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Carp: Knights Handle Adversity Right Way

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

We all knew the potential for disaster this six-game road trip presented when the Golden Knights embarked upon it 10 days ago. Little did we know the true adversity the team would have to endure.

There were 12 possible points attainable when the team left Las Vegas to start the longest trip of the season in San Jose. They got eight of those dozen points, going 4-2-0, which given the circumstances, was a remarkable job.

Consider:

  •  The team lost one of its top defensemen to injury.
  • They were booted from their San Jose hotel on game day, a potential huge distraction.
  • Their best player tested positive for COVID-19 only for it to be a false positive.
  • They had two back-to-backs to deal with.
  • They had to face two of the better teams in their division.

That doesn’t include William Carrier’s injury, which forced him from the lineup and eventually resulted in coach Peter DeBoer making one of his best moves of the year in reconfiguring his bottom six.

Yet here the Knights are this morning, still in first place in the West Division. How did they manage to do that?

A few reasons:

One, they have great leadership. Putting that “C” on Mark Stone has turned out to be the right call and he, along with the other veterans, kept the room together. Don’t underestimate the importance of that, especially when you’ve lost two in a row and things were looking a bit bleak.

Obviously, we’re not in the room so we don’t hear or see what goes on. But trust me, the message was made clear after they dropped those two games to Minnesota.

Stone also led on the ice, scoring in Friday’s 5-4 overtime win at St. Louis, then potting a pair in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Blues to help right the ship following the two losses in St. Paul to the Wild.

Two, the coach knows what he’s doing. Say what you want about DeBoer, but virtually every move he has made this season has worked. His moving Tomas Nosek and Nic Roy up to play with Alex Tuch and dropping Cody Glass and Keegan Kolesar down to the fourth line to partner with Ryan Reaves worked Friday as the third line generated three points (Nosek’s goal and assist plus Roy’s assist), giving the team some desperately needed bottom-six scoring.

Saturday, Glass was not in the lineup, replaced by Patrick Brown who didn’t look out of place playing with Kolesar and Reaves. I’m glad to see Brown get a chance and I hope Saturday was not a one-off for him.

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Fleury To Former GM: “Get Me To Vegas”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This past offseason most Golden Knights fans thought the face of the franchise would be traded. Based on reports, it almost happened. However, that face, Marc-Andre Fleury, made it known publicly that he desired to stay in Las Vegas and hadn’t asked to be moved. Luckily for the Golden Knights front office, a deal never materialized.

The front office that gifted the Golden Knights with the future Hall of Famer knew long before, that Fleury wanted to resume his career in Las Vegas.

I knew he had lots, lots left in him. In Fleury’s case, when he knew that he was the odd man out he came and met with me and said ‘if there’s any way you can get me to Las Vegas, that’s where I’d like to go.’ So, I made sure I made that happen. I felt like I owed that to him. –Jim Rutherford, former Penguins GM w/ Cam & Strick podcast

Long before his name was called by The Creator in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Fleury was focused on becoming the starting goaltender for the Golden Knights.

After being drafted by Vegas, the 33-year-old, at the time, went on to have one of the best seasons of his career. After losing his starting position in Pittsburgh, the “I’ll show them” motivation factor was high for Fleury. Sort of like what’s happening this season.

I’m emotionally connected to guys that I win a championship with. The Marc-Andre Fleury trade was the hardest one for me, because I love the guy. He’s a special, very special person. –Rutherford, former Penguins GM

Last night’s 1-0 defeat to Minnesota was only Fleury’s fourth of the season. In those four losses, the goaltender allowed eight goals combined. He’s second in the league with a 2.04 GAA in losses, and number one overall with a 1.57 GAA. Win or lose, the numbers show that Fleury keeps his team in the game more than any other goalie in the NHL.

Of course, they’ll be no way to prove it but the handwriting was on the wall for the goaltender and the new franchise. Pittsburgh knew they had to move on, Fleury was aware and the Golden Knights were opportunistic. It was the perfect second marriage, and both parties were excited to form a union of misfits.

I make a lot of trades, I’m not going to get them all right. When I don’t get one right I’m not afraid to say it. I move on. –Rutherford, former Penguins GM

It was set up to be a storybook ending for Fleury in Vegas, but questionable decisions seemed to derail that path, until now. He told Rutherford in 2017, and Golden Knights fans in 2020, the goaltender wanted to be in Vegas and didn’t want to leave Vegas. His performance this season is showing that.

Oh, and make no doubts about it, Fleury has a little motivation to prove them wrong. He didn’t need to but he does nightly.

Why Robin Lehner Isn’t On Injured Reserve (IR) Or Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR)

(Photo Credit: Jason Pothier, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights have been without Robin Lehner since February 11th, 21 days ago. They’ve played nine games without him and have another four coming up in the next week. The whole time he’s been unavailable, he’s remained on the active roster as opposed to being placed on IR or LTIR. I’ll explain why.

First, NHL rules state that a player can be placed on injured reserve (IR) or long-term injured reserve (LTIR) retroactively to the date a player was injured. Thus, no matter how long Lehner remains out, the Golden Knights have the option to place him on IR or LTIR at any point.

We’ll start with regular injured reserve. The benefit of standard injured reserve is to open a roster spot for a team. NHL teams are allowed to have a max of 23 players on their active roster at any point. If a player is injured, he can be placed on IR and no longer counts against that 23-man roster. He does however continue to count against the salary cap.

For the Golden Knights, roster space is not something they are in need of. Because they are so close to the salary cap, they have not reached the roster limit of 23 at any point this season. For most of the year, they’ve actually had exactly 20, the league minimum, on their roster.

Of course, if Lehner is not available, someone has to take his place. So far, that has been either Oscar Dansk or Logan Thompson. Since the Golden Knights are under the 23-man roster limit, they are always eligible to add either goalie to the roster at any point. However, due to the salary cap, Vegas actually can’t afford to add either Dansk or Thompson to the roster without exceeding the cap. So, they have been using what is called the “emergency roster exception.”

This is a condition in the CBA that allows a team to add a player to the roster, without it counting against the salary cap, when they are unable to field a healthy roster of 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies. Vegas has used that rule in nine consecutive games, and thus has yet to have either Dansk or Thompson count against the cap despite them serving as the backups for the last three weeks.

Whether Lehner is on IR or not, Vegas has the ability to use the emergency rule to replace him, so there really is no benefit of placing him on standard IR.

Now, let’s move on to long-term injured reserve (LTIR), where the salary cap gets involved. First off, it’s important to understand that LTIR is much more complicated than I’m about to make it and the actual procedures behind it require much more intricate math than I’m about to explain. But, in regards to this article, because of the Golden Knights’ situation, we can over-simplify it and the concepts remain the same.

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McPhee On Goalies: “I Hope We’ll Get Back To Alternating Again”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At some point, Robin Lehner will return to the Golden Knights and they’ll once again have two legitimate starting goaltending options every single night. Prior to losing Lehner, the Golden Knights had alternated goalies every game and raced out to a spectacular 8-1-1 record, eclipsing the start of the historic expansion team.

I’m sure at the start of the season we’ll look at a 50-50 split to get their games established. Then we’ll go from there and all bets are off. -Pete DeBoer on 1/9/21

Since February 11th, when Marc-Andre Fleury got the surprise start, he’s started all six games for the Golden Knights. During that time he’s posted an impressive .956 save percentage, allowing just eight goals on 181 shots, and recording two shutouts of the Colorado Avalanche.

So, when Lehner returns, what is the plan?

Appearing on the Bob McCown Podcast, Geroge McPhee stated his preference.

In talking about the Lake Tahoe game, McPhee mentioned that both teams were using their #1 goalies. The co-host, John Shannon, later recalled that comment asking if Fleury was indeed the team’s #1 goalie. McPhee nodded in agreement and then added this.

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Fleury Flourishes On Extended Start Streaks

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At some point, Marc-Andre Fleury will need a break. He’s in the midst of a seven-game start streak, his fifth-longest regular season consecutive game stretch as a Golden Knight. With Vegas though, Fleury tends to thrive in these situations. When the 36-year-old is given the reins for an extended amount of time he’s been extremely reliable.

Since 2017-18, Fleury has started seven-straight games or more six separate times. His combined point percentage is .666 in those 57 contests and has a losing record just once.

Seven+ Game Start Streaks

2021: 7 Straight Starts (4-3)
2019-20: 9 Straight Starts (6-3)
2018-19: 13 Straight Starts (10-2-1)
2018-19: 7 Straight Starts (3-4)
2017-18: 11 Straight Starts (7-3-1)
2017-18: 10 Straight Starts (6-4)

Combined Winning Percentage: .631%
Combined Points Percentage: .666%

Fleury’s current streak is mostly out of necessity. Going into the season, the veteran goalie was expected to split most of the games with Robin Lehner. With Lehner unavailable, Fleury has played 11 out of 16 games this season and is on pace to start 38. Much more than the coaching staff had planned.

Last night’s performance was a great example of Fleury’s capability. After playing 11 straight periods against Colorado, the 36-year-old was making acrobatic saves late in the game to preserve his third shutout of the year. Even against the same high-powered Avalanche team he faced in four consecutive games, Fleury seemed the least tired player out there.

Now that the Golden Knights have finished their four-game series against Colorado, the upcoming schedule allows some opportunities to rest Fleury. On Thursday night, Vegas will travel to San Jose, a team that struggles to keep the puck out of their own net. Maybe that’s a game coach Pete DeBoer can comfortably rest his netminder. Also, with there being two days in between games, Fleury could have four days of rest before his next start.

As the schedule creeps towards March, the heavy competition goes away for a few weeks. The next eight matchups are against the Sharks, Ducks, and Wild. The Golden Knights are significantly better than all three and the coaching staff should look to use their schedule to spell Fleury some starts, even if Lehner isn’t ready to come back. Vegas will need what we can now confidently say is their number one goaltender fresh for when they face St. Louis and Colorado later in March.

With his third shutout of the season in his pocket, we all know the 17-year veteran will want to play the bulk of the remaining games. Who can blame him? Fleury’s having an All-Star type season, wants to be in the Vezina discussion and prove to his bosses they were wrong. I say let him compete for trophies, just as long as he can take a few games off here and there. DeBoer can save Fleury’s 28 consecutive start streak for the postseason.

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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Can Vegas Put Postseason Scoring Drought Behind Them In 2021?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over their history, the Golden Knights have scored a total of 877 franchise goals, 738 in the regular season, 139 in the playoffs. In 238 regular season games, Vegas’ average comes out to 3.14 goals scored per game. In all three seasons, Vegas tallied more than the league average, and are ranked 8th in the NHL in goals since their inception.

The big offseason question was can the Golden Knights score enough in year four, and most importantly, in the playoffs?

2017-18: 268 Goals, 3.26 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
2018-19: 246 Goals, 3.00 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 25 Goals, 3.57 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
2019-20: 224 goals, 3.15 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)

Coming into the Vancouver series, the Golden Knights were on a torrid offensive pace. Three round-robin games and a five-game whooping of the Blackhawks had Vegas scoring at a 3.75 goals per game clip. Then, it hit the skids. In 12 postseason games against Vancouver and Dallas, the #1 seed in the Western Conference averaged only 2.25 goals per game. In the last eight games, they scored just 12 goals or 1.5 per game.

After the season, it was mostly written off publicly by players, coaches, and the office as just a rough patch and a pair of hot goalies The offseason was centered around one major move, though one that should help the team offensively.

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Robin Lehner, Ryan Reaves, And Evander Kane Make Waves On Twitter

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Social media was set ablaze on Saturday night following the pay-per-view boxing event featuring Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr., and Jake Paul.

After Paul knocked out former NBA star Nate Robinson, many other athletes stepped up asking for their shot at the YouTuber. Robin Lehner held little back with his initial tweet.

Evander Kane wanted some too.

https://twitter.com/evanderkane_9/status/1332899358623166464

From there, things got crazy.

Kane took a shot back at Reaves, but later apologized and deleted this tweet.

Reaves responded.

https://twitter.com/reavo7five/status/1333161049437077504

https://twitter.com/evanderkane_9/status/1333162965390954496

The world needs to see the Golden Knights and the Sharks back on the ice. It’s been way too long.

Most Indispensable Golden Knights In 2020-21

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the Golden Knights roster continues to churn, the balance of importance on that roster changes with it. Many guys who were once the most vital on the team are no longer here and other stars have stepped into their places.

So, when discussing which players are the most indispensable for the Golden Knights this season, the exercise is not as simple as it would seem. The great Kevin Iole, Jason, and I had a discussion about this very topic and realized the options are so plentiful that we had to bring it to the site. We each picked three and between us we came up with six different players.

3rd Most Indispensable
Kevin – Cody Glass
Jason – Robin Lehner
Ken – Mark Stone

Kevin – The 2017 NHL Entry Draft was loaded at the top. Nico Hischier, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson are already elite NHL players. The Golden Knights’ thought Glass would be a player of that caliber and jumped on him when he was available at No. 6.

Now, Paul Stastny has been traded and they need someone to plug into that second line. The best way it could work out for the Golden Knights is if Glass could finally live up to his draft status. He showed glimpses last year, but wasn’t able to stay healthy and went long stretches while doing little.

If he comes up big and the Golden Knights can put Chandler Stephenson on a third line with Alex Tuch and Nic Roy, they can create a huge match-up problem with the third line while have two very strong top lines.

If Glass struggles, Stephenson moves up to center one of the top two and the third line suddenly isn’t as much of a scoring threat. Glass’ success will tell much about the kind of season the VGK will having in 2021.

Jason – Is this a trick question? Of course, it’s Lehner, without him the Golden Knights don’t have a goaltender. Sure, they have two now but by the time the season begins Fleury will be gone, leaving Lehner as the only starting goaltender in Vegas. I understand we were told by the Golden Knights that the plan on keeping both goalies but I don’t see that happening. In a shortened season, a condensed schedule may require a sturdy backup but how many nights do they plan on sitting Lehner? 10-15 games? The 29-year-old has started more than 34 games in the last four seasons, so it doesn’t make sense to relieve him with an expensive backup like Fleury?

Both sides have said the right thing over the past few months but in reality, keeping both isn’t good business. If the Golden Knights are seriously trying to win the Stanley Cup it won’t be by spending $12M in net. They’re too smart for that. And with that, Robin Lehner’s presence in the VGK lineup is paramount.

Ken – I originally had Lehner, for all the reasons Jason spelled out, plus the fact that losing him for any amount of time would further the lunacy of keeping them both. But, while both goalies are on the roster, I just couldn’t bring myself to rank Lehner above Mark Stone.

Stone has been the engine of the team since the moment he got here at the deadline in 2018-19. When he’s scoring or helping others score, the Golden Knights are basically unbeatable. Think back to the Sharks series. He drops 10 points in the first four games and VGK leads 3-1. Goes silent in Games 5 and 6 and they lose them both. (He had two points in Game 7, which still remains a win in my book.)

Yes, the Golden Knights have replacements, but no one can do what he can do. The season isn’t over if they lose Stone, but you can forget about winning the Cup if he’s not out there and dominating.

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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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