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Vegas Doesn’t Do Much Of What Makes A Team Hardest To Defend

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Brayden McNabb is among the best defense-first defensemen in the NHL, and certainly one of the best on the Golden Knights. He’s played more than 600 regular season and playoff games in the NHL, so it’s fair to say he’s seen just about every type of player, offensive system, and situation a defenseman can face.

Following the season, I asked McNabb a question that generated an answer I found telling, even if he didn’t mean it to be taken the way I’m about to take it.

The question was simple, “what makes a team hardest to play against for you as a defenseman?”

If they play fast. If they are putting the puck in and forechecking us and you are getting slammed into the boards every time they do that I don’t care who you ask no one really likes that. Teams that move around in the O-zone, make it difficult by making you make hard reads and making it confusing. -McNabb

It all makes perfect sense and nothing in his answer should be surprising to anyone.

But it made me think…

Do the Golden Knights do any of it?

“Play fast.” At times, sure, I’d argue that the Golden Knights played a fast brand of hockey this season, specifically in transition. When they were turning pucks over in the neutral zone or defensive zone, they sprung into the attack quickly and would often demolish teams on the rush.

In the offensive zone though, fast is not a word most would use to describe the VGK offensive style. They were much more methodical, placing a high preference on puck possession as opposed to quick passing.

Next is forechecking with physicality. This was rarely a part of the Golden Knights’ game this season at all. Vegas was not a heavy dump and chase type team and when they were forced to do it, throwing bodies was not exactly the preferred method of retrieval. Instead, Vegas would send the first player into the zone trying to force the puck along the boards to where the second forechecker would usually be. They’d then try to turn the puck over and hit their third forward coming through the center of the ice, or recycle the puck to eventually generate shots from the point.

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McPhee Not Concerned About Lehner/DeBoer Relationship Because “People Get Over It”

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The saga at the end of the season between the pipes for the Golden Knights was, well, messy.

It started with Robin Lehner fighting reports of his injuries publicly and it ended with him serving as the backup in a must-win game when he had already decided his season was over and he’d undergo shoulder surgery.

In between, there were soft goals, scathing public comments about his play, a goalie pull during a tie game, a press release about a maintenance day, and a whole lot of speculation.

It’s the second time in three seasons with Pete DeBoer behind the VGK bench that drama about the goalie has marred the end of a season. At least this time there weren’t any graphic memes on Twitter.

So now, the focus turns to the simple question of “can Pete DeBoer and Robin Lehner coexist as head coach and starting goalie of this team?”

During his postseason media availability, DeBoer detailed his entire decision-making process during the final few weeks of the season and even went as far as to express regret that he used the term “healthy” about Lehner down the stretch. He then pointed to the situation as the main reason why it got so contentious.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s friction at the end of a tough season between coaches and players or even players and players. Everyone’s frustrated, everyone’s pushing, there’s lots of tough conversations that are had down the stretch in those situations and you are pushing people to max amount because we need it. This isn’t something that’s unique to us or our group or Robin Lehner. -DeBoer

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VGK’s Collective Failure Began In Early January

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Since January 1st, the Golden Knights were statistically one of the worst teams in the NHL. Over the last four months, Vegas finished in the bottom ten in; Wins, Regulation Wins, Goals For, Goals Per Game, 5-on-5 Shooting Percentage, Losses When Outshooting Opponents, Wins When Outshooting Opponents, Goals Scored in 1st Period, Goals Scored in 2nd Period, Power Play Percentage, Penalties Drawn, Hits, Shootout Win Percentage, and Wins When Trailing First.

Incredibly enough, they only finished a few points behind the final Wild Card spot.

We got to camp and we were never at full health. You’re tired of hearing it, I’m tired of talking about it for as much as we have but clearly it’s the overarching issue that dominated our season. -McCrimmon

The numbers not only show Vegas was a below-average team in the second half of the season but struggled in a myriad of offensive statistics. Leading the way was the Golden Knights’ now notorious inadequate power play. Yet the organization is looking beyond the numbers.

I have great faith in the coaching. I’m not absolving responsibility on us as coaches either. We’re going to look at everything and I think we showed that in what we did during the season. We changed responsibilities, we had different voices, different looks. We’re going to keep looking at this until we get it right and I’m confident we will. -Pete DeBoer

Of course, it was an unfortunate, injury-plaqued season but it’s fair to ask if coach Pete DeBoer and his assistants adjusted enough in the final four months. Did the staff design or tweak enough to help generate more offense in the first 40 minutes of games? Unfortunately, it felt like DeBoer stuck with having “great faith” in what most would consider status quo.

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Golden Knights 2021-22 Locker Cleanout Press Conference Audio

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The Golden Knights conducted their season-end media availability today at City National Arena. This is the complete unedited audio of every press conference.

0:00 – 31:47 – Pete DeBoer

31:47 – 1:07:24 – Kelly McCrimmon

1:07:24 – 1:23:10 – Alec Martinez

1:23:10 – 1:39:20 – Max Pacioretty

1:39:20 – 1:48:27 – Shea Theodore

1:48:27 – 2:01:44 – Jack Eichel

2:01:44 – 2:13:20 – Zach Whitecloud

2:13:20 – 2:26:48 – Mark Stone

2:26:48 – 2:38:01 – Jonathan Marchessault

2:38:01 – 2:47:46 – William Karlsson

2:47:46 – 2:57:56 – Brayden McNabb

VGK’s Frustration Visibly Noticeable To Opponents

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It’s been eerily quiet since the Golden Knights season finale. There hasn’t been a peep from any of Vegas’ players, coaches, or executives since their postgame press conferences on Friday night. It’s almost as if The Creator and his staff are choosing the next Pope.

Without any knowledge of the conversations being held it’s impossible to guess which direction Vegas is heading. Whatever it may be, it was apparently obvious to many lineups across the NHL.

I had a few teams tell me today that Vegas was always a very together team. Through good and bad. This year was the first year they really saw them as a frustrated team. Doors slamming in games, players showing frustration or snapping at each other occasionally during games. I don’t want anyone to take that I think the Vegas Golden Knights all despise each other because I don’t know if that’s true. –Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

It’s no secret, Golden Knights fans witnessed their team’s frustration almost weekly. That’ll happen with extensive injuries, poor performances, and a struggling power play. However, we can’t hear the doors slamming or snapping on the bench. Mark Stone and other team leaders keep their locker room tight but it’s hard to believe it felt the same without the captain for most of the year. Add in injuries to Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez and the chemistry had to have taken a hit.

When you’re losing and your season is slipping away that’s normal. Teams noticed it more this year. Was that just as frustration of the injuries and the season slipping away or is there any chance the fabric of this team has been changed and they have to address that. I don’t know. Teams noticed it this year, more than ever. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman’s advice to the Golden Knights is to address the goaltending situation. Over the weekend, the Sportsnet reporter continued to stress that Robin Lehner’s frustration and season ending injuries were sensitive matters.

The number one thing they have to deal with is Lehner. People are telling me wait. This is not over. There’s still more to go here. What’s everyone going to say? This is going to take some skill and handling. There are the possibilities of aftershocks. Is this something that the league and the Players Association are going to have to get involved in? Depending on where all of this goes. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

It doesn’t take a spyglass for an opposing team to hear or read about the tension between Lehner and the coaching staff down the stretch. It was on full display after Vegas’ late-season loss against the New Jersey Devils.

Is there a way to deal with this so that it can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction mentally, and physically, and emotionally without a series of aftershocks that further damage the franchise. If it’s not dealt with in a proper way it’s going to get worse before it gets better. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight, unfortunately without the Golden Knights. On the bright side, missing the cut allows Vegas more time in the offseason. A head start helps examine prospects, target free agents, trades or anything else they feel they need to get sorted out. The next few days will reveal what the organization’s plans are going forward. Lehner, DeBoer, slamming doors, and teammates snapping are areas that need immediate attention.

Iole: VGK Offseason Agenda

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Today is the last column for the season from Kevin. We cannot thank Kevin enough for contributing to the site all year.

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Trying to forecast what the Golden Knights’ will be like in the 2022-23 season is all but impossible. We don’t know who is going to manage the team, who will coach it, and if several of the key players on it will ever be the same physically.

From owner Bill Foley on down, VGK management has to be praying that Mark Stone’s back injury that kept him out of 46 games this year and left him a shell of himself when he did return for the final, ultimately futile, playoff run is healed and just a sad memory when next season begins.

That’s no guarantee, though, and without a healthy and productive Stone, it’s all but impossible to take this team seriously as a contender no matter what else they do in the offseason.

There are a number of free agents, though none more important than Reilly Smith. But with the Knights up against the salary cap, will they be able to find the money to bring him back? And even if they can, will he want to return?

The answers to those questions will play out in the next several months. But I’ve identified six areas whoever is running this team will need to solidify in the offseason if it is to have a reasonable hope of fulfilling Foley’s dream of a Stanley Cup title by Year 6.

Get younger and faster

The Knights were the third-oldest team in the league in the 2021-22 season, and at times it looked like they didn’t have the jump they needed. They certainly didn’t play with the pace of a championship team.

When the Misfits went to the Stanley Cup final in 2018, they forechecked ferociously and took time and space away from the opposition on virtually every shift.

The inordinate number of injuries they suffered through played a role in that, but they need to infuse the lineup with both young, hungry players and speed.

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Organization Requested Injured Lehner For Failed Stretch Run

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Last night the Golden Knights were officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Vegas failed in shootout for the third straight game, ending what was supposed to be a highly successful season. Over the past week, the team was desperate for points, and Logan Thompson, on no rest, gave them the best chance to succeed. It wasn’t ideal. Late season back-to-backs, four straight extended games, and endless pressure was one of the reasons the organization pleaded with Robin Lehner to play out the final few games.

He was unhappy with some of the criticism he was getting and being pulled. There were talks about how can we make this work, can you at least play through the season. Then he saw the doctors, he’s legitimately injured. They announced one surgery but I think there are two or three different injuries. –Elliotte Friedman, The Jeff Marek Show

Surely, had Lehner been available coach Pete DeBoer would have considered starting him against the Blackhawks. Or at the very least use him to support Thompson. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and the team was left with one option while Lehner prepares for season-ending surgery.

Lehner’s playing with two, possibly three really tough injuries. I just don’t know if it’s one thing or more than one thing. He’s left the team at times, he’s been injured at times. He’s tried to play through it, he’s competitive. It’s definitely effected his ability to be at his best. He’s not at his best but he’s competing. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman reported the team had asked Lehner to finish out the season and fight through his injuries. I’m sure that’s a common conversation players have with coaches this time of year. In this case, Vegas’ goaltender was battling too many ailments to suit up. Playing through injuries and being publicly criticized must have annoyed and frustrated Lehner. Which shouldn’t surprise DeBoer or the front office.

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Lehner’s Plan For Season Ending Surgery Another VGK Communication Breakdown

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Coach Pete DeBoer had time to reflect on Wednesday’s season saving comeback win against Washington. His team controlled the puck overtime and in a matter of minutes Vegas remained in a playoff hunt. Also, with yesterday’s day off the Golden Knights head coach was able to further internalize his controversial but successful goalie change in a 1-1 tie.

The decision to start him, we pay him to start games like this. It’s the most important time of the year. He’s healthy he’s fresh he’s got a lot of energy. We need him at this point of the year. After that NJ game I felt like I wanted to give him the opportunity to bounce back. -Pete DeBoer, 04/20

After Wednesday’s victory the head coach answered questions about why he decided to start Robin Lehner in net. DeBoer explained that the higher paid goaltender should get the nod in big games. 20 minutes into the game he clearly felt differently. The veteran coach also emphasized that Lehner was not injured and that the goalie was rested.

He’s healthy he’s fresh he’s got a lot of energy.-Pete DeBoer, 04/20

But the latest information refutes DeBoer’s claim. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan and The Athletic’s Jesse Granger both reported that Lehner will undergo season ending surgery.

Normally, these type of conflicting reports are further cleared up by the organization. That is if, they had the same information about Lehner’s health. However, today after Golden Knights practice things got weird.

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Inaccuracy Plagues Golden Knights At Wrong Times

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In two of the most important regular season games in franchise history, the Golden Knights attempted 159 shots with 83 of them reaching the net. They’ve scored just twice including a puck that was kicked in by an opposing team player and a 6-on-5 goal to cut the deficit from two to one with not much time left.

A year ago, in Games 5 and 6 of the Conference Finals, the Golden Knights attempted 121 shots, saw 66 reach the goal and scored just three times.

The year before that, again in the Conference Finals, the Golden Knights attempted 134 shots, 69 reaching the goal, and again scored just three times.

Six crucial games, a total of eight goals, and six losses that all resulted either directly or indirectly in the end of Vegas’ season.

We have to look in the mirror. This has been a historical problem here, going dry at the wrong times. There’s no excuses this time of year. You have to find a way to win and step up in the most important moments. -Pete DeBoer

The inability to score has been a problem that has plagued each of the past three Golden Knights’ seasons. It’s a problem that confuses many from both the eye test and the advanced analytic perspective as Vegas appears to be dominating games, handling their opponents, and yet time and time again, when the games mean the most, they end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

This season, Vegas has attempted the 7th most shots in the league and they’re 8th in shot attempts. However, they’ve scored on just 5.1% of those attempts and 9.2% of shots on goal. Those numbers are good for 20th and 24th in the NHL..

There’s a fine line between wanting to put everything on net and at the same time you’re making the goalie feel good if you are just throwing it on net from everywhere. It’s about having the confidence and making the extra play to make the goalie get out of position, make him go lateral and give yourself a better chance to score. -Max Pacioretty

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Commanding Win In Calgary Only Matters If It Continues On In Edmonton

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Last night in Alberta the Golden Knights were dominant. Despite falling behind 1-0 on a power play goal, Vegas slowly but surely dismantled one of the best teams in the league, the Calgary Flames.

They did it by playing the way that has made them successful each of the past few seasons. Even though they tallied six goals in the game, it was the defensive game that led the charge. Starting with the coverage in the defensive zone, extending to the gap control at the blue line, and finishing with consistent responsible play through the neutral zone and in the offensive zone, the Golden Knights made life difficult on the Flames all over the ice.

No matter the roster, the best versions of the Golden Knights since Pete DeBoer took over have been defensive stalwarts. They snuff out chances before they ever happen and in doing so it feeds a transition game that is one of the most deadly in the NHL. Far too often this year, mistakes have led to breakdowns all over the ice which leads to goals against and struggling offensive consistency. Last night, while not quite mistake-free, was as close to a perfect effort as you’ll find in a road game against a division-leading opponent.

By playing that way, Vegas was able to draw multiple penalties which led to a pair of goals on or right after the ensuing power play, and it caused a usually under control Flames team to press for offense, leading to loads of turnovers and excellent chances going the other way.

But it’s just one game, and at this point, it remains an outlier among a 75-game season that has been marred by inconsistency. Vegas has played excellent defensive games in the past, including recently against Nashville, a March game against Los Angeles, and probably the best defensive output of the year a game at Washington in January. Unfortunately, Vegas backed each and every one of those games up with a letdown the following time out.

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