Nick and Connor contemplate going to Vegas in addition to a complete breakdown, preview and predictions for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.
Let’s clarify a few things here:
1. The team has a lot of leadership.
And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.
2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.
Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.
Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.
Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.
3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.
Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.
Let’s reword that a bit.
Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.
The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.
Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.
A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.
Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.
The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.
Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.
McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.
Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.
When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.
Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.
Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).
David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.
Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.
Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.
Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.
Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.
Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.
It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.
But for now, why not enjoy the ride?
They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.
There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.
Three unanswered goals almost eight minutes into the first period held up over the rest of the game, Saturday night at Bell MTS Place as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 in Game 1 of the 2018 Western Conference Final.
Connor Hellebuyck made 19 saves on 21 shots faced for a .905 save percentage in the win for the Jets, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots out of 26 shots against for an .846 SV% in 57:21 time on ice in the loss for Vegas.
It didn’t take long for Winnipeg’s home-ice advantage to kick in as Dustin Byfuglien (5) blasted a slap shot past Fleury 65 seconds into the action Saturday night, giving the Jets a 1-0 lead.
Not long after, Alex Tuch took the game’s first penalty— a minor for hooking Winnipeg’s Bryan Little— and the Golden Knights found themselves shorthanded against one of the best power play units in this postseason.
Wheeler worked a cross-ice pass through the low slot to Patrik Laine on the ensuing player advantage and Laine (4) promptly sent a one-timer past Fleury to give the Jets a two-goal lead. Wheeler (14) and Paul Stastny (9) had the assists on the goal at 6:49 of the first period and Winnipeg led, 2-0.
Less than a minute later, the Jets worked another one past the Vegas netminder on a deflection thanks to the skates of Joel Armia (2).
Though the goal was originally waved off, after review (courtesy of a coach’s challenge) it was determined there was no goaltender interference and the call on the ice was overturned. In the eyes of the situation room, Armia had not entered the crease and interfered with Fleury’s ability to make a save too close to receiving/deflecting the puck anyway, despite the fact that Armia had bumped into the Golden Knights goalie prior to scoring.
Nevertheless, Ben Chiarot (3) had the only assist on the goal and the Jets led, 3-0, at 7:35 of the first period.
Fleury and the Golden Knights had allowed three goals on eight shots against in less than eight minutes into the action.
Despite this, Vegas was determined to get one of their own past Hellebuyck and begin the slow climb back on the scoreboard.
Jonathan Marchessault worked the puck from behind the goal line back to Brayden McNabb (2) as the Vegas blueliner snuck in the attacking zone on a delayed call against the Jets. McNabb quickly fired a shot that deflected off of Winnipeg rookie Kyle Connor’s stick and behind Hellebuyck, high-glove side.
The Golden Knights cut the lead to two and Marchessault (8) and Reilly Smith (11) notched the assists on McNabb’s goal at 8:10 of the first period. Winnipeg led, 3-1, and the home crowd was unfazed.
In fact, Jets fans continued taunting Fleury with Bronx cheers for every save and the introduction of the phrase “we want Subban” (as in, Golden Knights backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban) to their lexicon.
Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, however, took a trip into the away bench on a hit delivered from Golden Knights tough guy, Ryan Reaves. Vegas, to their credit, did help Wheeler get back on his feet after flipping head first over the boards.
Past the halfway mark in the first period, Erik Haula slashed Laine and the Jets went on their second power play of the night. It was not as successful as their first man advantage of the game and the Golden Knights generated a couple quality shorthanded scoring chances.
Jets defender, Jacob Trouba, interfered with Tuch at 16:51 of the first period and the Golden Knights went on the power play for the first time, but did not convert on the ensuing advantage.
After one period, Winnipeg led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and 2:1 in shots on goal (12-6). Both teams had blocked five shots each, while Vegas had an advantage in hits (18-13) and Winnipeg led in takeaways (3-0), giveaways (7-5) and faceoff win percentage (72-28). The Golden Knights were 0/1 on the power play and the Jets were 1/2 on the advantage after 20 minutes of play.
Four players took matching minor penalties for roughing just over five minutes into the second period as things heated up on the ice after the whistle. Colin Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Mathieu Perreault and Brandon Tanev each went to the sin bin for their respective sides and play remained even at 5-on-5.
McNabb hooked Wheeler on a breakaway at 9:10 of the second period as Wheeler shot the puck wide through the crease while Fleury was in desperation save mode.
The Jets didn’t waste much time on the player advantage before converting as it only took 44 seconds for Scheifele (12) to redirect a shot from the point by Byfuglien past Fleury to make it a three-goal game.
Scheifele’s goal on the power play came at 9:54 of the second period and made it, 4-1, Winnipeg. Byfuglien (10) and Wheeler (15) had the assists, capping off a three-assist night for Wheeler.
Late in the period, Chiarot tripped James Neal and the Golden Knights went on the power play with just under five minutes to go until the second intermission.
William Karlsson (5) redirected a pass from Marchessault into the twine and cut the lead to two at 15:55 of the second period. Marchessault (9) and Shea Theodore (4) notched the assists on the power play goal for Vegas that made it, 4-2.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Jets were in control, 4-2, on the scoreboard and, 22-13, in shots on goal. Winnipeg also led in blocked shots (13-7), hits (27-25), takeaways (8-1), giveaways (10-9) and faceoff win percentage (62-38). The Golden Knights were 1/2 on the power play while Winnipeg was 2/3 on the man advantage after two periods.
Reaves tripped Adam Lowry early in the third period, but the Jets did not convert on the ensuing advantage in the only penalty called in the game’s final frame.
Neither team found the back of the twine as the Golden Knights frantically searched for a way to score two goals to tie the game, having pulled their goaltender with about 2:35 remaining in regulation.
Gerard Gallant used his team’s only timeout at the next stoppage in play to try to draw up a plan, but Vegas’s best efforts were no match for Paul Maurice’s Winnipeg Jets, despite Winnipeg’s inability to land a shot in the empty net.
At the final horn the Jets had won, 4-2, and jumped out to a 1-0 series lead in sheer dominance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
Winnipeg finished the night leading in shots on goal (26-21), blocked shots (22-10), hits (33-30), giveaways (14-11), and faceoff win percentage (56-44). Both teams went .500 on the power play as the Jets went 2/4 and Vegas went 1/2 on the man advantage.
Game 2 is Monday night in Winnipeg, where the Bell MTS Centre crowd looks to energize their team to a 2-0 series lead. Puck drop is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.
Including today, only nine days of regular season hockey are left this year! Are you excited for the playoffs yet?
Play starts at 1 p.m. today with Florida at Boston (SN), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Detroit (SN1/TVAS). Columbus at Vancouver (SN360) completes the afternoon’s matinees, as the next four tilts (Winnipeg at Toronto [CBC/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey, Montréal at Pittsburgh [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Carolina) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. mark the puck drop of a pair of tilts (Buffalo at Nashville and Minnesota at Dallas), while St. Louis at Arizona waits an hour before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN/SN360) gets green-lit at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vegas. All times Eastern.
A few of the games that stuck out to me – at least at the beginning of the season – include:
- Florida at Boston: Welcome back to Beantown, F Frank Vatrano! Let’s see if you can get an important two points for your new team against the one that traded you.
- Columbus at Vancouver: Speaking of trades, the deadline swap that sent W Thomas Vanek to Ohio might be among the most impactful this season.
- Buffalo at Nashville: Another return will occur in this game, but this one features Phil Housley at Bridgestone Arena, the place he’d been an assistant coach for the past four seasons.
- Edmonton at Calgary: Even though both of these sides are ineligible for the postseason, don’t expect the nastiness to see any sort of decline.
Of those, the Panthers-Bruins game is obviously the most impactful on this postseason. However, there’s also the Jets-Maple Leafs and Sharks-Golden Knights games taking place today, both of which are certainly worthy of our attention.
Though I would recommend watching all three, we may only feature one in this column. As such, let’s make the trip to the Silver State to get a preview of a potential second round matchup.
It’s been a wild ride for the 49-22-7 Golden Knights this regular season, and much to the delight of them and their fans, there’s still at least one more chapter to be written in the playoffs.
However, it doesn’t seem like Vegas is looking too far ahead into the playoffs, as they’re still playing some exemplary hockey down the stretch even though they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. Since March 18, Vegas has posted a wildly impressive 4-1-2 record to hold on to its spot atop the Pacific Division.
Is it any surprise that a three-time Stanley Cup champion is the one leading the Knights down the stretch? 28-12-4 G Marc-Andre Fleury has been phenomenal in his last five starts, even despite a defense that has allowed an average of 33 shots against per game since March 18, the 11th-most in the league in that time.
Even facing that almost constant pressure, Fleury has managed an imposing .964 save percentage and 1.14 GAA over that stretch that’s even better than the .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA he’s posted for the entire regular season, both of which are second-best in the NHL among qualified goaltenders.
With 12-3-2 G Malcolm Subban playing in Vegas’ 4-3 overtime victory last night against the Blues, Fleury will be totally rested and prepared for whatever San Jose throws at him tonight.
Speaking of, if we want to talk about teams closing the regular season on a hot run, the 44-24-10 Sharks have to enter into that conversation. San Jose has managed an 8-1-1 record over its last 10 games, due in large part to its unstoppable offense.
None have been able to keep the Sharks under control lately, as they come to Vegas averaging 4.2 goals per game since March 12, the best attack in the Western Conference and second-best in the NHL.
What might be the most impressive thing about San Jose’s attack is that, short of D Brent Burns‘ 1-9-10 marks in his last 10 games, no other skater is averaging at least a point per game during this run. That means that instead of one Shark dominating the game, it’s instead the entire offense contributing.
That’s no more apparent than when we look at who has been on the receiving end of Burns’ last nine assists. With the exception of F Logan Couture and F Joe Pavelski both scoring two goals following passes from Burns, no player has scored more than one goal with an assist from the defenseman in San Jose’s last 10 games. In total, seven different players have benefited from a Burns helper, representing all four lines of forwards.
Much to the disappointment of hockey fans, tonight marks the finale of the regular season series between these two squads. Having earned five points against the Sharks to their three, Vegas has had the upper hand so far this year when taking on San Jose, but the visitors could level the series tonight with a regulation win.
San Jose and Vegas first squared off on November 24 at T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights held on to win a wild 5-4 game in overtime (F Jon Marchessault scored the game-winner). Game 2 wasn’t until February 8 at SAP Center, but home ice didn’t help the Sharks avoid a 5-3 loss (Fleury earned First Star honors with his 35-save effort).
Most recently, the Knights returned to San Jose on March 22 – only nine days ago – to finally suffer their first defeat at the
hands fins of the Sharks, who won 2-1 in overtime (that game-winner belonged to Couture).
Should San Jose be able to earn a regulation win tonight, it would level the season series against Vegas at five points apiece.
Of course, that’s not the main reason the Sharks want to win this game. Currently trailing the Golden Knights by seven points, there’s still technically an outside shot they could dismantle Vegas from atop the Pacific Division. After tonight’s game, both clubs will have three games remaining on the schedule, meaning the Sharks would need to effectively win out while Vegas also loses all three tilts in regulation.
What a matchup we are about to witness! No one has been able to slow down the Sharks’ attack lately, yet no offense has been able to beat Fleury. Even though they’re on the road, I like the Sharks to win this game since they’ve been able to find offensive contributions from their entire team lately. That constant pressure should be enough to wear Fleury down.
In a defensive affair that surprisingly featured only one penalty, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Honda Center.
Anaheim didn’t respond until 3:05 remained in the second period. Third Star of the Game LW Nick Ritchie (D Francois Beauchemin and W Ondrej Kase) banged home a backhanded shot to level the game at 1-1.
The defenses really amped up their games in the third period, as only a combined nine shots made it on goal in the final 20 minutes. In particular, the Kings’ D-corps played especially well, limiting the Ducks to only two scoring opportunities to keep the game tied at the end of regulation.
That defensive theme continued through most of the overtime period, as it took 4:41 of three-on-three play before First Star F Rickard Rakell (D Brandon Montour and Kase) scored his third game-winner of the season.
Montour and Kase earned assists, but this goal was all about Rakell. He carried the puck from blue line to blue line, even with F Trevor Lewis doing his best to maintain a defensive presence. Once Rakell finally reached the right face-off dot, he used D Alec Martinez as a screen to rip an elevated snap shot to the far post, beating helpless G Jonathan Quick before he could even react.
G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).
Another DtFR Game of the Day, another home victory. The Ducks are the seventh-consecutive host to win their game in the featured series, and they also extend the 97-53-21 home teams’ point streak to nine games. Hosts in the series now have a 44-point lead on the roadies.
It’s a busy Saturday in the NHL, so let’s jump right into today’s schedule!
First up is Vegas at Colorado (SN1) at 3 p.m., trailed an hour later by Calgary at San Jose as the only other matinee of the day. A whopping eight games (Detroit at Toronto [CBC], Washington at Montréal [NHLN/SN/TVAS], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY/SN1], Arizona at Florida, Tampa Bay at New Jersey, Chicago at the New York Islanders, Buffalo at the New York Rangers and St. Louis at Columbus) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed by Nashville at Minnesota 60 minutes later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Edmonton (CBC/SN/SN1) – drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s festivities. All times Eastern.
Some of the games I’ve had my eye on include…
- Detroit at Toronto: Including this one, there’s only four more Original Six matchups left this regular season! Get ’em in while you can!
- Arizona at Florida: D Jason Demers spent all of last season with the Panthers. Hopefully the Florida faithful will give him a warm welcome tonight.
- Chicago at New York: With G Jean-Francois Berube and G Anton Forsberg competing for next season’s backup job, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the former get tonight’s start against his former team.
- Los Angeles at Edmonton: Consider this your fourth and final reminder of the season that the Oilers traded away C Wayne Gretzky.
However, none of those matchups feature two teams still in the hunt for the postseason. Instead, let’s make the trip to Denver to see what the Avs can do to the Knights!
This has been far from a bad week for the 47-21-6 Golden Knights, as they’ve posted a 2-0-1 record over their past three games in spite of 27-11-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury joining Reilly Smith on Vegas’ injury list.
There was certainly concern when Fleury went down with his head injury in Tuesday’s tilt against the Canucks – not only for the player, but also for the team’s performance. After all, the only reason the Golden Knights shutout the Flames on Sunday was because Fleury put on an amazing performance, saving all 42 shots Calgary fired.
However, 11-3-2 G Malcolm Subban has easily taken command of the crease in Fleury’s stead, as he completed the starter’s game against Vancouver by allowing a lone goal and followed it up by yielding only two tallies and forcing overtime against the Sharks on Thursday.
As hinted at before with Fleury’s performance against Calgary, the reason the goaltenders have been so incredible lately is because they’ve been the only line of defense lately. Since March 18, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of 38.67 shots against per game, the second-most of any team in the league in that time.
It remains to be seen which goaltender will earn the start this afternoon, as Fleury was seen on ice for practice in Denver today.
Incredibly, the 40-26-8 Avalanche have been one of the best feel good stories of the year in a season that features an expansion team posing a real threat for winning the Stanley Cup. That’s been no less true over the past 16 games, as Colorado has earned a 9-3-4 record since February 20.
The biggest reason for the Avs’ success this season has been their impressive offense, headed by 2014 Calder-winner F Nathan MacKinnon. Over Colorado’s last 16 games, MacKinnon has posted unbelievable 14-17-31 totals – one point short of averaging two points per game over this run – to improve his season marks to 38-54-92.
But it hasn’t been just MacKinnon. F Mikko Rantanen and D Tyson Barrie have also been unstoppable lately, managing respective 9-18-27 and 7-14-21 marks since February 20. With Barrie gelling so well with Colorado’s top line, there’s little that can slow down this attack.
While it might be a little extreme to say Vegas doesn’t care about this match or any other until Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Golden Knights’ fortunes really don’t change all that much with a win, loss or draw. Vegas currently trails Nashville by six points for the Presidents’ Trophy, but that lead is even greater considering the Predators have a game in hand. Similarly, the Knights aren’t all that concerned with second-place San Jose catching up and challenging for the Pacific Division title, as they have a seven-point advantage over their NorCal nemeses.
However, the same cannot be said for the Avalanche, as they have fallen back into the second wild card after Anaheim’s overtime loss last night in Winnipeg. Since tonight’s tilt is Colorado’s game in hand on the Ducks (at least until tomorrow when Anaheim is in Edmonton while the Avs are dormant), it needs to earn at least one point to jump back into the first wild card. Should the Avs fall in regulation, they risk relinquishing their playoff position to St. Louis, which has a tough matchup of its own in Columbus.
Colorado and Vegas have squared off only once so far this season, and it was far from a pleasurable experience for the Avs. Colorado was invited to T-Mobile Arena on October 27, where it was pounded into oblivion by the Knights to a 7-0 final score. G Oscar Dansk earned First Star honors with a perfect 32-save performance, while 11 different Golden Knights registered at least a point – four of which posted 1-1-2 totals on the night.
Whether it’s Fleury or Subban in net today, they are going to face a tough task in trying to slow down the Avs’ dominating attack. Though they’ve been good this season, I think Colorado has what it takes to earn two points at home today.
Even though the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the third period, the New Jersey Devils won yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena 4-3 in overtime.
The Devils would eventually score their three goals, but not before the Penguins would take an initial one-goal lead. Third Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby (D Jamie Oleksiak and F Jake Guentzel) scored his 25th goal of the season 2:29 into play, burying a wrist shot to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 advantage that held into the first intermission.
Head Coach John Hynes must have had some choice words for his club during the first break, because New Jersey absolutely dominated the second frame – or, at least 3:39 of it. D Will Butcher (D Damon Severson and First Star F Taylor Hall) pulled the Devils even 5:15 into the frame with a power play snap shot, followed only 2:05 later by a F Blake Coleman (W Drew Stafford and C Pavel Zacha) backhanded shot that gave Jersey the lead. Second Star C Nico Hischier (D John Moore and Hall) completed the Devils’ blitz with a wrister at the 8:54 mark to give them a 3-1 lead that they held into the second intermission.
Facing a two-goal deficit, Pittsburgh didn’t waste much time in starting its comeback after the start of the third period. Only 3:13 into the frame, D Brian Dumoulin (Crosby) halved the Devils’ advantage with a slap shot, his fifth goal of the season. The goal horn was brought to life once again 7:39 later, this time by RW Phil Kessel (C Derick Brassard and W Conor Sheary) to level the game at 3-3.
With that tie holding through the end of regulation, the game advanced into five minutes of three-on-three play. However, Hall (Hischier) needed only 27 seconds of those five minutes to find the game-winner.
After struggling mightily under an intense forecheck by the Penguins his own defensive zone, Hischier finally ended up with the puck on his stick long enough to fling a pass to Hall waiting near the blue line into the Devils’ offensive zone. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the very defense that was causing such troubles proved to be extremely beneficial to Hall, as he had only G Matt Murray to beat to end the game, which he did with a wrister through the netminder’s five-hole.
G Keith Kinkaid earned the victory after saving 40-of-43 shots faced (.93 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Murray, who saved 30-of-34 (.882).
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have been an incredibly difficult out lately, as they’ve earned points in 11 of the last 14 featured matchups. As such, the 90-53-21 hosts now have only a 34-point advantage in the series.
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.
Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 60 Games (22 Games Remaining)
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.
There may not be many games going on today, but at least they’re all being broadcast nationally.
Most of the night’s action drops the puck at 7:30 p.m. this evening, as two (Vegas at Florida [SN360/TVAS] and Montréal at Washington [NHLN/RDS/TSN2]) of the three games get underway. Finally, Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the night’s festivities with a rivalry game at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Now, I know that the Freeway Face-Off is taking place today and both teams are on the cusp of playoff position, but there’s one game that has really attracted my attention.
Featuring this game provides us the enjoyable opportunity of looking back at the Panthers’ decisions over the past year and judging them.
If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what is.
Gerard Gallant was named the head coach of the Florida Panthers before the 2014-’15 season. The season before, Florida had posted an ugly 29-45-8 record to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division, a whopping 27 points behind Detroit for the second wild card.
While the Panthers didn’t do much climbing in the division standings (they only advanced to sixth in the Atlantic), Gallant’s first year as head coach saw the club improve to 38-29-15, their first winning record since claiming the Southeast Division in 2011-’12.
That growth continued into the 2015-’16 campaign, which was easily his best during his tenure in Florida. The Panthers exploded to a 47-26-9 record to raise their second division banner in franchise history and finish third in the Eastern Conference. One of Florida’s major acquisitions that season was trading RW Jimmy Hayes to Boston for W Reilly Smith. Smith was an instant success in the Sunshine State, as he posted a career-best 25 goals en route to 50 points, finishing sixth on the team in scoring.
Though the young Panthers fell in six games to C John Tavares‘ Islanders in the first round, excitement surrounded the team for their future.
With the Panthers seemingly on the rise, they signed then 26-year-old F Jon Marchessault to a two-year, $1.5 million deal after not being offered a contract by Tampa Bay following three years with the organization. As indicated by where Marchessault plays now (the same almost certainly applies to Smith, but more on that in a minute), it seems Gallant saw potential in a player that had posted only 8-11-19 totals in 49 NHL games, which was realized by Marchessault’s impressive 2016-’17 campaign.
However, a simple slow start of 11-10-1 in 2016 is all it took for Florida General Manager Tom Rowe to fire Gallant and literally desert him at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. after the Panthers lost to the Hurricanes 3-2. How firing the winningest coach in franchise history a year after he led the team to its highest heights since the improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, not to mention that he coached the Atlantic All-Star team, makes sense still baffles the imagination of many outside the Panthers’ front office.
At the time of Gallant’s firing, Marchessault had posted solid 10-7-17 totals through 22 games played, well better than Smith’s 4-3-7 effort in the same amount of time. Even with Rowe assuming coaching duties for the remainder of the season, Marchessault would score a team-high 30 goals and tack on 21 assists for a third-best 51 points in 75 games – all career bests for a player in only his second full season in the NHL. However, Florida returned to sixth in the Atlantic Division with only a 35-36-11 record, 14 points behind second wildcard Toronto. Obviously, the decline was on Gallant and Smith’s shoulders, as Smith finished with only 15-22-37 totals.
After going unsigned for the remainder of the 2016-’17 season, Gallant was hired as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on April 13, 2017, allowing him the opportunity to work with General Manager George McPhee to build the exact team he wanted from a blank slate – a luxury afforded to very few in the world of professional sports.
Having recent experience with the Panthers’ system, it’s no surprise that Gallant would do everything in his power to get his favorite players from that team. However, I’d bet that even he didn’t predict his good fortune when General Manager Dale Tallon – the same person responsible for signing Gallant to the Panthers in 2014 – agreed to trade Smith to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights drafting Marchessault in the 2017 Expansion Draft and a measly fourth-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Call me crazy, but perhaps it shouldn’t have ever been a surprise that 30-11-3 Vegas is doing so well. Marchessault (16-26-42 totals) and Smith (12-24-36) are both among the top-four point earners for the Knights with the same head coach that led them to glory on the opposite side of the country. Marchessualt has since signed a six-year, $30 million extension with the Golden Knights. That means he and Smith, who came to Vegas with five years remaining on a five-year, $25 million deal will be together through the 2021-’22 season.
Compare that to 18-19-6 Florida’s situation in fourth to last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference and it makes clear sense why Rowe is no longer the Panthers’ general manager (however, he’s still in Florida’s front office… I wish I had that kind of job security).
Imagining what could have been for the Panthers if Rowe hadn’t screwed everything up by chasing some analytical dream is truly disparaging (and I’m not even a Panthers fan!), and that point will be made even more clear this evening with all the former Panthers in town.
After losing in regulation Tuesday, the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights are looking forward to getting their next winning streak started. Vegas has earned points in four of its past five games, and it owes all its success to 10-3-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense.
Fleury has been stellar all year. After all, his .945 season save percentage and 1.72 GAA are both best in the league among all 66 netminders with at least four starts to their credit (okay, St. Louis’ 10-3-1 G Carter Hutton has matched Fleury’s GAA on the year). However, Fleury has somehow found an even higher level to play at, as he’s posted an incredible .948 save percentage and 1.51 GAA in his last four starts.
While Fleury has been so good that the word solid doesn’t do him justice, he’s also had the luxury of playing behind an impressive defense. Over their last five games, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of only 29.4 shots against, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 5. Whether its been LW William Carrier and D Brayden McNabb‘s 3.6 hits-per-game, D Deryk Engelland‘s two blocks-per-game or C William Karlsson‘s six takeaways over this stretch – or simply the Knights’ impressive offense keeping the puck out of the defensive zone – Vegas is making it easy for the face of their franchise to shine like a jewel in the desert.
Of note, Fleury led the Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory yesterday in Tampa Bay, so it would seem likely that 11-2-0 G Malcolm Subban will draw the start this evening. Subban has posted a .918 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in 13 starts this season.
Meanwhile, the struggle continues for the Panthers, who have posted only a 1-3-1 record over their past five games. While they haven’t been very impressive on either end of the ice, the biggest issues of last have been on the defensive end of the rink.
With 6-6-1 G Roberto Luongo still on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, 12-12-5 G James Reimer has started every game since the December 4. Before this rough patch since January 2, he’d actually been having success to the point that he had earned a 7-3-1 record since assuming starting duties – including a five-game winning streak.
However, the new year has not treated him well, as he’s managed only a .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA in the Panthers’ last five games.
The reason for Reimer’s decline is obvious. The line about him starting every game since the beginning of December was not hyperbole: he’s literally started Florida’s last 16 games, including both ends of two back-to-backs. Fortunately for the Panthers, this is their first game coming off a six-day bye, so Reimer will be well-rested and ready to go.
However, if they’re going to continue riding their backup so hard, perhaps the Panthers’ defense could help him out and keep pucks away from him. Since January 2, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 33.4 shots against per game, the 10th-highest in the league in that time.
D Aaron Ekblad may average two blocks per game over this run, D Alex Petrovic 2.8 hits per game and F Vincent Trocheck five takeways since January 2, but something has to change to keep Reimer alive until Luongo returns – especially since rookie G Harri Sateri is currently serving as backup. In essence, this fourth-worst 3.8 goals against-per-game since January 2 falls on the Panthers’ defense.
Florida has already made its trip out to T-Mobile Arena on December 17, and Rowe was justifiably embarrassed as his Panthers lost 5-2. Oh, and who led the way scoring in that game? First Star of the Game Marchessault (1-2-3 totals) and Smith (0-2-2).
We didn’t even talk about Vegas’ well-documented offense. With that corps going against the Panthers’ defense, it’s hard to believe the Panthers will be able to put up much of a fight tonight.
On the night of C Eric Lindros‘ number retirement, the Philadelphia Flyers completed their season sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs, beating them in overtime 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
This contest was a defensive affair at the start, as neither club could register more than nine shots on goal in the first period. As a result, the score read the same during the first intermission as it did at the opening puck drop: 0-0.
However, that all changed in the blink of an eye in the second frame. RW Connor Brown (F Zach Hyman) broke the draw on a wrist shot with 7:03 remaining in the period, followed only 28 seconds later by C Frederik Gauthier‘s (W Matt Martin and D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the season to set the score at 2-0.
Philadelphia finally got on the scoreboard at the 1:33 mark of the third period, courtesy of an unassisted wrap-around shot by Third Star of the Game F Nolan Patrick. Though F Jori Lehtera tried to give the game away by interfering with Gauthier only 34 seconds later, W Wayne Simmonds (F Valtteri Filppula and D Andrew MacDonald) found a way to bury a shorthanded snap shot at the 3:25 mark, leveling the score at two-all.
Though neither team was able to score in the remainder of regulation, it didn’t take long for First Star C Sean Couturier (F Travis Konecny and Second Star G Michal Neuvirth) to win the game in overtime. The play started when Neuvirth made a pad save on C Auston Matthews. Konecny corralled the loose puck and began racing up the right boards. With two Maple Leafs closing in on him near the right face-off dot, he split his defenders with a pass to Couturier in the left face-off circle, setting up Philly’s leading scorer with a one-on-one opportunity against G Frederik Andersen. Couturier slung his wrist shot to the far post, ending the game in the Flyers’ favor.
Neuvirth earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 34-of-37 (.919).
The 58-34-12 home teams are reestablishing their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. They now hold a 23 point lead on the visitors in the series.
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.
Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 41 Games (41 Games Remaining)
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.
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.
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.
The Holiday Break has come and gone, which brings us closer to the midway point of the season. Last week’s action was exciting to say the least, with many hot teams continuing their success. In this week’s Down the Frozen River Power Rankings, we’re bringing you a Christmas Edition. Just as Santa would do this time of year, we have divided our top (and bottom) teams into two categories. So, who got coal this year and who hit the jackpot?
- New Jersey Devils (51)
The Devils are definitely at the top of the “Nice List,” as they have won seven of their last 10, while streaking through their past five games. Many questioned the early success of New Jersey, but they are proving they can sustain success with a more than capable offense. Their next game is tomorrow night against Buffalo.
- Vegas Golden Knights (44)
The Golden Knights are right with the Devils, as they have also won their last five games. The mysterious wonders continues to tear through their schedule, as they push closer to the playoffs. Last night, they defeated Anaheim 4-1, with a great performance from Malcolm Subban. It sure won’t be a Silent Night in Los Angeles tonight, as the Golden Knights look to continue their winning ways.
- Boston Bruins (44)
This week’s Power Rankings might just consist of teams that have won five straight games. Jokes aside, the Bruins are deserving of this accolade. They have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, making up a lot of ground in the Atlantic Division. They are currently tied with Toronto for second place in the division. Boston will take on the Washington Capitals this evening.
- Edmonton Oilers (37)
The Oilers have been playing a roller-coaster of a season to this point. While last night’s game against Winnipeg didn’t go according to plan, they still earn themselves a free pass. 6-4-0 in their last 10 games isn’t too shabby for a team that looked completely out of the playoff picture just a short while ago. Edmonton has given themselves a better opportunity, but they need to go out and earn it.
- Tampa Bay Lightning (25)
It’s odd to see a team that is 9-1-0 in their last 10 being at the bottom of our Power Rankings, but that just goes to show how well other teams have performed. The Lightning are still ahead of the competition, as they lead the Presidents’ Trophy race by four points.
- Arizona Coyotes (55)
You hate to kick a team while they’re down, but let’s just get on with it. The Coyotes are at the top of our “Naughty List” for fairly obvious reasons. Nearing the end of December, Arizona has just 23 points and are clearly out of the postseason mix. You hope that this organization will eventually turn the corner, but it won’t be this season.
- Ottawa Senators (48)
Losing the biggest trade of the year, rumors of relocating the club, only two wins in their last 10 games; what else could possible bring down the Senators? Ottawa appeared to be loading up for a big run after acquiring Matt Duchene from Colorado, but they have gone completely downhill. They continued their slump yesterday evening, as they were downed 5-1 by Boston. This team should be better, but with lackluster offense and an aging starting goaltender, Ottawa may need to rethink their approach to the future.
- Buffalo Sabres (37)
On paper, the Sabres should be a solid team. On ice, it is a different story. Last night, Buffalo was able to slow the red-hot offense of the Islanders, but they still lost 3-2 in overtime. That drops them to 3-3-4 in their last 10. Although not mathematically eliminated, Buffalo is way out of the playoff race. You may see this club make a few key deals closer to the trade deadline.
- Vancouver Canucks (35)
The Canucks appeared much improved from just a season ago, but their past has reared its ugly head. Brock Boeser has been a big success, but there are many other flaws in their armor. Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin can’t put up points like they used to and the rest of their offense hasn’t been executing. Although Vancouver is just six points out of a Wild Card position, they would need a huge boost to get there.
- Detroit Red Wings (29)
Last, but certainly not least, the Detroit Red Wings. Honestly, Ken Holland is the last person I would want to be right now. The team isn’t good enough to do anything substantial, but they also aren’t bad enough to tank. Do you trade away a few members of the old guard and rebuild? Maybe wait it out and hope the ship gets turned around? Some tough calls to be made by Detroit’s management.