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DeBoer Hopeful Center-less Power Play Unit Won’t Become An Issue

The Golden Knights had just one power play in their first game, but those two minutes were the perfect illustration of the challenge facing the coaching staff in creating their power play units this season.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With two elite power play quarterbacks on the team, the Golden Knights knew they needed to find a way to ice two units both stocked with scoring talent.

The first looks like a normal dominant #1 power play unit. Alex Pietrangelo is the lone defenseman with Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and PP wunderkind Cody Glass. It’s the kind of stuff that gives opposing teams’ penalty kill nightmares.

It’s the second unit where things get interesting. Shea Theodore plays alongside Alec Martinez with a trio of forwards including Alex Tuch, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. It has the potential to be a great unit, but for one issue, there’s no one to take the draws.

Well, I don’t know if we’re comfortable (not having a center on the unit). It’s not the optimum situation obviously. Right now we’re trying to put our two best units together. We love the feel of the two units when they get the puck and get set up so we’re willing to give up a little in the faceoff department to get started. -Pete DeBoer

On that single power play last night, the concern came to the forefront immediately. After a strong 45 seconds by the first unit including a few shot attempts from Pietrangelo, the second group came out for an offensive zone faceoff. Tuch lost the draw and the Ducks quickly cleared the zone. The Golden Knights took a bit of time trying to re-enter the zone, never fully did on three tries, and an offside call forced another draw outside of the zone.

At that moment, with 30 seconds left on the PP clock, the Golden Knights flipped right back to the first unit.

It was an area of emphasis for us in the offseason and adding Pietrangelo definitely gave us the option of having two elite quarterbacks, two units, rather than a 1A and 1B. It’s critical, especially the deeper you go in the playoffs and the better the opponent those little details, the special teams, faceoffs, separate the teams at that point. -DeBoer

The Golden Knights have two bonafide #1 units, but without a reliable option to win faceoffs, it’s likely they will be forced into situations similar to the one they faced last night where they have to default back to the first unit on any draw.

In practice today, the second unit was moving the puck around with ease, even scoring one of the nicest tic-tac-toe goals you’ll ever see. So, clearly, when they have the puck, they have a real chance to be dangerous. But, how long will DeBoer put up with it if they don’t?

We’re hopeful the faceoff situation, guys will dig in, guys will help each other, some guys will become better at it and it won’t become an issue but it’s something that if we can’t get fixed with the personnel we have we might have to look at some different options. -Deboer

Maximizing the power play talents of both Theodore and Pietrangelo will be crucial in the long-term success of the Golden Knights this season.

There’s reason to believe these units could offer just that, but there’s also reason for concern that they won’t.

Golden Knights Among William Hill’s Individual Award Odds

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As we inch closer to the Golden Knights’ opening night, here’s a friendly reminder that time is running out on placing 2021 future odds. Ken picked sides on William Hill’s team point totals earlier in the month, now I’m attacking league leaders and player award odds.

In last year’s shortened season Max Pacioretty finished with a team-leading 32 regular season goals. The veteran’s total was good enough for 13th most in the NHL. This year, in an even shorter season, Pacioretty is 22-1 to lead all scorers in goals.

*To see all odds, download the William Hill Mobile Sports App. Sign up with the promo code GET50 and they’ll match your first $50 bet.*

NHL’s Leading Scorer odds:
Auston Matthews +500
Alex Ovechkin +600
Connor McDavid +850
Leon Draisaitl +850
Nathan MacKinnon +1000

Golden Knights to be NHL Leading Scorer odds:
Max Pacioretty 22/1
William Karlsson 75/1
Mark Stone 100/1
Reilly Smith 125/1

It’s a tall order for any of the Golden Knights to outscore super offensive studs like McDavid, Ovechkin, and Matthews but it is a unique season and there may be value with a couple of Vegas forwards. It might seem like a long shot but dropping a sawbuck or two on Karlsson to lead the league in scoring would bring back a nice return. Remember Karlsson’s 43 goals scored in 2017-18 was done playing with Marchessault and Smith, who he is set to play with again this season.

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Short Camp? No Problem, VGK Says “We’ve Done This Before”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Ever been somewhere new thought to yourself, wait a minute, I think I’ve been here before. That’s exactly how the Golden Knights feel heading into this season’s incredibly short training camp at City National Arena.

Back in July, the Golden Knights opened what was called Phase 3 Training Camp on the 12th with their first real game on August 3rd. This time, camp got underway on January 3rd with the regular season opener just 11 days away.

It’s not quite deja vu, mainly because that camp led directly into the playoffs, but there’s definitely a been there done that feeling to this shortened camp.

We’ve done this before with the bubble camp and we really like how that camp went and prepared us to go into the bubble for the playoffs. How we played early in the bubble our camp gave us an advantage in our start there being able to go undefeated in our start there. -Pete DeBoer

After two weeks of camp in Vegas the Golden Knights headed to Edmonton where they dominated a preseason game against the Coyotes, then ripped through the round-robin beating Dallas, St. Louis, and Colorado to earn them the #1 seed.

Vegas scored first in three of the four games and looked surprisingly sharp for being off the ice for a few months right before it.

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DeBoer Thinks Easy Playoff Path May Have Hindered Golden Knights Chances Last Year

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are going to get real familiar with a group of seven other teams this season. The new West Division which sees St. Louis, Colorado, and Minnesota replace Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver from the Pacific will be the only teams the Golden Knights face this year unless they are fortunate enough to reach the semifinal.

The additions of the Avalanche and the Blues certainly makes the division a bit trickier than it has been each of the past three seasons. Plus, expectations for a bounceback season are certainly there for San Jose and Arizona remains a bit of a wild card which could tighten things up even more. With four spots available in the playoffs, the division sets up well for the Golden Knights to reach the playoffs, but it’s not without its potential hazards.

Speaking on the VGK Insider Show on FOX Sports Radio, head coach Pete DeBoer chose to take a positive approach to taking on the new challenging division. He even harkened back to a storyline he denied in the moment but now sees it may have had some validity.

You don’t have any choice but to look at (the tough division) as a positive, and I actually do. When I look at the bubble and I look at the road Dallas had to the Final they didn’t have an easy series anywhere through. They didn’t win, but it didn’t hurt them that they had to go through some really good teams to keep advancing. And you could argue that we maybe had a little bit of an easier path and it might have hurt us a little bit when we got to a really hardened team. –Pete DeBoer on VGK Insider Show

Playing the 15th and 23rd ranked teams in points percentage certainly aided the Golden Knights in reaching the conference final, but DeBoer may have a point in how it affected his team’s performance against the 10th ranked team in the Stars.

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Shot Attempts By Defensemen Way Up In Playoffs; Expected To Go Even Higher In 2020-21

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The change from Gerard Gallant to Pete DeBoer brought about a slightly new style of play, but more so it seemed to bring a new emphasis on how the Golden Knights would go about creating their offense.

Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, we specifically highlighted one stat that indicated the exact difference between his way of generating offense and Gallant’s. At the time it was written as an example of what Vegas needed to stop to win the series, but now, it’s what the Golden Knights need to work to be successful in 2020-21.

That stat is percentage of team shots attempts taken by defensemen. Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, his teams were consistently among the league leaders seeing about 40% of their shot attempts coming from blue liners. Vegas, under Gallant, came in with significantly less, at around 34%. Over the course of the 2018-19 season, that meant about 300 fewer shot attempts from Vegas defensemen than San Jose’s.

It didn’t take long for DeBoer to begin implementing that style of offense here in Vegas. Thanks to some dandy research by SanJoseHockeyNow.com‘s Sheng Peng, the increase in shot attempts from Gallant, to pre-Pause DeBoer, to post-Pause DeBoer was massive.

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Line/Pair Deployment In Playoffs Under Gallant vs. DeBoer

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the bigger changes expected with Pete DeBoer taking over for Gerard Gallant was a little more reliance on top players as opposed to rolling four lines and three pairs.

We expected to see a lot more Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, and William Karlsson, while less Nick Holden, Ryan Reaves, and Tomas Nosek. In the regular season, we saw just that with the defensemen, but the forwards actually saw their TOI decrease slightly after the coaching change.

The playoffs are a different animal though, one where coaching decisions are magnified. The largest of coaching decisions is deployment, which players play when and for how long. The expectation was there would be more of a hierarchy under DeBoer than Gallant, while in reality, there were slight changes, but not what you might expect.

 2019 (Gallant)2020 (DeBoer)Difference
1st Line31.0%31.0%0.00
2nd Line29.3%27.9%-1.46
3rd Line24.6%25.1%0.52
4th Line15.1%16.0%0.94
1st Pair36.0%37.9%1.91
2nd Pair35.7%36.4%0.78
3rd Pair28.3%25.6%-2.69

Both DeBoer and Gallant used the Pacioretty/Stone line (which was centered by Stastny in 2019 and Karlsson in 2020) for exactly 31% of the game. That’s a little less than 19 minutes per night.

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2020-21 Pressure Index: Defensemen, Goalies, Coach, Front Office

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Yesterday we tackled the Pressure Index for the forwards, now we move on to the rest of the roster and the front office.

Alex Pietrangelo

The Golden Knights franchise is not new to working in new players, and more recently, new stars. Some have thrived immediately, others have taken some time. With Pietrangelo, he’s going to have to have it figured out pretty quickly or this team is going to struggle along with him. Dealing with the new environment, first time with a new team, and the pressure to perform having signed the mega-deal all add up to the new guy feeling some heat, but he’ll have plenty of built-in excuses plus $61 million to relieve a lot of it. Pressure Index: 5

Brayden McNabb

The likely partner for Vegas’ newest superstar has been one of the steadiest players in Golden Knights history. It’s hard to believe anyone would be a bad match for Pietrangelo but any failures Alex has early will be blamed at least in part on his partner. Throw in the fact that as a pair they’ll be playing against the opposition’s best players every night and likely starting a majority of their shifts in the D-zone and it’s a tall task for anyone. Simply put, McNabb has to have a great season or his place as VGK’s most reliable defensemen will be lost quickly. Pressure Index: 6

Shea Theodore

No one has higher expectations for the 2020-21 season than Shea. After a masterful postseason most believe Theodore’s name should be in the mix for the Norris trophy this year. The statistical expectations most have for Theodore are probably unrealistic though. He was able to post 19 points in 20 games in the playoffs which leads many to believe he should be pushing 80 points in the regular season. His career-high is just 46 in 71 games. Maybe he can reach the insane numbers he’ll be projected for, but more than likely he’ll be looking at about a 50 point season with 10-15 goals. He needs to drive offense consistently for this team to succeed. There’s no reason to believe he won’t, but the weight of expectations will be heavy. Pressure Index: 8

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Familiar Alternatives To Free Agent Big Game Hunting

The Golden Knights offseason plans are underway and time for the front office to try and improve the club for next season.

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is the big fish in free agency and as we’ve seen before, the Golden Knights aren’t afraid to hand out a massive contract. At 30-years-old, management might be cautious before handing out an expensive seven-year contract. The right-handed Pietrangelo will come at a premium, so Vegas will have to be creative matching the asking price or find other alternatives.

Another notable UFA is Boston defenseman, Torey Krug. The expected price on Krug is around $7.5-$8M per season. He’s a year younger but unlike Pietrangelo, he’s a left-handed shot, and we’ve seen Vegas target right-handed defenseman in the past. Krug’s offensive production is worth the expense, but Vegas may lean to the much taller and right-handed Pietrangelo.

There are plenty of alternative defenseman in the market this offseason, some are less-skilled but cheaper and younger. If Vegas can find the defenseman that fixes their exact deficiency they won’t need to break the bank. However, that takes great awareness and pro scouting finding that right fit. That’s when the familiarity factor comes in handy.

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Rattled By Thatcher Demko?

Following their Western Conference Final loss, Pete DeBoer made a puzzling comment about his team’s mentality.

There’s no doubt that the last couple of games in the Vancouver series against Demko probably rattled our confidence a little bit. -DeBoer

DeBoer casually revealed one of the reasons Vegas struggled to score on Dallas was a rookie backup goaltender from a previous series living inside of his players’ heads.

We’ve heard coaches reference past series to account for injuries or even style of play differences, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one admit his team was psychologically fractured by an individual performance in a prior round. We applaud the honesty, but what is he saying about his team… or maybe even his own coaching job?

Another learning lesson for our guys at this time of year; fighting through, persevering, finding a way to get yourself out of a slump. Getting your confidence back quicker. -DeBoer

What happened to the mentality this team had?(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

These are all things the Golden Knights clearly did not do well inside of the bubble, that they must improve upon if they are to hoist the Cup in the future. But one has to wonder about the fragility of the locker room if they did indeed allow the ghost of Thatcher Demko to ruin their chances to win a completely new series.

What happened to “one game at a time?” To “I’m not worried about the offense?” To “the worst thing we can do is change?”

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Offseason’s “First Order Of Business” Is Between The Pipes

The weirdest season ever is over which means the weirdest offseason ever has now begun. According to the Golden Knights’ GM, the issue on the top of mind for every fan is the same as the front office.

We don’t have those answers for you right now but the first order of business in many respects is to sort (the goalie position) out. -Kelly McCrimmon

The future appears to be heading in the direction of Robin Lehner. From being handed the starting role to the Allan Walsh tweet to the reported long-term contract negotiations with Lehner, all signs point to a parting of ways with Fleury.

No one has more respect for Flower as a person or a teammate or his resume and what he’s done for this franchise and through his career but we made the decisions that gave us the best opportunity to win and we’re going to do that again going forward. -Pete DeBoer

Both Lehner and McCrimmon have denied the rumors of a handshake agreement on a 5-year $25 million ($5M AAV) contract.

It’s not true. Nothing is finalized. It’s kind of annoying that we are here in the conference final and people are saying things they don’t know. If it would have been finalized it would have been finalized. -Lehner on 9/11/20

The goalie situation will be the driving force behind all of what the Golden Knights do this offseason.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If they decide to go with Lehner only, where does Fleury end up and what are the cap ramifications that go with it?

If they decide to keep both, where will they trim to make it work?

Can they go back to Fleury after all that’s happened? Does Fleury even want that?

They are all questions that will be answered quickly as the offseason truly ramps up in just a few weeks. The Draft is scheduled for October 6th and 7th and unrestricted free agency opens up two days later on the 9th. The Golden Knights will likely reveal their answers before the latter.

The NHL’s salary cap is set to remain at $81.5 million heading into next season and is likely to stay there for at least one more year after that. That makes life a little more difficult on the Golden Knights as they were pushing (actually went over) the Cap in 2019-20.

There are decisions to be made on plenty of free agents, both restricted and unrestricted, but the offseason starts and ends with what shakes out in goal. It will shape the present and future of the organization and until it’s figured out, not much else really matters.

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