Alex Pietrangelo’s first game against the team he captained to a Stanley Cup didn’t go as planned, for a lot of reasons, really.
But despite the Vegas Golden Knights’ best efforts to rally from a two-goal deficit twice, the St. Louis Blues survived with a 5-4 shootout victory at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday.
Pietrangelo was a plus-1 and had an assist in a game-high 28:57 in the first game against his former team. He was also on the wrong end of the Vegas highlights in the second period for reasons you’ll see soon.
“Honestly, it felt like a normal game. I think once you get out there and you start playing, that kind of all gets pushed to the side,” Pietrangelo said. “First couple shifts, obviously it’s a little bit different, but I think once we settled in, I felt fine.”
Going in to Tuesday, the storyline was, of course, Pietrangelo facing the Blues. That changed quickly at around 3 p.m. when it was announced coach Pete DeBoer and his staff had to self-isolate as an abundance of caution due to COVID-19 tracing. Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon was the acting coach for the night, and later confirmed a member of the Vegas coaching staff tested positive.
“It’s not a case where the entire staff tested positive. Most that didn’t, quite frankly, but the protocol is such that you pull those people from the group,” McCrimmon said. “But fortunately there’s been no positive tests for players. Based on how the day unfolded, we took the steps that we did to best prepare our team to play tonight.”
And yet, a game was still played on this night. Things happened, and a result was had. Let’s hand out some grades.
If this were the Max Pacioretty category, it’d be an A-plus.
Pacioretty’s seventh NHL hat trick is the only reason Vegas was able to squeeze a point from this game. Tack on the seven hit posts, including two in overtime, and the Golden Knights should’ve won this game.
Rallying from multiple goals down against the Blues has become a common theme. It’s the third consecutive regular season meeting, all at T-Mobile Arena, that saw the Knights rally and at least force overtime. The Golden Knights’ top line, once again, came through when needed. Pacioretty is tied atop the league leaderboard with six goals; Mark Stone’s three assists puts him tied for third with 11 points.
Alex Tuch, who scored the other goal Tuesday, continues to be a force. He would’ve had a two-goal night had the post not turned his five-hole attempt aside late in the third.
It’s hard to find a weak point in this Vegas offense, and the fact they out-attempted this heavy St. Louis squad 83-48 should bode well for Thursday.
Not sure if you could’ve picked a worse way to start defensively for the Golden Knights.
After Tuch’s goal, defenseman Alec Martinez turned the puck over behind the net, which led to the first of two David Perron goals in the period. Martinez turned it over a second time, this one leading to Jaden Schwartz’s goal, to put Vegas in an early two-goal hole.
The Knights were buzzing after Pacioretty cut the lead to 3-2 early in the second, but Pietrangelo’s turnover at the blue line sprung Jordan Kyrou to out-hustle his former teammate, go full-on grown-man mode and beat Lehner glove side.
Pietrangelo has had an up-and-down start to his Golden Knights tenure, as has his defense partner Brayden McNabb. The two were on the ice for 16 Blues shots while only registering 15; they allowed five high-danger chances (including Kyrou’s goal) and allowed 11 scoring chances in total. All in all, it’s been a rough go some nights for the Knights’ top pair.
The Blues are a heavy team at both ends and it showed in that first period. They roughed Vegas up and forced them on their heels defensively; something the Ducks nor Coyotes did through six games. It’s absurd how intelligent the Blues are. You make enough mistakes against them, you’re in trouble.
I want to give Robin Lehner the benefit of the doubt, but it’s been a rough past two starts for Vegas’ netminder.
Lehner has allowed eight goals in those two starts; he hadn’t lost back-to-back starts with Vegas in the regular season up until now. It was bound to happen, but his name is not Marc-Andre Fleury. Therefore, criticisms thrown his way are magnified by default, deserving or not.
Lehner made two fantastic sprawling skate saves that could’ve made this game even worse of an outcome for Vegas; notably the one on Ryan O’Reilly in the second period. Big man can indeed move when he wants to.
Perron’s first goal is one Lehner had to stop, going short side with Chandler Stephenson and Martinez screening in front. The Schwartz goal, looking live, didn’t look to be deflected by Nicolas Roy as some mentioned it was. Replay didn’t provide a great angle, but that’s one you can argue Lehner should’ve also made.
It’s too premature to award the championship bout to Fleury, but 3-0 is a lot better than 2-2. Fleury will get a chance to make a loud statement Thursday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-
It took a 5-on-3 for the Golden Knights to capitalize against the fifth-worst penalty killing unit in the NHL. That’s all you need to know
To go 1-for-6 against this group is a sign that the come-to-Jesus meeting is needed. Now 3-for-26 on the season, it’s not even the lack of scoring that’s the issue. It’s getting to the point where Vegas can’t even enter the zone cleanly with a 5-on-4. This was arguably the worst Vegas has looked on the power play this season.
Outside of giving up Perron’s power-play goal, the penalty kill did fine, particularly Nicolas Roy. He was probably Vegas’ best special teams player.
The Golden Knights need to figure out this power play. There’s too much talent on both units to struggle this heavily. I get we’re seven games into a shortened season and maybe expectations are a tad high, but when we’re entering sloppy special teams territory, it’s a problem.
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
Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo shine in Golden Knights’ win over Ducks
This is what Pete DeBoer envisioned when he put his top two defensemen together.
It’s like the perfect cheat code in “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out,” if there was such a thing. You give Little Mac an opening, he’s going to make Iron Mike pay.
Yes, the purpose of putting Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo together was part of a grand plan to get the Vegas Golden Knights going offensively. That move was probably the third bullet point on a laundry list of items to wake up a team that was in need of production.
Two games in, and the 27-7 pairing has come as advertised. Pietrangelo had a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game since Jan. 20, and Theodore had a two-assist game for the first time this season.
“The way they like to change things up around here, I think it’s good for the chemistry,” Theodore said. “Being with him, he’s such a good player.”
The Golden Knights escaped with a 3-2 victory Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks. William Karlsson scored his second goal of the game with 1:37 left in overtime for the win. Theodore’s second assist came on the game-winner.
And while that goal will go down as the important tally in the House of Mouse, the first two stole the show.
Vegas controlled the game for the majority of the first period. Even after Rickard Rakell scored the game’s first goal 10:09 into the first, the ice seemed tilted in the Golden Knights’ favor.
Part of that momentum was generated by the fourth line. Normally a group DeBoer starts games with, the trio of William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Reaves set the tone as they occasionally do. The Golden Knights’ opening shift lasted 55 seconds, with 50 of it from the offensive zone.
On their sixth shift of the period, the fourth line was in the offensive zone with Theodore and Pietrangelo.
The play starts with Kolesar and Reaves keeping the forecheck alive without the puck. Reaves forces a turnover at center ice and dumps the puck in, with Kolesar giving chase.
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler’s pass to Rakell along the endboards is intercepted by Pietrangelo, to which he gathers it in the trapezoid below the goal line.
There are a total of nine skaters in the frame when Pietrangelo has the puck. The only player open is Theodore, who hasn’t even crossed the blue line yet. Yes, Pietrangelo found Theodore perfectly in this crowd.
As soon as Theodore receives the puck, it’s a quick pass back to Pietrangelo. With Anaheim already scrambling, Pietrangelo fires a laser with Carrier screening John Gibson perfectly in front.
“[Theodore’s] obviously got great vision, we all know that. We’ve watched that really grow over the last year. I don’t think that goes in unless Will’s in front of the net, screening the goalie,” Pietrangelo said. “We’re finding each other when we need to find each other, but we’re also shooting when we need to. If we can put pressure on teams with the way we can move the puck, it’s certainly something we need as a team.”
On the second goal, a neutral zone breakdown aided in this, but it’s why the Golden Knights gave $61.6 million to Pietrangelo.
Give credit to Jonathan Marchessault, who Pietrangelo and Karlsson said was calling for the puck. Jakob Silfverberg dumped the puck to Pietrangelo with Karlsson on his tail.
Pietrangelo said one of two things were going to happen here: Either he hit Karlsson on the tape and he walks in on Gibson, or nothing materializes and the Golden Knights set up shop in the offensive zone.
It’s a picturesque pass from just above the goal line nearly 150 feet away. Karlsson beat three Ducks coming from the neutral zone, channeled his inner Bobby Orr and scored while falling down.
“With the way we play with our speed, we’re always looking for those opportunities, especially if it’s a neutral zone breakdown like that was,” Pietrangelo said. “I don’t think I make that play unless they’re calling for it. Great finish by him, that’s for sure.”
It’s only two games, but it’s hard not to like what Pietrangelo and Theodore have done together.
Against the Colorado Avalanche last Monday, the pairing was 13-16 in shot attempts while on the ice. Keep in mind, a majority of that 19:27 they played at 5-on-5 was defending Colorado’s top line with Nathan MacKinnon and co.
On Saturday, the Golden Knights out-attempted the Ducks 24-18 with Pietrangelo and Theodore together, a 9-8 edge in scoring chances (8-4 through the first two periods), and 3-5 in high-danger chances.
Anaheim had eight high-danger opportunities in the third period, so keep that in mind.
Through two periods, it was stellar. The Golden Knights eased up in the third and allowed Anaheim to tie it, and eventually get a point.
Having Theodore and Pietrangelo on the ice at the same time unlocks a lot of possibilities offensively, and enhances Pietrangelo’s full capability when he has the puck. That first goal was the perfect example of that.
“Obviously two elite offensive-thinking defensemen,” DeBoer said. “When you’re defending against two guys like that, you have to respect both of their ability to make plays and or beat you with their feet. You get a little more room, and I think that was the case on that goal. They created some room for themselves just with what they’re able to do.”
Who knows what’s going to happen when Brayden McNabb returns from long-term injured reserve? The possibility is there for the McNabb-Pietrangelo pairing to return, but right now might not be that time.
Two games in with this new lineup; two wins. It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.
Brayden McNabb nearing return for Golden Knights – how should he be deployed?
It’s only a matter of time before the Vegas Golden Knights get defenseman Brayden McNabb back.
The Golden Knights’ top defensive defenseman has been on long-term injured reserve since Feb. 1 (retroactive to Jan. 26) and is nearing the 10-game/24-day cutoff of when he can be activated.
McNabb will need time to get up to game speed, per coach Pete DeBoer, but he’s inching closer to where he can begin practicing.
“I got an update today that he’s getting much closer,” DeBoer said Friday. “I think he’s still got a final X-Ray or image in order to confirm full healing, and then he’ll get reintegrated into the group. Obviously, then, he has to get up to speed for not skating in over a month. I don’t have a specific time, but that’s the information I have.”
Logistically, having McNabb back should be an upgrade. He’s been Vegas’ top stay-at-home stalwart since the inaugural season and, at the very least, you’d like a 6-foot-4, 216-pound human being patrolling your blue line.
The last two seasons, however, have been a struggle for McNabb. His 2.77 goals-against per 60 is the worst mark on the Golden Knights and hardly an uptick from his 2.78 last season. The hope was McNabb would rebound from his rough go in the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble (2.8 GA/60), but it hasn’t been an ideal start.
Compare that to Years 1 (2.17) and 2 (2.59), you wonder if McNabb’s days as a top-pairing guy are over.
If we’re along that line of thinking, the next question: Where do you play McNabb when he gets back?
To be clear, McNabb has value to him. It just might not be when pairing him with Alex Pietrangelo.
Eye-test wise, Pietrangelo has played fine, but not to the apex of a seven-year, $61.6 million contract. Keeping Pietrangelo with Shea Theodore, however, sounds a lot more enticing for both top defensemen.
There’s only a one-game sample size for 27-7, but you keep them together if it gets Pietrangelo going.
Zach Whitecloud has played his way to a deserved promotion. Not only has been stellar defensively at 5-on-5 (1.39 GA/60, 1.68 xGA/60), but he’s worked for his offense; Whitecloud has started 5.8 shifts per 60 in the defensive zone; not that far off from McNabb’s 5.87, and Whitecloud has five points to his credit.
While Whitecloud and Nic Hague have been a solid third pairing, I too would like to see more than a one-game sample size with Alec Martinez.
That leaves Hague with McNabb, and that’s an intriguing pair. You’d have to go back to the 2019 preseason to find film of Hague and McNabb playing together, but they played well together. Albeit, new coaching staff and everything since then, but McNabb on the third pair limits his deficiencies.
Also, good luck trying to shoot at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6 defensemen when they’re playing together.
No disrespect to Dylan Coghlan, but the 23-year-old would be the odd man out. There’s still some time for his game to grow and him observing for a bit wouldn’t be the worst idea.
I wouldn’t be too quick to jump the gun on moving on from McNabb just yet. Until this month, McNabb missed only seven games in three seasons. He’s been as reliable as anyone on the Golden Knights and absolutely deserves a chance to show his worth.
We’re a quarter into the season, and DeBoer hasn’t hesitated to shake things up; evidence of jumbling the lines and pairs in Monday’s 3-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche.
McNabb has always been lauded for doing the little things right. Doing those things, in a reduced role, might benefit all parties.
Alex Tuch’s strong start continues after promotion to Golden Knights top line
Alex Tuch was the Nathan MacKinnon-like player the Vegas Golden Knights needed on Monday.
Lower your torches and pitchforks before you think I’m comparing Tuch to one of the top three players in the world.
It goes without saying Tuch is the best power skater on the Golden Knights. You combine the smooth skating and speed that he’s continued to develop since becoming a full-time NHL player, and you have a guy that impacts the game in all three zones.
Much like what MacKinnon does for the Colorado Avalanche.
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer threw his lineup in a blender Monday in Denver, and it paid off. Vegas won 3-0 and salvaged a split in the four-game series with Colorado.
“I thought our last few games, we’ve been making strides defensively,” Tuch said. “I think we’ve really tried to be hard against their top guys, and it led to a little bit of offense, and we buried our chances.”
Two goals came from Tuch, who was moved to the top line with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Max Pacioretty moved to the second line with Cody Glass and Reilly Smith, while Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson were getting third-line minutes with Nicolas Roy.
Tuch, who led all Vegas forwards in ice time at 18:48, has three goals in two games and is one behind Pacioretty (8) for the team lead. His 13 points tie him for second on Vegas, trailing Stone.
“Tuchy’s had a great year,” DeBoer said. “He’s earned everything’s he’s got with hard work and to have a good start to the season.”
Tuch has shown flashes of being ready for a top-line role in the past but never lived up to that capability when given the chance. This promotion was different. The Golden Knights were in need of a massive offensive shakeup after accumulating four goals at 5-on-5 in the previous five games entering Monday.
Vegas got two in its most important game of the season.
But as the game wore on and the Golden Knights had their best outing of this short season, Tuch’s promotion wasn’t just about his scoring. Tuch was moved to the top because he’s the only player in that group that can go toe-to-toe with MacKinnon.
To be clear: It takes a village to neutralize MacKinnon, let alone slow him down. He’s going to get his chances. The Hart Trophy finalist had five shot attempts Monday, three of them on goal.
Stone is methodical and exceptional at causing turnovers but has never been the fastest skater. Stephenson has the speed but doesn’t have that game-breaking impact.
Tuch, however, is a fast, powerful skater who is still getting better defensively. Look no further than this backcheck on MacKinnon.
This is what I mean by MacKinnon-like. No other player has the size and speed on this roster to make it happen. The Golden Knights can converge on MacKinnon and make him give up the puck, but do so at your own risk when having to face Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
“I liked him as much defensively [Monday] as I did offensively,” DeBoer said. “With his speed defensively, he’s one guy who can hunt down guys like MacKinnon from behind.”
Tuch was on the ice with MacKinnon for 6:24.
“Really tiring,” an exasperated Tuch said laughing about defending MacKinnon. “A lot of plays are going to go through him, and we know that because of how good he is. We didn’t want to give him time and space. We wanted to frustrate him as much as possible. They’re deep, but that top line is a whole other animal.”
DeBoer, however, said Tuch’s promotion wasn’t meant to neutralize MacKinnon.
“I felt we hadn’t scored easily in the first three games against these guys,” DeBoer said. “We wanted to freshen some things up and hopefully loosen some things up offensively with some different looks. I think that happened.
“With Tuchy, it’s just adding layers to his game every year. He’s still a young player. Recognizing he can use that speed defensively, as well as offensively, it makes it easy to play him against guys like MacKinnon because he can skate with those guys.”
Vegas’ top line was good before the shakeup. Not just because Pacioretty and Stone can impact a game at the drop of a hat, but Stephenson’s speed is just as important.
He doesn’t possess the skill of a MacKinnon down the middle, but Stephenson’s speed opened the ice up for Pacioretty and Stone. They only need an inch or two to make things happen. Replace Pacioretty with Tuch, and you have a combination of speed and power that worked on Monday.
The hope, if you’re Vegas, is this line doesn’t allow 15 attempts while only generating five at 5-on-5, but there’s something there.
“Those two guys are unbelievable players,” Tuch said of his new linemates. “Playing with Stoney, you know he’s going to make plays like that and put me in open ice. Chandler’s just an unbelievable 200-foot player. They’re easy to play with.”
As the age-old adage goes, if it’s broke, fix it. For one night, Alex Tuch on the top line fixed a lot of things.