Malcolm Subban

Getty

Goaltending at center of Golden Knights’ slump

3 Comments

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

The Vegas Golden Knights will go as far as Marc-Andre Fleury is able to take them this season.

Not only in terms of how he plays, but also how often he plays.

It has been a very simple recipe for the team dating back to the start of last season, and it goes exactly like this: When Fleury plays, and plays well, the Golden Knights look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that can stack up against any team in the league.

When he does not play, or when he does not play well, the team has had virtually no chance of winning on any given night.

They have a deep group of forwards with impact players carrying the top lines, their defense may not have any potential Norris Trophy winners on it, but it is a capable group, and in general the team plays a winning brand of hockey.

Even so, goaltending is the make-or-break position on this team and it all relies on the health and play of Fleury.

Their recent 10-game stretch entering their Wednesday Night Hockey matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks is a perfect illustration of the importance of their starting goalie. They have won just three of those games, and even though the offense has cooled off and had its own share of struggles, the goaltending has not always given them a chance to win. They have consistently fallen behind early, often times by several goals, and have had to play catch-up almost every night.

Fleury has slumped a little recently (an .897 save percentage in his past six starts), but the bigger problem remains the fact the team has absolutely no one behind him that can give him some regular time off and give the team a chance to win. On this most recent 10-game stretch backups Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk have started four games, all of them losses, and allowed 15 goals with a combined save percentage of just .881. Not good enough.

[COVERAGE OF BLACKHAWKS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

For the season, the Golden Knights are one of just four teams that have yet to get a win from their backup goalies, and dating back to the start of last season they are just 8-14-4 in games that Fleury has not started. Their backups have a combined save percentage of .896, which is a completely terrible number even as far as backup goalies are concerned.

This is a potentially big problem for two reasons.

First, it means when Fleury does not play the Golden Knights points percentage dips down to lottery team levels. Even if you assume that Fleury is able to play 60-65 games that is still 20 or so games where they are  just giving away points in the standings, something that could force them to play Fleury more than they need to. Or should.

That leads to the second problem, which is Fleury’s workload and how many games the Golden Knights actually want him to play during the season. For as durable as he has been throughout his career (and still is; keep in mind he played 61 games a year ago), you have to consider the reality that he turns 35 years old later this month. In the history of the league there have only been seven instances of a goalie in their age 35 season (or older) starting more than 60 games in a season, and only two of them — both Martin Brodeur seasons — ended up making the playoffs that year. In both cases he completely bombed in the opening round, losing each series in five games.

Even when taking age out of the equation the sweet spot for No. 1 goalies in today’s NHL seems to be somewhere around the 55-60 game mark. It cuts down the injury risk and keeps the starter fresh for the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Fleury’s three best postseasons — when looking at individual success and length of postseason run — came in years where he started 35, 38, and 46 games during the regular season, while his three worst performances came in years where he started more than 65 games. Granted, no one is going to suggest his playing time should be limited to 35 or 40 games, but keeping him under 60 might be very beneficial in the long run. The problem is Golden Knights don’t have anyone on their roster behind Fleury that should inspire enough confidence to give them 25-30 starts without seriously hurting the team’s spot in the standings and playoff race.

It is a big problem and one that needs to be addressed because they can’t rely on Fleury to play every night, and their current backups haven’t proven to be good enough to give him a break.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Darren Dreger. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk  and Pierre McGuire will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Sharks keep sinking; Jets, Byfuglien to arbitration?

Getty Images
4 Comments

Saturday’s been such a busy — and violent/scary — night in the NHL, that it feels acceptable to commandeer the beginning of The Buzzer for some developing stories before we get to the three stars, highlights, and factoids.

Choppy waters for the Sharks

If you can zoom out a bit, it’s fair to remember that the Sharks sent a bucket of pucks Connor Hellebuyck‘s way on Friday, only to lose. They were probably a little tired on Saturday, and also maybe feeling a little bit like they wouldn’t get the bounces that come from whatever hard work they could squeeze out.

(It’s worth asking if a team that also leans so much on older players might be especially prone to weak efforts on the second half of back-to-backs.)

Those caveats out of the way … yikes.

The Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the Canucks represents San Jose’s fifth loss in a row, and the Sharks have only won once in their last eight games (1-6-1 stretch), pushing their 2019-20 record to a deeply worrisome 4-10-1. When the Sharks decided to extend Erik Karlsson, it felt like the right move now, even if there’d likely be pain down the road. That pain instead took the express lane.

More than a few people wonder if Peter DeBoer will lose his job, among other changes. That’s a situation to watch, whether things heat up this weekend, this week, or further down the line. Either way, it’s pretty shocking, even if it’s early.

Arbitration for Buffy?

The latest episode of “As the Buffy Turns” comes from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who reports that the Winnipeg Jets might have to go to arbitration with possibly retiring defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. It kicks off around the two-minute mark:

This seems less optimistic than Bob McKenzie’s update from earlier this week on NBCSN. The gist of the disagreement can be broken down in two basic phases, via Friedman’s report:

  • The NHL/Jets argue that Byfuglien was deemed “fit to play” at an end-of-season exit physical. Byfuglien’s side notes that it was well-known that he played hurt through the playoffs, and tried to take the summer to heal. Once his ankle acted up again, he reportedly decided it might be time to retire. Thus, on Byfuglien’s side, they argue it’s a legitimate hockey injury.
  • Once Byfuglien underwent surgery, a broken foot was discovered. At least, that’s Byfuglien’s side; there are arguments over when that injury might have happened.

It ultimately seems like this may come down to whether or not Byfuglien will be paid while he’s on the shelf — possibly without ever returning. But we’ll see.

*Phew*

Three Stars

1. Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers

If you only look at the exhilarating game-winner, you’d think Leon Draisaitl was the one who stole the show from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Overall, though, it was Mike Smith.

The Penguins peppered Smith with 52 shots on goal, including 13 high-danger chances at even-strength alone, according to Natural Stat Trick. Smith only yielded a single goal, stealing a win for the Oilers. Read more about that game in Adam Gretz’s three takeaways.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames

While Smith nabbed a remarkable 51 saves, it was “Big Save Dave” who finished Saturday night without a single blemish. Rittich pitched a 43-save shutout to help Calgary beat the Blue Jackets 3-0.

I’m giving Smith the edge because he faced so many dangerous chances, but Rittich’s night was plenty impressive in its own right.

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets entered the third period against the Golden Knights down 3-1, closing off a back-to-back in Vegas, one of the toughest buildings to snag such a win in.

Winnipeg wouldn’t be denied, and Connor was a big part of a comeback win. He collected two primary assists to help push the game into overtime, then baffled Malcolm Subban after Subban made a tremendous save earlier in the period. Getting the OT winner, plus two primary assists, helps push Connor just a bit ahead of the pack.

There were some other great performances, including David Pastrnak posting another three-point night (1G, 2A).

Highlight of the Night

The Devils got a much-needed win by beating the Hurricanes, and Nico Hischier scored a much-needed goal:

Factoids

  • The Islanders are on a nine-game winning streak, tied for the second best streak in franchise history. You can read more about that here, but Isles Blog points out another impressive stat: the team is 14-1-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets under Barry Trotz.
  • NHL PR notes that the Kings have scored 41 OT goals since the 3-on-3 format was introduced in 2015-16, six more than any team.
  • Speaking of highest marks since 2015-16 (also compiled by NHL PR), Sergei Bobrovsky holds the most shutouts with 23. That 23rd came on Saturday, and marks his first with the Panthers.
  • From Sportsnet Stats: David Pastrnak’s 27 points rank as the third-most through 13 games in Bruins history. Pastrnak’s only behind Phil Esposito (31 in 1973-74) and Bobby Orr (28 in 1974-75).

Scores

EDM 2 – PIT 1 (OT)
NYR 2 – NSH 1
BOS 5 – OTT 2
NYI 1 – BUF 0
FLA 4 – DET 0
TOR 4 – PHI 3 (SO)
NJD 5 – CAR 3
CGY 3 – CBJ 0
DAL 4 – MTL 1
STL 4 – MIN 3 (OT)
ARI 3 – COL 0
WIN 4 – VGK 3 (OT)
VAN 5 – SJS 2
LAK 4 – CHI 3 (OT)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• 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.

How will Vegas manage Marc-Andre Fleury’s workload?

Getty Images
2 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Let’s ponder three questions facing the Golden Knights:

1. How will Gerard Gallant manage Marc-Andre Fleury‘s workload? 

It has to happen at some point, right? Father Time catching up with Vegas’s beloved second son.

Fleury will be 35 before the season is two months old. He had 61 starts last season and it’s quite likely that he receives just as many this season, barring injury.

It just seems that the team isn’t ready to given Malcolm Subban more work. They used him heavily in March and Fleury got some much-needed rest before the playoffs began, but Subban didn’t set the world on fire with his play.

Finding the right workload will still winning games will be a test for Gallant, who hasn’t been as worried in the past about all the starts Fleury has gotten.

But consider this: only two goalies have ever started 60 games and won a Stanley Cup. Fleury, ironically, was one of them, but that was more than a decade ago now.

2. Can they mitigate some of their losses? 

Nikita Gusev, Colin Miller, Erik Haula, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare… all gone.

Gusev stands out for the mere fact of the hype train that followed him. The Golden Knights went out of their way to pluck him from the Kontinental Hockey League where he was regarded as one of the best players — if not the best — not playing in the NHL.

Unable to work out a deal that worked under the tight salary cap in Vegas, he was shipped off to the New Jersey Devils.

Speaking of moves relating to the cap, Colin Miller and all his great puck possession skills were traded off to Buffalo in an effort to find cap relief. Miller is an excellent puck-moving defenseman that will be missed on the blue line.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | X-factorUnder Pressure]

And then there are bottom-six guys in Erik Haula and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Haula’s injury-riddled season limited him to just 15 games. In 2017-18, however, he has 29 goals and 55 points. Bellemare was a solid fourth-liner, meanwhile.

3. Speaking of bottom six, what will that look like? 

Alex Tuch had a career year with 20 goals and 32 assists and will be counted on to provide that secondary scoring outside of Vegas’s stacked top two lines.

Where the other pieces fall into place will be decided at training camp, although it’s probably a safe bet that Cody Eakin will center that third line, at least to start. That would allow for Cody Glass to work his way into the NHL fold on as the team’s fourth-line center.

But you probably don’t want Glass, a very skilled prospect, on the same line as Ryan Reaves.

If Glass has a solid camp, perhaps Eakin gets pushed down to the fourth line and Glass is given Tuch on his right and one of William Carrier, Valentin Zykov or Brandon Pirri to his right.

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


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Vegas Golden Knights Day at PHT

1 Comment

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights. 

2018-19
43-32-7, 93 points (3rd in the Pacific Division, 7th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in Game 7 of Round 1 against the San Jose Sharks.

IN:
Jaycob Megna
Garrett Sparks

OUT:
Nikita Gusev
Colin Miller
Erik Haula
Ryan Carpenter
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Maxime Legace

RE-SIGNED:
Deryk Engelland
Malcolm Subban
Brandon Pirri
Tomas Nosek
William Karlsson

2018-19 Summary

Could they have done it all over again, or even one-upped their magical inaugural season with a Stanley Cup banner in just their second season in the NHL?

Ultimately, the answer to both of those questions was no. It wasn’t because they didn’t put themselves in position to take another run at Lord Stanley. Despite putting up 16 fewer points than they did when they won the Pacific Divison crown in 2017-18 the Golden Knights, plagued by injuries at times, still managed a third-place showing to secure a second playoff spot in as many years.

And in Round 1, they seemed to be cruising with a 3-1 series lead against the San Jose Sharks.

Seemed.

After dropping Games 5 and 6, the Golden Knights appeared to regroup. They held a 3-0 lead in the third period, and barring disaster, would be heading off to face the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2.

Instead, disaster ensured.

A five-minute major to Cody Eakin for a phantom who-knows-still-to-this-day roughing call handed the Sharks a lifeline. And it would be used to maximum effect as the Sharks rattled off four goals in four minutes during the extended power play to lead the game.

The Golden Knights forced overtime but it only delayed the inevitable as Barclay Goodrow completed one of the zaniest comebacks in NHL history.

Heartbreak in Year 1. Hearts torn out in Year 2.

It was always going to be a tough act to follow for the Golden Knights.

Vegas set the bar for expansion teams so high in their inaugural season in 2017-18 and were tasked with following up a Stanley Cup Final appearance in just their second year.

They certainly looked well on their way prior to the season kicking off, having added Paul Stastny in free agency and Max Pacioretty via trade.

[MORE: X-factor | Three QuestionsUnder Pressure]

But both players battled injuries at different points during the season, including Stastny’s, which limited him to 50 games.

Vegas wasn’t the same 109-point team from the year prior, but they announced their ‘win-now’ intentions at the trade deadline to not only acquire Mark Stone from Ottawa, but also agree to a big-money, multi-year extension.

The pieces were in place until their epic collapse watched it all go out the window.

It’s been a much quieter offseason in Vegas this time around, and the biggest news has been the players who have left the club, including Nikita Gusev, Colin Miller and Erik Haula.

Gusev is considered by some to be the best player outside of the NHL. The Golden Knights signed him this past spring but couldn’t work out a deal.

Other subtractions have come with the reality of the salary cap setting in on The Strip. The scrap bin was only available for a limited time. Guys need to be paid and you can’t keep everyone.

A healthy start to the season for Stastny should improve their early-season prospects. Having Stone in the mix for a full training camp with his new club can only be a good thing, too.

And there’s no reason to suggest that the Golden Knights won’t be a playoff team for a third consecutive season.

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


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Trade: Clarkson contract back to Toronto; Vegas opens up space

Getty Images
3 Comments

Nostalgia is in the air, as “The Lion King” remake is in theaters, so maybe it’s time to cue “The Circle of Life.”

In a peculiar bit of salary cap management, David Clarkson – er, David Clarkson’s contract – and the Toronto Maple Leafs are back together again. While Garret Sparks goes to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Maple Leafs receive a fourth-round pick for their troubles.

Maple Leafs get: Clarkson’s contract ($5.25M for one more season), Vegas 2020 fourth-round pick.

Golden Knights receive: Cap relief even though they were going to send Clarkson to LTIR; a decent goalie consideration with Garret Sparks.

This is all about cap and asset management for both teams.

Clarkson was headed to LTIR whether his contract stayed in Vegas or matriculated to Toronto, and now his deal can be neighbors with Nathan Horton after they were exchanged. The Maple Leafs still have some work to do, naturally, as they need to fit Mitch Marner into the mix. The numbers might melt your brain a bit.

The Golden Knights still need to sort out their own issues with Nikita Gusev lingering as a fascinating RFA, and that resolution hasn’t come yet. In the meantime, or maybe instead, the Golden Knights took advantage of extra wiggle room to bring back veteran (and Vegas-loving) defenseman Deryk Engelland for a cheap deal.

Depth goaltending also buzzed around these moves.

Again, Sparks represents an interesting consideration for Vegas, as Malcolm Subban hasn’t been an unqualified solution as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup. Perhaps Sparks would end up prevailing after both of their contracts expire following the 2019-20 season?

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs opened up room for a depth option as well, as they confirmed that Michal Neuvirth has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

It kind of makes you want to dig up that Charlie Kelly mailroom conspiracy board to try to cover all the ins and outs, but the bigger picture takeaway is that the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights continue to work on their cap conundrums, and this trade was really just another step in the process.

At least it was a pretty odd and funny step, though.

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.