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Analysis

GOLDEN GRADES: Knights look dim in gold helmets, and on ice, vs. Ducks

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The Vegas Golden Knights had two losses on Thursday night; one on the ice, and one on their heads.

The Golden Knights dropped their first home game in regulation, 1-0 to the Anaheim Ducks at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday.

It was also the night Vegas unveiled its gold chrome helmets. Between the Henderson Silver Knights’ silver chrome domes and these weird hats, it’s clear the fix is in for Daft Punk to have an intermission concert once fans are allowed in the building.

That would be more exciting than the performance the Golden Knights had on this night. They wasted an outstanding 27-save performance from Marc-Andre Fleury (more on that later) for his first loss in six starts.

The bigger story is that Fleury even started at all. Robin Lehner was expected to start, but sustained an upper-body injury at morning skate and was not able to go. Oscar Dansk served as the backup.

“Unfortunate to waste an effort like that. He was our best player,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Considering the circumstances, he got the call to go in late tonight, it was a great effort by him. I know the guys feel like they let him down tonight.”

On to the grades.

OFFENSE: D-

A lot of credit goes to Anaheim for blocking a whopping 25 shots. The Golden Knights out-attempted the Ducks 49-44, but Vegas spent more time throwing shots at Ducks skaters than the goalie.

John Gibson had a 21-save shutout, but he only saw three high-danger chances. Anaheim played a sound defensive game, one much more in-tune than allowing five goals on Tuesday. The top line of Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson and Max Pacioretty allowed 13 chances while generating only eight.

“I don’t know if it was much them as it was. We didn’t possess the puck a lot, turned it over a lot,” Stone said. “Just didn’t have enough jump to get pucks back and didn’t have a lot of o-zone time because of it.”

It’s a rare sight to see the Golden Knights’ offense shrivel up like that. Even in their 2-1 win Jan. 16 against Anaheim, they did a good job getting to Gibson before finally breaking through late in the third period.

The fact remains that the Golden Knights have scored one goal in their last four periods. Whether it be no practice Wednesday due to Tomas Nosek going into COVID-19 protocol or just a dry spell, Thursday was an off night at the office.

DEFENSE: B-

Thursday saw the return of Alex Pietrangelo to the lineup. It was the defenseman’s first game since Jan. 26 before going into COVID protocol two days later.

Pietrangelo had two shots on goal during a game-high 26:28 in his first game action in two weeks. Pietrangelo was back on the top pair with Alec Martinez.

Martinez’ usual defense partner, Shea Theodore, is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

“I skated the last four, five days, but other than that I was just home resting,” Pietrangelo said. “It was a long 10 days, but it’s nice to get back in the mix here, get playing again. It’s not fun when you’re sitting out.”

Pietrangelo and Martinez were on the ice for 14 shots while allowing 10. One of those shots was the game’s only goal from Max Comtois late in the third period. No one, not even Vegas’ top pair, reacted quick enough to catch Comtois. The Ducks forward has four goals in four games against Vegas this season.

As for the other pairs, Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud (12-12) were fine. Dylan Coghlan and Nick Holden (17-12) had another solid game as the third pair. Coghlan, in particular, played his best game as an NHL player. He’s looking comfortable in his own zone and is starting to show flashes of a rounded offensive game. If he gets more opportunities to let one go from the point, it’ll be an exciting time to see the repertoire at its fullest.

But there’s no denying the Golden Knights miss Theodore’s offense and his skating. Missing a point-per-game defenseman hurts, but it’s how much he opens the ice up with his skill and ability. It’s why he’s valued as much on 5-on-5 as he is on the power play.

“He’s an elite defenseman. He’s a guy that can break down the other team with his feet and legs,” DeBoer said. “In a game like tonight that’s a 0-0 game going into the third, there’s not a lot of room out there. Those type of guys with individual ability can break down a team defensively. We miss him, but we’ve had really good players in our lineup miss time, and that’s going to happen going forward.”

GOALTENDING: A+

Where do we begin?

Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacular. He’s been magnificent all season. If the Golden Knights found a way to score a goal or two, we’d be talking about Fleury’s third 6-0-0 start of his illustrious career.

Alas, it was all for naught.

Goalie coach Mike Rosati told Fleury before coming to the rink that he would be starting. It was supposed to be Lehner’s turn in the crease, continuing the goalie rotation that has proven successful to this point.

At the latest, I’d expect Fleury to play Saturday at San Jose with a possible return for Lehner at home Sunday against Colorado.

But enough of the legalities. Let’s talk about this.

Let’s just revel in the fact that this man is 36 years old, making saves like this. The AT&T game broadcast replayed the clip of his epic save against Toronto last November. This wasn’t full-on Superman coming out of the phone booth like that one, but still an absurd display of his athleticism.

Isac Lundestrom is likely seeing nightmares of Fleury.

“I knew I was kind of screwed on that one,” Fleury said. “Went around my poke check. Hopefully that scared him a little bit, but put my arm back there, trying to cover a little something, and got a little lucky.”

It’s that kind of save that should win games most nights. Unfortunately for Fleury, he did all he could for a sixth win on this night. His teammates, however, did not.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

The Golden Knights’ power play was good for three games. Then, it went back to bad.

It’s like going on the Incredicoaster three straight times and getting stuck on the giant loop the fourth time.

Much like their 5-on-5 play, the Golden Knights struggled heavily at generating anything with the man advantage. Entering through the neutral zone, much like before their two-week hiatus, was a problem yet again.

The penalty kill, once again, looked elite in killing both Anaheim penalties.

FASHION SENSE: F-

Look, I get it. It’s a franchise built on innovation.

The Golden Knights wanted the first metallic-gold sweater ever. They made it happen. Vegas went bold with the red sweaters honoring Las Vegas hockey’s past. They did it.

But these gold helmets … no, sir. Not in this lexicon.

The Henderson Silver Knights went with the silver chrome lids, and it being so new, it has the chance to grow on me. With these gold helmets, it was one giant conglomerate of Khal Drogo putting the Golden Crown on Viserys.

The Golden Knights are 0-1 with gold helmets. That’s really the underlying message I’m trying to get across.

Danny Webster covers the Vegas Golden Knights 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.

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[…] Grading the Golden Knights – low marks for anyone not named Marc-Andre Fleury in shutout loss from Danny Webster. (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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