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“Heavy” Becoming Vegas’ New Label

Throughout their series, the Blackhawks used the word ‘heavy’ 31 times to describe the Golden Knights in press conferences.

Blackhawks captain Jonathon Toews uses “heavy” to describe two things. Vegas’ size, and their ability to hold the puck once they possess it. It’s no secret, the Golden Knights are big and most of their players are hard to bump off the puck. Which was apparent right from the start of the series.

Mark Stone is 6’4″, 219 pounds but also has the puck super glued on his stick. Alex Tuch is 6’4″ as well, and his skill, speed, and size make it difficult for a defender to strip the puck. Max Pacioretty is 6’2, with the lethal combination of power and a rocket shot. These are examples of being a heavy team, and playing like one.

They play a different game then the Oilers. They’re a very structured, simple team. They play a heavy game. You got to tip your hat sometimes, they play well as a squad. -Calvin de Haan, CHI Defenseman

Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan used the word to describe differences between the Golden Knights and a faster, skill-based team like the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, but what they didn’t have was the team structure and physicality Vegas has. The Golden Knights get scoring from multiple players, not just two, they defend, and rarely veer from their gameplan.

We know they’re an excellent team. They’re a heavy team, they get on the forcheck and try and hold you down… We gave them some easy ones, easy chances. They score 3-1 and during that stretch we just weren’t very good.-Jeremy Colliton, CHI coach

Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton called the Golden Knights a heavy team after three of the five games. Again, it wasn’t just their size, it was Vegas’ forecheck. When the Golden Knights push the puck with pressure they make teams feel like they’re being weighed down. All twelve forwards have that ability allowing Vegas the fortune to use all four lines.

Then there’s the natural use of the word.

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Sweeps Are Nice, But Plenty Of Teams Have Won The Cup Without Them

The Golden Knights looked like they were on their way to a quick, easy series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Even without playing their best, Vegas was finding ways to win and clearly displaying they are the better team. Last night, they couldn’t get the job done, missing out on the series sweep and all the benefits that come with it.

It’s widely believed that in the NHL playoffs, the fewer games you have to play, the better your chances of winning the Cup. But, all of the previous four Stanley Cup winners failed to sweep a series in the playoffs, and 11 of the previous 20 winners couldn’t win a series in four as well.

Cup Winners Without a Postseason Sweep

2002 Detroit Red Wings
2003 NJ Devils
2006 Carolina Hurricanes
2007 Anaheim Ducks
2013 Chicago Blackhawks
2014 LA Kings
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins
2017 Pittsburgh Penguins
2018 Washington Capitals
2019 St. Louis Blues

Obviously, extra rest allows an ailing team like Vegas to get healthier. Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Tomas Nosek have all missed time in Vegas’ first round series, so time off would be beneficial. A short series also gives the coaching staff more time to prepare for the next opponent. And while there’s no arguing against these added benefits, teams have proven in the past they are far from prerequisites on the quest to win 16 playoff games.

In 2018-19 the Golden Knights began their first postseason by sweeping the LA Kings. After winning in four straight, Vegas had to wait nine days until their next series. Then, after shutting down the Sharks in six, the Golden Knights sat for six days before facing Winnipeg in the Western Conference finals. After beating the Jets in five, the Golden Knights waited an additional eight days before the Stanley Cup finals began. In total, Vegas had a total of 23 days off in between series, and we know how that worked out for them.

Even without the sweep, Vegas can set themselves up for significant time off. Clinching a series in five or even six games can grants a club some extra healing time, practices, and rest. A little adversity in a series can quietly help a team’s focus as well. That’s what I suspect will happen after last night’s Game 4 loss.

Expect the Golden Knights to be at their best in Game 5, because series sweeps are overrated anyway.

Letdown Periods Trending In Round-Robin Games

No one knew what to expect in Vegas’ first round-robin game against the Dallas Stars. Some Golden Knights players talked about bringing intensity, some said they would play it safe, making sure they were healthy for the first round. So when Vegas won 5-3 in a roller coaster game, it was no surprise that it was a forgettable victory.

While their 3rd period, four-goal outburst was outstanding, the 2nd period letdown may have some Golden Knights worried. However, trends are showing that most round-robin teams have had a letdown period in their first game. Five of the eight teams allowed two or more unanswered goals in a period, and three of those five teams lost.

Vegas vs. Dallas

We all watched it, Vegas looked like they were toast by the conclusion of the 2nd period. Then Dallas decided to sit back in the 3rd. Both teams allowed three or more unanswered goals and had extended moments of sloppy hockey.

VGK 2nd Period:

  • Allowed three straight goals (One PP goal)
  • Outshot 13-10
  • Faceoff Wins 43%
  • Committed one penalty (Theodore/Hooking)
  • Lost the lead

The puck was deep in Vegas zone for the majority of the 2nd period and Dallas took advantage, scoring three unanswered goals. Dallas took six out of the first seven shots taken in the period. At one point it looked like Vegas would never be able to clear the puck from their own end. Thankfully the Stars made it easy for the Golden Knights to come back. Dallas equally broke down and gave Vegas the room to snap off four goals in the final period.

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The 2020 Postseason Is A “Once In A Lifetime” Event For Hockey Fans

Today begins the official start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and while the Golden Knights won’t play until Monday, there are several games to keep your eyes on.

Vegas fans couldn’t get a true feeling of the NHL’s game presentation during Thursday night’s exhibition game against Arizona because the league used a fraction of what they have planned going forward.

We’re super excited about what we are going to be debuting and showing from Saturday all the way through the Stanley Cup Final. What you were seeing was probably five percent, ten percent of what you’re going to start to see on Saturday.- Steve Mayer, NHL Chief Content Officer

The NHL intends on making the television broadcast an experience for the viewing audience. They’ve added dozens of cameras for alternate views of the ice, creating a unique event, not just a typical hockey game.

Starting today, fans should keep their eyes open for some of the new additions the league will use throughout the entire postseason. They’re hoping fans will be entertained like they’re watching a movie or a television episode.

As a fan you’re not going to miss anything. Camera angles, the low angles, the replays, super slo-mo. There’s some really cool looks. The ability that we’ve had to really get inside of the game. It’s a made for television event. We don’t have fans here, so we essentially built a set. Every screen we’re going to highlight players. We’re going to highlight highlights, the history of the game, the statistics of the game. Visually I think you’re going to see things that you have never seen and probably never see again. -Steve Mayer

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Defense Can Benefit From Softer Crowd Noise

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

We can’t get Golden Knights defensemen to shut up about the importance of their on-ice communication. They say it’s key for a pair to be aware of one another during a game, especially defending a rush, or if one is in possession of the puck. Sure, they know where the other is most of the time but the chatter can often help to get back in position, develop a play or break out of the defensive zone safely. Come this time of year (well, not normally actually this time, but you get my point), it takes on even more significance as one broken play in the postseason can lead to the winning or losing goal.

With the Return-to-Play underway, fans were introduced to the recorded ambiance that the league will use during games. It’s interesting, to say the least. The crowd noise will be pumped through arena speakers giving some sort of fan representation. However, the volume level was lower than a normal sold-out NHL game. During yesterday’s exhibition broadcasts, you could hear the atmosphere of a typical NHL game but the natural sounds of hockey were much more defined.

Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt have three years of chemistry playing together in Vegas. It’s a luxury the young franchise has. We’ve seen the impact Shea Theodore has on the ice but he wasn’t paired with Alec Martinez until deadline week back in February. There’s no doubt the veteran Martinez won’t have a problem connecting with his pair pal, but one injury or one bad night and that can all change.

If the third pair of Nick Holden or Zach Whitecloud are struggling you might see coach Pete DeBoer shuffle his lineup, or cut some minutes. In that scenario, the lessened crowd noise might allow whatever d-pair that’s on the ice to have clearer communication. Holden even made a crack to the media about using code words because opponents will likely hear what the Golden Knights are discussing. Without rabid fans, the defensive players should have no problems picking up each other.

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Other Postseason Teams Not Sounding As Confident As Vegas

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As we near the end of Phase 3, the Golden Knights confidently continue to prepare for life in the bubble. Coach Pete DeBoer and his players have expressed their goals throughout training camp and sound as if they are already in postseason mode.

We’re not going there for vacation. We’re going there for work and a goal in mind to win the Stanley Cup. –Alec Martinez, SiriusXM NHL

The message is clear from this organization that while their surroundings will be unique, nothing has altered their objective. The chatter from the Golden Knights since training camp has been focused and positive, more so than other clubs. And it starts with the head coach.

Even if we had a first-round opponent, through this portion we would be spending 90% of the time on our game anyway. I’m a big believer that if our game is in a good place that we throw that out there and let the other team adjust to us. –Pete DeBoer, NHL Network

While the local team feels good about their playoff chances other franchises are still trailing in preparation. The clock is ticking for some to get their act together before traveling to their hub city destination.

The Blue Jackets have a qualifying round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, however, neither seem to be feeling as confident as Vegas. As most fans already know, Tortorella never holds back and he isn’t now. Maybe it’s motivation or maybe he’s legitimately concerned that his players aren’t ready for August.

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Fleury’s Streak Unmatched in Pro Sports

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There’s not much Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t accomplished over his NHL career. Part of five Stanley Cup Finals and winner of three of them, the 35-year-old goaltender has been fortunate to play on competitive teams for most of his career, but here’s something fans and I doubt even Fleury is aware of.

Fleury currently holds the longest active playoff streak of any individual player across the four major sports leagues in North America. This postseason will mark Fleury’s 14th consecutive trip to the playoffs, a streak unmatched by even Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Sidney Crosby.

Fleury played in his first NHL playoff series at the age of 22 back in 2007, and he hasn’t missed a postseason yet.

Marc-Andre Fleury’s Playoff Run

14 Straight Postseasons
142 Games Played
78-62 Postseason Record
4176 Saves
3 Assists
5 Stanley Cup Appearances
3 Stanley Cup Rings

Most would’ve assumed that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were on the same path, but both missed the entire 2011 postseason due to injuries. Another former teammate Chris Kunitz was ahead of Fleury but broke his streak last year as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. So currently, the Golden Knights goaltender leads the entire league in appearances in 14 straight postseasons.

The athlete that is the closest to Fleury plays in the NBA. It’ll shock you. New Orleans Pelicans sharpshooter J.J. Redick is technically tied with Fleury with appearances in 13 straight postseasons. However, in the NBA’s loopy return-to-play format, Redick and the Pelicans have eight regular season games, and then some to clinch a playoff bid. So while Fleury is already locked in at 14 consecutive, Redick still has some hurdles to jump.

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Vegas’ Top Line May Need A Postseason Nickname

In years past, certain forward lines have taken the postseason by storm and helped their teams win the Stanley Cup. Affectionately known as the HBK line, Carl Hagelin (16 points), Nick Bonino (18 points) and Phill Kessel (22 points) surprisingly combined for 56 points en route to the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth championship in franchise history.

Years earlier the LA Kings were also lucky enough to have an acclaimed line of their own. Going by the nickname, That 70’s Line, Jeff Carter (25 points), Tyler Toffoli (14 points), and Tanner Pearson (12 points) caught fire in the regular season which continued into LA’s run to the cup. Each wearing a jersey number in the 70’s, the line totaled 51 points in 26 games.

Keep in mind both of these famed triplets were support lines, that massively overachieved. Without them, however, their clubs wouldn’t have been so dangerous. Good news for Golden Knights fans, Vegas had their own explosive line in last year’s postseason, and expectations are even higher in 2020.

In their seven-game series against the Sharks, Mark Stone (12 points), Max Pacioretty (11 points) and Paul Stastny (8 points) were offensively unstoppable. The trio combined for 31 points in the series loss, averaging a whopping 4.4 points per game. The veteran line made up for 44% of the Golden Knights offense against San Jose. Just silly when you think about it.

Can Vegas expect the same this postseason? And is it possible it can get better? I don’t see why not considering coach Pete DeBoer upgraded at center with William Karlsson in the middle.

All three players have the skill to excel in the postseason. Karlsson added 15 points in 20 games in 2018, and Pacioretty and Stone lived up to their billing in 2019. Combine their playoff averages together and the top line’s production will scare the bejesus out of an opponent.

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Families Add Extra Motivation For Vegas To Reach Finals

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

NHL players don’t need any extra motivation when competing for the Stanley Cup. The childhood dream of skating a lap with the Cup is enough for professional hockey players. However, there’s one thing that comes first.

With the release of the NHL’s new protocol agreement, it was clear the players were concerned about being away from their families. Within league rules, not only will families be taken care of back home, but if the chips fall right, they’ll be joining their husbands, boyfriends, and dads in Edmonton for the Western Conference and Stanley Cup Finals.

Player families are not permitted in the Phase 4 Secure Zone until the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final , at which time the Players will be permitted to invite their immediate family members to stay in the Phase 4 Secure Zone. Immediate family members include a Player’s spouse or partner, and his children. -NHL Phase 4 Protocols

When the players began discussing the return to play plan, it was uncertain if families would be allowed inside the bubble. Vegas is one of the older clubs in the league, so it had to be a major burden for the many fathers on the team. Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Marchessault, Ryan Reaves, and Deryk Engelland all have young children. Tomas Nosek and William Carrier have infants at home. Max Pacioretty has four sons, and a daughter on the way. It’s hard to be away from loved ones for an extended time, but if the Golden Knights play well they won’t have to.

Can a family reunion act as extra motivation for the Golden Knights, or any team for that matter? I believe it can. It’s an added incentive that could generate a mental boost after playing two exhausting playoff series. Lets face it, the only way for players to see their families sooner is if they failed to make it out of the first two rounds. And if that were the case, there’s a chance they’d be no fun to be around for a week or two. Or however long it takes to get over a series loss.

Another indication showing the players’ apprehension was the NHL’s policy to assist the families back home.

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Western Conference Hub Hosting Cup Final Could Benefit Western Conference Champ

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Now that playing at home appears to be on the fritz, the Golden Knights will turn their attention to playing in Western Canada, where it appears they’ll stay if they have success early in the playoffs.

Vegas will have the ability to set up shop in Alberta and stay for the entirety of the postseason, or however long they last. That shouldn’t be an advantage considering the oddities surrounding this format, but the raw numbers suggest staying west could benefit the Golden Knights.

Overall, the Golden Knights proved for a third straight season that they were a Western Conference challenger. Unsurprisingly, when on the road, they’re at their best when playing inside Pacific Division buildings.

VGK at Pacific Division
19-20: 7-3-1 (.682)
18-19: 9-5-1 (.633)
17:18 – 10-3-2 (.733)
Total: 26-11-4 (.683)

VGK at Central Division
19-20: 3-4-0 (.429)
18-19: 4-6-0 (.400)
17-18: 4-5-1 (.450)
Total: 11-15-1 (.426)

VGK at Eastern Conference
19-20: 7-6-3 (.531)
18-19: 6-9-1 (.406)
17-18: 8-6-2 (.563)
Total: 21-21-6 (.500)

The numbers really skew against the Golden Knights when you take into account who they were playing. Most of the wins were against the below-average Eastern conference teams as seven of the nine losses came at the hands of East playoff teams.

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