No matter how many games an NHL regular season has, no game’s are alike. Sure, the first few games had similarities, Vegas won all three but didn’t look good doing it.
Something had to break.
We were talking before the game that we hadn’t really pitched in too much… It’s kind of convenient that we did tonight, and I thought it definitely helped our overall game. -Shea Theodore
With the exception of the first few minutes, the Golden Knights put together their best attack of the season and were handsomely rewarded from it. Ten players collected points in Vegas’ 5-2 victory against Arizona and not a single one of them were cheap empty-net points either.
All five goals were examples of how dangerous this club can be. Alex Tuch scored Vegas’ first power play goal of the season, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty paired up once again, and the star defensemen found the net three times.
Although the members of the media were miles away, Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez answered questions at his Zoom press conference wearing a mask.
It’s a common theme with Martinez. He understands there’s a world outside of hockey. When asked about the concerns of a short training camp, a condensed schedule, or the pressures of playing for a contender, he first qualifies his responses by comparing it to the reality that we’re all living in. It’s not just the hockey season that’s been shaken, and the 33-year-old NHL’er understands that more than anyone.
It’s just the way things are going these days. Everyone has to adapt, you’ve got to be a professional. You know a lot of people are making sacrifices. There’s a lot of hard work being put into this so we can have the opportunity to play. I’m not going to complain. -Martinez
There’s no whiff of selfish, millionaire athlete coming from Martinez. It’s the complete opposite, the defenseman sounds like an aware citizen continuing to adjust like all of us. He’s preparing for an unusual season but doing his best to adjust.
Nothing in the world right now is ideal. I don’t expect the NHL season to be any different. -Martinez
Martinez is an easy guy to root for. He takes his job seriously but takes a real-world approach. Sure, his life has been rattled by delays, negotiations, and protocols but #23 recognizes that others are in a similar predicament.
As he enters his 12th NHL season, Martinez is confident Vegas can make a deep run in the postseason. Playing alongside Shea Theodore, the veteran defenseman understands his responsibilities protecting his free-skating partner. To get the most of Theodore’s abilities, Martinez will need to be a steady wingman.
Martinez might be unaware of how his demeanor can easily connect to average, everyday Golden Knights fans. It’s hard for fanbases not to feel left out when they can only enjoy their team from their 65-inch TVs. Martinez recognizes the issues that we’re all facing.
If guys don’t like each other you don’t have chemistry then you’re not going to be successful. I don’t think that only applies to hockey, I think that’s anything in life. -Martinez
If only he could say it louder so the rest of the country can hear.
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.
The change from Gerard Gallant to Pete DeBoer brought about a slightly new style of play, but more so it seemed to bring a new emphasis on how the Golden Knights would go about creating their offense.
Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, we specifically highlighted one stat that indicated the exact difference between his way of generating offense and Gallant’s. At the time it was written as an example of what Vegas needed to stop to win the series, but now, it’s what the Golden Knights need to work to be successful in 2020-21.
That stat is percentage of team shots attempts taken by defensemen. Back when DeBoer was with the Sharks, his teams were consistently among the league leaders seeing about 40% of their shot attempts coming from blue liners. Vegas, under Gallant, came in with significantly less, at around 34%. Over the course of the 2018-19 season, that meant about 300 fewer shot attempts from Vegas defensemen than San Jose’s.
It didn’t take long for DeBoer to begin implementing that style of offense here in Vegas. Thanks to some dandy research by SanJoseHockeyNow.com‘s Sheng Peng, the increase in shot attempts from Gallant, to pre-Pause DeBoer, to post-Pause DeBoer was massive.
After three seasons in the league, no Western Conference team has pestered the Golden Knights like the Minnesota Wild. In eight games, the Wild are 6-1-1 against Vegas, including a 3-1-0 record at T-Mobile Arena. Minnesota’s success against Vegas came under former coach Bruce Boudreau who was happy to share his Sin City experiences with TSN Toronto.
We had great results in Vegas. In the three years they were in the league we’ve only lost once. If you look at our team in Minnesota out of the nine games in three years we only lost once to them. –Bruce Boudreau, Former NHL coach on TSN Toronto
Although he’s off by one game, Boudreau clearly enjoyed road trips to Vegas. His teams had success and he met his favorite poker player, Daniel Negreanu.
The 2007-08 Jack Adams winner was at first concerned about how his players would perform in Las Vegas, especially since there were reports of the “Vegas Flu” infecting incoming teams.
When we got the schedule the first thing that I was hoping was that we played somewhere else the night before. You’d get in at two in the morning and you’d go straight to bed. –Boudreau, TSN Toronto
Boudreau took a more laid-back approach when his team traveled to Las Vegas though. Sure, it was possible his players would take advantage of the unique NHL stopover, but he didn’t set any mandates. The coach’s main focus was planning on how to beat a really good Golden Knights club. Boudreau didn’t police his squad when they visited any other city so why change when they hit the Strip?
The one thing I found over the years is guys are really professional. If we had a day off you could see them all at the tables and they were playing. They weren’t drinking or anything. I’d much rather have them do that for a couple of hours. I don’t think they ever worried if the lost a thousand or won a thousand. –Boudreau, TSN Toronto
The addition of Alex Pietrangelo will change everything in how the Golden Knights look on the back end. As opposed to having a more balanced group as they’ve had in the previous three seasons, they’ll come into this one with a much more clear hierarchy, Pietrangelo being at the top.
The most ice time any Vegas defenseman has averaged in a given season was 22:14 which was achieved by both Shea Theodore in 19-20 and Nate Schmidt in 17-18. Pietrangelo hasn’t averaged less than 24:00 in any season since his first full NHL year back in 2010-11 and has crossed 25:00 per game in six seasons.
Pietrangelo’s impact will be most felt on Theodore, who had risen to become the Golden Knights’ best offensive defenseman and TOI leader last year.
In a Q&A on the Golden Knights website, head coach Pete DeBoer was asked about Pietrangelo’s effect on Theodore.
I think Theodore is obviously on everyone’s radar now with how he’s played. He’s one of those guys now that every time you’re playing Vegas you’re going to circle his number on the board and he’s going to get a lot of extra attention. His benefit to Theodore, but also to a lot of other guys, is be able to free them up. –DeBoer to VegasGoldenKnights.com
The first thing I think of when I hear the word insulates from an NHL coach is in relation to competition. As the top offensive defenseman on the roster, Theodore was always going to draw the toughest defensive opponent, but with Pietrangelo here now, that may change.
How they run it out for 2020-21 is still to be determined, but the options are fairly minimal. Three of the six projected starters are absolutely locked into one side of the defense with a fourth basically a foregone conclusion. The three are Pietrangelo (right), McNabb (left), and Whitecloud (right). Theodore is the fourth, he played 90 of 91 games on the right side last season, including the playoffs.
That leaves just a few moveable pieces thus limiting the combinations Pete DeBoer has to work with. Here are each of the possible options, starting with the one most likely to be used by the Golden Knights when they open the 2020-21 season.
This combination leaves two pairs intact from the playoff run and slots Pietrangelo in with a good fit in McNabb to play first pair minutes. Martinez has shown to be a great option with Theodore and the Holden/Whitecloud pair have held the fort on the third pair. The main question with this grouping would be how much McNabb holds back Pietrangelo’s offense. At times, Schmidt’s offense was neutered a bit playing with McNabb as they found themselves hemmed in the defensive zone against the opposing top line. Pietrangelo is an upgrade over Schmidt which should help that issue, but he wasn’t brought to Vegas to spend a majority of his shifts trying to exit the zone. The Golden Knights want offense from Pietrangelo, and if it’s not coming in bunches with McNabb by his side, they won’t hesitate to switch things around. Probability: 80%
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
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
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
The Golden Knights are likely headed for an offseason of change. It might be just a little if they can solve the goalie situation without breaking the bank or it might be a lot if they land the big fish in free agency. Either way, the possibility of moving one of Vegas’ top-six forwards and/or top-four defensemen is much higher this offseason than it was last summer.
Here’s a case for why they should trade each one of them, followed by a case against it. (Alex Tuch is substituted for Mark Stone due to Stone’s full no-movement clause.)
Max Pacioretty $7 million (3 seasons remaining)
Case for: You want cap relief, here it is. Shedding Pacioretty’s $7 million would basically allow for a one-for-one move to make the big-ticket free-agent splash. Pacioretty may not return nearly as much as you’d probably like after the dismal end to the playoffs, but he has a history of scoring and former captains aren’t easy to find. He’s likely on the declining side of his peak and his injury issues are concerning. If someone is willing to buck up a 2nd round pick and eat the entire $21 million in cap space over the next three years, Vegas absolutely has to listen.
Case against: The biggest problem the Golden Knights had in 2019-20, and especially in the playoffs, was scoring and the solution is to trade the team’s leading scorer? What world are we living in here? The guy is coming off a 32 goal pandemic shortened season and was clearly banged up during the playoffs. When he’s healthy, he’s the best scorer Vegas has. He’s also worked incredibly well with VGK’s most important forward, Mark Stone. I’ll repeat what I said before, if scoring is the issue, you do not trade your leading scorer.
Jonathan Marchessault $5 million (4 seasons remaining)
Case for: The case for trading Marchessault must start with his play in the postseason. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, he’s been known to take a penalty or two that he shouldn’t, and he isn’t exactly the physical specimen you look for in a hockey player, but all of that is overlooked because he can do the hardest thing to do in hockey, score. When he doesn’t, he has to be considered when thinking about change. The cap number would help free up some space for Vegas to make the splash they are hoping for in free agency and his production under DeBoer hasn’t matched what it was under Gallant which causes concern for the future. Plus, he’s played a lot less under DeBoer showing a lack of trust that Gallant had. This postseason Marchessault averaged 16:33 per game, in 2018 he averaged 19:25. The return would likely be worthwhile which could help in making something else happen down the line.
When a team is in complete control of a game like the Golden Knights were Sunday, it allows a coach to balance his players’ minutes a bit more evenly.
It was a luxury coach Pete DeBoer was given when his team held a multiple-goal lead for most of Game 1. He wasn’t forced to utilize Theodore for 28 minutes like he had in the past with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. DeBoer also balanced his forwards, using player’s like Ryan Reaves and William Carrier more than their season average. In fact, Reaves played the third-most minutes he had all season and hit the ice more than Max Pacioretty in Game 1.
Take a look at how DeBoer was able to roll his guys out in a dominant Game 1 compared to the rest of the playoffs and regular season.
Shea Theodore Game 1: 19:40 TOI Season Average: 22:14 TOI Postseason Average: 22:57 TOI
Mark Stone Game 1: 16:00 TOI Season Average: 19:25 TOI Postseason Average: 18:44 TOI
William Karlsson Game 1: 16:21 TOI Season Average: 18:52 TOI Postseason Average: 19:13 TOI
Max Pacioretty Game 1: 14:38 TOI Season Average: 17:55 TOI Postseason Average: 16:42 TOI
Ryan Reaves Game 1: 14:50 TOI Season Average: 10:09 TOI Postseason Average: 10:04 TOI
Thanks to Antoine Roussel, Reaves was needed more than normal but it wasn’t just “to keep the flies off the honey.” Extra minutes for Reaves and Carrier equates to less postseason wear and tear on the top-six. Being that it was Game 1, DeBoer should have some well-rested stars for tonight’s matchup.
Going forward, if the Golden Knights and Canucks go deep in their second round series, or games go into overtime, DeBoer should have a bench full of fresh legs. Hopefully, the Golden Knights won’t be forced into a four or five overtime period game, but if they do, the advantage goes to the team that spread their minutes out in earlier games.
If the Golden Knights are able to perform as they did in Game 1, I’d expect DeBoer to deploy the same strategy again tonight. Any situation that has Vegas up by multiple goals, the bottom six, and the fourth line specifically, should see more ice time. But chances are the Canucks will permit that by sending Roussel on the ice to create his typical havoc.
Remember, Reilly Smith said this about Roussel and his antics.
"He's running around out there but I don't think he's distracting anyone but himself." -Smith on Roussel