Oscar Dansk

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Goaltending at center of Golden Knights’ slump

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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.

PHT Face-Off: Pastrnak feeling dangerous; Will Fleury ever get a break?

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Every Monday during the regular season, the PHT Face-Off breaks down five of the top trends/storylines in the NHL. Last week, we looked at John Carlson’s incredible offensive start and the number of tight games across the league to start the year. This week, we’ll break down David Pastrnak‘s incredible run, Marc-Andre Fleury‘s workload, and much, much more.

• David Pastrnak is en fuego:

The Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes managed to keep Pastrnak off the scoresheet in the first two games of the 2019-20 regular season. What has the Bruins forward done since then? Well, let’s a look.

He’s picked up at least one point in nine consecutive games and he’s had a multi-point effort in seven of those outings. After posting five assists against the Rangers on Sunday, Pastrnak now leads the NHL in scoring, with 23 points. Oh by the way, he’s also first in goals scored, with 11.

In fact, the Bruins’ top line, which is made up of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, has picked up 23 goals and 54 points combined in 11 games.

“He does it all right now, and he’s so confident,” Marchand said of Pastrnak, per the Boston Globe. “You never know what he’s going to do with the puck. Even we don’t know.

“He feels like he can do anything. When he feels like that, he’s dangerous. He’s fun to watch . . . He has so many different ways he can beat you.”

• Devils need goals:

Speaking of Pastrnak, he’s scored half as many goals as the entire New Jersey Devils roster this season. Fine, he’s played two more games than the Devils, but that’s still pretty impressive if you’re a Bruins fan and not so much if you’re cheering for the Devils.

New Jersey has had 13 different goal scorers this year, but here’s the issue: If you combine the goals by Taylor Hall (one), Kyle Palmieri (three), Jack Hughes (two), Nico Hischier (zero), P.K. Subban (one), and Nikita Gusev (three) you still only get to 10 (one less than Pastrnak).

The Devils were supposed to be one of the bounce-back teams in the NHL this year and that simply hasn’t been the case. It’s no coincidence that they’ve picked up just six points in nine games. They’re currently in the basement of the NHL standings.

If you look at the way their scoring is distributed, you may be a little surprised. The Devils scored four goals in a shootout loss to Winnipeg, three goals in a shootout loss to Edmonton, four goals in a loss to Florida, five goals in a win over the Rangers, and three goals in a loss to Arizona. Those are pretty good offensive outputs. So what’s the issue? You can only imagine what the rest of their games look like.

Heading into this week’s action, they had already been shut out twice in nine games and they won a 1-0 decision over the Vancouver Canucks last weekend.

Offense seems to be up across the board except in New Jersey.

As you’d imagine, the Devils fell into the “dull/bad” parts of Sean Tierney’s latest charts:

Tyson Barrie struggling with Maple Leafs:

The Toronto Maple Leafs sacrificed Nazem Kadri to get themselves some added depth on defense. At the start of the season, it looked like Tyson Barrie would be a terrific fit with his new team. He picked up two assists in his first game and two more helpers in his third game. Good, right? Well, since then he hasn’t picked up a single point.

Barrie’s possession numbers are actually pretty good, as he has a CF% 54.26 percent and a FF% of 51.39 percent, but when he’s on the ice, the Leafs are giving up 60 percent of the high-danger chances. That’s less than ideal (all stats via Natural Stat Trick)

This is a big year for the 28-year-old defender. Not only is it the first time he plays for a team other than the one that drafted him, the Colorado Avalanche, he’s also in the middle of a contract season. Quality right-handed defensemen don’t usually hit the open market, so Barrie will get paid either way, but having a big statistical year under his belt could bump his salary up by a few more million.

• Is there blood in the water in San Jose?

If it had to be done all over again, do you think Joe Pavelski and the San Jose Sharks would work harder to get a deal done before free agency on July 1st? Well, Pavelski is in Dallas and he has three points in 12 games and the Sharks look like a hot mess.

They’ve accumulated just nine points in 12 games and this East-Coast road trip hasn’t been kind to them, as they’re 1-2-1 in four games. They still have to face the Bruins in Boston before they return home for a six-game home stand. Are the Sharks done? No way. It’s still too early to say that, but are they in trouble? Oh, yeah. If this home stand doesn’t go much better than the road trip, they’ll be in a lot of trouble.

“We’re 12 games in and there’s a handful of key guys for us that haven’t played well yet,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said after last night’s loss to Ottawa, per NHL.com. “So that’s on me to get them back to the level they need to be at.

“We’re playing from behind in a lot of these games, and instead of sticking with it and trusting the group and the system, everyone wants to step out and fix it themselves, but it doesn’t work that way. So eventually you have to learn that lesson.”

Learning the lesson and being good enough to apply it on the ice are two different things.

Is the Sharks’ championship window officially closed?

• Will Marc-Andre Fleury ever get another break?

Marc-Andre Fleury can’t start every game for the Vegas Golden Knights, but they might need him to do so given their clear lack of trust in their backup goalies. Last Monday, Fleury was given his first night off of the season when the Golden Knights took on the Philadelphia Flyers. Oscar Dansk ended up allowing six goals on 37 shots in the loss.

Since then, Dansk has been sent to the minors and Fleury has had to suit up in every game. A good chunk of Fleury’s breaks may come in games where he struggles. For example, he was pulled midway through Friday’s game against Colorado after he allowed four goals on 26 shots. After getting half that game off, he was right back between the pipes on Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks. The good news, is that he really wasn’t busy on Sunday, as he only faced 15 shots from the Ducks. Those are the type of nights he’ll need every once in a while if he’s going to play at a high level all season.

As of right now, no goalie has more wins that Fleury this season and there’s a chance that no one will because he’s likely going to play a lot of games.

What’s coming up this week?
• The Battle of Pennsylvania goes on Tuesday when the Flyers visit the Penguins, Tue. Oct. 29, 7 p.m. ET.

• The best in the Atlantic (Buffalo Sabres) take on the best in the Metro (Washington Capitals), Fri. Nov. 1, 7 p.m. ET.

• McDavid vs. Crosby, Sat. Nov. 2, 1 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
• Lightning vs. Rangers, Tue. Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN
• Wild vs. Blues, Wed. Oct. 30, 8 p.m. ET

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.

Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

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Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

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.

Prior’s knack with goalies put to test in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Dave Prior has a knack for fast-tracking goalies to the NHL.

The analytical and strategic mind that helped draft and develop 2016 Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby in Washington was brought to Vegas with hopes he would not only work with veteran Marc-Andre Fleury but also develop the fledgling franchise’s younger netminders.

Little did Prior know his expertise would be so thoroughly put to the test during the first two months of the season.

After Fleury went down with a concussion Oct. 13 and missed the next 25 games, the expansion Golden Knights have enjoyed a historic start thanks in part to four goalies who had seen action in two combined NHL games before this season.

Malcolm Subban, Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk saw most of the action, while Dylan Ferguson spent just over nine minutes between the pipes.

And though Fleury lost in his 696th career start Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes in his long-anticipated return, Vegas is still in second place in the Pacific Division with 40 points, three behind the Los Angeles Kings.

”It’s been a fascinating story for me as a coach because I haven’t been challenged in this way before,” Prior said. ”I don’t think I’ve approached it any different than I have tasks in the past. You’re not usually confronted with replacing one guy after another after another. I had a lot of input into the goaltenders that we signed here and took in the expansion draft.

”The goalies didn’t let me down. I steered them in the direction, but they’ve done all the work.”

The five goalies have a combined .905 save percentage, led by Subban, whose .924 save percentage ranks eighth among all goaltenders with a minimum 10 games played. Among goalies who have played at least four games, Dansk leads the league with a .946 save percentage and Fleury is ninth at .930.

Prior said the development of his goaltending prospects began with a philosophical approach in training camp. He knew the chemistry was far from what he wanted, but he was also pleased they had bought into the system and that he had earned their trust.

”When these opportunities came, it sort of was an opportunity to accelerate the process,” Prior said. ”You don’t usually get to train guys in this environment that are in the minors. I believed they had the upside to become NHL goaltenders. I was just hoping the step they were going to be good enough to make it to No. 1 in the American (Hockey) League first, let alone be thrown into being the guy who had to play in the NHL. They worked really hard and bought in and we managed to survive the loss of Marc-Andre.”

Without Fleury, the Golden Knights were 16-8-1, including a stellar 7-1-0 against Pacific Division opponents.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said he’s left the goaltenders alone, avoiding interfering with what Prior instilled during training camp.

”I don’t know how he does it. He spends a lot of time in video with these guys, more than I’ve seen in the past,” Gallant said. ”He’s just focused on them doing the right things and playing the right way. … He wants to get the best from every goaltender and he gets the best confidence of every goaltender.”

Prior acknowledged Gallant’s hands-off approach and said it’s made it easier to work with Fleury, develop Subban and teach the younger players.

”I still have always gone about my job with the fact that I am the person sort of establishing how we’re going to play,” Prior said. ”When you’re having someone second-guess your approach, it makes it more difficult. I appreciate his hands off. I think if we were failing he may be a little more involved, but the goaltenders have done a good job.”

Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

  • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
  • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
  • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
  • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


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