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Cassidy Weighs In On The State Of VGK’s Blue Line, Including The Zach Whitecloud Healthy Scratch

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Thursday in Arizona there was a bit of a shocker in the Golden Knights’ lineup. With Daniil Miromanov returning from injury, Bruce Cassidy opted to healthy scratch Zach Whitecloud while leaving the younger Kaedan Korczak in the lineup. It was made clear that this was a coach’s decision and today the coach backed up why he chose to make it.

First off, we’re trying to get a look at Miromanov. So that’s first and foremost. We just felt Korczak was playing really consistent hockey so we put him ahead of Zach (Whitecloud) for that game. It’s not a long-term thing but sometimes it’s good for a player to know that this young guy is pushing from underneath. -Bruce Cassidy

It was the first time Whitecloud had been left out of the lineup when healthy since February 13th, 2020, Pete DeBoer’s 10th game in charge of the Golden Knights and a game started by Malcolm Subban.

However, just a few days later, Korczak was sent to the AHL and Whitecloud appears set to jump right back into the VGK lineup tonight.

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Injuries Affecting Golden Knights Defensive Continuity

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Continuity is crucial when it comes to defending in the NHL. Playing with the same defensive partner for an extended period helps in every aspect. Last year, the Golden Knights had that luxury to start the season and in the playoffs. This year, they haven’t, and it’s starting to show.

Last year, Vegas used the same set of six defensemen for each of the first 20 of the first 21 games. Those six defensemen then went on to play 21 of the 22 playoff games with the exact partnerships from the beginning of the year. This season, Vegas has been forced to cobble together their lineup from Opening Night.

Before the season even began, both Zach Whitecloud and Alec Martinez were sidelined. By the time Martinez returned, Alex Pietrangelo had gone out. When Whitecloud returned, Hague was out. When Hague returned, Martinez went back out and then Theodore followed right behind him.

Vegas has used their preferred group of six defensemen just one time this season. This has led to a major shift in the minute load each player has had to take on.

(Thru 31 games)2023-24 Minutes2022-23 MinutesDifference
Pietrangelo628540+88
McNabb622627-5
Theodore467633-166
Hague434505-71
Hutton40066+334
Whitecloud313500-187
Martinez270619-349
Korczak2470+247
Pachal22314+209
Miromanov0103-103

The minutes that were being eaten up by Theodore, Martinez, Whitecloud, and Hague last season have gone to Ben Hutton, Kaedan Korczak, and Brayden Pachal this year.

In addition, it has meant a ton of different pairings. Last year over the 82-game regular season and 22-game postseason run, the Golden Knights used 19 different defense pairings. This year, through just 31 games, they are already at 15.

The Golden Knights have remained a strong defensive team through all of it, but it’s clearly been slipping a bit in the last few weeks.

Eichel & Draisaitl Agree Playoff Series Came Down To Depth

(Photo Credit: @_jkarsh on Instagram)

On the night of May 15th, 2023, after the Golden Knights eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the 2023 NHL playoffs Jack Eichel and Leon Draisaitl walked into two very different locker rooms. Eichel was promptly drenched with celebratory champagne and puffed on Ashton Aged Maduro’s with his jubilant teammates. Draisaitl stepped into a locker room that was emotional, furious, and unsatisfied with how their season abruptly ended. In fact, it was in that moment Oilers captain Connor McDavid sternly stated that he and his teammates were on notice.

We’ve heard the story now from a few places, that he cleared all but the closest team staff out of the room and laid down the parameters for his franchise going forward. That the window for learning how to win was slamming shut, and the time for applying those lessons — and winning Stanley Cups — has officially begun. – Mark Spector on Sportsnet.ca

Now, both Pacific Division contenders are preparing for a new 82-game regular season with a mutual agreement on how that six-game series ended in mid-May. In Elliotte Friedman’s latest 32 Thoughts blog, Draisaitl noticed the difference of quality bench players on VGK’s side.

At the NHL/NHLPA media tour in Las Vegas, Jack Eichel said the difference between Edmonton and Vegas in that second-round series was depth. Leon Draisaitl conceded that, but added, “We couldn’t get to our top game…They didn’t make those little mistakes we made and that was the difference.” –Elliotte Friedman in 32 Thoughts

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Golden Knights In Need Of New Alternate Captain

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Reilly Smith served as an alternate in all 22 playoff games and each of the 78 regular season games he suited up last season. His time as an alternate dates back as far as the Golden Knights’ very first home game on October 10th, 2017 against Arizona (“and we beat the shit out of them”) and he’s worn the “A” more than 300 times while donning steel grey and gold.

But, with Smith set to wear a different shade of gold next season in Pittsburgh, Vegas will need a permanent replacement.

Last year, Alex Pietrangelo and Smith were the alternates for just about every game each participated in. Pietrangelo will likely continue to serve as an alternate as he plays into year four of his seven-year contract with the Golden Knights. The other spot is up for grabs.

There are a host of candidates who could potentially take over for Smith.

William Karlsson

Wild Bill leads the list because he served as the alternate to the alternates in the only game missed by Pietrangelo or Smith in the postseason. Game 5 against the Edmonton Oilers saw Pietrangelo sidelined serving his one-game suspension for slashing Leon Draisaitl. Wearing the “A,” Karlsson posted a sweet assist to Smith for the go-ahead goal in the 2nd period and led the team with 24 shifts on that night.

As an original Misfit, Karlsson makes perfect sense to take over for Smith. He’s played more than 500 games as a Golden Knight, rarely missing a game, and is a perfect example of how Cassidy likes his forwards to play. Plus, after the “You Guys Were Greater” speech, it’s hard to argue he’s not a natural leader.

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VGK’s Top 6 Stanley Cup Playoff Assists

(Photo Credit: @_jkarsh on Instagram)

Yesterday, we went through the Golden Knights Top 6 goals of the postseason, today it’s time to pick some apples. We took a different approach when selecting six elite playoff assists. Many were picked because of their pure beauty not their impact. Others were a blended mix of spotlight skill and the game situation. So, let’s start dishing.

6. Stephenson and Howden Assist Stone’s Second Goal of Game 2 vs. Winnipeg

After a disappointing Game 1 loss to open the postseason, Vegas’ captain knew he needed to steer the ship. Mark Stone did just that in Game 2 of the opening round vs. Winnipeg. In the final period, Stone assisted on Chandler Stephenson’s tiebreaker and wrapped the game up with two goals. Brett Howden started the rush from the defensive zone and flipped it over to Stephenson on the wing, who found Stone for a perfect tap-in down low. Each forward touched the puck and it resulted in a point for the home team. Even though it’s a different sport, coach Norman Dale would’ve been proud.

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League’s Best Defense Won Game 1 For The Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: @GoldenKnights on Twitter)

They always say defense wins championships. And while the Golden Knights won nothing more than Game 1 last night, defense was the main reason they were able to take the 13th step toward ultimate glory.

There were three areas in particular where Vegas’ back end rose to the occasion in the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final.

Driving offense

To reach this point the Golden Knights had played 17 games against three very different opponents. VGK D-men had scored just three goals in those games. In Game 1, both go-ahead goals came from a similar spot on the ice by Golden Knights’ defensemen.

First, Shea Theodore masterfully walked the blue line leaving Anthony Duclair in his wake before firing a perfect wrist shot through traffic to the top right corner. Theodore first received the puck near the wall in front of Vegas’ bench. He skated it to the center looking for a shooting lane but was blanketed by Duclair. So, he kept carrying it all the way across the rink to the opposite set of boards. That’s where he did a pirouette before a double inside-out dangle to lose his marker. The rest was history.

Against a Florida defense that likes to take away the front of the goal, the high slot is an area that is expected to be open at times for the Golden Knights. In previous years a lot of Vegas’ in-zone offense operated by seeking out this exact look, but this season, and especially this postseason, it’s been rare. On the Theodore play, you can tell the emphasis that has been placed on getting to the high slot. The play started with a shot from Theodore in that space, then as the puck was worked back up to him he instantly brought it there again, and finally when it was taken away, he used his skating and skill to work it there a third time inside of 10 seconds.

That exact area of the ice would manifest itself in another goal from a Vegas blueliner later, which eventually stood as the game-winner. Following a rush chance by Jack Eichel and Ivan Barbashev that was stopped, under pressure by multiple backcheckers, Barbashev sent a pass to Zach Whitecloud who was just entering the zone. Typically, Whitecloud favors a play where he activates down the dot-line on his forehand, but this time he held onto the puck and brought it directly into the high slot. With a Panther providing a screen on his own goalie, Whitecloud sent one back across his body where he beat Sergei Bobrovsky clean.

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The Golden Knights Forecheck Went After Dallas In Game 1 And They’re Coming Again In Game 2

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

In Game 1, the game plan for the Golden Knights was simple, literally the age old hockey cliche.

Get it in deep.

From the very first shift of the game the Golden Knights consistently sent puck after puck after puck deep into the Dallas zone and then hounded their defensemen until they’d unwillingly give it back.

Vegas’ forecheck was buzzing from puck drop to the final shift a few minutes into overtime. It’s become the hallmark of the Golden Knights’ offensive system, and the head coach was not shy in making a declaration about it moving forward in the series.

That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it Sunday, so you can put that in print or whatever it is these days. That’s our game and we’re not trying to hide from it. -Bruce Cassidy

Just as it won’t be news to the Stars on Sunday, Vegas’ forecheck didn’t surprise Dallas in Game 1. They knew it was coming, they knew how effective it can be, they just didn’t handle it well at all.

Part of it was execution on us and part of it was them coming at us hard early. You’ve got to give them credit, they were ready to play and they played well. -Pete DeBoer

The dominance of the forecheck was why the ice was tilted so heavily in Vegas’ favor most of the night. The Golden Knights generated 11 takeaways as they denied every exit route out of the Stars end. It looked like they came into the game knowing exactly what Dallas was going to do with the puck, and that’s because, they did.

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