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Chronicling VGK’s Failing Power Play Overhaul

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Heading into the offseason, 10 months ago, the Golden Knights had one area they really wanted to clean up.

The obvious one is the power play, that’s at the top of the list to fix. For me the power play isn’t a this year problem. I didn’t feel it was dangerous enough in the Bubble, I thought it was mediocre. At the most important time in the Bubble as we went through to the Dallas series it got cold at the wrong time. We shuffled some things, put a new set of eyes on it this year and it stumbled again. That’s going to be the priority moving forward. -Pete DeBoer in June 2021

The front office felt the same way and they got to work instantly as the new league year opened.

Evgenii Dadonov was a player we identified as a priority. We had him ahead of all players that were available in Expansion. That effectively addressed the need of adding one good foward. -Kelly McCrimmon in July 2021

To start the season, DeBoer urged fans and media to be patient with the power play, calling it a work in progress and even going as far as to dissuade questions until we see it for a full season.

Vegas started the season 0 for 19 on the power play and the concerns grew larger and larger.

Again, the front office did not sit and wait for it to fix itself, instead, they went out and made yet another blockbuster trade, acquiring superstar Jack Eichel. Of course, though, he was injured, so once again, patience was required.

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“Just Being Good Is Not Good Enough Right Now”

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Injuries have dominated the storyline for the Golden Knights this season and they are a huge reason why the team is where it is in the playoff picture with 11 games to go.

Recently though Vegas has started to see a few key pieces return to the lineup and with them has come a growing confidence that they can push through and claim one of the final playoff spots.

I think when a player comes back it’s a boost for the team. The team does a little bit extra to try and make it good for you. -Robin Lehner

This has been on full display for the Golden Knights recently. From the three-goal comeback against Chicago in Alec Martinez’s return to the shutout in Seattle when Brayden McNabb stepped back into the lineup to the overtime win in Vancouver in Lehner’s return.

The challenge is to keep it up. Not only for the team to continue playing at a “boosted” level, but also to get consistent performances from those who have been out of the lineup and are likely not fully healthy.

I feel I’m close, but this time of year I need to be better than my 100 percent. It’s time to raise the bar. All of us. We need to win and there’s no other option. Just being good is not good enough right now. -Lehner

Lehner likely speaks for most players in the Golden Knights’ lineup. Rarely is any player completely healthy at this time of the season, but with a year like Vegas has had it’s to be expected that most guys are less than 100%. Adding Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone back into the mix will only muddy up these already muddy waters as well.

It’s going to be up to Pete DeBoer to find the balance necessary to get everything out of his players without asking too much from those who aren’t physically capable of it.

We have the luxury of not having to load up anyone on defense with the group we have back there. Up front we’re not as deep with the group we’ve got out we don’t have an option but to load up some of those guys. We can’t leave any bullets in the gun for playoffs until we clinch a ticket to make sure we are there. -DeBoer

Vegas does have the benefit of time between games for the rest of this week but then the schedule tightens up substantially for the final six games.

Decision-making will be paramount down the stretch because one wrong move could be fatal for a team that needs every win they can possibly get.

It’s All About Points Not Image For The Golden Knights

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As of today, the Golden Knights stand one point ahead of the Dallas Stars for the last wildcard spot. Since LA lost last night, Vegas is within striking distance of a top-three Pacific Division postseason slot as well. There are many moving parts but the local club muddied the waters and made up ground during their latest five-game winning streak.

Who are they when they get in there? The Vegas standard has risen so much. They’ve had so much success and they’ve had so many expectations. –David Backes on Jeff Marek Show

While coach Pete DeBoer and his players are taking care of their end, pundits across the league are still having trouble believing in Vegas’ postseason success. Former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes joined Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek to express his concerns about the Golden Knights’ identity after a season marred with injuries.

It’s a team that’s got a lot of great pieces but whether it’s due to injury, and when you’re losing your captain for long stretches, or if you’ve lost character guys in the room. I feel like they missing some direction and identity. I think you’d rather be a team that was undermanned and under skilled with identity than a team that’s got skill and all of the pieced without identity. –Backes on Jeff Marek Show

It’s possible by Game 1 of the postseason the Golden Knights are close(r) to being a healthier team. Captain Mark Stone and sniper Max Pacioretty would add significant boosts to Vegas’ offense and esteem. Both have the ability to take over a game with Stone’s two-way play and Pacioretty’s nasty wrist shot. However, how healthy will they be? And will their lack of action hurt team chemistry? Keep in mind, Stone has never shared the ice with Jack Eichel. Sure, both are incredibly rare talents but all professional athletes need familiarity to maximize success.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek presumes Vegas may not rebound this season. Not only due to several devastating injuries but also because of the organization’s intense culture.

It’s tough when faces of the franchise leave. We’ve talked a lot about how Vegas has a ruthless pursuit of the Cup. It’s at all costs. If we can improve the team it doesn’t matter what this guy or that guy has done for the squad. You’re gone. Whether it’s Ryan Reaves, Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps the best example. Maybe Gerard Gallant, who had the nerve to take the team to the Stanley Cup Final. Nate Schmidt is another great example. All jettisoned. You understand it, this is the business the hockey. –Jeff Marek on Sportsnet 590

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First Goals Matters Even More For Low-Scoring Golden Knights

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In a sport where the victor usually only needs to score three goals, it’s not terribly surprising that the team who scores first tends to win the game more often than those who concede. But, for the Golden Knights, it appears scoring first goes much further than simply putting them one step closer to three.

The first goal is a difference-maker for our group. Early in the season, we were getting it all the time, then we went through a stretch where we weren’t and we were playing from behind and that’s tough for our group because we aren’t scoring easily. -Pete DeBoer

During the five-game win streak, the Golden Knights have scored the first goal in all but one of the contests. In fact, not only have they gotten the first goal, but they’ve even scored the second in four of the five games as well.

What has happened for the Golden Knights when they get the lead is that they seem to settle into the game and play the style that makes them most dangerous. That style includes mucking up the neutral zone, taking safe possession-seeding exits out of the defensive zone when under pressure, and making good decisions with the puck to limit transition chances going the other way.

This season when scoring first, Vegas has posted a record of 29-10-2. When they don’t, the record dips to 10-18-2. It’s even more important on the road where the Golden Knights are 15-5-0 when netting the first goal compared to 4-10-1 when they allow it.

The team that has scored first has won 13 of the Golden Knights’ last 15 games with the two outliers both resulting in Vegas wins.

It’s the second goal that has been even more telling though. In each of the last eight games, the team to score first has also scored second. When Vegas gets the first goal, they tend to play a much safer style that makes life difficult on their opponent. Then, when mistakes are made, the Golden Knights are excellent at capitalizing.

On the flip side, if the Golden Knights concede first, their own transition chances dry up which often leads to the issue that has plagued this team for years, ineffectiveness with extended offensive zone time.

Down the stretch, the Golden Knights are going to need to win a majority of the games left on the schedule. The number of times they score first will likely have a huge impact on whether or not it happens.

Seattle Tonight, Eager Vancouver Next

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I’m sure many Golden Knights fans were up scoreboard watching last night hoping the Dallas Stars and LA Kings would each drop two points. Unfortunately, both teams teased local fans and won in overtime and a shootout. My suggestion, pace yourself. With many tight races there could be some stressful nights ahead.

Tonight, the Golden Knights will play an opponent they have and should handle easily. Of course, it’s possible Seattle ends Vegas’ three-game win streak but in reality, the visiting team should leave with four points. It’ll alleviate some pressure heading into Sunday’s game against Vancouver.

I told a story today. I said my first year coaching in the NHL we needed to win 12 out of the last 13 games,” and we did. And we had to win the last seven and we did to get in by one point. These things happen. By no stretch does anybody, unless they’re lying to me, think that we’re done. But, I mean, we have to go on a pretty good run.-Bruce Boudreau, Canucks coach

After Seattle, Vegas will face an eager Vancouver team in an old-fashioned home-and-home matchup. The two teams meet up a final time on April 12th. While the playoffs look dim for the Canucks, they are led by a coach that thrives as an afterthought. There’s no doubt Vancouver will be in postseason mode against Vegas. Essentially, their season could come down to the next two games.

I try to stay away from the big things and try and make it more palatable. They can buy into and say ‘all we have to do is play good tonight and let’s worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.’-Bruce Boudreau, Canucks coach

I’m sure Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer has his own anecdotes and stories he passes along to his players as well. The only difference is Vancouver needs a miracle to survive while Vegas is expected to participate in the playoffs. DeBoer would be ecstatic picking up another win tonight and four combined points against the Kraken. The Golden Knights longest winning streak is five games so he’s aware it’s unlikely to continue against other desperate teams. It’s vital to pluck points from every lottery team left on Vegas’ schedule.

  • Tonight @ Seattle
  • April 9th vs. Arizona
  • April 18th vs. New Jersey
  • April 24th vs. San Jose
  • April 27th @ Chicago

The Golden Knights are fully aware that if they take advantage of lighter opponents the playoffs will be in their grasp. They cannot afford to let games slip away so it’s only worth focusing on one game at a time. Take control of the next three games and Vegas will nearly eliminate Vancouver, and be in a temporary playoff position. Then they’ll likely need to sweep their Alberta trip and leapfrog Dallas in the final week of the season.

Nevermind my earlier advice, after tonight the stress level will be unbearable. Hopefully, we’ll get a night off from scoreboard watching.

Consecutive Games Against Same Opponent Has Suited Golden Knights Well

In the first 68 games this season, the Golden Knights have not played the same opponent in consecutive games a single time. That’s about to change with the next four games. Tomorrow Vegas heads to Seattle to play the Kraken twice in a row before they depart for Vancouver for a home and home against the Canucks.

Normally, in the NHL this is a rarity. Over the course of the Golden Knights’ first three seasons, they played the same team in consecutive games just three times. 2017-18 had pairs of games against the Coyotes early in the season and the Kings right at the trade deadline. 2019-20 included a season-opening duo against the Sharks following the wild seven-game series the year before.

On each of those three occasions, the same team won both games. Vegas swept Arizona and San Jose and the Kings took both off Vegas. That also is considered a rarity.

The back-to-back, it’s the old college hockey thing, it’s really hard to sweep a team. -Pete DeBoer

This was a massive talking point heading into last season when COVID restrictions forced nearly the entire schedule to consist of back-to-back games against the same team.

For Vegas though, it actually ended up working out in their favor.

We did do it a lot last year and we were successful. -DeBoer

The schedule worked out fine for the Golden Knights, but we don’t ever need to see this again. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights played a pair of games against the same team 19 different times. Vegas won both games 11 times against six of the seven other teams in the division. The Golden Knights only lost both games twice and each time it was to the same opponent, the Minnesota Wild. They even took a point in one of them too.

Vegas ripped off a 10 game winning streak last season in which the first eight were all in this exact situation. Winning pairs against Arizona, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose the Golden Knights then went on to beat the Ducks and Avs to finish the stretch.

Using this “college hockey” style schedule, the Golden Knights went on to rack up the most points of any team in the league, tied with Colorado, and they hoisted the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals against during the season.

Now, Vegas is in need of points in the worst way. With two against Seattle and two more against Vancouver, seven or eight points has to be the goal. Conventional wisdom says that’s going to be tough given the mini-series against each team, but history indicates the exact opposite.

If VGK can channel their inner 2021, they have a great chance of amassing points in bunches this week off the backs of two inferior opponents.

Iole: Blaming DeBoer Is A Fool’s Errand

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. 

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Throughout this largely cursed Golden Knights’ season, there has been one constant. Just about anything bad that can go wrong in the 2021-22 campaign has, but that hasn’t impacted the one area which most directly correlates with the quality of their head coach: Their effort.

There have been games when they have been overmatched, most notably the 6-0 drubbing in Calgary on Feb. 9 and the 7-3 debacle in Winnipeg on March 22.

Through it all, though, the one constant has been that they played hard. That’s a credit to Coach Pete DeBoer. That was on full display, especially in the 3rd period, of Saturday afternoon’s pulsating 5-4 overtime victory over the Blackhawks. The Knights overcame a 3-0 deficit after 40 minutes to win in overtime, something that doesn’t happen if the coach has lost the team.

Whenever a team that is expected to win loses as much as the Golden Knights have lost this season, speculation mounts that the coach is going to be replaced. There is no denying that owner Bill Foley, president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon showed a surprisingly quick trigger finger when they got rid of Gerard Gallant in 2020.

Particularly throughout the 0-5 road trip that saw them lose by a combined score of 23-11 to the Flyers, Sabres, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Jets, the anticipation that Foley and Co. would make a coaching change was intense.

Fans far too often believe a coaching change is the answer, when the truth is it’s usually a lot more subtle than that. This year, as the Knights have struggled to score — they entered Saturday’s game 12th in goals scored — fans have pointed to DeBoer’s system as a reason they’re not scoring.

That’s just a cop-out, an excuse, and has nothing to do with the real reason they can’t score. It has nothing to do with system. It’s far simpler: DeBoer had a lot better players to deal with last season.

Duh.

Mark Stone led the team in scoring with 61 points, and played in 55 of the 56 games. That’s 98.2 percent of all games. After missing Saturday’s game, Stone has played in 28 of 68 games, or 41.2 percent. Max Pacioretty has played in 29 of 68 games this year, 42.6 percent, compared to 48 of 56 last year, when he appeared in 85.7 percent of the games. Jonathan Marchessault has played in 91.2 percent of the games this year after suiting up on Saturday, but was in 98.2 percent of their games last year after playing in all but one last season.

There’s more, but you get the point.

DeBoer has been replacing guys like Stone, Pacioretty, Marchessault, Reilly Smith and others on his scoring lines with the likes of Jake Leschyshyn, Jonas Rondbjerg, Paul Cotter and Keegan Kolesar. News flash: They’re not going to score as much, or at the same rate, as Stone & Co.

It’s DeBoer’s coaching or his Xs & Os. Most experts would rank the Islanders’ Barry Trotz ahead of DeBoer as a coach, and there’s no argument about that here. Trotz will be in the Hall of Fame when he’s done. But the Islanders have been ravaged by injuries this season and guess what: It’s going to take a miracle for them to make the playoffs.

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Vegas Recognizes What They’re Dealing With

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Tonight the Golden Knights will face an electric Florida Panthers team that won’t have trouble scoring. In their last ten games, the Panthers have 40 combined goals scored. Vegas on the other hand, has a total of 25. It well could be another one of those nights. We’re all hoping it’s not.

This is not how Vegas operates. Vegas isn’t fond about making excuses. Maybe management would look at it and say ‘we got thirty million dollars worth of players that are wearing suits.’ I don’t know if the owner looks at it that way. -Jeff Marek on 32 Thoughts Podcast

Of course, fans would rather the Golden Knights compete for a Stanley Cup this postseason but it seems like a hopeless dream at this point. Vegas has been devastated with injuries and there’s no doubting that. The Golden Knights’ goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals may have unfortunately been upended by the injury bug. It’s an excuse, but some would argue it’s a darn good excuse.

Look at how much money you’ve got in injured reserve or long term injured reserve. Between all of those guys you’re over $30 million dollars out of the lineup. -Elliotte Friedman on 32 Thoughts Podcast

Most injuries are uncontrollable and an unfortunate element of professional sports. Sadly, some teams cannot make up for impactful players getting hurt and missing significant amounts of time. It’s unlikely the Golden Knights will never be fully healthy this season. Even if the club makes a remarkable run to the finals it won’t be enough time for each injury to completely heal. Don’t get me wrong, if Mark Stone and Alec Martinez are available in the playoffs they will dress. They may not be 100% healthy but they will play their tuchuses off.

Realistically, it probably wouldn’t be enough to eliminate Calgary, Colorado, or Tampa Bay in a seven-game series. So, what’s wrong with planning ahead?

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Golden Knights Understandably Losing Composure After Latest Setback

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

It’s becoming easier and easier to hear and see the frustration coming from the Golden Knights during their current five-game road trip. As the losses pile up some of the players are acting a bit out of character. Honestly, after the last few weeks who can blame them. In early January, Vegas was sitting comfortably in a playoff spot leading the Western Conference by three points. Now they stand 21 points behind the conference-leading Colorado Avalanche and hanging on to a playoff spot by a thread.

The rapid descent in the standings is taking a toll on Vegas’ players and coaches. After yesterday’s 6-4 loss in Columbus, a normally mild-mannered Chandler Stephenson was unfiltered about his club’s inability to win.

Everybody has to dig deeper, grab their nuts and just work. That’s the bottom line. -Chandler Stephenson

Stephenson seemed tired of making excuses and answering questions about how and when will the team turn things around. Like other teammates, they don’t have the answers, so they vent. Including coach Pete DeBoer.

We’re four games into this trip and I could argue we could have won every one of the games, but we found ways to lose. And that’s troubling. We’ve got to stop the bleeding. -Pete DeBoer

Four days ago newcomer Jack Eichel gave his now infamous postgame riff after Vegas’ 3-1 loss in Buffalo. Eichel’s disparaging remarks about his former supporters are still trending in trash talk history. Many in Vegas have already forgotten and really don’t care what Eichel’s feelings about Buffalo are. That’s fair, frankly, I don’t care much either. However, it was an opportunity for the 25-year-old to come out on top, but he chose the heel route, and that’s resonating around the league, especially in Buffalo.

Let’s chalk it up to emotions, and give Eichel a pass for being out of character. After all, it was his first toe stub since becoming a Vegas Golden Knight.

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2022 Has Been Challenging In Many Ways For The Golden Knights

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It hasn’t been easy for the Golden Knights in 2022. Overall, Vegas has lost 14 games this calendar year and collected only 24 out of a possible 48 points. It gets even worse. Since January 1st, the Golden Knights have scored the second least number of goals in the entire league. Adding to insult, Vegas has a meager .375 winning percentage in one-goal games since January.

It’s been a challenge considering the injuries Vegas has faced but like Sunday against the Senators, the Golden Knights just need to find ways to win. So how bad has 2022 been for Vegas? Well, let’s examine the numbers.

Goals Scored In 2022

  1. Florida 119
  2. Colorado 113
  3. Toronto 113
    ** 31. Vegas 61

Goals Scored Per Game In 2022

  1. Florida 4.58
  2. Toronto 4.19
  3. Calgary 3.85
    ** 28. Vegas 2.54

It’s no secret the Golden Knights have been struggling to score. Against a below-average Philadelphia team, Vegas’ offense stunk up the joint only creating one goal on 48 shots. You can give credit to hot goaltenders or look in the mirror and accept how poorly the club shoots the puck. Fourteen games this season the Golden Knights have shot 40 or more times on net. After Tuesday’s loss, Vegas is 5-8-1 when they shoot 40+.

Highest Shooting Percentage In 2022

  1. St. Louis 12.7%
  2. Tampa Bay 12.4%
  3. Florida 12.2%
    ** 32. Vegas 7.4%

The game against the Flyers was the 11th time the Golden Knights scored 2 goals or fewer goals since the turn of the calendar year. After four postseason exits, fans are well aware scoring two goals in the playoffs won’t cut it.

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