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Vegas Won As A Team By Dominating Every Important Individual Matchup

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

In a series highlighted by individuals, both head coaches kept using the term “team” in the postgame press conferences directly after Game 6.

Nobody on our team is asked to carry the team on their back. That’s part of the story here is the team that plays the best usually wins. We feel our team outplayed their team. It wasn’t about this player outplayed this player or this goalie against this goalie. -Bruce Cassidy

We win as a team and we don’t win as a team and we stick together. -Jay Woodcroft

While both coaches are absolutely correct, the reason the Golden Knights won as a team was they won all of the key individual matchups in the series. From front to back to on the ice and off, Vegas dominated in all the places necessary to beat the Edmonton Oilers and now they’re headed to the Western Conference Final for the fourth time in six years.

Here are five specific matchups the Golden Knights got the better of on their way to dispatching the world’s greatest player in the second round.

Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault vs Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse

You don’t have to look further than the scoring numbers when breaking down this matchup. Eichel was 5-1 against Ceci and 4-1 against Nurse while Marchessault was 6-1 against Ceci and 4-1 against Nurse.

Beyond the scoring though, the Golden Knights’ forwards were consistently able to hold the puck in the offensive zone against Ceci and Nurse. Eichel in particular was excellent in gaining controlled entry over the course of the series which relieved pressure on the VGK defense and forced whichever forward line was against them to defend. Marchessault’s forechecking caused havoc and he scored four times from directly in front of the goal.

In a series where puck possession was always going to be paramount for the Golden Knights, Eichel and Marchessault delivered in as big a way as they could over the six games. The Oilers only had one pair that should have been able to handle these two, and they weren’t able to do it.

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Can Vegas Find Another Whitecloud In NCAA Haystack?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Annually around this time of year dozens of NHL quality players become virtually up for grabs. Their college seasons and careers have ended, and they are looking for the next chapter. Over the past, the Golden Knights have taken advantage of college free agency, finding a mainstay in their lineup, defenseman Zach Whitecloud. The former Bemidji State blueliner was heavily touted in the spring of 2018 but the 31st franchise convinced the senior to join them in the Pacific Division. As Golden Knights fans have witnessed, Whitecloud might be the front office’s best amateur acquisition. Several draft picks have either flamed out or have been moved in deals for established NHL’ers. Meanwhile, Whitecloud has 177 games under his belt as one of VGK’s everyday defensemen.

Keeping in mind that many of these available collegiate athletes went undrafted or couldn’t come to terms with the club that selected them. Some were doubted, some were deemed undersized, and some were scouted as slow or not skilled enough for the NHL. As many amateur free agents prove each year, NHL teams often get it wrong. The college free agency period, front offices across the league can erase mistakes by signing a diamond in the rough from the NCAA.

It’s no secret, we are concerned about scoring in the playoffs. Back in the offseason, the Golden Knights traded scoring for cap space which could become a problem when facing one of the league’s best 16 teams. While a college free agent signing wouldn’t be eligible to play for VGK this postseason, here are some that could give the organization some much-needed organizational depth for years to come.

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Golden Knights Defending Superbly Since All Star Break

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Most of the focus over the past few games since the All Star break has been on the offense. It’s with good reason as a team that often goes through scoring droughts has posted 19 goals in four games with all but one coming at even strength.

The other end of the ice is where the Golden Knights have really been winning games though. Their ability to limit the opposition has helped allow the attack more time to work and it’s also fed the transition game Vegas relies on so heavily.

It’s not just the defensemen that are making this happen.

Part of the reason (our opponents) haven’t generated much is what we’ve done between the blue lines. I think it’s a combination of our forwards working really hard to get out of the other end and working back to help. It’s all gap related, if our D can have confidence to close their gap they’ll kill some of those plays knowing the forward will cover for them if they don’t get there in time. That’s just a team playing the right way and it’s best for the group if we play that way. -Bruce Cassidy

Where that has shown up most is Vegas’ ability to limit odd-man rushes. In the past four games, they’ve only allowed two true odd-man rushes, once against Minnesota and another against Anaheim. Cassidy also believes forwards reloading to help the defensemen in the neutral zone has helped their offense as well.

That’s the selling part for me. You tell the forwards, if you work back really hard and we’re on time there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get yourself a puck five seconds later with a chance to attack and I think we’ve done a good job of that. -Cassidy

There’s no denying the impact the group of six healthy defensemen have had on the game as well. With both Zach Whitecloud and Shea Theodore back in the lineup, the Golden Knights look more comfortable in every aspect of defending.

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GM For A Day: Jason’s 2022-23 Vegas Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Our week of hypothetical managing rolls on. Today, it’s my (Jason) turn to play GM for a Day, and we’re going a little calmer than Ken’s plan.

I have no choice, I’m going for it now. There was an order given six seasons ago and I agreed to it. So, it’s time to deliver.

Vegas’ current roster has enough talent up and down the lineup but it hasn’t fully succeeded. However, under the right conditions, the Golden Knights can defeat almost every team on any given night. Sure, changes will be made but for the most part, I’m going to use what I already have.

TRADE – Alec Martinez traded to the Detroit Red Wings for a 2022 4th round pick.

On Tuesday I predicted the Golden Knights front office would aggressively try and unload Alec Martinez’s contract. It’s rare, but I’m in agreement with VGK’s FO. Detroit is a team that’s maturing, has cap room, and could use some veteran leadership. As the Golden Knights have done in the past with Brad Hunt, sending Martinez to Detroit would be looking out for the player as well. It’ll hurt to some capacity to lose the almost 35-year-old but Vegas opens cap space and replenishes a 4th round pick. It’s not ideal but I’d rather shed defense in order to keep my offense intact. My only fear is the Red Wings management asking for a sweetener.

Look, I’m not a miracle worker but my task is to win the Stanley Cup this year, not in 2028. With that in mind, immediately after trading Martinez I’m picking up the phone and reassuring Max Pacioretty he’s not going anywhere. It’s time for a heart-to-heart. Like Brad Pitt said to the actor playing David Justice in the movie Moneyball, “I want to milk the last ounce of baseball you got in you.” The same goes for Pacioretty. He’s on an expiring contract seeking another lucrative deal, and I need goals. I’m looking for 70+ games and 30+ goals from Pacioretty next season. In the end it could work out well for both parties.

It’ll be no secret, the pressure is on Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and yep, Jack Eichel. When a player signs a contract worth $10M annually he’s also agreeing to accept the pressure that comes along. I anticipate Eichel to play like a ten-million-dollar center this season and I expect him to get the most out of his teammates. He may not wear a C but this will be Eichel’s team. It’s just a matter of when. He wasn’t an original Misfit but The Creator’s demand of winning a Cup in six seasons applies to the top center as well. To keep the trio of Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Jack Eichel together, someone else will need to go.

TRADE – Laurent Brossoit and a 2022 7th round pick to Dallas Stars for 2023 5th round pick

Brossoit’s contract was another example of overspending on an unnecessary need. Vegas had Robin Lehner’s backup already yet overpaid for an underwhelming, established goalie. The Golden Knights didn’t get enough from Brossoit last season to continue to carry his salary. Since 2020, the Golden Knights have severely overpaid their goaltenders and last offseason the club was forced to sell off a Vezina winner for nothing. I’m going to follow suit by shipping out Brossoit, and like Vegas’ front office I’m not concerned with the return.

I’ve successfully managed to get underneath the cap without tearing apart the team. Now, it’s time to examine what I have left on the books.

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Golden Knights With The Most To Gain/Lose With The Coaching Change

Somehow almost every player I picked ended up in this picture. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Often times when teams swap coaches they see a shift in usage among players on the roster. Some guys see dramatic upticks in their ice time while others watch their’s decrease or even diminish entirely.

Of course, we still don’t know who the next coach will be, but we do know who benefitted most from Pete DeBoer’s system and who didn’t. So, here are the four players with the most to gain and the four with the most to lose as the Golden Knights switch coaches.

Most To Gain

William Karlsson

It’s no secret Karlsson’s best days in the NHL were under Gerard Gallant. The forecheck-reliant, free-flowing, transition-heavy style fit Karlsson’s game perfectly. Not only was he at his best offensively, but he and his line of Misfits were always the best defensive line as well. Under DeBoer, it often felt like Karlsson was overthinking the game which led to hesitancy in the offensive zone in favor of making the “right” play to keep them safe defensively. This seemed to sap his confidence which has proven to be a huge factor in Karlsson’s success. The new coach will likely improve his power play numbers as well. In his first two seasons in Vegas, Karlsson notched 15 PP goals in 164 games. The last three years, he had five in 186.

Jack Eichel

It’s not like Eichel struggled under DeBoer, he clearly didn’t, but there’s a pretty good chance a new coach will tailor his system more to Eichel’s skillset than we saw from DeBoer. Center was a demanding position defensively under DeBoer, and that simply isn’t Eichel’s strong suit. He’s likely to be matched with at least one stellar defensive winger, which under a less defensive-minded system could free up Eichel in the offensive zone. Also, there’s a good chance the new coach is less reliant on working the puck from low to high which very well may unleash more of Eichel’s creativity.

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Golden Knights 2021-22 Locker Cleanout Press Conference Audio

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights conducted their season-end media availability today at City National Arena. This is the complete unedited audio of every press conference.

0:00 – 31:47 – Pete DeBoer

31:47 – 1:07:24 – Kelly McCrimmon

1:07:24 – 1:23:10 – Alec Martinez

1:23:10 – 1:39:20 – Max Pacioretty

1:39:20 – 1:48:27 – Shea Theodore

1:48:27 – 2:01:44 – Jack Eichel

2:01:44 – 2:13:20 – Zach Whitecloud

2:13:20 – 2:26:48 – Mark Stone

2:26:48 – 2:38:01 – Jonathan Marchessault

2:38:01 – 2:47:46 – William Karlsson

2:47:46 – 2:57:56 – Brayden McNabb

Zach Whitecloud Explains Hardest Part Of Returning From Lengthy Injury

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Zach Whitecloud is having the best season of his young NHL career. He’s already exceeded his career-high in points, he’s playing a much larger role both at five-on-five and on the penalty kill, and advanced offensive metrics have him up there with some of the best defensemen in the league.

This is, of course, when he’s been able to be on the ice.

Whitecloud has suffered two fairly serious injuries this year. His first came in late October when he blocked a shot with his wrist. That one kept him sidelined for just about a month. He was then having a run of success when he suffered a broken foot which kept him out for another four weeks.

Speaking today with the media, Whitecloud shared a bit about what it’s like to be out of the lineup for a while and then be thrust right back into NHL games. Interestingly, the toughest part for him when returning to play isn’t anything physical.

When you are out for three weeks, a month, you are not used to having those fast pace motions in your life. You don’t have those types of stimulus coming in. We are used to things coming at us fast and reacting and getting hit while making plays. We’re trying to think about making a play while also thinking about three other things. When you don’t have that in your life it takes a little while to get it going again. -Whitecloud

Whitecloud said you can’t mimic this type of test on the brain in practice and for him, it takes a number of live reps to get comfortable with making these quick reads again.

It’s not that you are squeezing your stick too tight or that you are nervous, you just don’t have that stimulus in your life. -Whitecloud

Part of the reason we all love hockey is the speed of the game. There’s simply no other sport like it and in many ways, there aren’t many things in life that require the pace of brain activity that hockey does. So, it’s really no surprise that when a player goes from the methodical process of rehabbing an injury to making reads and taking hits in an NHL game, it takes a while for their minds to catch back up.

Part of that is keeping the game simple. Making it easy on yourself, making it easy on your teammates by making simple plays and not overcomplicating it because you can put yourself in some bad spots. -Whitecloud

With the Golden Knights experiencing so many injuries this season, this is sure to be something to keep an eye on as each one returns from injury. Most of us focus on the physical aspect of the game when players come back, but according to a guy who has been through it multiple times this season, maybe we should be more focused on their minds, and more specifically, decision making.

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