Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.
Coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights (32-25-5, 69 points, 3rd in the Pacific Division) have 20 games remaining in the 2018-19 regular season.
These aren’t your father’s Golden Knights, as production is down from their inaugural season in just their 2nd season of existence.
Though Marc-Andre Fleury (29-18-5 record, 2.60 goals against average, .908 save percentage in 52 games played) remains Vegas’ starter on an almost nightly basis, backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban (3-6-0, 2.76 GAA, .912 SV% in 10 GP) has struggled to carry his own weight.
Stastny and Pacioretty themselves have joined Reilly Smith and others throughout the lineup on the injured reserve or out of playing action for various points of the season.
While the Pacific Division title might be out of reach for Vegas this season, a divisional spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is all but assured as long as the floor doesn’t fallout from underneath Gerard Gallant and his players.
Of note, the Arizona Coyotes are emerging once again with a late season push for the playoffs– and this time around, they’re doing it without their starting goaltender, Antti Raanta (out for the season due to injury).
Plus the Vancouver Canucks are still in contention and, well, that’s about it, realistically among Pacific Division teams that still have a chance for the last divisional spot and/or a Western Conference wild card berth.
Anyway, back to the Golden Knights.
Here’s a look at the latest Vegas forecast– keeping in mind there are many variables that can and will effect the final outcome, such as injuries and/or being called up, assigned, traded, lucky or unlucky.
This forecast is just an educated guess. It’s a glimpse of what could be or could’ve been by the end of the regular season.
As always, my degree is in communication– not math– and hockey is naturally steeped in context and holistic unpredictability. Nothing can account for sheer puck luck, the odd bounce or a blown call.
If a player reaches the expected outcome, they’ve met expectations. If said player exceeds the forecasted stats, they’ve exceeded expectations (naturally). Of course, if a player does not perform, then they did not live up to expectations.
On a game-to-game basis, whatever’s on the scoresheet can indicate general trends that can be further broken down into an educated forecast.
At best, it’s a guess. At worst, well, it doesn’t really matter– it’s not like Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee is reading this and making his roster decisions based on what’s here, right?
If he is, I’d like a job, please. Thanks.
Vegas Golden Knights Forecast Through 62 Games (20 Games Remaining)
Among forwards, Vegas’ consistent first line last season of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Smith hasn’t had as much consistent luck and skill this season.
Though Smith has battled injury this season, Marchessault remains one of the Golden Knights most consistent performers expected to lead his team in goals (25) and points (54) with 25-29–54 expected totals.
Now what about Karlsson?
Good question, what about him? Things haven’t gone exactly as planned in terms of capitalizing on his breakout season last season with a new contract in the offseason and higher expectations for this season.
Karlsson’s bridge, one-year, extension last summer coming off the backs of a 43-goal season has only managed 18 goals thus far– including four goals in the last 22 games for the Golden Knights.
Given his current trend, Karlsson is expected to amass 21-23–44 totals. He’d be tied with Pacioretty for 2nd place in expected goals (21) and 3rd in expected points (44) on the roster, but nowhere near the emergent star in the making that he was last season.
While he very well could bounce back– similar to Smith in nature, following a good-year, bad-year, good-year, bad-year pattern– the phrase “what have you done for me yesterday” won’t help him in his next contract negotiation this summer unless McPhee gives him the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, Alex Tuch is expected to finish the season with a career-high 20-33–53 expected totals.
That’s comforting to hear for a team that needs to rely on secondary scoring in the midst of a recession in primary production.
Tuch is expected to lead in assists (33), followed by Smith (30) and Marchessault (29), while Marchessault is destined to lead in points (54) over Tuch (53) and Karlsson (44).
On defense, Vegas’ blue line will finish off the season being led by Shea Theodore (11-21–32 expected totals), followed by Colin Miller (30 expected points) and Nate Schmidt (25 expected points despite missing the first 20 games of the season while serving a suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug).
In net, Fleury looks like he’s bound to break under the weight of all the minutes he’s been playing and will play this season. A 2.74 expected GAA and .909 expected SV% is not starting goaltender material, unless we’re talking about Sergei Bobrovsky with the Columbus Blue Jackets or something.
But it’s not like Gallant can really count on his current backup to offset some of Fleury’s load. Subban’s expected 2.70 GAA and .912 SV% isn’t tremendous either.
If anything, it’s an indication that McPhee could help bolster his team with the acquisition of an extra goaltender by the trade deadline.
Someone like Ryan Miller, 38-years-old, could help steal some crucial points for the Golden Knights down the stretch if the San Jose Sharks aren’t already in the process of completing a trade for the goaltender with the Anaheim Ducks.
Growing pains are a fact of life– especially in sports– and Vegas is going through puberty already in its 2nd season. This season’s been full of highs, lows and awkward phases that hopefully will end in a glow up.
Otherwise we’ll all be looking back at this season shaking our heads at how it could pull off that much denim or something back in the day.
David Backes scored the game-winning shootout goal in the sixth round to lift the Boston Bruins over the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-2, at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday.
As a result, the Bruins are 4-0-0 on their current five-game road trip and a seven-game winning streak.
Jaroslav Halak (16-9-4 record, 2.33 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 31 games played) made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 SV% in the shootout victory for the B’s.
Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury (29-18-5, 2.60 GAA, .908 SV% in 52 GP) stopped 25 out of 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the shootout loss.
The Bruins improved to 36-17-8 (80 points) on the season and remain in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Golden Knights fell to 32-25-5 (69 points) and remained 3rd in the Pacific Division.
Boston also improved to 9-0-1 in the month of February.
Prior to puck drop in Wednesday night’s action, the Bruins completed a trade with the Minnesota Wild, sending Ryan Donato and a conditional 2019 5th round pick to Minnesota in exchange for Charlie Coyle. If Boston advances to the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the conditional 5th round pick becomes a 2019 4th round pick (originally from the New York Rangers).
As a result of the acquisition, since the Bruins were already at the 23-player roster limit, Peter Cehlarik was reassigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) during the first intermission of Boston’s Wednesday night battle with Vegas (at which point, the trade was officially announced).
Bruce Cassidy kept the same lines from Monday night’s, 6-5, overtime win over the San Jose Sharks, while Kampfer joined John Moore as the only official healthy scratches at the arena (as Coyle had yet to join the team and Cehlarik was assigned).
David Pastrnak remains out of the lineup due to surgery on his left thumb.
Early in the first period, Schmidt was penalized for high-sticking when he got his stick up in Marchand’s face at 4:58 of the first period. Boston did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.
Midway through the first period, DeBrusk (19) struck first on the scoreboard after receiving a pass from David Krejci, spinning past a defending Golden Knight skater and scoring from the low slot to make it, 1-0, Bruins.
Krejci (39) and Karson Kuhlman (1) tallied the assists on DeBrusk’s fifth goal in the last five games at 11:17.
Moments later, Danton Heinen tripped up Vegas defender, Jon Merrill, sending the Golden Knights on the power play at 14:24 of the first period.
Vegas did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Two minutes after the Bruins killed off Heinen’s minor infraction, the Golden Knights were pressing with a shot from the point that rebounded off of Halak’s leg pad.
Smith (10) jumped at the loose puck and pocketed his first goal in 13 games, tying the game, 1-1, at 18:24.
Cody Eakin (17) and Merrill (8) notched the assists on the goal.
After one period, the game was tied, 1-1, despite Vegas leading in shots on goal, 10-6. Boston led in blocked shots (9-6) entering the first intermission, while the Golden Knights led in takeaways (7-2), giveaways (4-2), hits (15-5) and face-off win% (57-44).
Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the second period.
Vegas was caught with too many men on the ice early in the second period and was charged with a bench minor. Gerard Gallant sent Oscar Lindberg to serve the penalty and the Golden Knights’ penalty kill successfully thwarted Boston’s power play advances.
Through 40 minutes of play, the score was still tied, 1-1, with the Golden Knights outshooting the Bruins, 22-14.
The B’s led in blocked shots (14-13) and giveaways (8-7) after two periods, while Vegas led in takeaways (14-4), hits (28-16) and face-off win% (52-48).
Entering the third period the Golden Knights were 0/1 on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 0/3.
Just 69 seconds into the third period, Marchand (24) ripped a one-timer past Fleury to give Boston the lead, 2-1, early in the final frame.
Heinen (12) and Charlie McAvoy (14) had the assists on Marchand’s fifth goal in the last seven games for the Bruins.
A mere 27 seconds after Marchand put the B’s ahead, Schmidt (7) waltzed past the B’s defense and roofed the puck past Halak’s glove side to tie the game, 2-2.
Smith (24) and Jonathan Marchessault (22) had the assists on Schmidt’s goal at 1:36 of the third period.
There were no other events on the scoresheet until the final horn in regulation.
With the score knotted up at two goals aside, overtime would commence after the Golden Knights led in shots on goal (30-26) through 60 minutes of play. Vegas also led in blocked shots (18-17), takeaways (15-6), giveaways (12-9) and hits (37-24).
Entering the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime period, Boston led in face-off win% (53-47).
After Boston was sluggish getting out of their own zone almost midway through overtime, they finally managed to change their forwards, leaving Krug behind the play.
While Krug took his time getting off the ice, McAvoy jumped onto the playing surface and received a pass, but the whistle was blown– the Bruins had too many men on the ice.
Cassidy sent Heinen to the penalty box to serve the bench minor at 2:14 of the overtime and Boston dug in deep to kill of the penalty.
After 65 minutes of action, the score was still, 2-2, but the Golden Knights led in shots on goal, 33-27 (3-1 in OT).
The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (20-18) and face-off win% (52-48), while Vegas led in giveaways (12-9) and hits (38-24).
Vegas went 0/2 on the power play, while Boston went 0/3 on the skater advantage Wednesday night.
Gallant elected to have his team shoot first in the ensuing shootout, sending Brandon Pirri to the net against Halak with the first shot.
Halak made the save.
DeBrusk kicked things off in the shootout for Boston with a soft handed shot elevated just enough to ring the crossbar on its way into the net behind Fleury, giving the Bruins the lead in the shootout, 1-0, after one round.
Alex Tuch and Marchand were both denied in the third round. The same went for Marchessault and Heinen in the fourth round.
Gallant and Cassidy sent out their defenders in the fifth round, with Theodore getting a chance (denied) and Krug getting a shot off on Fleury (easy save).
In the sixth round, Gallant sent out Lindberg’s skilled hands, but Halak kept the paddle down to block his five-hole and make the save.
Finally, Backes emerged from the Bruins bench and made his way towards the net with the puck casually on his stick.
He unloaded a wrist shot up high on Fleury and scored the game-winning shootout goal, notching the, 3-2, victory for Boston in the sixth round of the shootout.
Boston’s point streak was extended to 12 games as the B’s improved to 2-2 in shootouts this season. Vegas fell to 2-2 in shootouts and lost on home ice for the first time to the Bruins in Golden Knights franchise history.
The Bruins improved to 24-4-5 when scoring first this season and improved to 15-10-5 on the road. They have not lost a game in regulation since Jan. 19th.
Boston travels to St. Louis to wrap up their five-game road trip on Saturday against the Blues. Coyle is expected to make his Bruins debut with the team on the road before his homecoming debut at TD Garden next Tuesday (Feb. 26th) against the team that originally drafted him, the San Jose Sharks.
The B’s close out the month of February with a home matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning next Thursday (Feb. 28th).
It’s not the most recent forecast, since the Vegas Golden Knights played Game 41 of their 2018-19 regular season on Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Nevertheless, it’s time to take a quick check of the pulse of the Golden Knights– how their season has progressed so far and where it appears to be going from here.
Thanks to some extenuating circumstances, perhaps Vegas fans will forgive me for not being able to get around to their quick forecasted glance after 20 games played this season.
Why? Because it would’ve been pretty dismal and you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
Although, now at the halfway mark (officially after the game against the Kings, technically unofficially as of this forecast), things have improved, but with a few concerns remaining.
Nate Schmidt served his 20 game suspension for a performance enhancing drug and for the most part, Vegas’ blue line got the job done.
The team’s record wasn’t desirable, but guys like Shea Theodore and Colin Miller continued to rise past expectations in their ability– even more so now that Schmidt is back and solidified the defensive zone for the Golden Knights.
One thing that has plagued the team all season is subpar goaltending.
Managing playing time in the crease is something to keep in mind and we’ll take a closer look in a minute.
For now, Vegas stands in a divisional spot in the playoffs in the Pacific. Not nearly as dominant as last season, but keeping up with the legitimate(?) playoff contenders in an otherwise weaker division compared to the rest of the league.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the remaining 42 games (now 41) on the season and what to expect from the latest forecast.
Keep in mind, there are many variables that can and will change what goes down from now through the end of the regular season in April, like trades, injuries, general lineup changes, roster moves and anything else unbeknownst to the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that generates this forecast.
My degree is in communication– not math. It’s “not my fault”.
If a player meets the forecasted stats, then they’ve met expectations. If they exceed their forecasted stats, then they’ve exceed expectations.
And of course, if a player does not live up to the latest forecast, then something went awry (the player could’ve been injured, been unlucky or regressed– a.k.a. didn’t meet expectations).
Puck luck cannot be predicted, but general trends and estimated gut feelings can indicate a sense of what’s to come based on the results of each and every scoresheet night-in and night-out.
Vegas Golden Knights Forecast Through 40 Games (42 Games Remaining)
Every set of blessings comes with a set of curses and this year, that rings truer more than ever before for the Golden Knights. Of course, it’s only their second season in franchise history, but it’s still true.
William Karlsson (24-26–50 expected totals) is having a “down” year compared to last season’s breakout career-year of 43 goals and 35 assists (78 points). Reaching the 50-point plateau is still respectable, but doesn’t scream any guarantees of being on the first line should the postseason roll around.
Head coach, Gerard Gallant, has enough top-six forward depth to play around with if Karlsson starts to head south, considering Alex Tuch‘s expected 22-28–50 totals, Paul Stastny‘s expected 14-22–36 totals and Max Pacioretty‘s expected 21-22–43 totals.
Despite the ever-consistent qualities of Jonathan Marchessault (27-33–60 expected totals) and Reilly Smith (17-32–49 expected totals), this year’s Golden Knights team point spread is more spread out.
As it is, while Marchessault should lead in goals (27), assists (30) and points (60) and Karlsson should be second in goals (24) and points (50), one would think Smith would be second or third in whatever stats Marchessault and Karlsson aren’t leading in.
However, Tuch’s expected point outcome (50) is tied with Karlsson for the second-most points behind Marchessault and Tuch is expected to rank third on Vegas’ roster in goals behind Marchessault and Karlsson with Smith a distant 5th behind Pacioretty’s 21 expected goals this season.
While the offense isn’t as impactful from the forwards, the blue line has really come into its own in Vegas.
Shea Theodore’s expected 8-29–37 totals will be the best of his teammates and fellow defenders in a Golden Knights uniform, leading Colin Miller (5-27–32 expected totals) and Nick Holden (7-17–24 expected totals).
Nick Holden. That’s right. Holden is ahead of Nate Schmidt (5-18–23 expected totals) in the latest forecast.
But that speaks to Holden’s resiliency in his career and the chemistry Gallant has found in his pairing every night– coupled, of course, with the fact that Holden is seeing more time on the ice (in the literal “games played” sense) than he has the last couple of seasons with the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins.
He is a durable top-four defender that’s still in his athletic prime and it is exactly that kind of depth that can take teams deep into a Stanley Cup Final run.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury should land around a 2.61 goals against average and .911 save percentage in a season in which he has been overworked thus far.
He will continue to be overworked unless Malcolm Subban regains his footing, Gallant argues for calling someone up from the Chicago Wolves (AHL) or Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee makes an acquisition for a suitable backup option if all else fails.
Fleury has played in 35 of the 40 games up to this forecast. He’s since played in 35 out of the 41 games played by the club this season.
Subban has played in six games and is 0-5-0 in that span. His expected outcomes are a 2.76 GAA and .907 SV%– both below average goaltending the backup role.
Whereas if Vegas wanted to try Oscar Dansk or Maxime Lagace without the pressures of coming into the dressing room in an emergency recall situation– unlike last season– a little healthy competition for the backup role might nudge Subban in the right direction and take off some of Fleury’s workload.
It’s not that Fleury can’t handle 50-plus games anymore as a starting goaltender, but rather, it’s just that he shouldn’t be relied on for about 85% of the games in the regular season as is his current going rate.
This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.
Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
It’s forecasting season, well, actually it’s the regular season and I’m just a little behind, but until I pointed that out, you didn’t know I was behind on my little passion project here, did you?
I know I wrote “[i]n the coming days I’ll reveal what teams I’ll be forecasting/tracking all season long, so stay tuned because it’s about to get messier than ever before and I’m up for the challenge,” in my Boston Bruins 2018-19 forecast, but life and the fact that I’m moving all my data into a new format has slowed my turnaround for the time being.
Nevertheless, my Vegas Golden Knights forecast for 2018-19 is here and let’s pretend the first week of the regular season hasn’t already happened or something.
Additionally, if you’re wondering what other teams I’m preparing to post (before we get too far into the first quarter of the season) they are the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.
I always keep tabs on the Bruins every year because I grew up a Boston fan and I decided to track Vegas last season because there hadn’t been nearly as much hype surrounding an expansion team since Columbus and the Minnesota Wild in 2000. Additionally, I’ve previously tracked the Arizona Coyotes simply because they follow us on Twitter (and I’ll get back around to them hopefully before season’s end, if you’re interested).
But I’m adding Carolina and Columbus to my forecast portfolio this season because 1) the Hurricanes are supposed to be better than last season, plus they have some exciting youth in the lineup and 2) a lot of Blue Jackets fans are also fans of our brand around here, so shouts 5th Liners.
Please be patient on the timeline for when I’ll get my Hurricanes and Blue Jackets forecasts posted– it’ll be by the end of the month for sure.
Anyway, on with the Golden Knights, shall we?
Vegas is coming off of their inaugural season having finished 1st in the Pacific Division with 109 points and a 51-24-7 record under head coach Gerard Gallant. Not only did they finish at the top of their division in their first season, but they did so with over 100 points and a 50-plus win season.
Oh yeah and they played the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Despite the loss in five games to Washington, the Golden Knights were and still are well ahead of owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in three [seasons]” masterplan– what with General Manager George McPhee‘s offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty and everything.
This year, of course, the competition has gotten a lot tougher. There are expectations now when opponents play the Golden Knights.
Gallant and his Vegas lineup are going to have to get more creative than ever before in franchise history to avoid the hangover of a Stanley Cup Final appearance run and to avoid getting too predictable.
Things are different now. They’re no longer the new kids on the block. They’re the 2018 Western Conference champions and a team to beat.
As always, I’d like to remind you my degree is in communication– not math– therefore anything that looks wrong is either adjusted with a little gut-feeling and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault. My expertise resides in the written, spoken and nonverbal language of communicating– not numbers on a spreadsheet.
These forecasted stats are to be seen as an utopian perspective, as though nothing bad could happen this season at any point to any player– where every player at least lives up to their forecast and then some.
Some will pan out and some will fall flat. It’s a suggested outcome for a sport that’s played on ice in a highly unpredictable collective environment of action and sheer puck luck.
Vegas Golden Knights Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)
After a breakout 78-point season (43 goals, 35 assists) for William Karlsson, the Golden Knights number-one center is prime for a respectable 41-point season as part of the natural regression of the game– unless Karlsson is truly an outlier, like he was coming from Columbus to Vegas last season.
Meanwhile, Reilly Smith (19-27–46 expected totals) and Jonathan Marchessault (28-35–63 expected totals) bolster the Golden Knights first line with respectable performances of their own, while the point spread has really been shared with the second line.
Newcomers Paul Stastny (22-43–65 expected totals) and Max Pacioretty (33-30–63 expected totals) are set to become the key contributors to the fiery Vegas offense in their first season with the club.
The Golden Knights top-six core of forwards is deeper than last season, whereas the majority of their offense was reliant upon Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith. This year there’s more emphasis on Alex Tuch and Erik Haula inside the top-nine.
On defense, Gallant’s crew will have to do without Nate Schmidt for the first 20 games of the season while Schmidt serves a suspension for a performance enhancing drug.
Luckily, Brad Hunt, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore are prime for an uptick in time-on-ice and production, with Hunt and Miller expected to reach the 30-point plateau, while offseason addition, Nick Holden should see a pleasant rebound from his 17 points split between the Bruins and New York Rangers last season to a 25-point effort in 2018-19 with Vegas, provided he can remain in the top-six on the depth chart.
Upon Schmidt’s return, he should still have 4-23–27 totals from the blue line, which is not great like last season’s 5-31–36 totals, but not terrible for a top-four defender.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to return to Earth from his superhuman season last year (a 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage in 46 games) to a 2.49 GAA and .913 SV% in 2018-19. As the Golden Knights starter continues to get older, limiting his workload to keep him fresher for the postseason is the way to go.
Granted, Fleury’s playing time was limited last season due to a concussion, he still went on to have solid regular season numbers and an impeccable 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff run up until the Stanley Cup Final.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Subban‘s 2.68 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games played look to be improved upon to a 2.65 GAA and .911 SV% in somewhere around 30 appearances as the backup netminder for Vegas.
As always, we’ll get more into the goalies once the team has played through a quarter of the season.
Observant, loyal fans of Down the Frozen River have probably noticed the absence of the Game of the Day series to start this season.
For that, as well as the fact that this trend will likely continue throughout the month of October, I apologize.
However, I can offer the next best thing as a replacement until my schedule frees up: instead of a Game of the Day, how about a Game of the Week?
In that case, let’s take a look at all the contests we have/had to choose from this week!
|NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 8-14|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, October 8|
|1 p.m.||San Jose||New York Islanders||0-4|
|10 p.m.||Detroit||Anaheim||2-3 (SO)|
|Tuesday, October 9|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Philadelphia||8-2|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Winnipeg||1-2|
|Wednesday, October 10|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Ottawa||SN, TVAS|
|Thursday, October 11|
|7 p.m.||Washington||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||New York Rangers|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Calgary||St. Louis|
|Friday, October 12|
|No games scheduled|
|Saturday, October 13|
|1 p.m.||Edmonton||New York Rangers|
|2 p.m.||Los Angeles||Ottawa||RDS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Tampa Bay|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Washington||CBC, NHLN|
|8 p.m.||New York Islanders||Nashville|
|8:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Chicago|
|10 p.m.||Calgary||Colorado||CBC, CITY, SN1|
|SUNday, October 14|
|1 p.m.||San Jose||New Jersey||SN|
|7 p.m.||Anaheim||St. Louis|
|7 p.m.||Carolina||Winnipeg||NHLN, SN1, SN360|
Out of a list of 42 matchups, surely we can find at least one tilt to take in.
There’s a collection of some great rivalry games (Toronto at Detroit, Chicago at Minnesota, Detroit at Boston and St. Louis at Chicago) and some players returning to their former home arenas (W Matt Calvert and D Dion Phaneuf heading back to the respective capitals of Ohio and Canada stick out in particular), but I’m most drawn to playoff rematches during these opening months of the season.
Yes, the Jets are traveling to Tennessee tomorrow to take on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators, but that rematch is going to take place three more times this season.
Instead, I’m much more excited to see how the Golden Knights’ pent up frustrations from falling in the Stanley Cup Final come into play tonight. Let’s make the trip to the American Capital and dive into that exciting early-season matchup.
There’s nothing quite like a Stanley Cup Finals rematch, especially when it takes place within the first week or two of the season.
For those that were in a coma for all of last hockey season – or those that simply live under a rock – the Vegas Golden Knights were one of the greatest stories in North American Big Four sports history last season.
After not existing during the 2016-17 season, the expansion Knights rallied around their hurting city and the idea of being a disorganized band of misfits that their former clubs no longer wanted to soar to an unlikely Pacific Division title and unprecedented Western Conference Championship.
A team consisting of the complete package, Vegas regularly scored with ease while G Marc-Andre Fleury was on the shelf with an upper-body injury. Upon his return, the Golden Knights continued winning even when the offense slowed down, as Fleury posted an incredible .927 save percentage in 46 starts – aided in large part by playing behind a defense that yielded only 30.7 shots against per game for the entire 2017-18 season, a mark that ranked seventh-best in the NHL.
Meanwhile, 2017-18 was the first season in a while that the Capitals entered their campaign with outsiders not pegging them to succeed. Too many players were lost as a result of management having to make moves to stay under the cap, and W Alex Ovechkin just didn’t seem to have the ability to get his team past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Second Round of the playoffs.
Or so we thought. The Caps told the pundits where to shove it as they raced to their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title behind their scoring prowess (Washington averaged 3.12 goals per game last season, good enough for ninth-best in the league), followed by getting past the dreaded Penguins and preseason darling Lighting to secure their second-ever Prince of Wales Trophy.
The Final itself was a quick, but exciting affair. With only a +6 goal differential in the final round, Washington defeated Vegas in five games to get a 44-year-old monkey off its back and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
But all the banners have been raised and all the champagne has been popped. That was last season, and tonight is all about working towards the 2019 championship.
Making the trip to D.C. are the 1-2-0 Golden Knights, the reigning winners of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl even though they currently reside in 11th place in the Western Conference.
If any one part of Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s team is responsible for it’s lone win (notched in Minnesota on Saturday courtesy of the shootout), it’s surely Vegas’ squelching defense. Even with D Nate Schmidt – the club’s best blueliner, if I do say so myself – twiddling his thumbs while serving a 20-game suspension for PEDs, the Golden Knights have continued last season’s stellar play in their own end, allowing only 24 shots per game to reach Fleury.
That effort, which is good enough to tie Montréal for third-best in the league, has been headlined not by defensemen, but by fourth-liners LW William Carrier‘s conference-leading 18 hits and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s team-leading four takeaways.
There’s no denying that Carrier’s efforts have been felt by opposing teams, but Bellemare’s lack of scoring touch (as well as that of linemates Carrier and RW Ryan Reaves) has made his puck-snatching abilities a little less exciting. Though he scored a goal on a takeaway against the Flyers last Thursday, that marker is still the only point in his account for this season.
Of course, Bellemare is not the only one not finding the scorecard. Vegas has registered only five goals in three showings so far this season, pinning it as the fifth-worst attack in the entire league.
With 2-2-4 totals in 19:51 average time on ice, F Jon Marchessault is doing all he can to keep the Knights competitive, but he’s going to need far more assistance from the rest of the top-six forwards if Vegas wants to climb back to the heights it achieved last season. In particular, I’m waiting for some breakout games from Vegas’ second line, consisting of LW Max Pacioretty (227-222-449 career totals in 629 games), C Paul Stastny (220-426-646 in 827 career games) and F Erik Haula (posted a career-best 29-26-55 line in 76 games last season).
The Golden Knights will have exactly the attack to emulate in tonight’s opponent, as offense has been king for the 1-0-1 Capitals through their first two games. Averaging a whopping 6.5 goals per game, Washington is topping the NHL’s scoring charts so far this season and currently resides in seventh place in the Eastern Conference because of it.
A total of six players on Washington’s roster are currently averaging at least a point per game, but none have been quite as spectacular as F T.J. Oshie. In only two games, he’s posted dominant 3-2-5 totals, not to mention a .429 shooting percentage that will surely have Fleury quivering in his skates. The Caps’ top line has been just as lethal too, as C Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have posted matching 2-1-3 totals to start the season and look to already be in mid-season form.
To top things off, Washington’s attack isn’t limited just to forwards. Just like the fourth line is getting involved defensively for Vegas, Capitals defensemen John Carlson (2-2-4 totals) and Brooks Orpik (1-1-2) have also been deadly, as both are averaging at least a point per game in their first two showings.
In strength against strength, I’m leaning towards the hosts’ offense being able to earn its fifth-straight win against Fleury and Vegas’ defense.
However, if the Golden Knights’ attack can show some life, G Braden Holtby has not looked very solid with his .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA. If Pacioretty and Stastny can find some rhythm tonight – not to mention C William Karlsson rediscovering last year’s breakout form – Washington could be in line for another high-scoring affair like its last outing against the Penguins.
Vegas Golden Knights
51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division
Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1
Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)
Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.
Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.
The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.
Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.
Foley wants to do it in half the time.
McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.
Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.
A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.
Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.
Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.
At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.
But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.
At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.
On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.
Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.
Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.
Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.
With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.
One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.
Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.
It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.
Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.
Offseason Grade: B+
McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.
And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.