Deryk Engelland

Max Pacioretty on pace for career-best season in Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Max Pacioretty is putting on an offensive showcase for the Vegas Golden Knights this season.

The 31-year-old forward leads the team in points (44) and goals scored (19); he ranks second with 25 assists. His career highs are 67 points, 34 assists and 39 goals.

His offensive flow has also meshed with linemate Mark Stone and helped spark the Golden Knights to the top of the Pacific Division after they dropped as low as sixth place earlier this season. Following Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh – in which Pacioretty scored – the Knights are on a 15-7-3 run since Nov. 17 and their 33 points in that span are tied for second in the NHL with the Penguins.

Pacioretty has had a lot to do with that, and he’s certainly played like an All-Star even though he didn’t make the All-Star roster.

The 12-year veteran said the difference between his first two campaigns in Vegas can be traced to the last two summers.

When trade rumors were swirling in 2018, he hung around Montreal the entire summer with one foot out the door while awaiting word on where he might be going. Thus, he didn’t get to follow his usual training regimen. The Canadiens didn’t trade him to the Golden Knights until the second week of September that year, and he was thrust into training camp to get acclimated to his new teammates.

After battling through injuries, he had just 22 goals and 18 assists in 66 games last season.

After the Golden Knights were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, Pacioretty got in his comfort zone and went back to work on his body.

“(Last) summer, I was able to go back to Connecticut and get back with my longtime trainer and I have noticed a big difference on the ice,” Pacioretty said. “Feel more explosive, a lot stronger and I think that’s contributed a lot to my game as well. Going back there this summer was a good feeling once I got on the ice. Obviously, you don’t want to get too stale during the summer.”

Pacioretty said he and his trainer have followed the same program throughout his NHL career, one that revolves around two strength days and two power days, all working toward his on-ice explosiveness. Strength days work on building a good foundation and solid base, while power days include sled work and high-volume lifting – all contributing to the development of power and quickness in his legs.

“Building that foundation with the strength is important and it allows you to build that power later in the summer and that speed once you get on the ice,” Pacioretty said.

Which has been evident all season, as he’s been less physical during scrums, and more concentrated on gathering loose pucks and creating scoring chances for his team. He acknowledged that during his first season with Vegas he was much more physical on the boards, taking unnecessary shots when he could have been aiming for possession first. Now, rather than “just try and crush someone and get the fans into the game,” he’s played efficient hockey nearly every game.

“Right now I’m trying to contribute offensively,” he said. “It’s more important to have the puck than to try to put another guy through the glass.”

His change in style, and the results on the stat sheet, have also had effects in the locker room and rubbed off on his teammates.

“He’s a great leader on and off the ice for us,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland. “He’s playing the way we want him to play. He’s just like everyone else in this locker room. Everyone’s equal in here. It’s just extremely fun to watch him play.”

Since losing ’18 Cup Final, Golden Knights look more like Caps

Almost 18 months since the Vegas Golden Knights’ improbable inaugural season ended, they look much more like the team that vanquished them in the Stanley Cup Final.

If you can’t beat ’em, be more like ’em.

Once a ragtag group relying on more will than skill, Vegas is beginning to resemble the Washington Capitals they faced in the 2018 final. The Golden Knights don’t have carbon copies of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, but they added some serious skill in forwards Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone and could easily follow the Capitals’ championship model.

“They’ve done a great job,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think they’ve added another layer. I thought when we beat them, we were a little bit deeper team, especially up front. Then adding Stone, adding Pacioretty, signing Stastny – those are three really good players, so they have a whole new layer of offensive, really solid players on their team. In theory, I think they’re a better team than they were.”

The Golden Knights who went to the final in their expansion season had a first line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith and leaned heaviest on defensemen Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland. All those players remain but have the pressures eased off them, given internal promotions and external additions.

Forward William Carrier, one of more than a dozen players left from the 2018 final, said this is a better team.

“Right now, we’re a more talented team,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s a different team. We’re a more skilled team than we were back then. But back then we had that air about (us) – we were the hardest working team in the league. I want us to get back to that. We were a fast team, we were a quick team that first year and everything went our way. We had a lot of puck luck and a lot of good things that happened that first year.”

Those good things stopped when the Capitals wore down the Golden Knights with their depth and won the series in five games. Then, last spring, Vegas got knocked out in the first round when a blown call in Game 7 against San Jose snowballed into a disastrous third period.

Bouncing back from two tough playoff exits is another lesson the Golden Knights can learn from the Capitals, who kept getting stopped in the second round or earlier before breaking through and winning it all.

“We’ve had some disappointments,” said Kelly McCrimmon, who took over for George McPhee as Knights GM last summer. “That’s your ultimate opportunity to evaluate and to learn and to assess where you need to be better. … There’s things you need to do to get you to the playoffs, there’s things you need to do to get you through the playoffs. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been a playoff team both years, we’ve gained that experience.”

Capitals winger Tom Wilson looks at Vegas as a team built for the playoffs because of its size, skill and toughness. It’s almost like gazing into a mirror.

“They have a really stable team – they can establish all four lines and roll,” Washington’s Jakub Vrana said. “They play hard, and they work hard for every inch of the ice. That’s what’s been winning them games. We do the same thing.”

Blending the work ethic and the grittiness that got Vegas into the final with the talent that could get it over the top is now the challenge. Gallant doesn’t shy away from the comparison to the Capitals, who perfected that mix.

“The work comes before the skill, and when you get your talented guys and your skilled guys working real hard, then that’s when you’re going to have the right team,” Gallant said. “I think the team in Washington, that’s what they do. They’ve got some real talented hockey players, but when they work hard, they’re a great team.”

The next stage in becoming a consistently great team is integrating homegrown players, like Cody Glass and Nicolas Hague, who were picks from the Golden Knights’ first draft in 2017. Vegas is at the salary cap like the NHL’s best teams and isn’t afraid of the big expectations that come with that.

“We don’t feel or act or believe we’re an expansion team,” McCrimmon said. “We’re in Year 3 as a franchise, and like every other team, always trying to get better, always trying to win more games, always trying to be a playoff team and have success.”

FIRST TIMER

Lifelong Maple Leafs fan Ron Ruckstuhl, 52, was diagnosed with Lewy dody disease three years ago and told he had five to seven years to live. In August, son Joshuah sent a tweet to retired NHLer Paul Bissonnette hoping his dad could attend a game in Toronto for the first time.

“I’ve waited 52 years for something like this,” Ron said.

As part of the “NHL First Timer” video series, the league surprised Ruckstuhl at his house earlier this month and took him and sons Joshuah and Ryan to the Leafs’ game Nov. 5 against Los Angeles.

“I’d never seen my dad smile and laugh (like that),” said Joshuah, 28, who is his father’s full-time caregiver. “For a little bit, you didn’t realize he was sick. You could see him forget about being sick for just a little bit.”

The league is releasing video of the occasion Wednesday to mark World Kindness Day.

“This is what it’s all about,” NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “To be able to put joy in somebody’s life like Ron’s and to be able to show his story to the world is quite an honor and it makes me proud to be a part of the NHL.”

NO LONE WOLF

Phil Kessel is fitting in just fine with the young Arizona Coyotes and has come a long way from playing in the shadow of – and winning two titles with – Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin in Pittsburgh.

“He fed off those guys in Pittsburgh really well,” said coach Rick Tocchet, who also was an assistant with the Penguins. “Sometimes he was under the radar, and he’d come up with some big goals because (opponents focused on) Malkin or Crosby. Now there’s a little bit more focus on him.”

Tocchet said Kessel has done more leading because he recognizes, at 32, he should. It’s working.

“Phil, the young guys love him and he’s taking pressure off guys,” Tocchet said. “When some guys aren’t scoring, to be honest with you, the media are not on the guy as much because Phil takes that pressure off. So he does take the pressure or the burden off some guys if they’re not scoring.”

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights, Sharks renew their rivalry

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Golden Knights were defeated by the Sharks in OT of Game 7 in Round 1 last April after a controversial major penalty was called on Vegas’ Cody Eakin for a cross-check to Joe Pavelski in the third period with the Knights leading 3-0. San Jose scored four times on the man-advantage, while Vegas tallied a goal late to force overtime. Barclay Goodrow won it for San Jose in OT and secured one of the most improbable comebacks in postseason history, leading the Sharks into Round 2.

On Tuesday, Sharks forward Evander Kane was suspended three games for physical abuse of an official, stemming from an altercation with Vegas’ Deryk Engelland in San Jose’s final preseason game. Kane swung his stick at Engelland in response to a cross-check, but got a piece of the ref in the process. Then, the ref grabbed Kane and both fell to the ice. Kane appeared to shove the ref while getting back to his feet.

“I get kicked out of the game for getting jumped from behind by a referee,” said Kane. “I’ve never seen a ref take five strides. If you look at his face, he’s getting all this power and he’s trying to drive me into the ice, which is what he did. That’s unbelievable. Talk about abuse of an official? How about abuse of a player? It’s an absolute joke.”

The Sharks and Knights open the season with a home and home series. They open the season Wednesday in Vegas, before meeting again on Friday in San Jose. Vegas is 5-1-2 all-time against San Jose in the regular season. They’ve split their only two playoff meetings.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights
WHERE: T-Mobile Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Sharks-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Timo MeierLogan Couture – Danil Yurtaikin
Lean Bergmann – Tomas HertlLukas Radil
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonKevin Labanc
Melker Karlsson – Barclay Goodrow – Dylan Gambrell

Marc-Edouard VlasicBrent Burns
Brenden DillonDalton Prout
Mario Ferraro – Tim Heed

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyCody GlassMark Stone
Brandon PirriPaul StastnyValentin Zykov
William CarrierTomas NosekRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt
Jon MerrillShea Theodore
Nick Holden – Deryk Engelland

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Brendan Burke and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call of Sharks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

Sharks’ Evander Kane suspended 3 games for abuse of official

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(UPDATE: Kane will not appeal the suspension.)

San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane received an automatic three-game suspension for violating Rule 40.4 (Physical Abuse of Officials) during Sunday’s preseason contest against the Vegas Golden Knights.

TSN’s Darren Dreger notes that the Sharks can appeal the suspension, which would push the decision to Gary Bettman.

Kane, 28, had been getting into it with Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland, only for linesman Kiel Murchison to get involved. Kane got knocked over, and then he appeared to shove Murchison while getting up, leading to an ejection, and ultimately this suspension.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

To put things mildly, Kane wasn’t happy with the ejection, and probably isn’t happy with the suspension. You can judge for yourself based on the video above this post’s headline.

“I get kicked out of the game for getting jumped from behind by a referee. I’ve never seen a ref take five strides,” Kane said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “If you look at his face, he’s getting all this power and he’s trying to drive me into the ice, which is what he did. That’s unbelievable.

”Talk about abuse of an official? How about abuse of a player? It’s an absolute joke.”

Here’s the verbiage of category three of the rule, which carries that three-game suspension:

“Any player who, by his actions, physically demeans an official or physically threatens an official by (but not limited to) throwing a stick or any other piece of equipment or object at or in the general direction of an official, shooting the puck at or in the general direction of an official, spitting at or in the general direction of an official, or who deliberately applies physical force to an official solely for the purpose of getting free of such an official during or immediately following an altercation shall be suspended for not less than three (3) games.”

Somewhat amusingly, this suspension would keep Kane out of what would be some heated games, as he’d miss two games to start the season against the Golden Knights (at Vegas on Wednesday, in San Jose on Friday), and then a Saturday game against the Ducks in Anaheim.

No doubt about it, Kane has revved up the rivalry against the Golden Knights, a situation that’s only escalated after that controversial Game 7 from Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In particular, Kane’s clashed with Ryan Reaves, both physically and verbally.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Will Evander Kane be suspended for abuse of official?

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(UPDATE: Kane has been suspended three games and he will not appeal.)

There always seems to be fireworks when the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks play. Whether it’s a playoff game or regular season contest, something seems to happen. The rivalry doesn’t even slow down in the preseason anymore. On Sunday, Sharks forward Evander Kane was ejected for abuse of an official.

Before Kane had a run-in with linesman Kiel Murchison, he and Golden Knights forward Valentin Zykov dropped the gloves. So Kane, who had already been thrown out of games at T-Mobile Arena twice heading into last night, wasn’t in a particularly good mood. Of course, we also know about the beef he and Ryan Reaves had in the playoffs last season. But now, he may be facing supplemental discipline for this latest incident.

Kane gets tangled up with Deryk Engelland. There’s some words and shoves exchanged and then Kane whacks Engelland with his stick, but appears to also make contact with Murchison. The linesman gets in between the two players, grabs Engelland Murchison grabs Kane forcefully and they end up falling over. The two get up and Kane gives the referee a shove.

The Sharks forward was eventually kicked out of the game and he clearly wasn’t happy about it.

“I get kicked out of the game for getting jumped from behind by a referee. I’ve never seen a ref take five strides,” Kane said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “If you look at his face, he’s getting all this power and he’s trying to drive me into the ice, which is what he did. That’s unbelievable.

”Talk about abuse of an official? How about abuse of a player? It’s an absolute joke.”

Slashes happen all the time in hockey, but if you’re going to go down that road you need to make sure you’re not going to hit an innocent bystander, which is what Kane did. Clearly, the official was fed up of Kane’s antics and he was frustrated about being slashed. Should the referee be grabbing a player like that? Probably not. But there’s no excuse for whacking him either.

According to the NHL rulebook, there are three categories when it comes to abuse of an official:

Category I: “Any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than twenty (20) games.”

Category II: “Any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner (excluding actions as set out in Category I), which physical force is applied without intent to injure, or who spits on an official, shall be automatically suspended for not less than ten (10) games.”

Category III: “Any player who, by his actions, physically demeans an official or physically threatens an official by (but not limited to) throwing a stick or any other piece of equipment or object at or in the general direction of an official, shooting the puck at or in the general direction of an official, spitting at or in the general direction of an official, or who deliberately applies physical force to an official solely for the purpose of getting free of such an official during or immediately following an altercation shall be suspended for not less than three (3) games.”

Any time a player is tossed from a game for abuse of an official, the referees and linesmen will meet after the game to determine the category of the offense. The referees then give verbal and written reports to the league and the process begins.

It’s hard to argue that Kane intentionally tried to injure the linesman in this case and he also wasn’t applying physical force to an official to get free from him. This incident looks like it would fall in the second category. Back in 2017, Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette was suspended 10 games for slashing a referee off a face-off.

The biggest difference between Vermette’s slash and Kane’s slash, is that Vermette knew exactly what he was doing. Unfortunately for Kane, he also threw in the shove after he got taken down. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the NHL handles this situation. Will they hit Kane with a 10-game suspension for an incident that occurred during the preseason? Does the linesman dragging Kane to the ice play a factor in the final outcome of the suspension?

The NHL needs to be extremely careful with how they handle this incident. The linesman probably reacts out of frustration here, but Kane had been mixing it up throughout the game.

The league can’t let players get away with stuff like this. It will set an ugly precedent.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.