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Three Things the Vegas Golden Knights Must Do Now

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The Vegas Golden Knights have started the season 3-0 largely thanks to the team’s scoring depth and ability to get that important goal when needed. But the team has had its share of issues so far too, and needs to figure a few things out before hitting the teeth of the schedule in a few weeks.

Starting On Time

The Vegas Golden Knights have been getting away with slow starts and falling behind largely because of the quality of opponent so far. With no disrespect, the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks were not playoff teams last year and likely not playoff teams this year either. Falling behind hasn’t been an issue yet because Vegas hasn’t allowed an untenable margin of defecit to a team that can lock things down.

Once teams like the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild dot the schedule, the Golden Knights won’t be able to get away with falling behind a goal or two early and just expect to rally every time. There’s no doubt being able to grab some of those come-from-behind wins early helps team confidence. Already this team can say “we’re not out of any game” because of the dramatic way they tied, then won the second game against the Ducks. Rallying from down a pair to the Coyotes Monday and scoring four unanswered goals shows they can shift the momentum back to the right side of the ice and keep it. But this isn’t a recipe for long-term success. Starts must be better.

Wake Up the Power Play

If you have watched any games around the league besides those of the Vegas Golden Knights, you’ll notice that for the most part power plays aren’t going well. Teams look rusty, timing is off, players are still getting it going when it comes to regular season form. While I know it gives coaches grey hair (or makes them tear it out entirely) to see the errant passes and missed shots, those things tend to get better with game play.

Right now Vegas is definitely one of those teams struggling in this area, although they aren’t exactly generating a ton of chances either. Monday against Arizona I thought the puck movement looked crisper and the new pieces to the power play puzzle were starting to blend in more. Alex Pietrangelo has to learn his teammates and their tendencies. Once that happens he’ll be able to make better plays from up top as the QB.

All of these things require some time to work out. Vegas could help itself immeasurably by starting to generate more opportunities through hard work and forcing teams to contain them by taking penalties. It’s a little concerning that the Golden Knights have only generated seven power play chances-for (tied for second-worst) with zero power play goals. Hopefully this also improves with time. Plus we’ve already seen Pete DeBoer tinkering with the two units in an effort to jump start things.

Consistent Forecheck Pressure

When the Vegas Golden Knights forecheck is on, it forces turnovers, generates scoring chances, and generally makes life miserable for opponents. We’ve seen flashes of it in effect so far this season, but it hasn’t dialed up that constant nagging pressure just yet. The remaining three games against the Coyotes is a great stretch to work out the remaining kinks on pressuring the puck in the offensive zone. Once the forecheck is working at a high level, tangible results follow on the scoreboard.

Honorable Mention: Breakouts

I’ve seen and heard a lot of people harping on the breakouts. As a veteran of too many training camps to count, I know that breakouts are all about timing and route management. Those things take time to get burned in for players. Alex Pietrangelo might be new, but he’s an excellent puck mover. Shea Theodore is an excellent puck mover. The forwards are smart and capable. It’s going to take a little time but be patient. It will be ok.

 

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Allure of Lake Tahoe not masking importance of Golden Knights facing Avalanche

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Vegas Golden Knights Colorado Avalanche Lake Tahoe
Courtesy: NHL

Beyond the rose-colored glasses that envelop Lake Tahoe’s beauty will be an important hockey game Saturday for the Vegas Golden Knights.

It’s supposed to be a historic moment for this 4-year-old franchise, playing in an outdoor game. The Golden Knights’ first time on the marquee for such an event doesn’t come inside a stadium nor a ballpark, but a frozen pond off the 18th fairway of Edgewood Golf Course in Stateline, Nevada.

It’s going to be a sight to behold. It will also be the most important game the Golden Knights have played in this condensed season.

“For sure, we want to enjoy it. We want to enjoy the experience,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “Part of the message is going to enjoy this. At the same time, the points are critical, and I know the other team is going to play for keeps. There’s a fine line between enjoying the experience but being ready at game time.”

The Golden Knights will try to rebound from Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas rallied twice to tie the game, but Nazem Kadri’s goal with less than a minute to go thwarted the Golden Knights’ chances of at least a point.

Saturday is the third meeting of a four-game slate between the two teams. Vegas is four points clear on Colorado, but the Avalanche — fresh off a five-game postponement due to COVID-19 protocol — has a game in hand.

Points percentage-wise, the Golden Knights still have a comfortable hold on first place, but the Avalanche are bringing reinforcements to Tahoe.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog and forward Tyson Jost were removed from COVID protocol and are practicing with the Avalanche. Young defenseman and Norris favorite Cale Makar (upper body) is also expected back after missing the past two games.

DeBoer said in a game like this, less will be more. Weather calls for 38 degrees and partly cloudy skies. It doesn’t look like precipitation will be a factor.

Wind, however, absolutely could.

“I think absolutely less is more,” DeBoer said. “We’ll get a chance to practice on the ice surface tomorrow and get a feel. Hopefully, we won’t have to change much. The NHL always does a great job with these facilities.”

This game will be important for the Golden Knights, but will also bring back memories of childhood past. A lot of the Golden Knights players grew up with frozen ponds in every other backyard or on every block.

“From September to May, I was on the outdoor rink having fun,” said defenseman Nick Holden. “When I think of growing up during the winter months, it’d be I come home from school and play on the rink.”

It’s going to be a sight to behold, watching the Golden Knights skate near a golf course on national TV. Hopefully, one day, this will turn into a much grander scale at Allegiant Stadium, or something of the like.

For a COVID-ravaged situation, this is the next best thing, even with no fans watching live.

Lehner not traveling

DeBoer said Thursday he doesn’t expect goalie Robin Lehner to make the trip to Tahoe, almost assuring Marc-Andre Fleury will make his sixth consecutive start.

“I don’t expect him to travel,” DeBoer said, “but improving every day and I expect him back sooner than later.”

Lehner has been out since Feb. 11 with an upper-body injury, going away from the rotation that Vegas used to begin the season. Fleury has filled in well in Lehner’s absence, going 2-2-0 and allowing only five goals to the tune of a .954 save percentage.

Unless anything drastic happens between now and Saturday, expect Fleury to face Philipp Grubauer for the third straight game, and likely with the series finale on Monday in Denver.

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Tom's Daily

Tom’s Daily: Fleury Has Big Week; VGK Fans at 20%; more

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Marc-Andre Fleury trade VGK Vegas Golden Knights

Tom’s Daily: Lots of Marc-Andre Fleury today – Tom Callahan says declare him the starter; Danny Webster makes the case for the Vezina Trophy; Fleury named NHL Second Star of the Week; ; World’s Longest Hockey Game; more.

Marc-Andre Fleury

He gets his own headline today. We here at VHN make no bones about how important Marc-Andre Fleury is to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Tom Callahan says it’s time to cut the crap and call Fleury the team’s starting goalie.

Danny Webster lays out the case for Fleury adding more hardware to his trophy case in the form of the 2021 Vezina Trophy.

Marc-Andre Fleury named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week. (VHN)

VGK

The Vegas Golden Knights have submitted a plan for 20 percent capacity at games as the state opens up. (News3LV)

Patrick Brown and Logan Thompson have been assigned to the Henderson Silver Knights. (NHL.com)

NHL

The latest on the NHL’s COVID-19 situation. (ESPN.com)

Alex Galchenyuk is on the move again, this time to the Toronto Maple Leafs. (NHL.com)

Hockeyverse

The World’s Longest Hockey Game has raised $1.8M for cancer research. (NBC Sports)

Acton-Boxboro Girls Hockey season (Tom Barrasso’s alma mater) ends abruptly due to COVID-19. (CBS Boston)

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Stop The Charade: Marc-Andre Fleury is Vegas #1

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Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights

For whatever reason, from the moment Pete DeBoer was named head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights Marc-Andre Fleury fell out of favor. It was clear DeBoer didn’t think the veteran netminder was enough to get the Golden Knights over the top, and a late season trade for Robin Lehner doubled down on that idea.

I don’t agree now, and I didn’t agree then. Acquiring Lehner gave the team depth in net which I believe is necessary for any team to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Then GM Kelly McCrimmon gave Lehner a five-year, $5M AAV contract that boggled my mind because of how it left the team in cap hell and also gave Lehner the starting job based on three regular-season games and an ok playoffs.

It also created a situation where the entire league knew you would want to move your former starter with two years remaining at $7M AAV. No one was going to stretch themselves to help what is already one of the best teams in the leauge, making Fleury as immovable as the VGK’s early demands.

While I could go on about how I think Lehner’s current contract is a hastily-made mistake of a signing, that’s not the issue here. Lehner has been bad this season, and now he’s hurt. McCrimmon and DeBoer are lucky they fanned on moving Fleury.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been thrust back into the starting role and is seizing the reins with aplomb.

The early-season rotation between Fleury and Lehner clearly showed Fleury was the better goalie. No matter if you went eye test or fancy stats, Fleury was better. It could be tempting to let Lehner continue on in the rotation or even start several consecutive games to break out of the slump now instead of later, but his injury has rendered that point thankfully moot.

Until he shows he’s no longer capable, Fleury deserves to be the starting goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights by any standard of measure. His teammates love him, they clearly have enthusiasm playing in front of him. I would even call it joy. Fleury’s teammates want to play hard for him because he plays hard for them.

Age a factor? It doesn’t look that way. Even though Fleury’s on the wrong side of 35, he’s still in top shape, is tracking the puck better than ever (Lehner has had major struggles with this so far), and has an amazing ability to keep his head in the game even when his workload is light. All things elite goalies do every game.

Let me tell you everything I need to know about Marc-Andre Fleury and how much he means as a leader and teammate by way of a simple training camp observation.

Maybe you noticed. Maybe you didn’t. During camp this year, the young goalies flocked to Fleury. He would engage them, talking to them and helping them out when he could. Clearly he was invested in them when as the greybeard, he doesn’t have to be. He could just give them a nod or a tap on the pads. He could even just ignore them and prepare for the season. But that’s not who he is. Fleury is the guy who grooms the players who will eventually take his job because that’s what it means to him as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights.

I’m not saying Lehner was horrible to the youngsters. His body language suggests that he just wanted to do his own thing during camp and that’s just fine. He exchanged the customary taps and gestures when the situations called for it. But to compare the two is no comparison at all. Fleury is the guy you want in all situations.

On top of that, Fleury has come into this season with a fire lit under him. He has been nothing short of his best self on the ice, fighting for every puck and leading by his hustle and heart. You don’t have to be in the room to see how excited the team was to mob him off the bench after Sunday’s shutout. Go back and look at the celebration. It’s very clear what the situation is for the Vegas Golden Knights.

To his credit, DeBoer seems to have softened on his initial rejection of Fleury, partially out of necessity as Lehner isn’t available right now. But DeBoer did start the season with a clear rotation instead of just handing the reins to Lehner. Was that forced by Fleury’s salary? Maybe something about Lehner coming out of camp didn’t seem 100% right? Was there still concern about his shoulder surgery? Could be none of those. Could be all of them.

Whatever the case, if Lehner returns and the team goes back to a rotation, that would be a major mistake. I also believe it would cause murmurs in the locker room which is never good. The Vegas Golden Knights coaching staff and front office has to stand behind Marc-Andre Fleury as its starter until his play shows otherwise.

To do otherwise is to proceed at your own peril.

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