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Analysis

GOLDEN GRADES: Knights get hard-earned sweep of Kings

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This condensed NHL season has a baseball feel.

Any time a team can earn a three- or four-game sweep on the diamond, that’s worthy of praise. It’s a testament to a team’s depth and overall talent.

That’s going to happen plenty this season, and while the Vegas Golden Knights should be defeating the inferior teams placed in front of them, it’s still worthy of note that they swept the Los Angeles Kings this weekend. It’s also commendable that the Golden Knights went from not playing for eight days to finding ways to win.

The Golden Knights defeated the Kings 4-3 on Super Bowl Sunday at T-Mobile Arena, improving to 7-1-1.

“Beating any team in this league twice is going to be tough,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “You see that when you look around the league. There’s no doubt we made it tougher on ourselves tonight. You’ve got to win all kinds of different ways in this season. The bottom line is we’re winning in a league that’s hard to do so.”

Let’s hand out some grades.

OFFENSE: B

Much like Friday’s 5-2 win, the Golden Knights erupted for three goals in the opening 20 minutes. They needed those goals given Los Angeles scoring twice on their first two shots, courtesy of Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe.

Vegas put on a passing clinic in the first period. The Golden Knights’ goals were highlighted by the chemistry and allurement from these lines. Look no further than Reilly Smith’s tying goal with this spinning pass from Jonathan Marchessault.

Did Smith call for such a pass?

“Must’ve been dumb luck,” Smith said. “Sometimes it seems like he’s got eyes in the back of his head.”

Then came Zach Whitecloud’s goal less than a minute after Kempe’s tally. This centering pass from Cody Glass is 1C-type stuff.

This was by far Glass’ best game this season. Not only was his line very good (9-2 in attempts), but he held his own in some instances against Kopitar and played the 200-foot game the Golden Knights have clamored for.

Chandler Stephenson scored twice. His first goal was set up by this stellar pass from Mark Stone.

Talk about eyes in the back of one’s head, this pass is a clear case of the top line’s chemistry. Only Stone can have the wherewithal to know the speedy Stephenson would streak down center ice and create the dangerous chance.

The offense hit a wall in the second period. The Max Pacioretty – Stephenson – Stone line generated four attempts (one goal) and no attempts allowed in the first. The top line allowed a whopping eight attempts, gave up a goal, and did not have a single attempt in the middle frame.

The once-open ice for Vegas was taken away. The Kings did a much better job closing passing lanes and limiting scoring chances; the Golden Knights had only three shots on goal in the final 15:19 of the second period.

Being Super Bowl Sunday, I doubt anyone really wanted to play this game. I’d like to think many teams would rather take the day off and prepare to gorge on all the chicken fingers and sandwiches they could muster. Nevertheless, it was a much better effort from the Kings on Sunday. It’s just another reminder Vegas is that much better.

Also, a shoutout to the fourth line for generating 12 attempts and only allowing four. Sometimes you don’t expect something until you see the numbers. The meat-grinder line had a solid evening.

DEFENSE: B+

Outside of L.A.’s two goals on two shots, the defense settled in nicely.

Particularly speaking, the third pair of Nick Holden and Dylan Coghlan were much better. After being on the ice for 13 attempts allowed Friday, the veteran-rookie combo were on the ice for eight attempts while allowing only four.

Coghlan also had a prime opportunity to score his first NHL goal, if not for one of many terrific saves Petersen made in the final 40 minutes.

Nic Hague and Whitecloud remain steady presences on the second pair. Whitecloud’s goal was obviously the highlight mark, but the more they play together and buckle down in the defensive zone, the more enjoyable it is to watch them play.

Alec Martinez and Shea Theodore were fine (13-15 in attempts), but nothing stood out from their second game as the top pair. Martinez led all Golden Knights skaters in ice time at 25:19, with 5:18 of that coming on the penalty kill. All in all, not a bad night for the blue line.

GOALTENDING: B

The good news: Robin Lehner won for the first time in three starts.

The bad news: The two goals on two shots are a horrible look.

Hindsight: Give credit to Kopitar on his goal. It’s a wicked shot that the L.A. captain placed perfectly. Kempe’s goal may have been aided by Hague’s stick, but Lehner still covered enough ground short side to where that puck shouldn’t have snuck through the pads.

Other than that, stopping 29 of the next 30 shots is a solid rebound. He settled in and made some key stops. The third goal wasn’t his fault. Jaret Anderson-Dolan snuck through the slot unseen and by the time Vegas converged on the young forward, Lehner already lost it top shelf.

This had the makings of going downhill fast, but Lehner recovered well and did enough in the final 40 minutes to get the win. He stopped 14 of 15 high-danger chances while expecting 1.52 goals against more than he actually allowed. Take out those first two goals, and it would’ve been a banner night for the Panda.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Three straight games with a power-play goal. Surely it’s Groundhog Day.

Stephenson’s winner 1:38 into the frame wasn’t by design. He meant to center it to Alex Tuch but Kale Clague’s stick was in the right place at the right time. The puck catches the Kings’ defenseman’s stick and sneaks past Petersen five-hole.

“Lucky goal, but I’ll take it,” Stephenson said.

While the power play finds its legs, the penalty kill was superb in killing all four penalties. Vegas has killed 11 of its last 13 penalties (counting the garbage-time power-play goal from Dustin Brown on Friday), which hovers around its season average of 83.9 percent.

Next up for the Golden Knights is another two-game set at home against the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim has the league’s worst power play (6.7 percent), so the PK is likely salivating at this.

Danny Webster is the newest reporter and columnist at 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.

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[…] Grading the Golden Knights: VHN’s Danny Webster doles out marks from last night’s 4-3 win over the LA Kings. (VegasHockeyNow) […]

Analysis

Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo shine in Golden Knights’ win over Ducks

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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.

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Analysis

Brayden McNabb nearing return for Golden Knights – how should he be deployed?

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Vegas Golden Knights, Brayden McNabb Marc-Andre Fleury

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.

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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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