The left-shot one-timer from Denis Gurianov beats Robin Lehner through his pads. The Dallas Stars mobbed each other in celebration. Just as they reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, the NBC camera panned to Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud.
Seconds after Gurianov’s goal ended the Golden Knights’ season in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, there was Whitecloud sitting in the penalty box, right glove pressed against his helmet, mind-scrambling after a fluky delay of game call put the Golden Knights shorthanded.
It was a crushing end to a successful NHL inauguration for Whitecloud, who signed a two-year extension 10 days into the league’s pause due to COVID-19. It proved to be a wise business decision for general manager Kelly McCrimmon, as he found out in the Edmonton bubble.
Normally, what happened that night at Rogers Arena on Sept. 14 would affect many a young player.
Enter Whitecloud, 24, wise beyond his years the moment he signed with Vegas as a college free agent from Bemidji State in 2018.
“You let that kind of sit in your mind for a week or two at the end of the season, but the one thing that I learned from that situation is that one situation doesn’t define who you are as a person, doesn’t define who I am as a player,” Whitecloud said. “It’s a mistake. Mistakes happen in every single game, and furthermore in everyday life. Those things are going to happen.”
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer called the penalty “a shitty situation” and Whitecloud had no reason to hang his head.
“I think the way he took (the season-ending) was part of the growth,” DeBoer said on Friday. “He became a real important part of our team last year in the bubble and felt a lot of responsibility for helping us win.”
One would think something like that would motivate a player, especially in Whitecloud’s situation, because the penalty kill became his calling in the bubble.
Whitecloud led the Golden Knights in shorthanded time on ice during the round-robin with 11 minutes, 8 seconds; no other Vegas player reached 10 minutes. During Game 7 of the second-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, Whitecloud had a team-high 7 minutes, 25 seconds of PK time and was on the ice for nearly four minutes of the five-minute major called on Ryan Reaves at 16:30 of the second period.
One of DeBoer’s tasks he took upon himself when he replaced Gerard Gallant in mid-January was evaluating the prospects in AHL Chicago.
Two names continuously came up: Whitecloud, and fellow defenseman Nicolas Hague. By Feb. 1, Whitecloud surpassed veterans Deryk Engelland and Jon Merrill on the depth chart.
With the door open, Zach Whitecloud kicked it down.
Whitecloud has already seen a near-six-minute increase in ice time (from the 14 minutes, 19 seconds in 16 games last season). Part of that has to do with the Golden Knights going with a 13-forward, 5-defenseman rotation for three of six games, but even with rotating partners, Whitecloud has arguably been Vegas’ most consistent player.
“When I first came up, you go through those plays that you don’t want to, per se, mess up. Now I play to make those plays and if I mess up, it happens,” he said. “If I can counter those mistakes I can, not necessarily make up for them but just defend right away and keep moving forward on the next shift.”
Zach Whitecloud Progression
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Golden Knights have outshot opponents 96-83 at 5-on-5 with Whitecloud on the ice. In all but one game (Friday’s 5-2 loss to Arizona), Vegas has generated more with No. 2 on the ice.
When Vegas has gone the traditional 12-6, Whitecloud has been paired with Hague. Sunday against the Coyotes, Whitecloud and Hague were on the ice for 16 shot attempts while allowing six.
But where Zach Whitecloud has improved vastly is his confidence with the puck. He’s not going to garner Norris-like attention like teammates Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo, but DeBoer’s trust in his young defenseman has allowed him to jump in the rush and make plays like this.
“Playing with confidence is key to making good smart plays and quick plays,” Whitecloud said. “That experience coming down the stretch at the end of last year helped me build that coming into the summer. I think that comes with being around the guys a little more, too, being more comfortable. The more responsibility you get as a player within a system and a team, you get to start making more plays.”
Added DeBoer: “I think he’s picked up on the confidence of knowing now that you can play at this level and not just play but play well. That’s what you’re seeing.”
Even if Whitecloud doesn’t turn into a 30-point defenseman any time soon, his development has given the Golden Knights plenty to think about with the future of the defense core. There’s no question Whitecloud would be a top-4 option right now, but that $725,000 cap hit allows Vegas such flexibility.
He’s going to get plenty of opportunities to make up for not being on the ice in an elimination situation. So far, through six games, he’s making up for it in a big way.
“I was torn to not be able to do the job for my teammates and put them on the kill like that, but at the end of the day, those things happen and you move forward in life,” Whitecloud said. “You live with it, and you learn from it, and then you come into this season and you just keep trucking forward and take it day-by-day.”
Danny Webster is the newest columnist and reporter for Vegas Hockey Now. He is the Golden Knights beat writer for NHL dot com. Catch him on Twitter @DannyWebster21
A wild night in Vegas: Golden Knights’ comeback one for memory books
It wasn’t the Annexation of Puerto Rico, but it might have been more historic.
As Mark Stone creeped toward the goal line, puck intact, he waited until the last possible moment to find a cutting Max Pacioretty in front of Cam Talbot.
Pacioretty, on the precipice of vomitting after chasing Kirill Kaprizov for nearly a minute, had enough in the tank to finish a 2-on-1 and steal victory from the jaws of defeat for the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s a 5-4 overtime victory that will go on the list of memorable moments for this 4-year-old franchise. On a night where 2,605 fans were allowed in T-Mobile Arena, the first such occurrence in 363 days, the Golden Knights rallied from two goals down in the third for a rare victory against the Minnesota Wild.
It wasn’t the usual 17,500-plus that have been known to pack “The Fortress,” but the impact they brought was more than enough on this night.
“Our fans are, by far, the best in pro sports,” Stone said. “This arena is the best arena in sports. They bring it no matter what. You could feel the energy skating out for warmup.”
You can hardly script nights like this. It’s a game featuring the top two teams in the West Division; the Golden Knights have long struggled against the formidable foe from Minnesota. Coming into Monday, the Golden Knights were 2-6-0 against the Wild and lost five of those matchups by at least two goals.
So, of course, the Golden Knights fell behind two goals entering the third period in one of the wildest second periods this season.
The teams combined for six goals in the middle stanza. Cody Glass got the Golden Knights on the board 7:09 into the frame, but Minnesota got two goals in 1:06 from Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno.
After Pacioretty scored his first of two goals at 13:41, the Wild struck yet again in quick fashion — twice in 19 seconds — from Foligno and Nick Bonino — to take a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Even 12 minutes into the third period, the Golden Knights couldn’t break through Minnesota’s defense. Vegas didn’t have a shot on goal until 11:30 mark of the frame. Then, Nicolas Hague opened the bottle and poured a Haugerbomb from the point at 12:40 of the third to make it 4-3.
It wasn’t a flashy goal, but it woke the Golden Knights up. The crowd, no matter how limited, came to life, and propelled the home team. The Golden Knights outshot the Wild 11-3 in the third period, with six of them coming in the final 7:20 of regulation.
“I think that’s what’s great about our group; we’re never out of a game,” Hague said. “I think we could feel it coming, and for us to be able to keep fighting like that and find a way to get back in that game and get the job done, that’s what we do.”
And yet, despite nine total goals, the best player on the ice didn’t score any of them. Instead, he just had the primary assist on all five on the home side.
Stone waited until the first game with fans, as captain, to put on a performance for the ages. He became the first player since Artemi Panarin, and only the second in 25 years, to record five primary assists in a game.
The only players to have more include some guy named Gretzky (twice), Ron Francis, and Elmer Lach.
Ironically enough, Pete DeBoer joked with Stone at morning skate that he should shoot more. Who needs shooting?
Stone can go from scoring one point in his previous six games to erupting for a career-high out of nowhere. It’s nights like Monday where you can never discount his value.
Look no further than the tying goal from Alex Tuch with 41.6 seconds remaining.
Pacioretty’s bouncing pass from the endboards somehow skipped to Stone. The calm demeanor, from settling the puck down, and finding Tuch in front for the tip in front, is why he wears the ‘C.’
“I think that’s what five primary assists and a bunch of fans gets you,” Tuch said. “That’s why he’s our captain. He comes in every day with that work ethic and that enthusiasm.”
The Wild will remain a thorn in the Golden Knights’ side. They’ll still play each other seven more times, and each meeting likely the equivalent to this slobberknocker.
Wednesday, they’ll do it all again, with fans in the stands yet again, and normalcy somewhat restored.
And for one night, the gold helmets are not cursed. Because even on a night like this, everything is a winner.
“That was the story of the night,” DeBoer said. “What a difference just having them in the building. I thought our players did a great job acknowledging them. Just nice, a sense of normalcy to get people back.”
Vegas Golden Knights Stone Minnesota Wild in OT 5-4
Mark Stone set up every single goal of the game including the game winner for Max Pacioretty in overtime as the Vegas Golden Knights came from behind to top the Minnesota Wild 5-4 at T-Mobile Arena on Monday night.
Stone broke in on the right wing as Pacioretty wove behind him to the left side. After waiting out the sprawling defensive effort from Jared Spurgeon before completing the pas to Pacioretty at the goalmouth. He converted it for his second goal of the game to give the Golden Knights the victory.
Alex Tuch tied the game with a late six-on-five goal to force overtime with just 42 seconds remaining in regulation. He tipped in a pass off the shaft of his stick, beating Alex Staylock over the left shoulder.
Vegas entered the second period trailing 4-2 after a six-goal second period. The Golden Knights scored twice on the power play from Cody Glass and Max Pacioretty. But the Wild capitalized four times on a pair of goals from Marcus Foligno and singled from Jordan Greenway and Nick Bonino to grab the 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves to record his 10th win of the season.
- The 2,600 fans at T-Mobile Arena for the game were not disappointed as the VGK rallied from a two goal deficit to win in OT. You could definitely feel the energy change in the building, even at only 15% capacity. When Nicolas Hauge scored to make it 4-3 in the third period, something just clicked. It’s good to have people back in the building.
- For the second time this season, Marc-Andre Fleury gave up four goals. And for the second time this season, Vegas won when he did. While not his best outing of the season, Fleury still made several key stops along the way to the win. It will be good when Robin Lehner can give him a bit of rest when he’s back in the lineup.
- Every one of the five assists Mark Stone recorded were primary assists, meaning he made the direct pass to set up the goal each time. The five helpers in the game is a career high for Stone as well.
- Vegas is now 9-0-1 when scoring first.
- The Golden Knights scored multiple power play goals in a game for just the second time this season, going 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
- Minnesota extends its unbeaten in regulation streak to seven games at 6-0-1.
Morning Skate Report: Golden Knights welcome back fans with West Division showdown against Wild
The last time the Vegas Golden Knights were supposed to play the Minnesota Wild, the sports world stopped.
Vegas got on a plane March 11, 2020 with the intention of playing a game in St. Paul, Minnesota. The next day, the Golden Knights returned home and wouldn’t play another game until August.
COVID-19 has created challenges far and wide, with many craving even the littlest of normalcy. Sanity returns Monday for 2,600 fans when they enter T-Mobile Arena Monday to watch the Golden Knights take on the Minnesota Wild in a West Division showdown.
“There was a big buzz around the group this morning … about the fact that we’re going to have fans there,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “It’s a great first step on the way back to filling T-Mobile and getting that atmposhere back. Even with the number we’re going to have tonight, it’s a huge boost compared to playing in the empty rink.”
Clark County approved a directive to allow 15 percent of T-Mobile Arena’s capacity, capping at 2,600 fans, to attend Golden Knights games during March. Vegas will play seven times at home this month.
There aren’t many home-ice advantages that rival T-Mobile Arena. Even at its 17,500-seat capacity, the Golden Knights have averaged 18,223 fans during the first three years of their existence.
The Golden Knights’ 75 wins at home since the inaugural season and .676 points percentage at “The Fortress” are top-10 marks since 2017-18.
“Any time you can have your home crowd in the arena and cheering you on, and bring that energy like our fans do, it’s an advantage for us,” said defenseman Zach Whitecloud. “We’re all excited to have them back, and for them to come and watch games in person, we’re excited for them.”
What a treat for fans to come back to, as well. This is a matchup of the top two teams in the West Division; the Golden Knights are atop the division by points percentage (.735) and have a game in hand on Minnesota (.667).
The Wild have been a thorn in the Golden Knights’ collective side since 2017. Minnesota is 6-1-1 in eight all-time meetings with the Golden Knights, with five of those wins coming by at least two goals.
There’s a newfound energy surrounding Minnesota. Normally a grind-it-out, wear-you-down type of team that excels defensively, the Wild have found the scoring touch. They’re 10th in the league in scoring (3.17 per game) with four players with at least five goals.
Leading the way is 23-year-old rookie Kirill Kaprizov, the presumable Calder Trophy favorite at this juncture. Kaprizov, a 2014 fifth-round pick by Minnesota, leads the Wild with 17 points and has registered a point in every game during Minnesota’s six-game winning streak.
“What’s impressive about him is his willingness to do a lot of dirty work, winning battles in the corners, going to the net,” DeBoer said of Kaprizov. “He’s not a big guy, but he’s very strong on his feet. He makes a lot of things happen when he’s on the ice.”
The Golden Knights have already had troubles with Minnesota in the past, but it’s a deeper, more dangerous team this time around. Nevertheless, the fans in attendance tonight will get their money’s worth.
“Their game is real,” DeBoer said. “You look at their lineup, they’ve got a sneaky, deep lineup. It’s a great test for us.”
Vegas Golden Knights projected lineup
Alex Tuch — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Max Pacioretty — Cody Glass — Reilly Smith
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Keegan Kolesar
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Ryan Reaves
Shea Theodore — Alex Pietrangelo
Alec Martinez — Zach Whitecloud
Nicolas Hague — Dylan Coghlan
Nosek in, Roy out
Tomas Nosek will play his first game since Feb. 9 after spending the previous two weeks in COVID-19 protocol.
The fourth-line center will take his place back in the lineup, while Keegan Kolesar will be at third-line right wing with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.
Nicolas Roy will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Nosek said. “It’s been a tough start after COVID, but I’ve been skating for more than a week.”
Nosek’s time away from the team due to COVID did provide a silver lining. His wife Eliska gave birth to their second boy, Matias, on Feb. 20. Their first child, Patrik, last January.
Because of COVID, Nosek said they had to reschedule Eliska’s appointment to induce the labor. They were able to reschedule and Baby Nosek arrived safely and healthy.
“Thank God I was able to be there,” Nosek said. “I was happy so they could reschedule it and I was able to be there. One of the happiest moments of my life. It’s a great feeling to become a dad again.”
Lehner remains out
Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner will not dress for the eighth consecutive game as he continues to deal with an upper-body injury.
Lehner has not played since Feb. 7 with what was considered a “tweak” during morning skate on Feb. 11.
“It’s one of those injuries where, when you get it, you hope it’s a week, but it’s all based on symptoms and becoming symptom-free,” DeBoer said. “There is no timeline on those types of injuries.”
This will be Marc-Andre Fleury’s ninth straight start, and the Golden Knights have gone 5-3-0 with Lehner out. Oscar Dansk is expected to be the backup after winning three consecutive starts last week with the Henderson Silver Knights.
“You’re hopeful that when the injury happens that it’s a quick recovery, but if symptoms persist, it might be a little longer,” DeBoer said. “It’s heading in a positive direction and hopfeully we’ll see him soon.”