The Vegas Golden Knights are one of many teams considering what the goaltending position will look like next season. For many teams and general managers, the trend in the league is towards having two capable goalies, ie. the “1A/1B” setup. For the playoffs this year the VGK had Robin Lehner starting with Marc-Andre Fleury rotating in for spot starts. With Fleury’s possible departure and Lehner’s contract extension looming, VHN ponders what having a solid tandem would mean for the Golden Knights next season.
It’s interesting how the game has evolved from starters who played every single game no matter what to a system where a preferred split for a 1A/1B ranges from 70/30 to 55/45 depending on your talent. Glenn Hall played 502 straight games (551 if you count playoffs). Without a mask. That is a record you will never see broken, especially with today’s mindset.
The 1A/1B Split
Since all teams did not play an equal number of games this season, I’ll look at the 2018-19 season. Eight teams out of 31 had a starting goaltender start 60 or more games (VGK, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs). Marc-Andre Fleury started 61 games for the Golden Knights that season.
Braden Holtby started 58 games for the Washington Capitals, or 70.7% of his club’s games. After that every other team had a 1A/1B split of at least 70/30 or better in terms of starting goaltenders. In case you’re wondering Devan Dubnyk started the most games with 66 for the Minnesota Wild.
Given the Jennings Trophy level of success the Boston Bruins have managed with Tuuka Rask and Jaroslav Halak in the regular season, it has become in vogue to have a 1A/1B setup. Some teams will hold to the one true starter model like the Tampa Bay Lightning with Andrei Vasilevskiy but he is an extreme talent most teams do not possess. The trend is going towards a solid tandem with no sign of slowing.
What It Means For Vegas
Speaking of the Golden Knights, before they acquired Lehner from Chicago via trade it was his play that kept the team near the playoff cut line when Corey Crawford was unavailable. It was a major reason why Vegas made the trade to bring him in, knowing that Malcolm Subban wasn’t going to provide the quality starts needed in this modern era. To that point Fleury had been shouldering the majority of the starts but there were concerns about his slowing down, needing more rest or simply seeing a decline in his game as he reaches his mid-30s.
When Vegas made the coaching change to Pete DeBoer, he came with no allegiances and no ties to Fleury as face of the franchise. When Lehner was brought in right before the pause, it was clebaar DeBoer was going to give him every opportunity to earn the starting job down the stretch had there been one. Instead, Lehner ended up as the starter in the return to play as Vegas made it to the Western Conference Final.
Right now as Vegas considers whether to trade Fleury, buy him out or somehow find the room to keep him (unlikely), they face the uncertainty of who fills the 1B to Lehner’s 1A if Fleury goes. In 2020-21, that role will never have greater importance.
Why It Matters
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said repeatedly that the league wants to play all 82 games next season. While I don’t know if this is the hill they’re willing to die on, it seems pretty set in stone that they will play a full regular season slate. With the season projected to start anywhere between mid-December and early January, playing 82 games and wrapping up the playoffs in a reasonable amount of time means a compressed schedule. It means more back-to-backs. Less rest. No bye week as negotiated in the CBA. Three-games-in-four-nights stretches (for you minor league aficionados three-in-threes are not permitted in the NHL).
I’ve been a part of NHL schedules that are jammed to the point of something like nine games in 15 days, but those were rare. Even then, the players do get tired and require rest days. Also, in the NHL many road teams are able to fly back post-game and sleep in their own beds for short range trips. That’s a little harder for some teams (San Jose’s travel schedule is actually worse than you’d think because of airport curfews).
In the 20-21 season teams had better prepare for cases like that to be the norm. Practices will be few and far between as coaches choose to rest teams in difficult stretches. Will it be detrimental? Depends who you ask I suppose. But it will have an effect on player fatigue and energy level. It might even increase the risk of injury. It will definitely make a 1A/1B setup even more important for your club.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine those 1A/1B starter splits trending closer to 50/50 in many cases for the upcoming season. Any contending team is going to want the ability to go to a solid, reliable 1B on any given night against any team in the league. For Vegas, that means finding a goaltender at a reasonable price who also can handle the potential at least 20 starts in a compacted regular season if not more in case of injury or slump.
Further complicating the issue for teams this year is the flat salary cap and the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft. Teams know that any 1B is one they’ll have to leave unprotected for the Kraken to pluck unless they make a deal to avoid that. Then-Golden Knights GM George McPhee was very successful in leveraging those types of deals, ending up with several quality players and draft picks after making shrewd deals with teams attempting to protect assets. Seattle will look to do the same.
As this will easily be the most unusual off-season in NHL history, there may be opportunity in the chaos for Vegas. With several high-dollar veteran goaltenders either being bought out or not having contracts renewed, the ability to nab a proven starter for cheap may be available for several teams. The only caveat is would that goalie want to go after winning, or chase one last payday. The Golden Knights can definitely offer the former. They will almost certainly not be able to offer the latter.
Who do you think the Golden Knights should seek as their potential 1B? Let us know in the comments.
Coyotes End Golden Knights Win Streak At Four
The Arizona Coyotes stopped the Vegas Golden Knights winning streak at four games with a 5-2 victory at Gila River Arena on Friday night.
Connor Garland led the Coyotes offense with a goal and two assists, while Nick Schmaltz scored for the third straight game.
It’s a very difficult proposition to beat a team four times in a row – look at any playoff series. Arizona winning a game, especially at home, was probably due. The Coyotes seemed to have more spring in their step than they did Wednesday night when the Golden Knights handed the Coyotes a 5-2 loss. Several times the Vegas defense allowed odd-man rushes to the Coyotes, and running five defensemen once again likely contributed to some of the errors on the back end.
“It’s definitely different,” said Shea Theodore after the game. “You are rotating through partners (and) you can’t exactly get into the rhythm with one guy… at the same time I don’t think that’s an excuse.”
“We should be able to adapt. We just can’t give up that many odd-man rushes on any given night.”
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer said he felt it was more the special teams that affected the outcome of the game.
“Penalties really kinda took our momentum out of the game. Both taking them, and obviously their power play goal early, and then a bunch of the other kills we had to have… when they did take (penalties) I didn’t think our power play created any momentum for us. For me that was… the story.”
“Some self-inflicted things tonight,” DeBoer said.
Whatever the reason, Vegas allowed the Coyotes to grow confident by ceding the opportunities and it showed. Arizona seemed to feel better about its game more and more as the game wore on.
Darcy Kuemper made 29 saves to earn the win as Vegas never quite seemed to find the scoring touch it displayed Wednesday night. Robin Lehner struggled, giving up four goals on 25 shots against and will likely want a couple of those goals back. Lehner seemed off the entire night, whether handling the puck, setting himself for shots, or tracking movement. Those games will happen, but they’re highlighted even more when the goaltender in the other net makes the needed saves. Kuemper was definitely the better of the two goalies on the night.
Fortunatley for the Golden Knights, they’ll be able to jump right back into the action against the Coyotes on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm MT, 3 pm PT.
- The game marked the first time this season the Vegas Golden Knights have given up more than two goals.
- Cody Glass returned to the lineup after sitting out a pair of games and recorded a power play goal in the third period.
- Shea Theodore scored for the second straight game, an unassisted marker at 1:19 of the third period.
- Vegas went back to a lineup that featured five defensemen and 13 forwards with Glass back in the lineup. Notably both Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo went minus-2 in the contest.
- Mark Stone keeps his scoring streak intact, assisting on Cody Glass’ power play goal in the third period to give him eight points (2-6-8) in his first five games.
Golden Knights Gameday: Stone Stays Hot, VGK Go For 5
The Vegas Golden Knights look to go a perfect 5-0 tonight in Arizona against the Coyotes. The game is the first VGK road game of the season and third straight against the Coyotes.
Vegas Golden Knights 4-0-0 at Arizona Coyotes 1-2-1
The Vegas Golden Knights come into the game as one of the league’s hottest teams, reeling off four straight wins to start the 2021 season. In the last meeting between the two clubs Wednesday night, Vegas built a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-2 victory. For the first time this season the Golden Knights received goals from the defense with Shea Theodore scoring twice and Alex Pietrangelo notching his first goal for Vegas. Mark Stone extended his point streak to four games (2-5-7) with a goal and an assist, while Alex Tuch scored once and added two assists.
Overall, Vegas has seen 16 of its 18 players record at least a point in the team’s first four games.
Marc-Andre Fleury earned the win with 21 saves on the night. Fleury is now 2-0 on the season with a 1.51 GAA and .933 save percentage.
Keep an Eye On
VGK – Mark Stone is absolutely on fire for the Vegas Golden Knights. Stone has recorded five assists and seven points in his first four games this season, while linemate Max Pacioretty (3-1-4) also has points in Vegas’ first four contests. Stone has recorded multiple-point games in three of his first four appearances this season and has been a major factor in the Golden Knights fast start. Stone is tied for the league lead in scoring with seven points and tied for fourth with five assists. Both of Stone’s goals have been game-winners.
Amazingly, Stone is also just the fourth player in NHL history to lead his team to a 4-0 start by recording a point on the game-winning goal in each game. He joins Radek Bonk (OTT 1999-00), Pat Verbeek (DAL 1996-97) and Jean Beliveau (MTL 1970-71).
ARI – Jakob Chychrun is on a historic run to start the season for the Arizona Coyotes. He is the first Coyotes defenseman – and fifth in franchise history – to start the season on a four-game point streak. The last player to do so was current Coyotes assistant coach Phil Housley back in the 1991-92 season when the franchise was still located in Winnipeg. If you were to stretch his run back to last season, Chychrun has points in 10 of his last 13 games (3-9-12).
Vegas Golden Knights:
- The VGK finally scored a power play goal when Alex Tuch put the puck past Darcy Kuemper at 6:14 of the third period on Wednesday. The club is now 1-for-14 with the man advantage.
- So far, Vegas has shown it doesn’t matter which team scores first. Despite notching the first goal of the game in only two of its first four, the Golden Knights have won every game so far. In fact, the team is already 2-0 when trailing after two periods of play. Not a trend they’d like to continue, but comforting to know they aren’t out of any game.
- Tonight is the first road game of the season for Vegas, and the team will play four of its next six games away from T-Mobile arena. The Golden Knights went 17-13-4 on the road last season.
- Reilly Smith notched his 100th assist as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights in Wednesday night’s win over the Coyotes.
- Shea Theodore’s plus-8 rating leads the NHL.
- Phil Kessel scored again on Wednesday night giving him four goals in as many games for the Coyotes. Kessel’s hot start stands in stark contrast to last season, when he scored just 14 goals all season. His total is just one off the league lead shared by the Vancouver Cancuks Bo Horvat and Montreal Canadiens Tyler Toffoli.
- Arizona is now back home for its next four games before six tough road games against the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche.
- Nick Schmaltz has goals in back-to-back games for the Coyotes.
Golden Knights Gameday: Pacioretty on a Tear
The Vegas Golden Knights wrap up a four-game home stand to open the season as they host the Arizona Coyotes tonight at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas is looking for its fourth straight win to open the season for the first time in franchise history.
Vegas Golden Knights 3-0-0 vs. Arizona Coyotes 1-1-1
Tonight’s game is the second of four straight against the Coyotes, with the next two games coming on the road in Glendale, Arizona. Last time out the Coyotes built a 2-0 lead on goals by Tyler Pitlick and Nick Schmaltz before the Golden Knights came back with four unanswered goals for the win. Reilly Smith led the way with his first two goals of the season while Chandler Stephenson (1) and Max Pacioretty (3) also scored in the win.
Robin Lehner earned the win with 30 saves while Darcy Kuemper made 24 saves in the loss.
Monday’s game against Arizona featured a return to the traditional six defenseman in the lineup for Vegas. The first two games of the season the team had dressed only five and 13 forwards. Monday, forward Cody Glass was held out in favor of Nic Hague getting into the lineup. Things seemed to stabilize as the game wore on for both the forwards and defense. Hopefully that trend continues this evening.
Keep an Eye On
VGK – Max Pacioretty has a goal in every game so far this season, and it’s good to see him off to a flying start. In fact, that line has been on fire to kick off the season. Mark Stone has four assists and five points in the first three games, and Chandler Stephenson (1-2-3) has been chipping in as well. Look for them to keep the momentum going tonight.
ARI – Jakob Chychrun has a point in three straight games (1-3-4) and leads the team in points. Expect the defense to continue to work to generate scoring opportunities for the Coyotes forwards.
- Reilly Smith and William Karlsson each need just one assist to record 100 helpers with the Vegas Golden Knights.
- If Pacioretty scores again tonight, he will become the second VGK player to score in four straight games to open the season joining James Neal. Neal scored in the first four games of Vegas Golden Knights franchise history in 2017.
- With a win tonight Vegas will win four in a row to start the season for the first time in franchise history.
- Stone (1-4-5) and Pacioretty (3-0-3) carry three game point streaks into tonight.
- The Coyotes were the NHL’s least penalized team last season with 454 PIMs but handed the Golden Knights five power play chances on Monday.
- Phil Kessel notched three goals in the first two games, but was held off the score sheet Monday. Kessel finished the game a team-worst minus-3 along with Christian Dvorak.
- Five of the 10 goals Arizona has allowed this season have been scored in the third period.
- Derek Brassard recorded his 300th NHL assist on Monday night.
- Tyler Pitlick’s goal Monday night was his first career shorthanded goal and and first goal as a Coyote.