Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley appeared on the Vegas Hockey Hotline show with Brian Blessing yesterday, and may have let the cat out of the bag on some of the NHL’s plans for the upcoming season.
Fans in the Stands
It’s no secret that the NHL is gunning for a January 1 restart date for the season, regardless of length. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said on several occasions he wants to hold that line, leaving the potential for a Winter Classic to open the season. While that sounds appealing on many levels, I can’t imagine the league wanting to open its doors – especially with a Winter Classic – that doesn’t feature fans.
“If we’re not playing (in front of) fans, I don’t know if a lot of teams can make it. Including us – it’s going to be very difficult.”
Foley acknowledged he as an owner and other owners would have to make a “serious financial commitment” to fund their teams if fans weren’t allowed in the building. Foley did say he believes Commissioner Bettman has a plan and isn’t looking to play games to empty houses.
The real question is when fans would be allowed back, and how many games would the NHL play. Foley went on to point out that with the Tokyo Olympics moved back to the summer of 2021, the NHL has to wrap this upcoming season by the end of June. NHL American rightsholder NBC has both events, and the Olympics are a massive ratings horse for the network.
Restart Date and Scheduling
Foley did offer his thoughts that he believes the NHL will play an “abbreviated season and an accelerated season,” adding fuel to reports of 48 and 60 game campaigns we’ve heard in recent days. A shortened campaign is not unprecedented, and in fact I was with Nashville last time it happened coming out of the 2012-13 lockout. We played a 48-game season, and it definitely lent some urgency to every game. The feeling was more of a sprint than the typical marathon of the NHL season.
While I understand that maxing out home game revenues with the most games you can have is important, I also would say that a shorter season will generate more intensity and fan passion because of the weight of each game. It could help drive broadcast revenues as well. Clearly the more games the better for the bottom line, but all is not lost with a shortened season.
For his part, Foley predicts less than 60 games, saying he thinks it’s “48 or 56, and it’s going to be a lot of games quickly.”
This has been a hot topic in hockey circles lately. Traveling back-and-forth across the Canadian border presents several health challenges to teams, especially with the border closed to non-essential traffic through at least January 1. Of course, hockey players were designated essential personnel and allowed to cross to enter the bubble earlier this year.
That said, there’s a lot of upside to a seven-team Canadian division, not the least of which would be crazy intensity north of the border. If every other Canadian team is a division rival, those teams and their fans will have one crazy season. Plus it will briefly regionalize the other divisions, something that could lead to new and exciting rivalries.
We already know when it comes to sports fans that change is slow to be embraced, but in the era of COVID-19 we’re getting used to it. I could see the Golden Knights spawning more rivalries with teams like St. Louis, Nashville and resuming its beef with Dallas in the regular season.
For his part, Foley added that he thinks “they’re going to play a Canadian division. I don’t think (teams) are going to be crossing the border.”
Foley on the Bubble
Foley also said that he thought the Golden Knights were “worn out” in the bubble.
“I feel like our guys got a little worn out. They just got tired of being isolated, and I think that showed against Dallas… we just weren’t the same team that we were earlier in the playoffs. It’s too bad, I believe if we had been playing at home, we would have beaten Dallas, and then we would have been in the Stanley Cup, and then we would have seen what happens.
A few media members even had the temerity to suggest that this Cup was easier to win, which invited blowback from fans and from Tampa Bay Lightning players directly. While there was an obvious lack of travel involved, the mental stress on players and staff easily outstripped the physical demands. If you don’t think that matters, consider how easy it is for you to finish any task at work when you’re mentally checked out or stressed. Now make work NHL hockey. Exactly.
As a final thought on a bubble for next season, Foley dismissed the idea.
“I know the Commissioner is dedicated to having a season and awarding the Stanley Cup, but you can’t play in bubbles. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. You can’t afford it.”
Now the wait is on for VGK fans to see when the NHL gets back on the ice.
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.