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GOLDEN GRADES: What rust? Knights roll in win over Kings

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Not bad for not playing for eight days.

If these were normal times, it’d be apropros to say the Vegas Golden Knights should take a week off every other week if they’re going to play this well.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but the Golden Knights’ 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Friday was a reminder in the talent discrepancy between the Interstate-15 rivals.

It was also a reminder that this team, when playing with the speed it showed, can be as dangerous as any team in the National Hockey League.

To the grades.

OFFENSE: A+

The Golden Knights aren’t usually the team to have fewer attempts than their opponent and still win convincingly. Friday was that rare Bigfoot moment.

The Kings outattempted Vegas 45-42, but the Golden Knights made the most with the chances they got. They peppered Jonathan Quick early and often, which led to a 3-0 lead midway through the first period. Quick was pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots.

“I felt we had great energy [Friday morning],” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Reports from coaches were the guys were really dialed in and really working hard. You’re always surprised you’re up 5-0 in this league and that’s a rarity, but I wasn’t surprised with our energy to start.”

It wasn’t just the fact Vegas was scoring goals, but rather how they scored. Nicolas Hague (much more on him later) scored 50 seconds into the game on a bouncing puck to him at the left circle. Two Kings and Mark Stone screnned Quick and didn’t see Hague’s wrister beat him far side.

Stone’s goal at 9:32 was a lucky bounce off Quick’s body, but it was the action leading up to it that stood out. Vegas gathered the loose puck after Marc-Andre Fleury made a save, and were off to the races. Max Pacioretty made a grown-man move along the right side to spring a 4-on-2, and he found Stone for the goal.

Then 1:08 later, it was Year 1 magic for the Misfit Line.

Let it be known it wasn’t the prettiest goal, but this is where William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith are at their best. When they can get downhill and use their speed to create scoring chances, there aren’t many teams that can counter this. DeBoer has talked about going for the dirty goals. Marchessault does that after cleaning up Karlsson’s five-hole attempt.

For the first period alone, it gets five stars.

The top six dominated this game, combining for a 22-5 edge in scoring chances, with the top line generating a ridiculous 14-1. It was an off night for the bottom six, but it was one of those rare nights where the Golden Knights didn’t need to roll four lines to be great.

DEFENSE: A-

It was likely a fun celebration last night at the Glass-Hague-Coghlan house, starting with the lanky Vegas defenseman who has a “fishing rod for a stick,” as Zach Whitecloud once termed it.

Hague recorded his first three-point night in the NHL, collecting two assists along with his first goal of the season. Hague and Whitecloud were called to second-pair duty due to the absences of Brayden McNabb and Alex Pietrangelo.

“For me, it’s just getting confident with defending,” Hague said. “I don’t ever feel intimidated or in awe of other teams’ top lines. I feel I can defend a lot better this year, which is something I’ve tried to work on. That was a focus for me and I feel a lot better in that area.”

The top four defensemen — along with Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez — eclipsed 20 minutes and were plus players. Possession wise, they were fine (12-12 for Hague and Whitecloud, 18-16 for Martinez and Theodore), but Hague and Whitecloud were on the ice for eight scoring chances while only allowing three. It was Hague’s best game as a pro, and it wasn’t just the points. Also, Whitecloud continues to bust his ass defensively, and he’s becoming my favorite player to watch.

Friday also the NHL debut for Dylan Coghlan and season debut for Nick Holden. The 22-year-old Coghlan played 13:15 in his first Vegas game with the 33-year-old Holden. The duo allowed 13 attempts while only on the ice for seven. Much like the offense, however, the Golden Knights didn’t need their third pair to contribute as heavily.

Once Pietrangelo and McNabb return, the full power of this fully-armed defense will raise some intrigue.

GOALTENDING: A

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to do what is asked of him.

While the understanding is there for fans to clamor for Fleury to be the full-time netminder eight games in and after a 4-0-0 start, expectations need to be tempered.

Fleury has played well against the Ducks, Coyotes twice, and now the Kings. They’re not the worldbeaters of this top-heavy West Division. Fleury is going to need some games against the Avalanche, Blues, and even the Wild before going further.

That being said, Fleury was spectacular. He kept his shutout streak going until 119:59 before Austin Wagner broke through in the third period. Dustin Brown added a power-play goal late, but with thanks to Anze Kopitar’s shot somehow ricocheting off the near post behind Fleury for the juicy rebound.

Fleury didn’t see a lot of dangerous action (15 low-danger chances to 10 from medium to high), but was still great.

It’s still too early to call the battle of the goaltenders, but there’s no denying Fleury has been great. Now, it’s a matter of seeing him against teams that are higher on the pecking order.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

The Golden Knights scored a power-play goal! Rejoice in the fact that it is capable for the Knights of Vegas to score with the man advantage.

That’s two games in a row where Vegas has scored a power-play goal after going 2-for-20 in the first six games. The first two power plays were the best the Golden Knights looked to this point. Glass talked about simplifying the special teams after a long layoff, and that seemed to work. No extra passes, no over-complicating things. Just Glass on the doorstep to finish the rebound.

 

Vegas let up on the man advantage while up 5-0, so that’s fair. Keep this consistency up and they’ll get an ‘A’ in no time.

The puck movement was superb, and it’s the kind of power play we’ve come to expect for the Golden Knights. You’d still like to see this kind of action when Pietrangelo quarterbacks the first unit, but baby steps, or something like that.

Danny Webster is the newest reporter and columnist for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.

Welcome to your new home for Vegas Golden Knights breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to VHN+ for all of our members-only content the entire Vegas Hockey Now crew plus an ad-free browsing experience.

Danny Webster has covered the Vegas Golden Knights since their inaugural season. A graduate from the Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at UNLV, Danny has wrote about the Golden Knights for NHL.com and SB Nation. He is now the lead reporter covering this young franchise for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.

Analysis

Alex Tuch’s strong start continues after promotion to Golden Knights top line

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Alex Tuch celebrates after scoring his first of two goals Monday against the Colorado Avalanche.

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.

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Analysis

How Jonathan Marchessault has gone from the rumor mill to being the Golden Knights’ ace in the hole

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It wasn’t that long ago when it seemed like Jonathan Marchessault played his way out of Las Vegas.

Marchessault fit the bill of someone the Vegas Golden Knights considered moving in the offseason; a decent-sized cap hit, a quiet postseason performance, and questions whether he’d fit in Pete DeBoer’s system.

So far, the decision to keep one of the original Golden Knights — and arguably, the most popular Misfit behind Marc-Andre Fleury — has proven fruitful.

“Marchy’s been great,” said DeBoer on Feb. 14. “I thought he was our best player in training camp when we came back, and he’s carried that into the regular season. I think he’s been consistently really good every night for us.”

Something to clear up: Any trade involving Marchessault would’ve been a cap casualty, much like moving Nate Schmidt to Vancouver. While the Golden Knights were taking offers on Marchessault (and Max Pacioretty, and even Fleury), the hesitance to move him was high.

Chatter did, in fact, pick up in December, but much ado about nothing.

The Golden Knights feel that despite the locker room turnover since Year 1, camaraderie is paramount while adding superstars like Mark Stone, Pacioretty, and Pietrangelo. Marchessault’s light-hearted nature is loved by all in the organization.

It helps that he’s a former 30-goal scorer and has been a potent offensive threat since Vegas picked him from the Florida Panthers in the expansion draft.

“I just try to bring happiness to the rink every day and make sure everyone is having a good time,” Marchessault said.

But if there was any reason to bring up concern over Marchessault and find any reason to trade him, it was the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble in Edmonton.

Marchessault’s 10 points in 20 games were a far cry from the playoff performer he’s been. To score only two points in the final 11 games was even more deflating. To be fair, the Golden Knights’ offense collectively died when they ran into Thatcher Demko, and eventually the Dallas Stars.

Remember when Marchessault was a point-per-game player in the Cup Final run? He makes his money in the playoffs, and last fall he didn’t.

Marchessault will be the first to say how better he should’ve been in the bubble. He’ll also take the blame for a lot of what goes wrong if the Golden Knights lose a game, even if it’s not his fault.

What he’ll also do is shut up the critics. Case in point, this season.

Only Stone (16) and Pacioretty (13) have more points than Marchessault (12) through 15 games. After only one goal through the first seven games, Marchessault has four in his last eight and is at nearly a point per game in that stretch (four goals, three assists).

Marchessault’s 14 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 trail only Pacioretty for most on the team, and his expected goals per 60 (1.02) is tops all Vegas’ top six players.

The key to this? Marchessault is getting near the blue paint.

This is a perfect example of how the Misfit Line works in DeBoer’s system. Marchessault carries it through the zone off a quick breakout, starting a 3-on-2. Marchessault doesn’t crash the net often, but he pounces on Karlsson’s rebound by doing just that.

“We want to be a threat in all zones,” Marchessault said Feb. 8. “When we come in through the neutral zone, we play really fast. We pick up the puck and we’re able to catch the opponent off guard sometimes.

Then there’s Marchessault’s goal last Tuesday against the Avalanche. DeBoer has preached of wanting his players to get in the dirty areas. Marchessault’s game-tying goal highlights that well, but he finds positioning well in the crease to make that happen.

The goals have dipped for Marchessault since his 30-goal year in 2017 with Florida; 27 in Year 1 with Vegas, followed by 25, and 22. He’s on pace for 19 goals this season, which would be 27 in a normal 82-game season.

The Golden Knights are going to need Marchessault at this pace for them to make another deep playoff run. Keep going to the blue paint and score goals like that, that’ll help.

Right now, Marchessault looks like the Year 1 version of himself. For all parties involved, that’s perfect.

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Analysis

Morning After: Golden Knights find formidable foe in fast Avalanche

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The Vegas Golden Knights knew the Colorado Avalanche would punch back Tuesday.

Vegas acknowledged it. You give Nathan MacKinnon and co. a day to find their legs, the Avalanche would respond.

Indeed they did, and the Golden Knights lost out on at least a point Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to the under-manned Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena.

“I think the guys are disappointed. I think they felt we could’ve won that game tonight,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “They want to get back and go at it again.”

Sunday was a crapshoot. It was a 1-0 win with Marc-Andre Fleury being the deserving star of the show. The Avalanche had two weeks off due to COVID-19 protocol. Their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, was still in protocol.

Last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Cale Makar, did not play Sunday nor Tuesday. Colorado was already down Erik Johnson on its blue line. Top-four defenseman Samuel Girard, too, is in COVID protocol.

That’s a lot of high-profile names to lose. The fact the Golden Knights escaped Sunday with a win was miraculous, knowing Colorado would respond in kind.

That’s exactly what happened. MacKinnon opened the scoring 7:08 into the game off a one-timer from the high slot from Mikko Rantanen.

It was the perfect example showing what happens when the Avalanche gets rolling (pun intended). After Philipp Grubauer makes a kick save from William Karlsson, Colorado steadies the puck and is off to the races.

When MacKinnon gets going downhill, there aren’t many skaters that can match that speed and concentration.

Colorado’s plan from the opening draw was to get the MacKinnon line going. This came a game after Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez did a superb job containing the Hart Trophy finalist.

Thirty seconds into Tuesday’s game, MacKinnon nearly scored on a deflection in front of Fleury. Had it not been for Fleury’s skate, Vegas could’ve been down more than one.

“I thought in the first period, we got caught early standing still and took some penalties,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “But I thought in the second and third, we negated that speed with puck possession in the offensive zone and forechecking.”

The Golden Knights were fortunate to escape the first period unscathed and down only one. Vegas committed four penalties in the first period (three minor infractions) to put Colorado in prime power-play territory.

But Vegas killed all three of those penalties to keep it 1-0 at the end of the first.

“We got behind the 8-ball,” said captain Mark Stone. “We killed six minutes of penalties in the first period. You take a lot of guys out of the game with that. Overall, I don’t think we got outskated.”

One thing the Golden Knights did well Tuesday was take away the center ice in their zone. Colorado had only six high-danger chances, and outside its second and third goals, Colorado didn’t have much to work with.

Vegas, meanwhile, had 15 high-danger opportunities with 2.65 expected goals. Given their slow start in the first period, that would indicate the Golden Knights should’ve won this game.

Much like it has been the case in Vegas’ history, it takes a bounce or two to sway the momentum away. Case in point: Max Pacioretty scores his game-tying power-play goal, only for Brandon Saad to score 1:03 later and give Colorado the lead right back.

Then, the Golden Knights tie it in the third by way of the Misfit Line’s relentless pressure in the crease. Jonathan Marchessault ties it and, if anything, a point is on the horizon.

Especially given that’s only the third 5-on-5 goal scored in the last week, Vegas would’ve thanked its lucky stars to get a point.

But, once again, one bounce changes things. Nazem Kadri corrals the rebound with Fleury on his seat, and he roofs it over Fleury with 40 seconds left.

Instead of a potential three-point swing in the West Division, the Golden Knights settle for a home split with its most competitive foe in the West Division.

“I really liked our effort tonight. I liked the fact the second and third periods were our best periods,” DeBoer said. “It’s tough to lose a game like that, but we did a lot of really good things and I was proud of the effort.”

The scene now shifts to Lake Tahoe for Saturday’s outdoor get-together, and then once more Monda at Ball Arena in Denver.

The Golden Knights acknowledged two things Tuesday night; that Colorado is the quickest team it’s played, and the best team it’s played to this point.

And that was without Colorado’s big names.

If the Golden Knights are hoping to make a statement, this weekend is the time.

“As much as you want to put on a show because you know so many people are watching, we have a lot to prove after this game,” Pacioretty said. “We know everyone’s watching this one, and there’s no excuse. We should be well rested.”

Danny Webster covers the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.

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