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It’s Time For Alex Tuch To Crack The Top Six

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If you’ve watched every Golden Knights game or just a few over the past four years, you’ve seen the talent level of Alex Tuch. It’s tough to miss. He’s big, fast, and incredibly skilled. Three attributes many NHL players weren’t born with.

After 255 games played with Vegas, it’s hard not to wonder if Tuch’s been used properly. A clear top-six forward on most NHL teams, the 25-year-old has been largely relegated to an inconsistent third line with no identity for four straight seasons. So when will the organization, coach Pete DeBoer, and Tuch himself, decide to make that leap and become a top scoring option for Vegas?

I’ve taken on a role of being able to move up and down the lineup. Honestly, it isn’t my decision whether or not I’m playing on the first two lines or the second two lines. I come here to do a job and that’s to play hockey and to do that to the best of my abilities. Whatever management, coaching staff feel where I should slot in the lineup that’s their decision and I’m never going to complain about that. -Alex Tuch, 06/26/21

I know he’s considered the seventh forward in the top six but it’s fair to argue if Tuch were given more shifts and better linemates he would become Vegas’ most lethal threat. I’m not ignoring Max Pacioretty’s natural ability to net pucks but Tuch is bigger, younger, and possesses a nasty release as well.

Perhaps the Misfit line’s chemistry is too consistent to break up. However, after back-to-back premature playoff exits, it’s possible there will be some roster shuffling. I’m not advocating trading a reliable two-way forward like Reilly Smith to shake things up, but to collect assets, cap relief, and create roster space it might made sense, especially with Tuch waiting in the wings.

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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.

Who’s To Blame For The Golden Knights Underachieving… Again

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s a sad moment for fans when a hockey season abruptly ends like it did last Thursday. Reality sets in when a Cup run is over and the 31st franchise will have to wait another year for a chance at the ultimate prize. Unfortunately, the truth is, this was another wasted season for the Golden Knights. For the second straight year, Vegas faced an inferior opponent and couldn’t find a way to force a game seven. Their leaders, coaches, and framers failed again and almost identically in back-to-back years.

Against Montreal, the Golden Knights outshot the Canadiens 193 to 165 yet had two fewer goals in the Semifinals. Keep in mind the Canadiens were the 15th lowest scoring team in the regular season and Vegas was 3rd highest. The Golden Knights fell down the same hole last postseason against the Dallas Stars. Like Montreal, Dallas was another low scoring team that found a way to outscore the Golden Knights in the conference finals. It was inexcusable in 2020, and even more so in 2021 after the organization retooled in the offseason.

So, who’s to blame?

Players

Let’s begin with the leadership group. Captain Mark Stone has built quite the portfolio in Vegas, however, his stock continues to plummet in the playoffs. For three straight seasons, Stone has provided very little offense for the Golden Knights when they needed him late in a series. Going without a single point in the entire Semifinals was rock bottom for Stone. His failure to produce in the backend of a playoff series was evident again against Minnesota, Colorado, and Montreal.

In all fairness to the captain, he owned up to it.

I can praise (the Canadiens) all I want but ultimately it falls down on myself and the top players on this team. We had some guys that produced night in and night out. As far as myself I got skunked this series. That can’t happen. I’m the captain of this team, the leader of this team, I take a lot of responsibility for what just occurred. -Mark Stone

Another concern was the continuous slow starts for Vegas. In six Semifinal games, the Golden Knights allowed the first goal four times, and were sluggish to begin the 1st period in several other postseason contests. In the final 12 games of the postseason, the Golden Knights trailed at some point in 11 of them.

Is it possible the team leaders for Vegas couldn’t motivate their teammates enough to kick off the game on time? It’s hard to comprehend why, but it’s fair to point fingers at the men with letters; Stone, Reilly Smith and Alex Pietrangelo.

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2021 Season “Locker Cleanout Day” Quotes

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are holding their annual “locker cleanout day” interviews via Zoom today with DeBoer speaking at 9 AM, players at 11 AM, and GM Kelly McCrimmon at 1:30 PM. We will be updating this page throughout the day with some of the most interesting quotes.

 

DeBoer on not winning the Stanley Cup
I’ve gotten to know Jon Cooper pretty well over the last few years and it reminds you that between Tampa’s first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final and winning the Stanley Cup there were five years in between. They made two conference finals, they missed the playoffs, and they got swept in the first round after winning the President’s Trophy. There’s pain.

DeBoer on Alec Martinez
I can’t understate the importance of him to our group in the time he’s been here with me. There’s a reason he’s a multiple Stanley Cup winner. There’s a reason you can count on him at the most important time of the year. It’s not an accident he scores than goal the other night. He rises to the occasion at the tough moments and you can never have enough guys like that.

DeBoer on keeping both goalies
The salary cap and that maneuvering is above my paygrade, that’s for Kelly and George to figure out. I can tell you it was obviously an integral part of our success this year, in the unique year we were in. With the condensed schedule and everything that went on it was obviously a blessing this year. Next year is a different story. We’re not in those unique circumstances anymore.

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Despite Empty Season End Feeling, These Golden Knights Are Climbing

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When history looks back on the 2021 Golden Knights, it will show that they came up short. Again.

Technically, you can split hairs and say they were one win closer this season than last, but in the end, the round was the same, and the way they went out was almost identical to the year prior.

For four years running the most successful expansion franchise in North American history has been able to call itself a contender. Since the world realized how good this team can be sometime in December of 2017, it’s been fair and accurate to consider them among the most likely options to win the Stanley Cup each and every year.

But each year, it hasn’t happened and every time we’re left with the same feeling of emptiness. A feeling of “what could have been.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past four postseason failures though, is that while the bleak feeling will always exist, it feels different each time.

This one doesn’t feel like the first season. It certainly doesn’t feel like the second year that ended with an apology from the NHL. And while it should feel a lot like the third one, it doesn’t.

It’s because this team showed improvement from the last.

I thought we took a step from a year ago when we got to this point. I thought we were better during the regular season, better the playoffs against two really tough teams in Minnesota and Colorado. But we still fell off at the wrong time. There’s another door we’ve got to find a way to barge through at this time of year. -Pete DeBoer

Of course, the regular season wasn’t what it usually is, and the West Division was even more of a joke than the Pacific has been since the Golden Knights arrived, but there’s always something to take away from 56 games. What Vegas took from them was consistency. Any lapses in the Golden Knights’ play rarely lasted longer than a period, let alone a game, or a week.

Then, when the playoffs came around, they were faced with a similar obstacle to the one that tripped them up in the bubble. Dallas and Minnesota play a similar brand of defense and for a portion of the beginning of that series, it was working against the Golden Knights.

That was the first step.

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Golden Knights Beating Themselves As Much As They’re Being Beaten By Montreal

Much of the focus five games in this series with Montreal will be on the Golden Knights’ inability to score goals. Rightfully so, as they have mustered just 11 goals in the series and a measly seven since the return of Jeff Petry in Game 2. But it’s the way they are conceding that has me more concerned for the next game (or hopefully two).

Last night, the Golden Knights came out and played a pretty solid first 10 minutes. In a postseason where 1st periods have been a problem, it looked like we were headed for something much different to start Game 5.

Another failed power play, the 12th of the series at the time, could have sapped some of the Vegas energy. However, that wasn’t the case. Following the man advantage, the Golden Knights attempted the next two shots on goal and controlled play for the next few minutes. The game was going perfectly for the Golden Knights until they started making their own mistakes.

After a dump-in by Zach Whitecloud, there was a battle for the puck in the corner. The Habs outnumbered the Golden Knights for the puck, but Nick Holden read that the exit will come up the wall. He stepped forward to challenge a pass that never happened, and then when the puck did eventually make it to his player, he was caught in no-man’s land.

It’s a read Holden has made correctly time and time again in this series and aggressive pinches like this are a big reason the VGK forecheck has had success in the times it has. In this case, it was not the right read, but that one mistake didn’t lead to the goal by itself, there were still two more to come.

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Canadiens Say The Pressure Is On Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

Shift Back To Vegas Should Free Mark Stone Of Phillip Danault

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Four games into this Stanley Cup Semifinals series with the Montreal Canadiens, the Golden Knight’s captain, and best player, has been held without a point. He’s been on the ice for just two of the Golden Knights’ 10 goals in the series and has registered a measly five shots in four games. He’s posted a -1 rating and below 50% share numbers in Corsi, shot share, scoring chances, and expected goals.

To summarize, the Habs have bottled up Mark Stone as well as anyone has been able to since he’s become a Golden Knight and it’s a huge reason why the underdog is tied in the series with three games to go.

But, there is good news, and that’s where the next game is being played.

One of the biggest reasons for Stone’s ineffectiveness offensively in this series has been the matchup he’s been facing. In Game 4, Stone played a total of 16:15 of ice time at even-strength, an astounding 12:21, or 76%, was played while sharing the ice with Phillip Danualt. In those 12 minutes and change, the Golden Knights did not generate a single high-danger scoring chance while allowing four, they allowed 78% of the expected goal share, and they did it while taking 10 of the 14 draws in the offensive or neutral zones.

Danault has been doing this to superstars the entire postseason and he’s doing it again to Stone… when the Habs can get the matchup.

As the series heads back to T-Mobile Arena tomorrow, the Golden Knights now control last change. At every stoppage, they’ll have the final decision as to whether or not they want to put Stone on the ice at the same time as Danualt, and if series history is any indicator, they’ll shy away from that option at every pass.

Mark Stone TOIvs. Phillip Danault
Game 15:49
Game 26:19
Game 311:01
Game 411:31
Games in Vegas12:08
Games in Montreal22:32

At home, Stone is seeing more than five minutes per game extra away from Danault than he has at the Bell Centre. Most of these minutes have been against Montreal’s 3rd and 4th lines, where Stone has seen much more success territorially.

Stone has started a shift in the offensive zone 24 times in the four games. Danault has been out there for 14 of the 24, but just three at T-Mobile Arena.

For the Golden Knights’ offense to really get going in this series, they need their captain to generate scoring chances in bunches. Stone has taken just five shots himself and he’s been on the ice for 28, fewer than six other Golden Knight forwards including last night’s overtime hero Nic Roy.

Pete DeBoer and his staff came into the series knowing the challenge Danault would present to Stone, and they adjusted accordingly in the first two home games. But now, having seen four games of it, they may look to avoid the matchup even more in Game 5. It’s up to Stone to take advantage of it.

**Stats for this article were sourced from NaturalStatTrick.com*

Carp: Adversity Greets Golden Knights In Canada

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

By and large, a trip to Canada is a pleasant experience. But there was nothing pleasant about the start to the Golden Knights’ visit to Montreal.

With a lot of issues for both the Knights, who are playing without Chandler Stephenson, their top center, and the Canadiens, who had to play without their head coach after Dominique Ducharme found himself testing positive for COVID-19, it came down to who handled their adversity better in Game 3. Ultimately, it was Montreal that was able to get the better of things Friday, winning 3-2 in overtime and taking a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

We all know what happened so there’s no point in rehashing Marc-Andre Fleury’s gaffe playing the puck that allowed the Canadiens to tie it late in regulation. Or all the missed opportunities to get more than a couple past Carey Price in the Habs’ net.

The question is: How does Vegas respond today in Game 4?

Does the Knights’ power play, which has been woefully anemic, suddenly find new life? Do Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty rediscover their offense, even without Stephenson?

That’s a lot to digest and not much time to do so. Because even if the Knights find all the right answers today, all it does is get them back to square one with the Canadiens. It becomes a best-of-three series with two of the three in the Fortress, where the Habs took Game 2 Wednesday to tie the series.

And if Montreal prevails today? Does this team have the wherewithal to win three straight?

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the adjustments and improvements which need to be made.

First, it appears there will be a change in goal. Robin Lehner was first off the ice at the morning skate and was practicing in the “starter’s net” so that’s obviously huge.

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