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Vegas Will Need More From Pietrangelo In The Postseason

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

DeBoer: “There Will Be No Pacing Ourselves Down The Stretch”

28 games in 50 days.

That was what the Golden Knights were staring at back on March 21st, ahead of their first back-to-back with travel of the season. That 50-day span includes six back-to-backs, multiple four-game road trips, and the current stretch of 14 days in which they are scheduled to play an absurd nine games.

When the Golden Knights had to pause their season in the final week of January and into February due to COVID, they knew they were going to have to pay the piper at some point. That point is here and so far, they’re holding up, but not exactly dominating like they were earlier in the year.

The first game in that 28 in 50 stretch was on February 21st against the Kings. The Golden Knights lost that one and have proceeded to lose five more of the 13 they’ve played so far. They’re 7-5-1 to this point, 24 days into the grind. That leaves 15 games in the next 26 days with the Golden Knights sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, still very much in the chase for 1st place, while also trying to stave off a challenger for 2nd.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Sitting 15 points clear of the playoff cut line with just 15 games to go the Golden Knights could take their foot off the pedal and coast to the finish line by working in off games for players. No one would fault them for it, especially with the fact that the Avalanche have lost just one game in regulation since March 8th.

Pete DeBoer, though, has other plans.

I’m not a big believer in managing anything other than trying to win to give yourself the easiest path possible come playoff time. Obviously home-ice advantage against the lowest seed as you move through, it doesn’t always mean success but we want to pursue that as hard as we can. I think we’ll manage energy by not practicing, by giving them as much time off between games as we can in this condensed schedule, by making sure our travel is well planned and well thought out. -DeBoer

The Golden Knights and Colorado will play two games on April 26th and 28th at T-Mobile Arena. If one team wins both of those games, they’ll probably win the division. Otherwise, it’ll come down to which team plays better against the likes of the rest of the relatively soft West Division.

For Vegas, the focus is simple.

There will be no pacing ourselves down the stretch for the playoffs. Our goal is to finish first. -DeBoer

It’ll be fairly significant if they pull it off. If they don’t though, second-guessing is inevitable.

DeBoer Will “Stick To His Guns” Says Former Assistant

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Pete DeBoer has been the head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights for about 15 months now. He’s led the team to an excellent 37-15 record including two playoff series wins.

But still, mainly due to the pandemic, it feels like we are still getting to know DeBoer and his style and tendencies.

We’ve seen surprise healthy scratches, line jumbles, and a system that is built on structure in all three zones. Because he’s only had one playoff run, and it ended with a whimper, the biggest question mark surrounding DeBoer’s coaching style is his willingness to adapt to different situations.

In the playoffs against the Canucks, and then even more so against the Stars, we saw the Golden Knights’ opponent start to play an ultra-conservative style which was focused on keeping Vegas to the outside and cleaning up and rebound chances. It led to Thatcher Demko and Anton Khudobin, two goalies far from the league’s elite, posting incredible numbers and the Golden Knights offense going bone dry for  about two weeks.

Personally, I’ll never forget DeBoer’s comment on the off-day prior to Game 5 against the Stars, as the Golden Knights trailed in the series 3-1 and had posted just six goals in four games to that point.

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Golden Knights Lead The NHL In Off-The-Ice “Stat”

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One of my favorite parts of media availability from coaches, players, or management is when they spit out a verifiable stat. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it gives us a little peek into how in-depth some of the metrics these guys are using. Plus, it often offers a window into where their focus has been and what they are looking at to improve upon.

Every time I hear one I like to go back and look up the number to see if the person was spot on, overexaggerating or under-exaggerating because I believe you learn something from each.

The goal isn’t to catch the person in messing up the stat because trust me, I’ve screwed up hundreds of them speaking off the cuff while covering this team the past five years, but instead it’s to learn something about their mentality on a certain subject.

If the number is spot on, they’ve probably either done the research or saw the number from someone who did. When it’s off, we learn whether they believe it’s a bigger deal or not as big a deal than it really is

Usually, it’s in-depth stuff like 2nd period face-off percentage or shooting percentage on the blocker side of the goalie, you know, specific hockey stuff. But yesterday we got one that was far different from typical hockey stats, and it came from a question on the importance of sleep.

(Getting sleep) is easier said than done particularly when we’ve got I would guess maybe the most kids in households per player than any team in the league. Petro’s got four, Reaves has got three, and Patch has five. So I think your best intentions are to get eight hours but anybody with kids has been there, you get home at two or three in the morning from a road trip, you know the kids are bouncing on your bed at 7 AM because they haven’t seen you in 10 days. It’s not easy with the family dynamic but God bless our players wives because I think they do a phenomenal job of trying to help in that area. -Pete DeBoer

The way DeBoer said it, he certainly hasn’t done the research on this himself, but the fact that he has the feeling like this team is up near the top in children per player means something… especially if it’s not right.

When I heard him say it, my first thought was, oh man this is going to really suck trying to verify, but luckily, someone has already done the research for us. Apparently, there’s an Instagram account dedicated specifically to this very topic. It’s called NHL Wags & Babies and they use the handle @hockeywags. (They are missing two teams, but I don’t feel like doing that research so we’ll ignore them.)

Here’s the list.

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Fresh Fleury Key To Tonight’s Back-To-Back

Since the inaugural 2017-18 season, Marc-Andre Fleury has started 169 games for the Golden Knights. His stout record of 102-53-14 has been one, if not the major reason for Vegas’ instant NHL success. This year the 36-year-old has played as well as he ever has since his arrival to Las Vegas. Once expected to start 50% or less games this year, the 36-year-old had his only night off in four weeks last night.

Since Fleury’s Last Game Off
10 Starts: 7-3-0 Record
9.37 Save Percentage
1.90 Goals Allowed Per Game
2 Shutouts
600:53 Minutes Played
9 Combined Off Days

Fleury has made 35 starts as a Golden Knights off two days of rest. When the goaltender is fresh, he’s one of hockey’s best. In four seasons, his overall save percentage is .917, and drops ever-so slightly to .911 on two days rest. Not only has Fleury performed well this season with limited days off, but he’s as good when he’s fresh.

The goaltender has been so reliable that it’s been tough for coaches to sit him. Fleury’s been such an anchor this season, that it’s difficult for coach Pete DeBoer to rely on anyone else for more than one start in a row. Dating back to 2017-18, Fleury has started 81 times on one days rest. Including six times this season, where his SV% wildly increased to .944.

Another record that benefits the Golden Knights tonight is their strong response when playing the second leg of a back-to-back. This season Vegas’ record is 1-0 and overall 5-2 under Pete DeBoer. Including, a 2-1 mark in three back-to-backs last summer in the playoff bubble.

The Sharks will come hard just like they did yesterday, but it’ll be tougher to comeback from a three goal deficit with Fleury in net. Oh, and I forgot to mention he’s 11-4-4 lifetime against San Jose. Yep, tonight is setting up for a vintage Fleury performance.

4th Liners Failing Despite Benefit Of Unbelievable Offensive Opportunities

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

19 games into the 2021 season, William Carrier and Ryan Reaves have combined for a total of two points while being on the ice for 372 minutes.

The two have a combined -7 rating, have cost the Golden Knights 0.7 points in the standings according to Hockey-Reference.com’s point shares stat, and each post an expected goals share of less than 43% (the team number is over 52%).

To put it politely, they haven’t been good offensively to start the season. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but this should. No player on the Golden Knights has started a higher percentage of shifts in the offensive zone than Ryan Reaves. Reaves has started a massive 57.6% of his shifts in a positive position while his linemate, Carrier, isn’t far behind at 55.3%, good for 4th on the team for forwards.

So, Reaves and Carrier start closer to the opposing goal more often than anyone on the team, yet have failed to score a single goal, have been on the ice for just four goals (three for Carrier), and have allowed seven. They are below 50% shares in every advanced metric including Corsi, Fenwick, shots, expected goals, scoring chances, and high danger chances. In other words, they give up more than they create, by every measurable, despite starting in more advantageous positions than anyone else on the team.

But wait, there’s more! It gets worse… WAY worse, when we look at the seven most important games of the season.

Vegas has played St. Louis, Colorado, and Minnesota a combined seven times in the first 19 games. In those games, Carrier and Reaves have combined to go scoreless and pointless, while registering a -5 rating and allowing three goals while being on the ice for zero goals for. Again, not good.

In those games, the pair started an absurd 81% (Reaves) and 84% (Carrier) of their shifts in the offensive zone. The Golden Knights took 91 defensive zone draws in those seven games, Reaves and/or Carrier were on the ice for six of them. That means one of those two was on the ice for just 7% of defensive draws while they accounted for more than 20% of Vegas’ offensive draws.

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Golden Knights Buck The Trend Against The Wild

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Minnesota Wild came into last night’s matchup with the Golden Knights winning six straight games. Their streak ended when Max Pacioretty scored the game-winner for Vegas in overtime. The victory at home and in front of 2,600 fans was dramatic but also a rarity for the Golden Knights. It was only the third time Vegas beat Minnesota in nine tries. Maybe the tides have changed after last night’s heroics.

It seems like every time you play in Vegas whether you have the lead or they have the lead they come out in the 3rd. They really come at you and it’s tough to play against them. -Nick Bjugstad, MIN forward

Since the inaugural 2017-18 season, no other Western Conference team has given the Golden Knights more of a headache than the Wild. In nine meetings, Vegas has lost six and won twice in overtime or a shootout. The Golden Knights had struggled so much that their second-worst points percentage (.333) in team history came against the Wild.

What makes Minnesota such a difficult opponent for Vegas?

I think they got caught up in the rush game to a certain extent. It went both directions. Minnesota had chances, Vegas had chances. The difference was that Minnesota was still able to play well in their defensive zone when it called for it. Vegas was not really tight in the 2nd period. -Mike McKenna, AT&T Sports Analyst

Maybe, it was the pace of the game. The Wild can really move and they make quick decisions. From accurate stretch passes to their ability to collect and convert rebounds, Minnesota presents a problem for Vegas. Last night’s 2nd period was the perfect example. The Golden Knights were challenged with pressure and speed in their own zone, and couldn’t hold on to the puck in the Wild’s zone for very long.

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McPhee On Goalies: “I Hope We’ll Get Back To Alternating Again”

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At some point, Robin Lehner will return to the Golden Knights and they’ll once again have two legitimate starting goaltending options every single night. Prior to losing Lehner, the Golden Knights had alternated goalies every game and raced out to a spectacular 8-1-1 record, eclipsing the start of the historic expansion team.

I’m sure at the start of the season we’ll look at a 50-50 split to get their games established. Then we’ll go from there and all bets are off. -Pete DeBoer on 1/9/21

Since February 11th, when Marc-Andre Fleury got the surprise start, he’s started all six games for the Golden Knights. During that time he’s posted an impressive .956 save percentage, allowing just eight goals on 181 shots, and recording two shutouts of the Colorado Avalanche.

So, when Lehner returns, what is the plan?

Appearing on the Bob McCown Podcast, Geroge McPhee stated his preference.

In talking about the Lake Tahoe game, McPhee mentioned that both teams were using their #1 goalies. The co-host, John Shannon, later recalled that comment asking if Fleury was indeed the team’s #1 goalie. McPhee nodded in agreement and then added this.

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Fleury Flourishes On Extended Start Streaks

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At some point, Marc-Andre Fleury will need a break. He’s in the midst of a seven-game start streak, his fifth-longest regular season consecutive game stretch as a Golden Knight. With Vegas though, Fleury tends to thrive in these situations. When the 36-year-old is given the reins for an extended amount of time he’s been extremely reliable.

Since 2017-18, Fleury has started seven-straight games or more six separate times. His combined point percentage is .666 in those 57 contests and has a losing record just once.

Seven+ Game Start Streaks

2021: 7 Straight Starts (4-3)
2019-20: 9 Straight Starts (6-3)
2018-19: 13 Straight Starts (10-2-1)
2018-19: 7 Straight Starts (3-4)
2017-18: 11 Straight Starts (7-3-1)
2017-18: 10 Straight Starts (6-4)

Combined Winning Percentage: .631%
Combined Points Percentage: .666%

Fleury’s current streak is mostly out of necessity. Going into the season, the veteran goalie was expected to split most of the games with Robin Lehner. With Lehner unavailable, Fleury has played 11 out of 16 games this season and is on pace to start 38. Much more than the coaching staff had planned.

Last night’s performance was a great example of Fleury’s capability. After playing 11 straight periods against Colorado, the 36-year-old was making acrobatic saves late in the game to preserve his third shutout of the year. Even against the same high-powered Avalanche team he faced in four consecutive games, Fleury seemed the least tired player out there.

Now that the Golden Knights have finished their four-game series against Colorado, the upcoming schedule allows some opportunities to rest Fleury. On Thursday night, Vegas will travel to San Jose, a team that struggles to keep the puck out of their own net. Maybe that’s a game coach Pete DeBoer can comfortably rest his netminder. Also, with there being two days in between games, Fleury could have four days of rest before his next start.

As the schedule creeps towards March, the heavy competition goes away for a few weeks. The next eight matchups are against the Sharks, Ducks, and Wild. The Golden Knights are significantly better than all three and the coaching staff should look to use their schedule to spell Fleury some starts, even if Lehner isn’t ready to come back. Vegas will need what we can now confidently say is their number one goaltender fresh for when they face St. Louis and Colorado later in March.

With his third shutout of the season in his pocket, we all know the 17-year veteran will want to play the bulk of the remaining games. Who can blame him? Fleury’s having an All-Star type season, wants to be in the Vezina discussion and prove to his bosses they were wrong. I say let him compete for trophies, just as long as he can take a few games off here and there. DeBoer can save Fleury’s 28 consecutive start streak for the postseason.

Power Play Improvement Could Turn VGK From Great To Elite

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are regarded as one of the better teams in the league. They’ve been described as elite, highly-skilled and loaded. Vegas backs that up with the third best points percentage (.786) in the NHL. However, there is one glaringly obvious area the first place Golden Knights will need to improve.

Since the start of the shortened 2019-20 season, the Golden Knights are 19th in the league with 40 5-on-4 goals. When coach Pete DeBoer took over on January 16th, 2020, Vegas dropped even lower to 28th. In that timespan the Golden Knights squeaked out an underwhelming 12 5-on-4 goals in 79 opportunities.

The 2021 Golden Knights have only scored three times on the power play, the second least in the league. One on a two-man advantage, and two on a 5-on-4. Overall, Vegas’ power play efficiency is 11.5% good for 28th in the NHL.

2021 VGK Man-Advantage Breakdown

27 Man Advantage Opportunities
Power Play Goals (3)
5-on-4 Goals (2)
5-on-3 Goals (1)
6-on-5 Goals (1)

On the other hand, signs show that Vegas’ deficiencies won’t hurt them in the long run. Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights have the third-highest points percentage (.741) behind only Boston (.774) and Philadelphia (.750). Impressively enough, Their inability to score in 5-on-4 situations rarely cost them regular season points.

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