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In The Biggest Moments, You Can Always Count On The Golden Knights To Show Up

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing should be taken for granted. In a year that has rocked the Earth more than any other in our lifetimes, it feels like there’s not much left we can truly count on.

That is, unless you are a Golden Knights fan.

Through the short three-season history of hockey’s now second newest franchise, the Golden Knights have experienced a lot. The list out of whacky things this team has gone through over the past 1,084 days since they stepped on the ice for their first preseason game is astounding. Through it all, no matter the storyline, be it on-the-ice, off-the-ice or sometimes a little of both, when the puck drops on the biggest games, they may not always win, but the Golden Knights always show up.

This story goes all the way back to the first game in franchise history. A few days prior, the city in which they now called home had experienced one of the worst tragedies in American history. They were being looked at as an escape from reality and they needed to show up for Vegas. They did in Dallas, they did the next night in Arizona, and boy did they ever in the most emotional home-opener in sports history.

As that season went on, time and time again the Golden Knights were presented with massive emotional tests, and every single time, they were up for the test. Fleury’s return from concussion followed by his first game against Pittsburgh. The game against 1st place Tampa Bay. The chance to clinch a playoff berth, then another one to win the division. The first playoff game. The first closeout game. Game 5 against the Sharks. Game 2 vs Winnipeg. Even Games 3, 4, and 5 against Washington. Not a single time can anyone point to a Golden Knights game and say, they were a no-show that night.

The following year it continued with one the most important games of all, Game 7 in San Jose. Like a few others, the outcome of that one got away, but the Golden Knights entered that game plenty of reasons to lay an egg and they didn’t.

There have been games following injuries, following trades, following coach firings, following agents tweeting out controversial pictures, following a global pandemic, following the league being paused in support of a protest against racial injustice, and every single time, without fail, when the Golden Knights hit the ice for the biggest games, they’ve always shown up.

Last night, the emotional deck was stacked in favor of a Golden Knights flop in Game 7. They’d blown a 3-1 lead, their new coach had to make a tough decision which once again cemented the long-time leader of the franchise as a bench-warmer, they switched up the forward lines, they were playing against one of the hottest goalies the NHL Playoffs had ever seen, they were playing a back-to-back, and the list goes on and on.

Then, the game started, and the going got even tougher. But no matter what happened, the Golden Knights never folded. In fact, as they had in so many of the biggest games of their past, they rose to the occasion. They continued to play at their absolute best and basically forced the hockey gods to finally allow a puck off the post to deflect into the net as opposed to out.

Like always, they showed up.

Because of it, the Golden Knights journey continues. It continues into the Western Conference Final where at some point they’ll come across another moment in which they’ll be presented with a chance to crumble.

What it will look like or how they get there is yet to be determined, but at some point, it will happen. When that moment comes, no matter how dire it looks, there is something in 2020 we can take for granted, the best of the Golden Knights will show up when it gets here.

It Can’t Happen Again, Can It?

It’s on Pete DeBoer’s mind. It’s on Marc-Andre Fleury’s mind. It’s on Mark Stone and Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt and William Karlsson’s minds. It’s on George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon’s minds. It’s on The Creator’s mind. And it’s on every single one of you reading this’s minds.

It can’t happen again, can it?

Whether anyone wants to stare the beast directly in the eyes or not, the memory of how last season ended is inescapable for the Golden Knights as they prepare their second Game 7 in franchise history.

The first one has been woven into the fabric of the team over the past 16 months. Every decision they’ve made has been done with at least a sliver of blowing a 3-1 lead on the minds.

They hired the coach on the other bench. They revamped the penalty kill. They replaced the goalie. They added reinforcements on both offense and defense. They did it all so that these playoffs wouldn’t end the same way the last ones did.

Everyone knows what’s at stake. Even if neither Pete DeBoer nor Mark Stone would say it in the moments following Game 6.

This is a different group, different team. We’ve hit a group over there that’s feeling confident and getting great goaltending and that’s going to happen on the playoff trail and you’ve got to find a way. This is our adversity and we’ve got to stick together and come through it. -DeBoer

It’s one game. We’ve got a great team. Guys are going to go out there and bring our best and whatever happens happens. We’re confident going into tomorrow. We were confident going into Game 5 and 6. We feel like we have the team to win. -Stone

This is a mental test unlike any the young franchise has faced. The answers above are already a testament to how the Golden Knights want to handle it. They are going to try to do everything in their power to focus solely on this one game and ignore the elephant in the room. They want to play great from the moment the puck is dropped, score quickly, win the game, and come out on the other side stronger and more together than ever before.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

That’s exactly how they’ll be feeling the moment they get on the ice. But if the adversity from Games 5 and 6 rear its ugly head again in Game 7, the way the Golden Knights handle the flood of emotions linked directly to their history will determine their fate even more so than hockey skill.

Normally, it’s about being the better team, and for the first 10 minutes of the game, it can, and it will if they put the puck in the net. It’s if, and probably when, the going gets tough inside of that game that this team will have to prove to the world, and to themselves, that they can overcome it. They can block out the negative memories of a terrible ending to last season and the frustrating end to the first one. They can bear down and play the way they know they can, the way that got them to 3-1 in the series, and the way that had everyone believing they were the far-and-away better team.

The crossroads is here. Either the Golden Knights win, exorcise the demons that have been haunting them since Joe Pavelski’s blood hit the SAP Center ice, and head into the Western Conference Final with the best chance they’ve ever had to win the Stanley Cup or they lose and they’ll earn a label of playoff chokers, a label that will stick with them for as long as it takes to win 16 playoff games in the same season.

Recovering From Tough Periods Becoming VGKs M.O.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

Since arriving in the bubble in Edmonton the Golden Knights have played in 36 regulation periods. They’ve allowed two or more goals in nine of them including three separate occasions to both the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks.

The response to those periods has been outstanding and is undoubtedly one of the largest factors in why Vegas is one win away from punching their ticket to the Western Conference Final.

When we have a tough period, when we have a 10-minute stretch where we’re in the box a lot, when we get back in (to the locker room) our guys aren’t happy with our performance and that shows, that shows in a positive way. -Nate Schmidt

In the period immediately following, the Golden Knights have outscored opponents 17-3. They’ve shut the opposing team out in six of the nine and have not allowed multiple goals in consecutive periods even once.

They’ve used these response periods to overcome deficits to win games on four different occasions, including last night.

Digging deeper, the Golden Knights have outshot teams in the period after allowing two goals 122-75. That’s a 47 shot difference and a 62% shot share. The shot attempt numbers are even more staggering. Vegas leads 234-129 in shot attempts in the following period, a 105 shot advantage, or nearly 12 shots per period!

But more than stats, it’s been the style of play.

Our group is really good at recognizing when we’re not getting everyone involved in the game. You look at how teams win and you’ve got to find ways some nights. You have to be able to find a way to get your guys amped up and get going. -Schmidt

If it’s penalty trouble, they cut back on the penalties. If they are turning the puck over too much, they ramp up the puck management. If they are allowing too many shots, they turn on the shot suppression machine. Or if like last night, it’s a combination of all of them, they just flat out flip the script and dominate the following 20 minutes.

From the start of the 3rd period, we were going to roll our lines over, try and keep up with us. That’s kind of the idea that our guys wanted. If you roll us over, roll us over, roll us over, it’s hard to play against. -Schmidt

Obviously, it would be best if the Golden Knights could go through games without having “off” periods. But, this is the real world, even though it’s trapped in a bubble, so when they inevitably happen, responding to them is the next best thing and the Golden Knights have passed that test with flying colors.

In The Playoffs, Back-To-Back Doesn’t Have To Mean Two Goalies

I want to preface this article by saying the point of it is not to challenge the decision being made by the Golden Knights coaching staff in regards to which goalie will start Game 4. Because, as I’ll show, there really isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it. Instead, the goal is to debunk an idea that seems to have turned into a hard and fast rule for the Golden Knights, and thus VGK fans as well.

In the playoffs, you do not have to switch goalies when playing back-to-back games.

Again, that doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, it just means you don’t absolutely have to, especially when playing in a bubble with no travel and against the same team both games.

This postseason 13 series have experienced a back-to-back situation. Of the 26 teams involved in those games, 19 of them chose to use the same goalie in both ends of the back-to-back. Goalie performance, as well as team performance, do not appear to be correlated to this decision.

With such a small sample size and the teams playing each other, wins and losses cancel out as a whole. So, instead, I decided to use total goals against as well as save percentage in an attempt to determine if a goaltender was better or worse in the second game of the back-to-back.

Hellebuyck – Worse
Talbot – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Stalock – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Saros – Worse
Andersen – Better
Bobrovsky – Better
Varlamov – Worse
Talbot – Better
Allen – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Rask – Worse
Hart – Worse
Price – Worse
Crawford – Better
Halak – Worse
Vasilevskiy – Better

10 were worse, nine were better. Compare that to the teams that switched goalies.

Korpisalo to Merlizkins – Better
Lundqvist to Shesterkin – Better
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Bishop to Khudobin – Better
Grubauer to Francouz – Worse
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Fleury to Lehner – Worse

Five better, two worse.

Looks good right? But, when we dig a little deeper, the numbers end up identical, just arriving at the same place in different ways.

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VGK Shot Suppression Machine Must Come Alive In Round Two

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

When this version of the Golden Knights are at their best, they have the ability to completely take over games. Most of the limelight when this happens goes to the offense as they continue to pepper goalies with shots, but the real reason why there are extended periods of living in the offensive zone is the way they defend.

Over the course of the five-game series against the Blackhawks, the Golden Knights held Chicago without a shot for a five minute stretch on 18 separate occasions. The longest was a 10:33 stretch in Game 1, while the most influential was the 6:31 run in OT of Game 2. In Game 5, Chicago went without a shot for more than five minutes five different times.

I think if you look at Chicago they make a lot of their offense off the rush so if you can kind of limit their transition, put pucks in good places, and start to wear them down that’s when you’ll have success. -Mark Stone

The Golden Knights shot suppression machine works in multiple layers. It starts in the neutral zone.

They do a lot of deep curls and a lot of different routes in the neutral zone and I think we were able to try to jam things up. -Alec Martinez

It’s true against any team, but especially against Chicago, the best way to stymie offense is to slow down entries. When teams enter the offensive zone with speed and control of the puck, it’s nearly impossible to keep them from generating at least one shot. So, when Vegas is playing well, the neutral zone becomes a minefield of forwards backchecking and defensemen standing up at the blue line. This forces the opposing team to either try to make a fancy stick handling play through traffic or dump the puck in and chase.

That leads to the next layer of defending, which is keeping the puck out of the dangerous areas.

In our own end we were quick to contact to take away their time and space. That was something that we focused on from the get-go, just playing strong defensive hockey and we knew we would get chances the other way. -Martinez

Next, it’s about breaking out of the defensive zone. Proper puck management including quick, short passes leads to simple, easy, fast exits of the zone, meaning the offensive team is headed out of the zone as quickly as they came in. Here’s an example of that entire process to show how quickly it can take place when the Golden Knights are going well.

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Golden Knights Playoff Roster And Lineup Projections

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Whenever the league gives the green light to go ahead with the 24 team playoff format that was unveiled earlier this week, the Golden Knights are going to have some tough decisions both in roster and lineup construction.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the league is expected to allow teams to have 28 skaters on their active roster along with an unlimited number of goalies. Normally, the entire AHL squad is available to any team still remaining in the NHL playoffs, but with the pandemic restrictions, the league likely wants to keep the numbers down.

So, let’s start with the 28 skaters that I project will make the cut for the Golden Knights.

Locks (21) (13 F, 8 D)

William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Alex Tuch, Chandler Stephenson, Nick Cousins, Nic Roy, Ryan Reaves, Tomas Nosek, William Carrier, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore, Jon Merrill, Nick Holden, Zach Whitecloud, Deryk Engelland

This is the roster Vegas was expecting to go into the playoffs with had the league continued with the regularly scheduled season. Assuming health when the league is ready to return, there’s no way any of these 21 won’t be listed among the Golden Knights allotted 28.

AHL Locks (3) (2 F, 1 D)

Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov, Nic Hague

When I set out to do this I actually expected this group to be a little larger, but the group behind these guys is so large, McPhee and McCrimmon can really go a lot of different ways. Will they load up on defensemen because they have a little bit more of a variety of styles? Will they go with more veteran players to be safe? Or will they put a bunch of kids in the mix so they get a taste of “playoff” hockey? No matter which way they choose, these three will be among the 28 selected.

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Polls, Odds, And Probabilities: Are The Golden Knights Going To Make The Playoffs?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into the 2019-20 season the idea of the Golden Knights missing the playoffs felt ludicrous. 52 games and a head coaching change later, and all of a sudden it doesn’t seem that crazy anymore.

So, I decided to poke around hockey Internet to try and see where exactly the Golden Knights stand with 30 games left on the schedule.

First, we start with the fans.

The Golden Knights are generally an optimistic bunch, so of course the results are going to skew towards the positive. We asked the exact same question on all three social media platforms. All three polls came in right above 80% in favor of Vegas making the postseason.

There’s also a heavy level of optimism from the sportsbooks in Vegas. William Hill has the Golden Knights listed as the co-favorites to win the division, the 2nd favorites to win the Western Conference, and 5th favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Pacific Division
VGK +300

Western Conference
VGK +500

Stanley Cup
VGK +1000

Like fans, there’s a reason for their optimism though. Odds are set based on betting patterns. The more money that comes in on a specific team, the lower the odds go. Obviously, Vegas fans like to bet on their own team, so the numbers can go a little crazy in the Golden Knights favor.

Finally, we head to the prediction machines. There are three great ones out there that all use drastically different methods to come up with their probabilities.

First, the one I trust the most, is Dom Luszczyszyn’s playoff projections model on The Athletic. He updates it daily and uses “Game Score” to run 50,000 projections of what will happen the remainder of the season.

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Leading Division On New Year’s Day Bodes Well For Future

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the 2nd time in three seasons when the fireworks went up over the Strip, the team that calls Las Vegas home was sitting in 1st place as the calendar flipped to the new year.

January 1st essentially marks the halfway point of the NHL season, give or take a few days, and while plenty of hockey is still to be played the standings when the year changes are significant in predicting the future.

Since the lockout killed the 2004-05 season, there have been 66 teams that have led their division on January 1st (four divisions from 2012-13 to 2018-19, six divisions from 2005-06 to 2011-12).

Of the 66 who led the division on New Year’s Day, 61 made the playoffs, including all 12 since Vegas has been a franchise.

Just 7.6% of teams with a hold of the division title on New Year’s Day have failed to reach the postseason and only one team (4.2%) has done it since the league went to the four division format it currently uses now (2015-16 Montreal).

39 of the 66 division leaders on January 1st went on to win their respective divisions for a nearly 60% success rate. Since 2017-18, eight of the 12 New Year’s division leaders (66.7%) raised a division champion banner that season, including the 2017- 18 Golden Knights.

31 of the 66 teams went on to win at least one round and 21 of the 66 went on to reach the conference finals.

In the 13 years since the lockout, there have been eight teams to win the Stanley Cup that held their respective division’s number one spot on New Year’s Day. That means 61.5% of Stanley Cup Champions since 2006 led their division on January 1st.

All in all, leading the division on New Year’s Day is significant. It means you have a 92% chance of making the playoffs, a 59% chance of winning the division, a 47% chance of winning a round, a 32% chance of reaching the conference finals, and a 12% chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

As I say every time I walk up to a craps table, “I like these odds.”


2018-19

Tampa Bay – Won Division, 1st Round
Washington – Won Division, 1st Round
Winnipeg – 2nd Place, 1st Round
Calgary – Won Division, 1st Round

2017-18

Tampa Bay – Won Division, ECF
Washington – Won Division, Cup
Winnipeg – 2nd Place, WCF
Vegas – Won Division – SCF

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How Important Were Faceoffs To The 2018-19 Golden Knights?

The importance of winning the faceoff battle has been a three-year reoccurring argument here at SinBin.vegas. In my opinion, it’s all about possession. When a center wins a draw his team has immediate control and should safely get the puck out of their zone. Or create an offensive push towards the opponent’s direction. Whoever wins the possession battle, should dictate the game.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Faceoffs are probably one of the most underrated stats in this league. If you can start off with the puck, your much better off. And you’ll have better scoring chances. – Nate Schmidt

On the other side of the discussion is Europa Ken.

He’s not concerned with a lost draw if Vegas’ forecheck, shooting percentage, and rebound control are positively effective. For the most I agree, but remember a forechecking attack begins with the puck, and there’s a good chance it was possessed by a winning faceoff.

2018-19 Golden Knights Faceoff Percentage Breakdown

  • Record when winning 51% or more Faceoffs: (20-11-2)
  • Record when losing 51% or more Faceoffs: (14-16-3)
  • Record when Faceoff % is 50/50: (9-5-2)

While it’s clear the Golden Knights have a better record when they win more faceoffs, the formula isn’t as simple as you’d think. At first glance the numbers support my argument, but looking deeper, the higher the FO% didn’t guarantee a Vegas victory. In five separate games, Golden Knights’ centers won 60% or more from the dot. Their record was (1-4). Even furthering the madness, Vegas was (2-2) in games they lost more than 60% of draws.

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Most Intense Series Of Their Careers

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I’m sure viewership is low in Las Vegas for the Sharks/Avalanche second round series. Although, San Jose did lose Sunday so maybe VGK fans tuned into the postgame show. Either way, it’s been a painful series to watch for most in Vegas. The two teams have no history of emotions so it’s a little boring, to say the least. There have been twenty-two minutes in penalties and exactly zero chirps. It’s nothing like the first round matchup between Vegas and San Jose. It lacks the same passion.

On Vegas’ locker clean out day I went around the room asking players ‘was this one of the most intense series you’ve played in?’

Here were their responses:

This one was pretty wild. There’s definitely some hate there. It was intense and fun. Fun to be a part of. It just sucks we didn’t come out on top. -Brayden McNabb

I played Game 7 in Boston. Won a Game 7 in Boston but this series was crazy. The momentum shifts, the physicality, the emotions and obviously the drama. It was a lot of fun but I feel like we deserved better. This series could’ve gone either way. Everyone knows that. It was a lot of fun to play in and I think going through this experience… will make this group a lot better. -Max Pacioretty

Very intense. It was a grind. People don’t realize how tough it is to play in the playoffs. A lot of people think teams just walk through and you play and you win. It was tough physically and mentally and it sucks to be on the losing end. -Shea Theodore

The first round is usually the toughest to win. It’s true because everyone is so fired up, everyone is fresh and excited about being in the playoffs. It was an intense series, probably the most intense series I’ve ever been a part of. Going back to when I was with Washington versus Pittsburgh. It had that similar feeling to it, you know, two teams with no love lost on either side. It’s making for a good rivalry though. -Nate Schmidt

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