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.
How Jonathan Marchessault has gone from the rumor mill to being the Golden Knights’ ace in the hole
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.
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) January 3, 2019
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.
Morning After: Golden Knights find formidable foe in fast Avalanche
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.
Webster: Right now, Marc-Andre Fleury favorite for Vezina Trophy
It’s like trying to find the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot. It’s the equivalent of trying to find where they buried Jimmy Hoffa.
How Marc-Andre Fleury has not even been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy remains a great mystery. The best he’s finished is fourth.
Even entering the latter part of his 30s, Fleury continues to be one of the best goalies in the league. In Year 4 with the Vegas Golden Knights, Fleury has seemingly turned back the clock to 2018.
The Golden Knights aren’t even a quarter of the way through the season, and there’s still plenty of hockey to be played.
Right now, there’s no debate: Fleury is the front-runner for the Vezina.
Allow me to put down the Kool-Aid.
Fleury, just named the league’s Second Star of the Week for going 3-1-0, is having one of the best starts to a season in his 16-year career; he’s 7-1-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .944 save percentage to go with two shutouts.
Keep in mind: That one loss came in a 1-0 defeat to Anaheim.
“It’s been a while. I don’t think it’s routine. Feeling it in the legs a bit right now,” Fleury said after his 30-save shutout Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche. “It was fun. Fun to get some wins here, and beating a good team today.”
This could all change quickly. Whenever Robin Lehner returns and the Golden Knights revert back to rotating their two elite goaltenders, Fleury’s candidacy could hurt if the split continues.
But the four consecutive starts Fleury has put together couldn’t have come at a better time for the Golden Knights. Fleury stopped all but six shots (100/106) he faced, pacing the Golden Knights to the top of the West Division.
Fleury was supposed to have Thursday off; it was Lehner’s turn in the rotation. But an upper-body injury sustained at morning skate pushed Fleury to make his second straight start; the first time Pete DeBoer went that route.
Fleury made 27 saves Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to Anaheim. There was also that Save of the Year candidate.
— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) February 12, 2021
DeBoer could’ve gone with Oscar Dansk in one of these back-to-back games this past weekend. I brought up the possibility to DeBoer on Friday but he felt Fleury was well-rested after playing every other couple of days.
Turns out, he was right.
Fleury made 24 saves on Saturday in a 3-1 win at San Jose, then a 30-save masterpiece Sunday against a well-rested (albeit rusty) Avalanche team.
And unless these corresponding moves of reassigning Patrick Brown and Logan Thompson back to Henderson are for something completely different, it sounds like Fleury will go again Tuesday against a likely angry Colorado team.
“We’ve got to get him some rest and get him ready for Tuesday,” DeBoer said.
Think of the pace Fleury is on compared to other top goalies. These numbers have skewed a tad because of the split with Lehner, but also take into account the three games Vegas had to postpone due to entering COVID-19 protocol.
Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is once again asserting his dominance as one of the league’s best; the 2019 Vezina winner is off to a 9-2-1 start with a 1.92 GAA and .933 save percentage. Vasilevskiy has started in all but one of the defending champions’ games.
The Lightning sit atop the league in points percentage … with the Golden Knights.
Frederik Andersen is playing at an elite level with the Toronto Maple Leafs surging atop the North Division. The record is there (9-3-1) but the GAA (2.55) and save percentage (.909) prove the offense is carrying Toronto right now.
The offense should be carrying Fleury, as well, but Fleury has done his part when his teammates haven’t. Fleury has allowed one goal or fewer in five of his eight starts.
He’s allowed more than two goals in a start once. Forgive him for allowing three goals in the third against Anaheim with Tomas Nosek and COVID-19, and all.
Only Vasilevskiy (7.33), Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom (6.33) and Chicago’s Kevin Lankinen (5.73) have higher goals saved above average than Fleury (5.72).
The level of competition also does play a factor here. The Golden Knights’ opponents in the West Division are nowhere near the level Vasilevskiy is facing in the Central.
The Golden Knights have played the Blues and Avalanche once each, compared to Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Arizona a total of 10 times.
Despite more starts, Vasilevskiy’s best performances have too come against the bottom feeders (Detroit, Nashville, Chicago before they started playing better).
It’s not to say Fleury can’t come down to Earth at some point, but right now, he’s in a zone that can’t be quantified. If he gives up five Tuesday against Colorado, we can all take a torch and light this column on fire.
If the Golden Knights are contending for the Stanley Cup, it’ll be because of Fleury and Lehner. Whether DeBoer actually does sway toward one over the other come playoff time is another discussion.
If Fleury is even close to this pace, he’ll have one thing on his side: popularity.
Fleury is still beloved. People want to see Fleury win; they want to see him hoist the Stanley Cup one more time, likely as the starting goalie in Vegas.
There’s no doubt that had Fleury not been concussed in 2017-18, he would’ve been a finalist and could’ve won it. Missing those two months hurt him, even if he played at a top-three goalie level in the second half of the season.
If it gets to the point Fleury leads the Vegas Golden Knights to the playoffs and he’s the No. 1, voters will take notice.
It’s a much better team in front of Fleury than the 2018 Cup Final squad. DeBoer’s coaching style is more tailored to playing better in front of his goalie. That’s been evident for the most part.
Yet even at 36 years old, Fleury still finds a way to shock everyone. This might be another year he does it.
Danny Webster covers the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter at @DannyWebster21.