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Bullet Points: Marc-Andre Fleury superb again in Golden Knights win over Sharks

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Given the unorthodox back-to-back this weekend, this won’t be a full-on dive into Saturday’s game.

Instead, this will be a few quick thoughts on the Vegas Golden Knights winning for the fourth time in five games, a 3-1 road triumph over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.

We’ll see about doing this format going forward for regular game days, but I figured it best to at least share some thoughts on Vegas getting the victory in Pete DeBoer’s return to San Jose.

  • Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be stellar. I’m running out of adjectives to describe the start he’s on, but he’s looking like 2018 Fleury right now. Fleury is 6-1-0 to start this condensed season with a 1.58 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. It was the fourth time this season Fleury has allowed one goal or fewer in a game. He’s handled business and, especially in these last two starts, has bailed out his teammates in plenty of ways. It’s been noted on this platform many times; Fleury hasn’t beaten any good teams to date. Until he does that, he hasn’t fully ran away in this goalie battle with Robin Lehner. That chance may come Sunday, back home against the Colorado Avalanche, where it’s highly plausible Fleury will get the call for the back-to-back. Oscar Dansk is the backup, but the time to give him game reps was Saturday. When I asked DeBoer on Friday if he had confidence in Dansk should he need to use him, of course he says yes, but he sounds more confident in giving Fleury the back-to-back than throwing your usual No. 1 AHL goalie into the fray against Nathan MacKinnon and co. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fleury getting the call one more time.
  • The power play is alive and well after the Golden Knights cashed in three times on the man advantage Saturday. Each goal came in a different way, but the common theme was crashing the net and make it a tough afternoon for Martin Jones. Jonathan Marchessault channeled his inner Babe Ruth on the game’s first goal, batting the puck in from mid-air; Mark Stone potted a backhand rebound after Cody Glass and William Karlsson crashed the crease; Chandler Stephenson’s speed coming down the middle was enough for him to go soccer mode and score. After looking abhorrent on the power play, Vegas has a power-play goal in four of its past six games. That’s the kind of special teams work to expect with this talent. The 5-on-5 play wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad. Particularly, the Glass line and Stephenson line were the best on this day.
  • Sunday will start the litmus test for Vegas; four straight matchups against the Avalanche, with technically three at home if you include the Lake Tahoe game next weekend. The Golden Knights have taken care of business to this point; eight of their nine wins have come in regulation. That’s one way to separate yourselves from the bottom half of the league. Vegas is still tops in points percentage (.792) with three games in hand on St. Louis. Colorado has one game in hand on Vegas, but trails by three points. MacKinnon will be back Sunday, as will his teammates after a two-week pause due to COVID-19. There’s no need to dive into how much of a gamechanger he is. In short, the Vegas Golden Knights need to be great this week. It doesn’t help to play less than 24 hours prior, but these are the cards they’ve been dealt. Sunday should be fun.

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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[…] Marc-Andre Fleury was BRILLIANT on Saturday. He earned a 3-1 win over San Jose. Read all about it (Vegas Hockey Now) […]

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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