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Middle Frame Dominance Propelling Vegas To Brink Of The Promise Land

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

30 to 10.

That’s the score of Golden Knights playoff games in the 2nd period this postseason.

30 to 10, in 21 games.

The 30 goals are unsurprisingly the most by any team in the postseason. The other side is pretty wild though. 10 goals allowed in the 2nd period this playoffs is the 7th fewest of all 16 teams that participated. 10 goals allowed is the same number as Winnipeg allowed in five games, fewer than Minnesota allowed in six games, and 11 goals fewer than New Jersey allowed in 12 games. And the Golden Knights just completed their 21st game!

There was a time earlier this season when one of the biggest challenges for the Golden Knights was surviving 2nd periods. They struggled to tilt games in their favor in 2nd periods and it often led to long spells of the game where they were forced to defend. It’s actually been an issue in the Cassidy system as far back as his first season in Boston.

The Golden Knights finished the season with a +3 goal differential in the 2nd period and they were -6 in home games. Yet here we are, at the most important time of the year, and nightly in Western Conference and Stanley Cup Final games they are utilizing the 2nd period to run away with hockey games.

When you have four lines rolling like that in a 2nd period, we’re the best team in the league. -Adin Hill

In Game 4 the Golden Knights absolutely obliterated the Panthers in the middle frame. They outscored Florida just 2-1, but they outshot them 11-7, out-chanced them 18-4, and generated six high-danger scoring chances compared to the Panthers’ single one.

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Like Vegas, Dallas Led By Hockey Lifers Fighting For First Cup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When you look up and down the Golden Knights and Stars lineups, you’ll notice many recognizable faces. From the coaches to the captains and all the way down to the depth players there are handfuls of hungry and impatient NHL’ers participating in this year’s Western Conference Final. Each side has gotten close, but neither franchise has raised a Stanley Cup in the Golden Knights era.

That’s why we play. We grew up watching the playoffs every year as a youngster. We’re hoping one day to get that chance. Now that we’re here, we don’t get too many chances like this. I’ve only been in this situation once before and you don’t want to let opportunities like this slip away when you’re so close. -Jamie Benn, Stars captain

Captains Mark Stone and Jamie Benn lead two veteran groups desperate to reach the final round. Stone’s been a part of several deep playoff runs but has never been lucky enough to play in a SCF. He competed once in the conference finals with Ottawa and twice with Vegas. In his own words, this could be his best chance. Likewise for Benn and some of his veteran teammates.

Perennial scapegoat, Benn is used to being the target of angry Stars fans after past playoff exits. However, his impact on the ice was curtailed by first-year coach Pete DeBoer. Benn’s real value will be leading his team in the locker room and on the ice for the 17 minutes he’s averaged this postseason. If they prevail, Benn will undoubtedly receive the most praise from Dallas. Stars’ reporter Sean Shapiro noted DeBoer’s intentions and Benn’s professionalism made way for a resurgence in 2022-23.

Micro-load management by DeBoer revitalized Benn’s game-to-game energy. His minutes dropped, but he was more effective in the time he was on the ice. Benn quietly finished with 78 points, 32 more than he had the previous season and his most since he had 79 in the 2017-18 campaign. He set a career-high with a plus-23 and a career mark for face-off wins, taking more than 60 percent. The Stars are partly in the Western Conference final because Benn allowed himself to be overshadowed. He embraced the supporting role on the ice, but he never relinquished the leadership responsibilities off of it. – Sean Shapiro, Stars reporter 

The Stars have several players that could be poster children for NHL players to have accomplished everything without winning an NHL championship. Ageless weapon Joe Pavelski reached the Cup finals twice in his career but fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. The 38-year-old is running out of opportunities to cement his name in NHL history. Fellow American-born player Ryan Suter has battled for almost two decades to embrace the Stanley Cup.

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VGK Put Forth “Best All Around Defensive Game” In Game 5

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Since Game 1, the Golden Knights and Oilers series hadn’t seen a game within three goals in the final 10 minutes. So, while much has been learned about the matchup between the two teams, close defensive hockey was still a question mark.

That was until last night.

Following the kill of a major penalty that brought the score from 4-2 to 4-3, the Golden Knights put on a clinic in how to defend the most potent offense in the NHL this season.

I thought it was our best all around defensive game. Our team has responded well to situational hockey in the playoffs when we’ve had the lead. We understand the value of easy chances against so we’re making the other team work. We did a really good job of that last night and I think we are good 5-on-5 with the lead. -Bruce Cassidy

Vegas became an entry denial machine that stifled the Oilers for the entire 3rd period, not allowing them to erase the one goal deficit. Edmonton generated a measly four shots on goal in nearly 10 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. And, the Oilers mustered up just 0.21 expected goals in the 3rd period with all ten skaters on the ice, less than half of what they accumulated in each of the first two periods.

Good gaps, check with our feet, staying tight and defending as five as we have all year. I thought we executed plays really well and we won those battles and got the clears when we needed to and got a couple big stops which you need. There’s a lot to build off of there and I thought we executed well. -Nic Hague

It was all highlighted by one shift though, a shift that wasn’t even played in the defensive end of the ice.

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Two Important Golden Knights Have Yet To Score In 2023 Playoffs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are seven games into their 2023 postseason run and eight different players have scored goals. Two names noticeably absent from that list are Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.

They haven’t scored at all and we’ve still won five games out of seven. We feel like we have enough guys in the locker room can score goals for us. -Bruce Cassidy

However, Vegas’ offense would look a lot more potent if they were getting offensive production out of the franchise’s #1 and #2 top goal scorers all time. Smith and Marchessault have combined for 274 goals in a Golden Knights jersey not including the 34 they’ve potted in the playoffs. Marchessault’s 28 led the team this year and Smith was just one behind Eichel at 26.

Cassidy’s concern level isn’t exactly absent though. He knows they’ll eventually need more out of those two. At the moment, he believes one is a lot closer than the other to opening their playoff scoring accounts.

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Dad’s Trip Success Doesn’t Have To End When Everyone Heads Home

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Once a year, in normal years, the Golden Knights bring the players’ fathers on a road trip. And once a year on that trip, the Golden Knights dominate.

The last two games in Nashville and Minnesota were the seventh and eighth games the Golden Knights have played with the dads in attendance, and they’ve won all but one. Even the one loss, in December 2019 in Vancouver, Vegas fell behind 3-1 at the end of the 1st and battled back to send the game to OT. On the four years of father’s trips, the Golden Knights are 7-0-1, they’ve scored at least four goals in seven of the eight games, and have outscored their opponents 35-16.

Dad’s trips have been especially successful for the Misfit Line. In the eight games, Jonathan Marchessault has two goals and three assists, William Karlsson has two goals and four assists, and Reilly Smith leads the pack with three goals, two assists, and a game-winning shootout attempt.

Unfortunately, father’s trips don’t last forever. For the Golden Knights though, success typically has continued even after the dads are gone.

In 2017-18 the Golden Knights had just experienced their first three-game losing streak of the season a week before the trip. That ended right before the trip with overtime and shootout wins against the Coyotes and Ducks. Returning home after the trip, Vegas lost in overtime to the Hurricanes in the first game back, then ripped off an eight-game winning streak.

The next year, 2018-19, Vegas had dropped back-to-back games in overtime before the Christmas break. With many of the fathers already in town gearing up for the trip, Vegas beat Colorado in the final game of the homestand. When the trip ended, they rattled off another four consecutive wins to push the win dad-inspired win streak to seven.

The Golden Knights came into the 19-20 dad’s trip playing well. A three-game win streak came to an end with the OT loss in Vancouver. Then, after the trip, they returned home and lost a game to the Avalanche before losing again on the road in Anaheim. But, like always, they quickly picked it up and won four straight.

6 Games After Dad’s Trip
17-18: 5-0-1
18-19: 5-1-0
19-20: 4-2-0

With the two wins in hand off the trip, VGK’s next six games set up nicely for them to continue the trend. Next up are a pair of winnable home games against the Ducks and Sharks, then a tricky one vs. Tampa followed by a winnable trip to Chicago, and closing out with home games against the Flames and Stars.

It’s a crucial stretch for the Golden Knights as the schedule really gets tough through the month of March. Riding the dad’s trip wave for as long as possible will go a long way to relieving pressure down the stretch.

Scoring Droughts Reaching Troublesome Heights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights haven’t been scoring much recently. They’re 1-5-1 in the last seven games and have scored just 15 times in those games. Six of those 15 came in the lone win which means in the previous six losses the Golden Knights have scored a total of nine goals.

The main reason for this is that the most important players on the team are not putting the puck in the net. Look at the last time each player in the top six scored a goal.

Reilly Smith – 12/31/22 – 11 games without a goal
Chandler Stephenson – 1/5/23 – 9 games without a goal
Mark Stone – 1/5/23 – 2 games without a goal (+7 games injured)
Jonathan Marchessault – 1/7/23 – 8 games without a goal
Jack Eichel – 1/12/23 – 7 games without a goal
William Karlsson – 1/24/23 – 1 game without a goal

It starts with us. There’s no secret that to win hockey games you need your best players to be your best players. We’ve got to show up and we have to find a way to produce. -Marchessault

It starts with the simple fact that these guys are shooting less. Over the past seven games, each of Eichel, Stephenson, Smith, and Marchessault have all seen their shots per game dip.

Eichel’s is the most drastic going from 3.48 on average over the course of the season to just 1.86 in the past seven games. He has just three games all season in which he’s been held shotless, two of them since Stone went out.

Stephenson’s shot totals have dipped by nearly a third too. He’s averaging 1.42 shots per game on the season and has seen just four reach the goalie in the last seven games. He does not have a single game with more than one shot on goal since January 2nd, 10 games ago.

William Karlsson, who is the only top-six player to have scored since Mark Stone’s injury is also the only one to see his shot totals increase in the captain’s absence. But, it’s up just 0.24, or about one shot on goal every four games.

Unsurprisingly, all five players mentioned above have a negative +/- over the last seven games as well. Eichel leads the charge sitting at a -8 and he’s been at least -2 in four of the last seven games.

Simply put, if the Golden Knights want to turn around their scoring, they need it to start at the top of the lineup. These five forwards are the primary players on the power play, they receive the most minutes at even strength, and many even kill penalties. If they don’t produce, the team won’t win, and that’s exactly what’s been happening lately.

Clean Breakouts Key Vegas’ Comeback Win Over Panthers

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights are playing at their best it starts in the defensive zone, or more specifically, how quickly they are getting out of the defensive zone.

For Vegas to be consistently successful, they need the game to be under their control in all three zones. From generating large numbers of chances based on extended offensive zone time, to having the proper setup through the neutral zone, to breaking the puck out of the defensive zone, each piece relies upon the next.

Last night against the Florida Panthers, the Golden Knights saw both ends of what it looks like when the breakouts are going well and when they are not.

For almost a 20-minute stretch from the middle of the 2nd period to the 12-minute mark of the 3rd the Golden Knights could not consistently break the puck out of their defensive zone. It led to mountains of chances for the Panthers and one of the longest shot droughts Vegas has experienced all season.

It culminated in a 5-on-3 power play for the Panthers that could have buried the Golden Knights in what appeared to be a winnable game. VGK’s penalty kill stepped up and from that moment on, the breakouts improved which started the ball rolling towards a three-goal 3rd period and Vegas’ 8th comeback win of the season.

We got better when we played a little bit more north-south because they are a very aggressive team. We forced their D to pinch down on us to keep a puck alive because when they don’t, now you are in foot races for odd-man rushes. -Bruce Cassidy

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