Tag Archives: Alex Tuch

Golden Knights hold commanding 3-0 series lead

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James Neal played the role of Mr. Clutch in the regular season— scoring the first goal in Vegas Golden Knights history— and it seems he’s found his clutch-touch once again. Neal’s goal late in the third period put the Golden Knights ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the first time in Game 3 and it only took fellow teammate, William Karlsson, 21 seconds to add an insurance goal.

That insurance goal came in handy when the Kings scored with the goalie pulled, but ultimately it was too little, too late.

Vegas beat Los Angeles, 3-2, on Sunday night at Staples Center and the Golden Knights are now one win away from advancing to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 37 out of the 39 shots he faced for a .949 save percentage in the win, while Jonathan Quick made 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .885 SV% in the loss.

Drew Doughty was back in Los Angeles’s lineup after serving his one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Golden Knights forward, William Carrier, in Game 1. David Perron was inserted into Vegas’s lineup in place of Tomas Tatar, who sat out on Sunday as a healthy scratch.

The league’s newest rivalry got off to a quick-tempered start with five straight combined penalties before the game’s first goal in the first period at Staples Center.

Los Angeles forward, Kyle Clifford, tripped up Golden Knights defenseman, Shea Theodore, 5:33 into the first period and Vegas went on their first power play of the night. Shortly after the power play expired, it was the Golden Knights who were guilty of the next infraction— a bench minor penalty for too many men on the ice.

Whereas Clifford and Theodore exchanged some words and went their own way after the first penalty was called, this time, William Carrier and Clifford got involved in a minor scuffle after the whistle.

Though the gloves came off, Carrier and Clifford were assessed matching minors for roughing to coincide with the too many men penalty against Vegas at 7:35 of the first period. Los Angeles would get their first chance of the night on the power play.

The Kings were on the power play for all of six seconds until Dustin Brown tripped Vegas blue liner, Brayden McNabb, and just like that it was 4-on-4 hockey, with the Golden Knights outshooting the Kings (4-1) and the Kings leading in the physical department (Los Angeles had 11 hits nearly eight minutes into the game).

Finally, at 13:17 of the first period, Alex Iafallo (1) roofed a shot past Fleury that went so quick in-and-out of the net at first glance that the refs had waved off the goal. After review, video replay confirmed Iafallo’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the Kings had their first lead in the series— let alone their first 5-on-5 goal this postseason.

Iafallo’s goal was assisted by Anze Kopitar (1) and Brown (1).

After 20 minutes of play, Los Angeles was leading 1-0. Shots on goal were even at eight aside, with the Golden Knights barely leading in blocked shots (7-6). The Kings, on the other hand, led in hits (28-13), takeaways (2-1), giveaways (5-0) and dominated the faceoff dot, winning 59% of the faceoffs in the first period.

Both Vegas and Los Angeles were 0/2 on the power play after one period.

The game’s intensity continued through the second period as Fleury and Quick made save after save.

Neal picked up a slashing minor at 6:19 of the second period and the Kings were not able to convert on the man advantage.

Almost ten minutes later, after Kopitar had knocked down Game 2’s double overtime game-winning goal scorer, Erik Haula, the Golden Knights forward reciprocated by butt-ending Kopitar in the face. Neither of the refs penalized Haula, nor was there any indication that they had seen what occurred, but thanks to the power that is television, replay exists and Los Angeles head coach, John Stevens, was not pleased.

Oscar Fantenberg shot the puck out of play at 17:57 of the second period and was handed a delay of game minor penalty. The Kings killed off the ensuing penalty and went on the power play with 1.1 seconds left in the period after Golden Knights forward, Jonathan Marchessault, was guilty of high-sticking Los Angeles defenseman, Drew Doughty.

Though the power play carried into the third period, the Kings were unable to convert on the man advantage.

Cody Eakin (1) tied the game, 1-1, on a shot that beat Quick 6:10 into the third period. Ryan Carpenter (1) and David Perron (1) picked up the assists on Eakin’s first goal of the postseason.

A little over a minute later, Kings defenseman, Jake Muzzin, tripped Vegas’s regular season leading goal scorer, William Karlsson, and served two minutes in the penalty box.

Marchessault had a chance on a break-in on the ensuing power play that went by the wayside after ringing the post and play continued as normal.

It wasn’t until 14:23 of the third period that either team was able to break the tie, but it was then that Neal skated up along the right wall, got to about the faceoff dot in the offensive zone and fired a shot through Quick’s five-hole to give the Golden Knights their first lead of the night and make it 2-1.

A mere 21 seconds later, Reilly Smith won a battle off a faceoff and threw the puck to an excited Karlsson (1) waiting in the low slot to one-time it past Quick and give Vegas a 3-1 lead. Not only was it 21 seconds later, but the two goals for the Golden Knights came on consecutive shots.

Nate Schmidt (1) and Alex Tuch (1) had the assists on Neal’s goal. Meanwhile, Smith (2) and Marchessault (2) had the assists on Karlsson’s first goal of the 2018 postseason at 14:44 of the third.

Just 13 seconds after Vegas went up by two goals, Perron was guilty of tripping Doughty and the Kings had their biggest power play chance of the night with almost five minutes remaining in regulation. It also helped that, despite the Golden Knights having scored back-to-back goals, the Kings were outshooting Vegas in the game, 36-25 at 14:57 of the third period.

But with a little over two minutes remaining in regulation, Los Angeles had yet to convert on the man advantage, so while the Golden Knights resumed full-strength action, Stevens pulled his goaltender for an extra skater.

The move gave the Kings a spark of life as Kopitar (1) redirected a shot from Fantenberg to cut the lead in half and make it a 3-2 game.

Smith had failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone before Fantenberg got to the puck and threw it towards the goal, where Kopitar was screening Fleury and ultimately changed the direction of the vulcanized rubber biscuit. Fantenberg (1) picked up the only assist on Kopitar’s goal.

Quick skated to the Los Angeles bench once again with about a minute left in regulation, but the Kings were not able to score again on Fleury with the extra attacker.

With the final horn the Golden Knights secured a 3-0 series lead by virtue of a 3-2 win on road ice in Game 3. Vegas became the first team to win their 1st three postseason games as a franchise since the 1996 Florida Panthers did just that.

In fact, Vegas is only the 3rd team in NHL history to win their first three Stanley Cup Playoff games, joining the 1996 Panthers (3-0) and 1970 Pittsburgh Penguins (4-0), as well as the first team to do so in its inaugural season.

Despite leading in shots on goal (39-26), blocked shots (19-18) and hits (45-40), the Los Angeles Kings dropped Game 3 on home ice and have yet to win a playoff game at home since they raised the Cup in Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center in June 2014.

Neither team was successful on the power play Sunday night, as the Golden Knights finished Game 3 0/4 and the Kings went 0/5 on the man advantage.

Game 4 is set for Tuesday night at Staples Center, where the Golden Knights will have a chance to sweep the Kings on the road. Puck drop is expected a little after 10:30 p.m. ET and fans interested in catching the action can tune to NBCSN in the United States and CBC or TVAS in Canada outside of the local markets.

Only four teams in NHL history have ever come back from being down in a series 3-0. The 2014 Los Angeles Kings were the most recent team to rally from a 3-0 series deficit (against the San Jose Sharks) and win it in seven games.

Los Angeles has been outscored through three games in this series by a combined score of 5-3.

Haula-ing a pot of gold, Golden Knights outlast Kings 2-1 in 2OT

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The longest Stanley Cup Playoff game in franchise history— no, not just Vegas Golden Knights history, but for the Los Angeles Kings too— ended shortly after 95 minutes of play.

Erik Haula scored the game-winning goal at 15:23 of double overtime to give the Golden Knights a 2-1 victory in Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena on Friday and a 2-0 series lead heading into Games 3 and 4 at Los Angeles.

Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, made 29 saves on 30 shots against for a .967 save percentage in 95:11 time on ice in the win. Meanwhile, Kings goalie, Jonathan Quick, stopped 54 shots out of 56 shots faced for a .964 SV% in 95:16 TOI in the loss.

It almost took 13 minutes, but at 12:51 of the first period, the first penalty was called in the game after both teams swapped pleasantries that went “unnoticed” leading up to Kyle Clifford’s goaltender interference minor. The Golden Knights went on their first power play of the night.

While on the power play, Reilly Smith found Jonathan Marchessault open in the slot and sent a pass that Marchessault then translated to a shot just wide of the net. The puck caromed off the boards to the right of Quick and Alex Tuch (1) caught the puck on his stick and fired it into the net before Quick could get into position.

Marchessault (1) and Smith (1) notched the assists on Tuch’s power play goal and the Golden Knights broke out with a 1-0 lead late in the first period.

With 2:02 remaining in the period, Marchessault caught Los Angeles forward, Jeff Carter, with a slash and served some time in the penalty box. The Kings were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Vegas led 1-0 on the scoreboard and 12-5 in shots on goal after 20 minutes of play.

The Golden Knights emerged from the first intermission refreshed and ready to go— controlling the game as much as they had been in the first period— but were unable to capitalize on two straight power plays in the first half of the second period. Dion Phaneuf and Trevor Lewis served minor penalties for roughing and tripping, respectively, at 3:51 and 10:12 of the second period.

And then things looked a little different.

Golden Knights defenseman, Brayden McNabb, got his stick caught up in Dustin Brown’s legs, resulting in a tripping penalty and a power play for the Kings at 14:19.

It didn’t take long for Los Angeles to convert on the resulting man advantage and tie the game.

Paul LaDue (1) fired a shot that deflected off of Vegas defenseman, Deryk Engelland, past Fleury at 15:55 of the second period to even the game, 1-1. Phaneuf (1) and Michael Amadio (1) had the assists on LaDue’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal in just his second career NHL postseason game. Amadio’s assist on the goal was his first career Stanley Cup point.

After 40 minutes of play at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights and Kings were tied, 1-1.

Vegas was outshooting Los Angeles, 26-12, and led in takeaways, 10-6. Meanwhile, the Kings led in hits (47-34), giveaways (8-3) and controlling the faceoff dot, winning 64-36% of faceoffs through two periods. Both teams had blocked 10 shots each and converted on one of their power plays (LA was 1/2, VGK was 1/3 through two periods).

The third period brought more end-to-end action lots of offensive zone dominance by Vegas. Los Angeles kept stockpiling the hit total (68-45 after 60 minutes). Vegas led in shots on goal, 35-20, after regulation.

There were no penalties called in the third period and no goals were scored, so it was on to sudden death overtime for the first time in Golden Knights history.

Overtime started as all Stanley Cup Playoff overtime games do— at a frantic pace.

Almost halfway through the first overtime, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare attempted to clear the puck, but instead sent it clear over the glass. An automatic two-minute minor penalty for delay of game was assessed.

The Golden Knights penalty kill stood tall and killed it off, even having pressured Los Angeles on a shorthanded breakout.

After 80 minutes of play, the score was still tied 1-1.

Vegas was leading in shots on goal (47-27) and takeaways (19-11), but the Kings were leading in blocked shots (27-21), hits (75-50) and faceoff win% (56-44). Both teams were 1/3 on the power play through regulation-plus-one-overtime period.

Double overtime started with a much slower frenzy than the first overtime. The fans at T-Mobile Arena were as loud as ever and waiting to burst with euphoria should their team win.

Entering the second overtime, Vegas had 90 shot attempts. Los Angeles had 61.

Tanner Pearson broke up a pass from Marchessault intended for Smith that would have surely beaten Quick on a redirect towards the goal, but the game continued. That wasn’t the only scare for the Kings though.

Phaneuf found himself on the wrong end of a break-in as Tomas Nosek was racing to the goal. As a result, Phaneuf hooked Nosek to negate any offense and was penalized as such— two minutes for hooking.

After a brief stoppage on the ensuing power play, Golden Knights head coach, Gerard Gallant, called a timeout with 43 seconds remaining on the man advantage. Both benches were beyond fatigued, but the Golden Knights just kept coming.

Los Angeles killed the remainder of Phaneuf’s penalty and resumed even strength play— even almost sneaking a soft shot past Fleury.

But it was the Golden Knights that were victorious after grinding down the Kings all night long.

The visiting team cracked the 30-shot plateau past the 93-minute mark of the game after chaos in their defensive zone. Quick had lost his stick while making a save and Trevor Lewis lost his stick when he blocked a shot, briefly limped in a circle and nearly cost the Kings the game right then and there.

Instead, Erik Haula (1) had just enough a couple of minutes later to put home a loose puck and lift the home team past Los Angeles, 2-1, in double overtime.

James Neal (1) and Shea Theodore (1) were credited with the assists on Haula’s game winning goal in what was the longest game for a team in its inaugural season— as well as the longest game in Kings’s franchise history, topping Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final versus the New York Rangers, which went into double overtime on June 13, 2014.

With the win, seven of the last 10 NHL expansion teams have now won their first playoff overtime game in their franchise history with Vegas also becoming the fifth franchise in NHL history to win each of their first 2-plus playoff games. The Golden Knights are just the second team to do so in their inaugural season (only their current playoff rival, Los Angeles Kings were able to go 2-0 to start their 1968 playoff run).

Vegas finished the night with 56 shots on goal to Los Angeles’s 30 shots. The Kings led in blocked shots (35-24), hits (80-56), giveaways (13-8) and faceoff win% (55-45). Los Angeles was 1/3 in power play opportunities on the night, while the Golden Knights were only 1/4 on the man advantage.

Kings defenseman, Alec Martinez, led his team among skaters in time-on-ice (44:51), while Golden Knights blue liner, Nate Schmidt, led the home team with 37:19 TOI as a skater.

Fleury and the rest of his Vegas teammates shift their focus to winning at least one of the next two games on the road. Meanwhile, Quick and the Kings look to regroup in the comforts of home at Staples Center for Games 3 and 4.

Puck drop in Game 3 is set for Sunday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. National viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can watch the game on CBC or TVAS.

One thing has been for sure through two games in Vegas this postseason; the house always wins.

Numbers Game: Vegas Through 60

Derick Brassard was briefly a Golden Knight. Yes, he was flipped from Ottawa to Vegas to Pittsburgh as part of Friday’s three-team trade and technically speaking, he never suited up for Vegas so it doesn’t actually count, but Brassard was once a Golden Knight.

Now, as a result of the Brassard trade, Ryan Reaves is the newest player in Vegas.

Through 60 games (entering Friday), the Vegas Golden Knights are still 1st in the Pacific Division. William Karlsson is in the midst of a career year, Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal probably won’t be traded at the deadline like everyone thought they would and there’s a real possibility this whole “Cup in One” mantra actually works out.

Thanks in part to the crazy scheduling this time of year– between the NHL, the Winter Games in PyeongChang, the upcoming trade deadline on Monday and much, much more– I was finally able to squeeze in the time to update Golden Knights projections with 22 games remaining in their schedule.

The only problem is that they’ve now played Game 61 of 82 and added Ryan Reaves. So basically, here’s everything I had before anything that happened on Friday.

I’ll try to come up with some projections for Reaves and any other potential acquisitions Vegas makes between now and the deadline, but there’s no promises. Every year around the deadline my database needs constant updating and as a result some things get bogged down until I physically go through every stat.

I do get around to it (eventually) and these players will be reflected in any subsequent projection posts.

Anyway, on with the show…

The Golden Knights aren’t good. They’re great.

Check out the latest forecast in the charts below. Keep in mind, as always, that anything that sounds ridiculous is Microsoft Excel’s fault. I’m just kidding. There are always outliers and unrealistic projections. Alas, these are merely utopian, Excel driven, guesses.

Standard disclaimer, my degree is in communication– not math or #fancystats.

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Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 60 Games (22 Games Remaining)

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The sensational season continues and down the stretch as Erik Haula, Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith are all expected to amass somewhere around 60-points (or more).

Colin Miller‘s emergence as a top defenseman in the Western Conference continues as he nears the 40-point plateau by seasons end. Also, look at Shea Theodore fitting right in as a top-4 quality defenseman just entering his prime. Miller, Nate Schmidt and Theodore for years to come in Vegas should mean many great things.

Meanwhile, Fleury’s incredible run in goal begins to cool off just a little. His goals against average begins to reflect an “average” year for Fleury, which– granted– is still better than a lot of goaltenders in the NHL. Fleury’s save percentage should be just fine down the stretch– if not potentially league-leading.

Numbers Game: Vegas at Halftime (Through 41 GP in 2017-18)

The Western Conference leading Vegas Golden Knights entered their bye week at exactly 41 games played.

Due to an unintentional– completely accidental– oversight on my behalf, I didn’t remember to look at their stats after 40 games played (like I normally would every 20 games throughout the season). But for the perfectionists in the world out there– it’s better to split things right down the middle.

Vegas is back in action for the second half of their inaugural season on Saturday after going 29-10-2 (60 points) in their first 41 games in franchise history.

Earlier in the week, I pointed out that the New Jersey Devils have been quite a pleasant surprise this season. Of course, I made sure to mention the Golden Knights as one of the other pleasant surprises.

It’s not that nobody expected this team to fail as much as all the other expansion teams in the 100-year history of the league.

Given the talent pool to choose from and the overall development of professional hockey players/the league itself since the 1990s (it’s a younger, faster, game where great players last well into their 30s and good players are buried in the AHL or playing overseas by the time they’re 30-35 years old), it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Golden Knights are at the very least, a competitive– young– team.

Even still, it’s been quite the euphoric ride.

A team that poached the Florida Panthers– and many others– at the 2017 Expansion Draft, laid the foundation in 50-plus point scorer, Jon Marchessault, let alone with three-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. Surely they would have some highlights in their first season.

Nobody could’ve imagined that same team would be seriously considering keeping Fleury or a guy like James Neal at the trade deadline in the midst of what could shape up to be a long playoff run in their first season, but alas, here we are.

It’s more than just “Real Deal” James Neal in Sin City. The Golden Knights are the real deal.

And their forecasted stats for the remaining half of the regular season show it. Though now is about the time where I make sure to mention one little standard disclaimer– my degree is in communication– not math– so any miscalculations or accolades that seem nearly impossible to ascertain are Microsoft Excel’s fault.

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Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 41 Games (41 Games Remaining)

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Simply put, Erik Haula (26-24–50 expected totals), William Karlsson (32-23–55 expected totals) and Marchessault (30-38–68 expected totals) are blazing through the rest of the league and showing no signs of flaming out any time soon.

It certainly helps that Neal and David Perron are both expected to reach the 60-point plateau, with Reilly Smith not so far behind amassing 19-38–57 expected totals.

On defense, Deryk Engelland, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore have been leading the charge from the blue line all season long. For Engelland, the adopted son of Las Vegas, a revitalized season defending the league’s newest team might just keep him playing in his backyard for longer than just this season.

Miller and Schmidt were expected to take on more pronounced top-4 roles with the expectation that at least one of them would develop into a surefire top-2 shutdown defenseman. Miller should max out around 40 points, while Schmidt should put up a cool 30-point season in his first year outside of the United States capital.

After being sent to the AHL early on in the season, Shea Theodore was only motivated to work harder.

It wasn’t that he was not desired by an NHL team as clearly Vegas saw value in his game at the Expansion Draft, claiming Theodore from the Anaheim Ducks. Now that the Golden Knights front office and coaches have righted their wrong, Theodore could very well put up 24 points on the season in what is– by all means– a breakout season for the defenseman entering his prime.

In the net, the Golden Knights have been spectacular. Not only has general manager, George McPhee, come away looking even more like the genius that he already is, but Vegas is stacked at depth in the crease.

Malcolm Subban‘s playing like a backup that’s capable of taking on a starting role. That’ll be something to keep an eye on, given Fleury’s aging out of his prime– though he has yet to show it. It’s not often that a team has the right pieces to play two goalies almost equally in minutes and be successful.

In 2011, the Boston Bruins rode the backs of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask to the Stanley Cup Final. Interestingly enough, the Vancouver Canucks did the same with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

Thomas played his last game as a Bruin in 2012. Luongo was traded by the Canucks in 2014– a year after Vancouver dumped Schneider in New Jersey.

Two tremendous goalies are better than one from a team record standpoint, but at some point general managers are either forced with a difficult decision due to the salary cap or fall into the fallacy that is the “there can only be one” mantra.

And Gerard Gallant might end up with some tough decisions down the stretch regarding who to start each night, reminiscent of Mike Sullivan‘s Fleury-Matt Murray swapping during en route to Pittsburgh’s 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup championships.

Nonetheless, Oscar Dansk filled in flawlessly when Fleury and Subban were out of the lineup with injuries. Meanwhile, Maxime Lagace performed on another level shortly after Dansk’s introduction to the game when Dansk went down himself due to injury.

With enough depth in goal to try to get something good in return, the ball is in Vegas’s court as the trade deadline approaches. Though the Golden Knights don’t have to rush things. A little competition for every goaltending job isn’t always a bad thing.

Being in first place in the Western Conference isn’t good enough for the Golden Knights. They’ve got their sights set even higher, like on a 2018 Stanley Cup Final run, for instance.

Sin City is looking to shine like gold. Vegas wants the Cup.

Colby’s Corner: The effect of Vegas’ early success

One of the biggest surprises this season is how good the Vegas Golden Knights have proven to be in the beginning of their franchise. During the offseason, pundits had them penciled in as the favorite for the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (paging Rasmus Dahlin: don’t rent your flat on the strip just yet). Well, boy were they wrong; this team has been the total opposite of bad. They have been winning games from opening night and don’t seem like they are going to slow down.

They have found ways to win with just about anybody between the pipes. The mastermind that is General Manager George McPhee has built this team to near perfection. He used the expansion draft to acquire a lot of very good defenseman and draft picks, but where he shined most is getting the right group of forwards. He took young players like William Karlsson and Alex Tuch who were just looking for a shot and he gave them that opportunity, and they haven’t let him down yet.

All the success is great and all right now, but the impact this may have for the franchise going past this year is yet to be seen.

First of all, if the Golden Knights make the playoffs as seems likely right now, they are going to be looking at the later picks in each round of the draft. This franchise just started out and even though it had a lot of picks in last year’s draft, it doesn’t have a very big or strong prospect pool. They can still find good talent in the later rounds – just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who seems to always hit with their draft picks in the later rounds – but it is much more difficult for a new franchise with new scouts that is still establishing its identity.

Obviously the success is great for growing the game in Vegas. Fans like watching good hockey, especially Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. Their fan base is growing daily and it will continue to expand with success. But what will happen if the team isn’t successful next season? Is this early success creating unreal expectations for the franchise in years to come? Having a winning culture is great but it may be hard to maintain for a brand new franchise.

On the flip side of that though, with the success and location, free agency may be a fun time for the Vegas Golden Knights. Big name free agents might like Vegas for the gambling and entertainment it provides, and now they have the bonus of playing for a potentially successful team.

They could land just about anyone with no cap issues, as the Knights have over $40 million in cap space next season and no one under contract beyond the 2021-’22 campaign. I have seen pictures of away players playing poker in the casinos and taking in the sights. They are enjoying their time in Las Vegas and if the Knights are a playoff team, life couldn’t be better for hockey players in Vegas. Few cities can boast the amenities Sin City has to offer (entertainment, weather and no income tax, just to name a few), which could make it a very attractive place to call home.

All of these things will be wait-and-see situations for the time being. Right now, the Vegas Golden Knights are a very good team in the league and are looking towards the playoffs. Can they maintain the success? Will they win a Stanley Cup before the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals? We’ll have to see how the future will look for them going forward.

Numbers Game: Vegas Through 20 (2017-18)

By now I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing and reading what I have said and written about the Boston Bruins, so let’s check out how some former Bruins– Colin Miller, Reilly Smith and Malcolm Subban— are doing.

The Vegas Golden Knights have redefined what it means to be an expansion team in the modern NHL. They’re leading the Pacific Division at the American Thanksgiving mark, you guys. Clearly this means they’ll be the 2018 Stanley Cup champions and all of my work will be for nothing.

But seriously though, part of me thinks the Golden Knights will for sure make the playoffs. As for how far they’ll go, well, let’s just save us all the surprise of the potential postseason for when it gets here. How’s that sound?

Now without saying too much more, keep in mind my degree is in communication– not math– so blame anything that looks strange on Microsoft Excel instead of me, thanks.

Remember that sometimes what you see below is pure speculation, pure “potential” (*ahem* Alex Tuch) and a bunch of nonsense that all relates to how much a player has played thus far in their career combined with how they’re tracking through the first 20 games the team in Sin City has played.

Here’s a look at how every player in Vegas should pan out over the next 62 games remaining in the 2017-2018 regular season.

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Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 20 Games (62 Games Remaining)

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Without any real surprises from Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith, the Golden Knights biggest surprise at forward has been William Karlsson. Karlsson’s hot scoring hands look to continue throughout the season, setting what should be career highs in goals, assists and points (of course).

Tomas Nosek should be fun to watch if you’re into depth scoring.

It’s safe to say that we all expected Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt to emerge as high caliber defensemen, but what’s even more incredible is that they’re doing so while the rest of their teammates on the blue line are also contributing immensely to the assist column.

Sure, it’ll be great to see Deryk Engelland put away a few more pucks in the back of the net than he did last season, but consider the scoring potential of Shea Theodore now that Golden Knights general manager, George McPhee, has done the right thing in regards to calling him up and giving him a go. Clearly Gerard Gallant knows what he’s doing with this one.

Though it wouldn’t hurt to recall Jason Garrison and send Griffin Reinhart to the Chicago Wolves (AHL). Especially since Garrison could actually contribute to the team, while Reinhart sits in the press box as a healthy scratch from night-to-night.

In addition to the pleasant surprises we’ve seen from all of the skaters, consider the impressive depth in the crease the Golden Knights have stockpiled behind the eventual return of Marc-Andre Fleury to fortress in front of the twine.

Malcolm Subban’s settling into a NHL career, while Maxime Lagace— albeit a non-competitor for the backup job currently– should pan out just fine in future years. What a find, Vegas.

If Oscar Dansk can ever make it back to dancing with the NHL level of the game, don’t be surprised to see a few heads turning around the rest of the league and some trade offers being made. Vegas is in good shape to have a plethora of established youth in goal, considering the injuries the Montreal Canadiens are currently facing and/or the potential future goaltender injuries for other teams.

Vegas just might make the playoffs as they continue to stake their claim as “the greatest expansion franchise in league history (if not all major North American professional sports)”.

Oh, and their Corsi is pretty good too, but I digress.


If you’re interested in seeing what was expected before a puck dropped this season, check out my initial projections for the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights season.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 2

Player of the Week: Jaden Schwartz

Calm down, Lightning fans, you’ll get your turn.

I could have easily chosen either of the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa, who have been going Harlem Globetrotters on every team they’ve come into contact with, but I think Schwartz deserves some props. The diminutive Blues winger has always been a very good under-the-radar guy, usually playing 2nd fiddle to his linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. But Schwartz made the headlines this week, with a hat trick against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, followed up the next night with another goal against Colorado, and finished off with an assist against Vegas Saturday night (more on that game later). All in all, a 4-goal, 5-point week in 3 games is more than enough to earn Schwartz this completely meaningless nomination.

Team of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Alright, we good, Bolts fans? We square? Cool.

The Lightning have looked borderline immortal so far this season, with a 7-1-1 record bolstered by this week’s 3-0-1 stretch. But it’s not just that near-flawless week putting them here, it’s how they did it. Tampa’s 3 victories came by a combined score of 12-3 (granted, a big part of that percentage was the 7-1 sha-lacking they put on Pittsburgh), and if not for a sweet little backhand move by Kyle Palmieri in the 3rd round of the shootout in New Jersey (oh, more on that game later, too), the Bolts could have walked away with a perfect week.

Game(s) of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 @ New Jersey Devils 5 (SO), Tuesday October 17th & St. Louis Blues 2 @ Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT), Saturday October 21st

It simply wasn’t possible to leave either of these games out.

First up, we had the current Team of the Week squaring off with the former Team of the Week, in a battle of two of the league’s hottest clubs. What we got was 72 total shots on goal, 35 hits, 9 power plays (resulting in 3 goals), and a whole mess of fun. The game started with Cory Schneider making a terrific paddle-down save on Brayden Point just moments into the action, and just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a seemingly harmless wrister go from the right wing boards that eluded a rusty Peter Budaj (his first game action since the preseason) and gave the Devils the 1-0 lead. Budaj would settle down a bit in the next few minutes making a few quality stops, eventually leading to his team tying the game, and taking the lead just minutes later, on the strength of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat. It would be short-lived, though, as just 4 minutes later a top shelf power play rocket from Palmieri would even the score, and Brian Gibbons would follow suit in the final minute of the period to send New Jersey to the room with the lead.

Things settled down on the scoreboard for most of the 2nd period, although both goaltenders were still busy. Finally with just under 6 minutes to play Kucherov would fire a rocket directly from Russia with love and even the score, before linemate Stamkos would give the Lightning the 4-3 lead in the closing minutes of the 2nd. Tampa did their best to lock the game down the rest of the way, but finally with just over 4 minutes remaining Stafford would bury his own rebound to cap off a gorgeous passing play, score his 2nd of the night, and send it to overtime. A relatively tame 3-on-3 period would send it to the shootout, where Palmieri’s nifty mitts would deposit the only biscuit of the frame and send the Jersey faithful home happy.

Now onto a Saturday night in Vegas, where the upstart Golden Knights would look to make history by being the first franchise to ever start its inaugural season with 6 wins in 7 games.

Things weren’t looking great for the Golden Knights early on, as the Blues peppered young Malcolm Subban mercilessly in the opening frame, St. Louis eventually holding an 18-4 shot advantage when the period came to a close. But Subban managed to limit the damage to only a lone Magnus Paajarvi tally and get his team into the dressing room only down 1-0. Vegas would feed off of the strong play of their goaltender, and reward him in the 2nd period with power play tallies from both Reilly Smith and Colin Miller, and they’d take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period.

Unfortunately for Vegas, just past the midway point of the 3rd period Subban would appear to strain his groin kicking out his right pad for a save, and would have to be helped from the ice, leaving the task of surviving the continued St. Louis onslaught to another youngster, former Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk. Unfortunately for the young Swede, the first shot he faced would be an Alex Pietrangelo one-time bomb from the high slot with just over 5 minutes to play, drawing the game even once again on a shot that no goaltender could be expected to do anything about. The Blues would do everything in their power to get the winning goal past Dansk in the closing minutes, including a Schwartz tip that got behind the Vegas netminder but went wide of the net with just 8 seconds on the clock, but the youngster held the fort and took the game to extra time.

Overtime brought another golden opportunity for Schwartz, who found himself with all alone in the slot with a clear lane to shoot, only to be bested by the right leg of Dansk. Then Brendan Leipsic would jump on a turnover to break in all alone, but Jake Allen met his backhand with a flash of the leather to keep the game going. But just over a minute later, and with less than 30 seconds left, Smith would jump on a loose puck, glide into the St. Louis zone, and float a beautiful pass to a streaking William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson who ripped a one-timer over the two-pad stack of Allen to send the building into bedlam and the Golden Knights into the history books.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Despite their apparent ability to win with anyone wearing goalie pads in net (I could see a Twitter campaign for this being a hit), Vegas’ injury situation is no laughing matter. Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with the effects of a concussion (which as we know really doesn’t have a set recovery time), and Subban is out for at least a month. The goaltending duties now fall on Dansk and Maxime Lagace for the foreseeable future. If there’s any consolation to be found in this for the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ve had tremendous success with injury replacements so far. Subban played very well in Fleury’s absence, and Alex Tuch (who was called up to replace the injured Jon Marchessault) has 2 goals and 3 points in his first 3 games with the club.

Roman Polak has signed a 1 year deal with the Maple Leafs, in what was almost certainly just a plot to further shorten the useful lifespan of Steve Dangle’s heart.

Potential big-money bet: Does Montreal fire Claude Julien and replace him with Michel Therrien?

Side bet: Does Therrien walk into that press conference to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music?

Side-side bet: Over/under on amount of sticks Carey Price destroys before Montreal’s next victory.

If you haven’t seen/heard/read any of Ed Olczyk‘s comments from his return to broadcasting (both on Wednesday in St. Louis for the NBCSN broadcast or Thursday in Chicago to call the Hawks/Oilers game) while in between chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, please do yourself a favor and go find them. Truly inspiring stuff from one of the best in the business, and the standing ovations he received at both games are enough to give anyone chills.

On a somewhat related topic, Brian Boyle also made his return to action, this time on ice in a full-contact practice on Sunday. Boyle has been battling a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow, but cleared the final ‘hurdle’ in his treatment regimen to be able to get back on the ice with his teammates. Once he and his coaches feel he is fully into game shape, we should see the big man out of Boston College going back to work.

Minnesota Wild 2017-2018 Season Preview

Minnesota Wild

49-25-8, 106 points (16’-17’), 2nd in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by St. Louis

Key additions: Matt CullenTyler EnnisMarcus Foligno, Kyle Quincey

Key subtractions: Martin Hanzal (signed with Dallas), Darcy Kuemper (signed with LA), Jason Pominville (Traded to Buffalo), Nate Prosser (signed with St. Louis), Marco Scandella (Traded to Buffalo), Alex Tuch (Taken by Vegas)

Offseason Analysis:

The Minnesota Wild had a very tough offseason on paper when it all began. With the expansion draft looming, the Wild knew they were going to lose a big name player if they couldn’t find a deal to send out one of their big name defenseman. They found that deal on June 30th, swapping Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville for then-Sabres Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis’ rights. The Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher had reportedly been chasing Foligno for a while, but former Buffalo General Manger Tim Murray always said Foligno wasn’t up for trade. With the new GM in Buffalo, Fletcher got his target and a nice perk in Ennis.

The offseason wasn’t going to get easier, however, as RFA’s Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter all needed new contracts – and that was before they added RFA Foligno into the mix.

Fletcher still had work to do.

Fletcher began with Niederreiter, signing him to a five-year, $5.25 AAV contract on July 31st. A day later he got his second guy on the books, as Granlund agreed to a 3-year, $5.75 AAV on August 1st, three days before his arbitration hearing.

Fletcher’s next two moves took some time and consideration, giving Fletcher and his staff time to talk veteran center Matt Cullen into signing a one-year deal. This may been one of the most underrated signings of the offseason but could do wonders in this lineup.

Fletcher was able to get his new RFA Foligno signed on September 14th. Foligno signed a four year long deal worth $2.875 AAV. This was a good deal for both parties, as Marcus brings the tough guy role and can also pick up some decent points. This left the Wild with just their captain needing a contract and, just a few days ago on September 18th, Koivu signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 AAV.

This is my least favorite contract they signed, mostly because Koivu, their captain and leader, deserves more job security than just two years. The cap situation is different because there are a lot players making really decent money in Minnesota instead of stays with monster contracts.

Other names that got contracts worth mentioning include Cal O’Reilly, who got a two-year deal, and Kyle Quincey and Niklas Svedberg, who both received one-year deals. All three could be great depth guys if injuries occur.

Offseason Grade: B

Overall, the Wild did a great job of keeping their key players. They didn’t go out and overspend and they made smart moves considering their situation. The only big losses came in Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella and Martin Hanzal. Hanzal was acquired at the deadline and chose free agency, so no major loss. The big question will come if they can fill the void of Scandella in a top-4 role. The Wild will more than likely still be a playoff team and will look to make a bigger impact in the playoffs.

Vegas Golden Knights 2017-2018 Season Preview

vegas_golden_knights_logoVegas Golden Knights

0-0-0, 0 points, 1st in only existing on paper as an expansion team

Additions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, D Jake Bischoff, F William Carrier, F David Clarkson, G Oscar Dansk, F Reid Duke, F Cody Eakin, D Deryk Engelland, G Dylan Ferguson, G Marc-Andre Fleury, D Jason Garrison, F Mikhail Grabovski, F Nikita Gusev, F Erik Haula, D Brad Hunt, F Tomas Hyka, F William Karlsson, G Maxime Lagace, F Brendan Leipsic, F Oscar Lindberg, F Jon Marchessault, F Stefan Matteau, D Brayden McNabb, D Jonathon Merrill, D Colin Miller, F James Neal, C Tomas Nosek, F David Perron, G Calvin Pickard, F Teemu Pulkkinen, D Griffin Reinhart, D Luca Sbisa, D Nate Schmidt, F Vadim Shipachyov, F Reilly Smith, D Clayton Stoner, D Shea Theodore, F Paul Thompson, F Alex Tuch, F T.J. Tynan

Subtractions: D Trevor van Riemsdyk (traded to CAR), D David Schlemko (traded to MTL), D Marc Methot (traded to DAL), D Alexei Emelin (traded to NSH), F Connor Brickley (signed with FLA), F Chris Thorburn (signed with STL), G Jean-Francois Berube (signed with CHI)

Still Unsigned: None

Offseason Analysis: The Vegas Golden Knights are set to make their NHL debut as the league’s 31st and newest franchise and fans are ready for action on the ice in the Sin City. With so many offseason transactions, it’s almost like George McPhee was trying to build a team or something! Oh, wait, that’s what he was supposed to do?

Love them or hate them (and really, who could hate the Golden Knights, because they just might have one of the best social media teams in the league), Vegas is here to stay and they came to play.

James Neal, David Perron, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault (51 points in 2016-2017, led the Florida Panthers in scoring) look to lead their veteran core of forwards, while their 2017 1st round pick, Cody Glass, hopes to crack the NHL roster. Oscar Lindberg beckons to breakout, while Vadim Shipachyov aims to leave fans wanting more in his NHL career debut as a 30-year-old after having been a vital part of the KHL (26-50-76 totals in 50 games) last season.

Colin Miller looks to step up his role on the blue line and improve off of an impressive couple of seasons in Boston, while being surrounded by a bunch of other respectable top-4 defensemen.

Arguably their only weakness from the offseason, the Golden Knights have a defense with an average age of 27. That’s with the 11 defensemen currently on the roster before training camp, mind you, and it sounds about right for a team looking to hit the ground running with a defense in its prime.

However, McPhee selected Trevor van Riemsdyk from the Chicago Blackhawks, Alexei Emelin from the Montreal Canadiens and Marc Methot from the Ottawa Senators (three solid defensemen that would make a good core) only to trade them all away to Carolina, Nashville and Dallas, respectively.

It’s fair to say the 2017 Expansion Draft was the most expansion franchise friendly draft of it’s kind in NHL history.

It’s also fair to say the Golden Knights were average at robbing the 30 other teams in the league making their selections. Sin City’s adopted son, Deryk Engelland, is 35 and is not getting any younger. While he’s sure to attract the local crowd, Gerard Gallant cannot rely on him alone to carry the defense,

And Clayton Stoner and Jason Garrison’s combined salary cap hit of $7.850 million doesn’t look spectacular with the likes of Jon Merrill, Miller and Shea Theodore as pending-RFAs. Then again, despite their age (32) Stoner and Garrison are pending-UFAs themselves at season’s end, so it looks like everyone is playing for 1) their jobs in Vegas or 2) their next contract somewhere else.

Vegas’s defense is not bad, just not great.

Though the likes of Jake Bischoff and 2017 draft pick, Nicolas Hague, look promising down the pipeline.

Finally, there’s no question regarding their starting goaltender. Marc-Andre Fleury will surely be true to form in the regular season as one of the NHL’s top-notch goalies. Calvin Pickard is no competition for the starting job, but should perform much better than last year with the Colorado Avalanche because, at least this season, he’ll have a team defense in front of him.

Yet, the biggest question surrounding Fleury’s playing ability for the first time on a team not named the Pittsburgh Penguins concerns just how much playing time he’ll see.

Capping Fleury off around 50 games seems fair, given he’s no Braden Holtby (super elite, 70-plus games-a-season) and he hasn’t reached Henrik Lundqvist status (beginning to age out of playing 1,000,000 minutes– give or take– for the New York Rangers). But even leaving 32 games for Pickard to prove he’s worthy of future starter consideration seems a bit much.

Clearly McPhee identified something in Pickard that he wants him to be part of the team, but with a change of scenery for Oscar Dansk from the Columbus Blue Jackets– where Joonas Korpisalo is the surefire stellar backup to two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky— to the open skies of Vegas, there’s a chance Pickard might have a run for his money.

In fairness, Dansk has yet to appear in a NHL game, but one thing’s for certain– the Golden Knights have a wide open opportunity to foster goaltending depth via healthy competition.

There’s really no telling how the team in Vegas will do in their first year of play. Owner, Bill Foley, expects to be a competitive team out of the gate, while reality might say otherwise (give them two or three years). Nevertheless, their offense is strong, their defense has room to improve and their goaltending is world-class.

One thing is certain, they won’t finish 31st in the league, but they might finish last in the Pacific Division.

Offseason Grade: B

They get a little extra credit for having built one of the better expansion teams on paper since the modern era (1990s).

Numbers Game: The Inaugural Vegas Golden Knights Season

The NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, are set to begin play in the 2017-2018 season and T-Mobile Arena is sure to be packed with 17,500 fans in the stands cheering on the league’s 31st team.

vegas_golden_knights_logo

But how many times will Golden Knights fans be on their feet in euphoria after a goal, big save or otherwise amazing play?

After careful consideration, Vegas selected their team from the other 30 NHL teams at the 2017 Expansion Draft, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and via free agency, both before July 1st and since July 1st.

And after further careful consideration, I once again navigated Microsoft Excel to project some stats for the 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster. Players that have yet to play a game in the NHL are not included, since it wouldn’t feel right to predict something at a level of play that they’ve never seen before, so hold yourselves back a moment, Vadim Shipachyov fans. Give it until at least 20 games into the season, thanks.

Or at least until I can figure out how to use the forecast function for a player who’s yet to see the NHL a formula for KHL players bound for the NHL– or anyone that’s making their NHL debut.

Sample size must be kept in mind when approaching these projections. A player who scored one goal in six career NHL games over the last two seasons, having spent last season primarily in the AHL or as a healthy scratch is for some inexplicable reason, going to look promising on paper before an 82-game season begins because that’s just the way Microsoft Excel works.

This is by no means a shot at the professional ability of a player, as someone like *ahem, if you look at the chart* Brendan Leipsic. It is always plausible that Leipsic could pan out and make enough of an impression to stick around with the Golden Knights NHL roster and amass at least ten goals.

As always, keep in mind that I am no math major and you’re (probably) not a general manager, head coach, assistant coach or whatever might give you some credibility for statistical reasoning in hockey.

But if your name is George McPhee or Gerard Gallant and you’re reading this… ‘Sup? *slides résumé across the table*

And if your name is Jon Marchessault, then you’re in for a very fun season with an excellent followup to a 51-point season. Marchessualt is projected to amass 28-22-50 totals in his first season as the pinnacle of Vegas Golden Knights prime-age-driven offensive production.

Only James Neal (30-27-57 projected totals) is bound for a better season at the age of 29, which, for all intents and purposes of the today’s NHL is on the older side of a youth-driven offense, but still in the arch of a player’s prime. With only a projected six-point difference between Neal and Marchessault in expected scoring for Vegas, we’re all in for a treat in Sin City’s intra-roster battle for lead scorer.

The ever efficient, Reilly Smith, is in for a quietly successful season with 18 goals and 26 assists (44 points) in the latest projections (a seven-point improvement from 2016-2017 with the Florida Panthers). Smith’s familiarity and chemistry with teammate, Marchessault, fits brilliantly in the design of McPhee’s Golden Knights, especially with Gallant at the realm behind the bench.

While Smith provides an underrated star quality to the roster, David Perron looks to keep pace with last season’s 46-point year in his 2nd stint with the St. Louis Blues, by bringing in a 19-28-47 expected totals for Vegas in 2017-2018. Injuries aside, Perron puts up quality consistency for two or three seasons in a row and is in the midst of just that as the Golden Knights get out of the gate in their first season.

From the 2008-2009 season through the 2014-2015 season, Perron recorded 40-plus points a season with only two exceptions– an injury shortened 2010-2011 season, in which Perron only played 10-games as a 22-year-old member of the Blues and the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, where Perron amassed 25 points in 48 games played for St. Louis.

In 2014-2015, mind you, Perron combined 5-9-14 totals in 38 games for the Edmonton Oilers and 12-10-22 totals in 43 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 41-point effort in 81 games played that season. And in 2015-2016, the now 29-year-old split time among the Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks, so he’s been around the league enough to know how to bring some of the intangibles (a.k.a. veteran leadership/a locker room presence) to the expansion team in Vegas.

Check out what to expect from everyone on the Vegas Golden Knight’s inaugural season’s roster below!

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