon explained the situation and pointed towards unexpected injuries to several players at the same time. This left the organization without enough cap space to call up a player in time for Monday’s game. However, the explanation didn’t sit well with some in the hockey world.

Immediately after McCrimmon’s last minute Zoom conference, TSN’s Frank Seravalli challenged Vegas’ reasoning.

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