Quick: Name another Vegas Golden Knights defenseman besides Alex Pietrangelo who has a Stanley Cup ring.
What do you mean you didn’t know there was another one on the roster?
He wasn’t a flashy signing like Pietrangelo. He doesn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers like Shea Theodore. He certainly didn’t have the publicly emotional reaction to being traded a la Nate Schmidt. No, when the Golden Knights brought in Alec Martinez they added a veteran defenseman with a Stanley Cup pedigree almost without fanfare.
Martinez has gone about his business in a quiet, composed manner that exudes confidence and experience. I had real concern that the Golden Knights might move Martinez and his $4M cap hit to make room for Pietrangelo. Fortunately they did not and kept an underrated leader onboard.
You might say all of that is well and good, but how is Martinez the key to the entire defense?
Every NHL team in playoff contention has a solid top pairing. Vegas is no exception. Pietrangelo and Brayden McNabb will be one of the best and face top matchups every night.
Beyond that is where the great NHL defenses are separated from the mediocre. Especially the 3/4 pair, where Martinez is paired with Theodore. If you take a look at teams that are perennial contenders, they boast a first-class top pair and a really good 3/4 right behind it. Those four players eat most of your minutes and are responsible for controlling much of the play. If you have a good top four, you spend less time in your own end and more time generating scoring chances the other way. The star players have their names in lights, but it’s the guys right below them that put them there. Think best supporting actor roles. The movie doesn’t shine without them.
I’m fully in the Theodore camp, and believe him to be a future Norris Trophy candidate. I do think Pietrangelo’s first season in Vegas may steal the thunder, but Theodore has a long and productive career ahead of him. Martinez is a big part of helping him over the hump.
Not only does Martinez carry the credibility of winning it all, but having played with someone like Drew Doughty in his prime. For those who might not remember when Doughty was dominant, he was a defenseman who could contribute on all fronts and play a physical gme as well. He was (and is) a leader for the Kings. You can learn a lot by watching one of the best play the game.
Martinez will give Theodore the ability to move or rush the puck worry-free, knowing his D partner will be watching his back. And for those concerned about Martinez slowing down at 33, consider that last season after a pair of down years with the Kings, he was able to get both his Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages back above 50 percent.
Pietrangelo can play with even more confidence. Martinez provides an anchor on the back end that in reality makes Vegas even more dangerous with this pair on the ice. And while as I mentioned almost every team has a great top pair, having a truly great second pair like the VGK makes your team elite.
Alec Martinez is the key to all of this. He keeps other teams honest by providing stability for Theodore to take off. Opponents have to game plan for two different top caliber D pairs, not just one. Even if you eliminate Pietrangeo and McNabb you probably won’t take away Martinez and Theodore as well.
The Golden Knights are capable of making a deep run again this year because Alec Martinez is the tie that binds. He should know. He’s done it. Twice.
Golden Knights Gameday: Six D? Six D! Hague In
Nick Holden enters the lineup for the Vegas Golden Knights as the team prepares for a stretch of four consecutive games against the Arizona Coyotes
Want to prepare for the game like a pro? Read on for former NHL broadcaster Tom Callahan’s news and notes for the game tonight.
As the Vegas Golden Knights prepare to start a series of four straight games against the Arizona Coyotes, the team has announced lineup changes for the contest.
Vegas Golden Knights 2-0-0 vs. Arizona Coyotes 1-0-1
After playing the first two games with five defensemen and 13 forwards, head coach Pete DeBoer announced the team will return to a more standard six defenseman and 12 forwards. Nic Hague returns to the lineup and will pair with Zach Whitecloud on the 5/6 pair. That means Cody Glass, who had struggled in his first two games of the season, will head to the press box.
Vegas has done some juggling of lines in practice in accordance with the new lineup and you can expect it to look something like this:
It’s also possible that Roy will slide to the middle with Nosek on the wing. The nice thing about the Golden Knights’ depth is that they have more than a few natural centers on the team. Nosek, Roy, Kolesar, Glass, Karlsson, and Stephenson can all play center. So keep that in mind.
Also, the power play units have shifted as well since Glass is out. Tuch has taken the place of Glass on the PP1 unit, while Roy and Hague saw time on the second unit in practice. Of course since Vegas has only had two power plays we haven’t seen much in the real world that tells us how good or how bad things are going to go in that department yet.
For Arizona, probably the biggest note is that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is not on the trip with the team for the first two games after suffering an injury last game. While it’s not believed to be long-term, missing OEL is a huge hole for the Coyotes when it comes to generating offense from the defense.
Keep an Eye On
Vegas – I’ve really liked the start to the season for Mark Stone. He’s made some incredible plays to set up important goals for the Golden Knights and is flying around out there. If being named captain has put a little extra pep in his step to start the year, so be it. No one looks like they’re having as much fun out there right now as Stone.
Arizona – Phil Kessel is on fire to start the season. Three goals in his first two games on five shots. No, that sick 60% shooting percentage is not going to last. But it does mean that Kessel is feeling it and his nose for the net is twitching. I realize many people like to dump on Kessel, but the guy can score. Last year was a disappointing one for Kessel and the Coyotes, so the pump has been primed for a bounce back year.
- Vegas has been tied with its opponent after the first period in both games of the season so far and gone on to win.
- The Golden Knights have not scored in the second period yet this season, while the Coyotes have not allowed a goal in the second period yet.
- Vegas has not allowed a third period goal in its first two games.
- The VGK have only had two power plays so far this season, the fewest in the NHL.
- Reilly Smith needs one assist for 100 with the Golden Knights while William Karlsson needs two assists for 100 with the team.
- All three of OEL’s assists on the season came in the last game against San Jose.
- Arizona is averaging four goals per game in its first two games, fifth-best in the NHL.
- Phil Kessel’s three goals in two games puts him approximately a quarter of the way to his season total last year of 14 goals.
- Kessel does have five goals in seven career games against the Golden Knights.
Glass Out, Hague In As Golden Knights Shuffle Lines
From the outset of camp it was clear that Chandler Stephenson was favored over Cody Glass for the position between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Glass started on the third line centering Alex Tuch and Nicolas Roy.
Now it appears Glass has been dropped to the extra squad as of today’s skate. As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Ben Gotz, Roy slides over to center Tuch and Tomas Nosek, who elevates to the wing from fourth line center. Keegan Kolesar fills the spot between William Carrier and Ryan Reaves on the fourth unit.
Also, with Glass’ $863k out of the lineup, Nicolas Hague is back in as the sixth defenseman. Hague’s AAV is roughly $792k so it appears the five defensemen experiment is over for now.
Honestly there’s not a huge reaction of surprise here because Glass hasn’t had much of an impact so far. Granted it’s early yet, and a lot of pressure on a young player trying to come back from a major injury. Glass didn’t make it back in time to join the team in the bubble last season, and has been off from game action for a long time. While it would have been nice to see him get right back to where he was, it appears that will take time. And for Vegas, they have the forward depth to handle that.
Kolesar moving into the middle of the fourth line is something I look forward to seeing. While he had a bit of a rough start to the season, Kolesar is now getting a chance to skate a regular turn and perhaps settle in more. Young players only get better with experience, and Kolesar will get more minutes in this setup.
I have to wonder if Glass is not dealing with some after-effects from his surgery and recovery, but perhaps he’s just having a rough start to the season. Either way, he’ll have some practice time to iron it out.
Power Play Changes
The power play units have also shuffled, with Tuch moving up to the first power play unit instead of Glass. Roy and Hague are now on the second power play unit. Vegas hasn’t scored a power play goal yet, but they’ve only generated two chances in two games. Obviously with Glass out there was going to be some shuffle, but the more concerning part is the fact that there simply hasn’t been much generated yet by the offense in terms of man advantages.
Generally, when a team takes defensive zone penalties it’s because the other team has an advantage that could generate a dangerous scoring chance. Quite frankly Vegas hasn’t generated as many dangerous scoring chances as one would expect as of yet. Yes, they did drop a five-spot on the Ducks Thursday, but Saturday the scoring didn’t ignite until desperation set in.
Again, it’s early in the season. I’m willing to give everyone a pass for the first few games as they get it going. But if that trend continues, it will be deeply concerning.
Tom’s Takeaways: VGK 2 – ANH 1 (OT)
Wearing the brand new gold jerseys for the first time, Vegas Golden Knights waited until the last minute to get the offense going. William Karlsson scored to tie the game at 18:38 with the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, and Max Pacioretty ended the game just seven seconds into overtime as Vegas pulled out a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks Saturday night.
Here are Tom Callahan’s quick takeaways and analysis.
Fleury Looked Sharp
Marc-Andre Fleury looked really sharp against the Ducks Saturday night. He was aggressive without being ridiculous, responsive, reactive, and seemed to be one step ahead of the Ducks on several occasions. He even pulled out a classic poke check along the way. Fleury seemed to be tracking pucks well and aware of rebounds when they were present. All good news. The reason Vegas was able to tie the game late starts and ends with Fleury.
Mark Stone Keeps Rolling
Stone, along with his linemates Max Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson, are flying around out there. While Stephenson hasn’t figured as prominently in the mix yet, Stone is on fire. He set up both the game-tying and game-winning goals yesterday. Starting overtime with Pacioretty, Stone stole the faceoff at center, broke in on the left side in a 2-on-1 and fed Pacioretty for the game-winning goal pretty as you please. This combo is going to cause massive damage to opposing defenses this season.
Gibson Couldn’t Stop Them All
Without another fantastic effort from John Gibson, the Ducks would have been down a few goals in regulation. Gibson once again made save after save on prime VGK scoring chances to keep his team in it. One wonders how much more people would notice him on a winning team. Put him on the Oilers for example, and that team is a Cup favorite.
Gold Jersey Debut
The brand-new VGK gold jerseys made their debut last night, and for 58 minutes I was worried. When teams drop a new kit fans usually love it, the players say the right things and they sell like hotcakes. But then there’s the actual business of wearing them in a game. If you wear the golds and get blanked by the Ducks, that starts a bad mental image of those jerseys for the players. Fortunately Vegas pulled the game out, so the jerseys are so far safe from this fate. I’m not kidding when I say NHL players and coaches can kill an alternate uniform just by believing it’s bad luck. So winning that game in those jerseys was big.