The timing of putting this together came in waves.
The Vegas Golden Knights were about to have three games postponed due to a player and three coaches entering COVID protocol.
Of course, that player would be Alex Pietrangelo, so this makes the timing all that more hilarious.
The Golden Knights’ prized free agent is seven games into his Golden Knights’ career; seven games into a seven-year, $61.6 million contract that Vegas hopes will be a worthwhile investment toward a Stanley Cup in this weird season.
Whether or not Pietrangelo comes off the COVID-19 protocol absence list in time for Vegas’ return to action — Friday at home against the Los Angeles Kings — remains to be seen. However, there’s no doubt that Pietrangelo is still learning the nuances of a brand new system after spending 12 seasons with the St. Louis Blues.
Seven games without a preseason seemed like ample time to go back and see the good and bad in Pietrangelo’s start with Vegas. We fired up the tape, watched all seven games and took notes on all 185 shifts Pietrangelo has taken with Vegas to this point.
“Any time you’re in a system for 750 games, it becomes habit,” Pietrangelo said last Tuesday. “I think for me, moving forward here … just feel more comfortable. I’m starting to feel more comfortable, starting to find my way, starting to find more ways to create more opportunities, which is part of my game.
“For me, specifically, continue each day to pay attention. You’ve got to break the old habits. You want to play to your strengths, but at the same time, you want to fit into what the coaches want to be successful.”
Pietrangelo leads all Golden Knights skaters in average ice time at 25:37; a shade over two-and-a-half minutes more than Shea Theodore (23:00). It’s apparent Pete DeBoer, known for having world-class defensemen at his disposal before, wants to get the most out of his new acquisition.
The former St. Louis captain and Stanley Cup champion has four points (one goal, three assists) with the Golden Knights.
“I think any time you come to a new team, new language, new teammates, there’s an adjustment period. I think he’s adjusted faster than most players,” said DeBoer. “World-class player. The most impressive part for me is how open he is to coaching and learning our new system and some of the things that haven’t been familiar to him over his time in St. Louis. It’s all new.
“Open-minded and coachable to everything we’re talking about, which is the most impressive thing when you have a guy with his pedigree.”
The first thing you’re probably wondering is, “185 shifts? Likely a whole lot of nothing.” To that, I say … yes, there was a decent amount of film with no purpose. You have to be thankful for the fast forward function in today’s age of streaming.
By no means has Pietrangelo been perfect, but there have been instances where he has come as advertised.
It took two minutes into the season opener against the Anaheim Ducks to find out just how different Alex Pietrangelo is from any defenseman the Vegas Golden Knights have had.
That’s not a slight to Nate Schmidt — whom Vegas traded to clear the necessary cap space for Pietrangelo — or any of the current Knights defensemen for that matter, but Pietrangelo’s instincts are otherworldly.
Pietrangelo’s breakouts have stood out the most. This one gets double brownie points because it was his first Vegas point, and it came with the fourth line. The possession started with a draw in the offensive zone that Ryan Getzlaf unsurprisingly won. The Ducks go on the counter-attack in a hurry, cycle around to where we get to this clip.
The moment Pietrangelo gathers the puck, Ryan Reaves and William Carrier are on their way. The threat of Pietrangelo’s offense starts the moment his pass hits Tomas Nosek. The meat-grinder line does its work and puts Vegas up 2-0.
Offense, and generating offense, is Pietrangelo’s calling card. Only reigning Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi (13.71) had more individual expected goals in 2020, per Evolving Hockey.
And when you get plays like this, you forget he’s 6-foot-3.
The Ducks did a great job converging on Nicolas Roy as his backhand went wide, but this is a great example of what can happen when two of your top-four defensemen can enter the rush with that kind of skill. Pietrangelo has a knack for this. Give it time and a play like this can turn into something special.
We haven’t seen Pietrangelo unlocked on the power play yet, given that it’s been a collectively terrible effort for Vegas on the man advantage. Twenty-two of Pietrangelo’s 52 points came on the power play last season. Not only is it his vision that makes him dangerous, but Pietrangelo has a quick yet powerful shot. It doesn’t require a large wind-up like the norm of blue-liners.
There’s also the matter of his passing. Spoiler alert: It’s good.
As he plays more and gets more comfortable in DeBoer’s scheme, the possibilities are endless.
It hasn’t been bad, but it hasn’t been roses either for Pietrangelo, particularly with defense partner Brayden McNabb. It was supposed to be an upgrade from the McNabb-Schmidt combo. So far, the duo has allowed more shots while on the ice (69) than when on (67). In a shock to no one, Pietrangelo’s best partner has been Theodore (40-31).
The moment those two pair for an entire game will be a sight.
A part of Pietrangelo’s struggles has come to whom he and McNabb have skated with. The fourth line and the top pair have skated together for 12:01, according to Natural Stat Trick, allowing eight shots and generating six.
It’s not just the fourth line Pietrangelo has struggled with. When Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Chandler Stephenson skate with Pietrangelo and McNabb, they have allowed four more scoring chances (13-9) and four more shot attempts (14-18).
Factor in no preseason and not a lot of time to get acclimated, you might get results like this.
Pietrangelo does a great job initially eliminating the scoring chance on Anaheim’s counter-attack, staying with Sam Steel, and deflecting Troy Terry in front. The problem is the finish from Max Comtois, with Pietrangelo giving up too much room away from the short side. It doesn’t help that your third line collides along the end boards and turns it over in the defensive zone. Alas, it’s the little things.
That’s not the end-all, be-all. Pietrangelo has been solid in his zone, showing poise in breaking up odd-man rushes and using his stick wisely. The second game at Arizona — the 1-0 Vegas victory — was Pietrangelo’s best defensive game (14-7 with McNabb in attempts, and the two combined for seven scoring chances). Right now, overall, he and McNabb have not been the answer.
With McNabb (lower body) on long-term injured reserve until February, intrigue will rule the roost on who’s paired with Pietrangelo when he clears COVID protocol.
Another eye-popping area has been Pietrangelo’s turnovers at the blue line. He doesn’t turn the puck over often; his 45 giveaways last season were mid-table for defensemen who played at least 1,000 minutes.
But you know where we’re going with this.
Against his former team, no less, Pietrangelo was put on a poster by Jordan Kyrou. Take nothing away from the young Blues forward. He made a grown-man move to make this happen. The turnover, however, came moments after Vegas cut the lead to 3-2. Thankfully for the Golden Knights, they earned a point in a game they dominated. But, again, the little things such as this are why they only earned one point.
Sure, this is nitpicky, but it’s what happens when mass postponement takes place. Over. It’s fair to pinpoint an $8.8 million AAV player while still understanding the threat he brings.
Through 185 shifts, Pietrangelo has been good with a chance to be great. That time will come in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it may be a few games before we see him in action again. When he comes back, it may take a bit to work back into game shape.
But there’s a reason why the Golden Knights signed Alex Pietrangelo, and that reason will be on display come May.
Danny Webster is the newest reporter and columnist at Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.