VHN takes a look as to what it means for the VGK and its loyal fans.
While you could never judge a seven-year contract in an instant, the immediate impact for the Vegas Golden Knights is a seismic shift on defense. A top pairing of the right-handed Pietrangelo and left-shot Shea Theodore sounds tantalizing, but is unlikely. Theodore plays the right side despite being a left shot, and probably stays there. That means Pietrangelo on the top pairing with Brayden McNabb. As it stands now, Theodore will continue to play with Alec Martinez on the left side.
Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon addressed how Pietrangelo coming to Vegas will affect Theodore.
“I think adding Alex Pietrangelo is going to help Shea a lot for a couple reasons. One, it’s not possible that they’ll play together in certain situations but at the same time, Shea along with Alec Martinez were a great pairing for us and they were our second pair. I think if you look around the NHL a lot of the top offensive defenseman play in that spot in the lineup and that gives them a little more flexibility offensively.”
Basically, the top D pair is often assigned the shutdown role against the other team’s top forward line, so putting Theodore on the second pair allows him more favorable matchups to contribute offensively. Also by putting him with the veteran Martinez it helps to know there’s someone watching your back when you do jump into the play. Pietrangelo and McNabb will draw the top defensive assignments.
Right now Nick Holden and Zach Whitecloud are the third pair defenseman. The 23-year-old Whitecloud definitely grew as a player during Vegas’ playoff run, and pairing him with the veteran Holden will also help his game develop. In fact, bringing in a player like Pietrangelo who has won a Stanley Cup and worn the “C” before will help every player on the roster.
There’s the old saying about how there’s only one puck and you can’t split it. The most obvious example of that is Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in San Jose. Two very talented, offensive-minded defenseman who struggled to play together (or apart) and share the puck. While I don’t see it being quite as big of an issue with Pietrangelo and Theodore, it is something to watch for in training camp. McCrimmon did say ultimately it’s up to head coach Pete DeBoer on how to deploy his talent. Having both Pietrangelo and Theodore on the top power play unit sounds incredible.
When it comes to playing the off-side, Theodore does so naturally. While Pietrangelo does seem to do most of his scoring from the right side, there are times on the power play when he started at the left point with the St. Louis Blues. Of course the addition of Pietrangelo to the lineup for Vegas gives even more flexibility for DeBoer not only in combinations but also in power play setup. Will Vegas go to a PP1 unit with two d-men up top, a 1-3-1, umbrella or some hybrid thereof? The possibilities are endless, and it will be up to DeBoer to figure out how to employ his assets best. Even McCrimmon said the power play should be even better with Pietrangelo on it, which is theoretically true. Now it’s just figuring out how to split the puck.
As Pietrangelo has advanced in his career, he spends less time on the penalty kill but is still a capable defender. After leading the Blues this year in TOI at 24:11, you have to remember that no skater can be on the ice at all times. So expect his contributions to the PK side of things to be limited.
Of course, the ripple effect is not only on defense for the Golden Knights. In order to afford Pietrangelo’s salary, Vegas also moved number two center Peter Stastny.
When it comes to Stastny’s replacement, McCrimmon hinted that the team was going to look inside the organization for his replacement. That will definitely help from a salary standpoint, and the Golden Knights have several candidates to step into the void.
In net, McCrimmon says the team will start next season with Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. Lehner is going to undergo “clean-up” shoulder surgery soon and is expected to be ready for training camp. It now makes far more sense to keep Fleury in case something goes awry. Either way, Vegas now has potentially the strongest one-two punch in the NHL.
So at this point, it appears the waters have finally calmed for the Golden Knights in the off-season.
We know that for the next several seasons, money will be tight for teams because of the pandemic. Next year teams face the exact same salary cap as this year. In subsequent years the cap will only rise slightly. It’s a different economic reality than we all imagined back at the beginning of March. That now seems a lifetime ago.
What matters for Vegas is figuring out how to best implement Pietrangelo into the lineup. Second is figuring out who the new 2C will be. Training camp will be a fun and interesting place – whenever it may happen.
TURNING POINT: Fleury’s save comes up big in Golden Knights win
The hardest thing for Marc-Andre Fleury to do between the pipes is watch his Vegas Golden Knights teammates on gameday, when most of the action is taking place at the other end.
Sunday the Arizona Coyotes took a whopping 16 shots on Vegas’ veteran netminder during a 1-0 win in Glendale, Ariz.
“So sometimes I thought the hardest thing was just to stay focused and be ready for those things,” Fleury said after registering his 62nd career shutout and improving to 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and .951 save percentage this season.
Those things, he referred to, were two big saves that may have proved to be turning points for Vegas, which is now 5-1-0 and just one of two teams in the league with five wins.
“They were game changers,” said Jonathan Marchessault, who had the lead assist on William Karlsson’s game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in the game.
Just before the horn at the end of the second period, Fleury denied Jakob Chychrun’s shot through traffic from the top of the right circle.
But it was the save early in the third period that was Fleury’s best, and preserved the shutout and kept momentum fueling into the Golden Knights.
Arizona’s Phil Kessel was able to snatch the puck free from William Carrier in Vegas’ zone, skate through and around Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud in the neutral zone and bust free for a breakaway chance on his former Penguins teammate.
After shuffling backhand-forehand five times to his forehand, Kessel was stuffed by Fleury.
“I saw it was Phil Kessel coming on the breakaway, and I’ve faced him a lot in practice (in Pittsburgh),” Fleury said. “Sometimes I overthink stuff and what he likes to do, but I was really happy to make that save.”
From there, Fleury faced just four more shots over the final 16:55. And adding to the deflation of the Coyotes’ hopes after Fleury’s save on Kessel was a clanker moments later.
Johan Larsson rang one off the far post, the puck squirted back toward Fleury, whose left pad was off the ice and allowed the puck to get underneath so he could cover it and stop play.
“The breakaway save on Phil Kessel … that’s a huge momentum save for us at the right time, to give us a chance to get back to work and keep the pressure on them,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “I thought Flower gave us exactly the kind of game we needed tonight.”
With his shutout, Fleury passed Walter Broda for sole possession of 16th all time.
“We had our moments,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “You’re looking for that big moment.”
For the Golden Knights, once again, it was their face of the franchise since they entered the National Hockey League.
W.G. Ramirez is the newest columnist and reporter for Vegas Hockey Now. He is the Golden Knights beat writer for The Associated Press and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch him on Twitter @WillieGRamirez
Karlsson’s Late Goal Lifts Golden Knights
William Karlsson played the role of hero for the Vegas Golden Knights, notching the game-winning goal with just 43 seconds remaining in a scoreless game to give the VGK the 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon.
With cheers coming from what sounded more like a partisan Vegas crowd, Jonathan Marchessault dug out a puck from behind the Coyotes net and centered to Karlsson. Karlsson made no mistake, burying the puck on the stick side of Darcy Kuemper (26 saves) for the game-winning goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury posted his 62nd career shutout on 16 saves. The victory was his third straight to open the 2021 season.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, the win is redemption after giving up five goals to the Coyotes on Friday night for the team’s first loss of the season. This time Vegas never really let Arizona into the contest, giving up only four shots in the first period.
The game felt sluggish at times, perhaps due to the afternoon start but also the fact that these same two teams were facing each other for the fourth straight time. Fortunately for Vegas, they were able to break through late and steal the victory.
“The name of the game was patience,” Karlsson said with a relieved laugh after the game. “We had a lot of chances and sooner or later they will go in. I thought we had a great game. Eventually (it) has to go in and it did.”
When the Golden Knights had the energy up and forechecked aggressively in the game they generated chances. Nowhere was that on display more than the game-winning goal. Alex Tuch dumps the puck into the corner from neutral ice as Marchessault attacks with speed into the Coyotes zone, beating out an icing call. Marchessault puts the puck into an area just off the net in the slot where Karlsson was able to follow up and immediately shoot the puck, not allowing Kuemper to set up for the shot.
WILD BILL SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST 🤠🚨 pic.twitter.com/UBlTugE2y5
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 24, 2021
Vegas was definitely the better of the two sides throughout regulation, out-shooting and out-chancing the Coyotes especially in the later stages of the game. Darcy Kuemper deserves the credit for yet another great start for Arizona, making save after save to give the Coyotes a shot at the win.
The Vegas Golden Knights return home for the team’s toughest test so far, a pair of games against the St. Louis Blues starting Tuesday evening.
- I feel like I’m beating the same drum over and over, but when the Vegas Golden Knights are generating scoring chances, it’s because of the forecheck. This team is built on speed and being aggressive, chasing down pucks and setting up scoring chances from that. Today’s game-winning goal was a perfect example of that.
- Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t busy the entire time, but made every single save he needed to including a breakaway stop on Phil Kessel that could have spelled disaster for the VGK. I’ve never seen a goalie who stays so completely game-ready regardless of work schedule. Fleury won’t receive the credit he deserves for the work he did in this one, but without him being perfect, perhaps Vegas doesn’t win.
- The Vegas Golden Knights have never gone past regulation with a 0-0 score, and came within 43 seconds of that happening against Arizona.
- Once again Cody Glass sat and Nic Hague was back in the lineup, giving Vegas the traditional six defensemen and 12 forwards. Hague looked good and to underscore another point I’ve been making, this team is much better with six defensemen in the lineup.
- Vegas also dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61% of the draws.
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.