Golden Knights chase Gibson, demolish Ducks

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Heading into Wednesday’s 5-0 win for the Golden Knights, you could see Vegas and Anaheim as two teams suffering through very different circumstances.

On one hand, John Gibson was frequently bailing out Anaheim despite the Ducks allowing waves of scoring chances. Conversely, the Golden Knights fired shot after shot, yet found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard far too often to start 2018-19.

Well, the Golden Knights got to Gibson (and Ryan Miller) early and often on Wednesday, and it didn’t really require a barrage of shots … even if the dour Ducks defense sure seemed overwhelmed as ever.

Alex Tuch gave Vegas a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission, but the Golden Knights truly shot as accurately as archers during the second period. They added two more goals to end Gibson’s night early (three goals allowed, nine saves), and it didn’t stop there. As if to cement the notion that this wasn’t all Gibson’s fault, Cody Eakin‘s second goal of the night looked alarmingly easy considering that it came shorthanded:

Sure, there were some odd moments, like Nick Holden receiving unlikely credit for this goal:

Perhaps Vegas receiving the bounces they haven’t enjoyed much this season (but practically bathed in during that magical 2017-18 campaign) amplified the score a bit, yet the Golden Knights seemed like the faster, more dangerous team when the game was actually in reach. They made it look easy at times against a Ducks team that honestly seems pretty hapless against oft-criticized head coach Randy Carlyle.

As you might expect in a lopsided contest, there were some promising overall developments for Vegas, ones that the Golden Knights likely hope to carry over beyond this one-sided affair.

While Gibson’s looked like his best self from last season much of this year (but not tonight), Marc-Andre Fleury has failed to channel his magic from 2017-18 on most evenings this season. He was dynamic when he needed to be against the Ducks, however, stopping all 29 shots for the 51st shutout of his NHL career.

The Golden Knights must be heartened by the work they saw from Max Pacioretty, too. “Patches” came into Wednesday with a paltry two goals and zero assists in 14 games, including a five-game pointless streak, prompting some to compare him unfavorably to Tomas Tatar already. One game isn’t going to keep this from being a tough start. Even so, two assists (on the first two goals of the game, when the match was still in dispute) could really boost the winger’s confidence.

Vegas still has some work to do, and Anaheim remains ahead of the Golden Knights following this result. The Golden Knights can take quite a bit from this win nonetheless, including some comfort in seeing that their efforts can yield results, from goals to victories.

Meanwhile, the Ducks get another reminder that Gibson can’t save their tails every night.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Injuries exposing Golden Knights’ lack of depth

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We are not even a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 NHL season and it is already clear that things are not going anywhere near as well for the Vegas Golden Knights as they did in their inaugural season.

They enter Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) tied for the second-worst record in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings, and have quite a bit of work to do to get themselves back into a playoff position. Regression from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in year one was inevitable, but this might be even more than should have been expected given just how good they looked a year ago.

Goaltending has been a major culprit in the fall, but injuries and a 20-game suspension to one of their top defenders (Nate Schmidt) have also ruined what little depth the team had.

Even last year when Vegas was rolling through the Western Conference it was a very top heavy team that had some question marks after its top line. The complete dominance of the Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith line, as well as a career year from Marc-Andre Fleury, helped mask whatever flaws may have existed on the roster.

[Related: Golden Knights look to get back on track on Wednesday Night Hockey]

Keep in mind this team a year ago had a minus-17 goal differential at 5-on-5 when its top line was not on the ice (it plus-24 with the the top line on the ice).

But with those top players coming back, and Erik Haula coming off of a breakout season with his first real look in a significant role, and the offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to hopefully — at least in theory — form what could have been a second dominant scoring line, there was plenty of reason think Vegas could at least be a playoff team once again, if not an actual contender.

Things have quickly gone awry from that plan.

Especially as injuries have mounted and the goaltending has collapsed on itself.

Pacioretty missed four games due to injury earlier this month and has yet to make the expected impact when they acquired him from Montreal for a trade package centered around Tomas Tatar (who has been great in Montreal) and 2017 first-round draft pick Nick Suzuki. As of Wednesday, he has just two points (both goals) in 14 games.

Stastny, their big free agent acquisition, has been sidelined since Oct. 8 and has only played in three games this season. In the words of coach Gerard Gallant on Wednesday, he is “not even close” to returning.

He and Pacioretty have spent just 43 minutes on the ice together this season.

As if that has not been enough, they recently lost Haula — 29 goals a year ago — to an ugly looking injury that required him to be stretchered off the ice and is going to keep him out of the lineup on a month-to-month basis.

Sprinkle in some additional injuries to the likes of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and Deryk Engelland (who was one of the many pleasant surprises on the team a year ago) and the lineup has been consistently depleted this season.

General manager George McPhee was recently on Fan 590 in Toronto and talked about the situation, saying “we aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.”

Via The Sin Bin.

I’d like to get healthy, for one game. just to see what we are. We just haven’t been. You know we rebuilt our second line and I think they’ve played two and half games together. Stastny’s been out most of the year, Pacioretty was out, Haula’s out, Tuch’s been out. We aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.

If there is any good news on the horizon it’s that Schmidt will be eligible to return from his suspension on Nov. 18, which should give a boost to the defense.

But when it comes to everything else their options may be limited to just simply waiting. And hoping.

They have to wait for Stastny and Schmidt to get back in the lineup.

They have to hope Pacioretty breaks out of this early funk.

They have to hope Fleury’s early struggles are just that — early struggles — and not the beginning of the end for a 34-year-old goalie that just signed a long-term contract extension this summer.

Beyond that, what are the other logical options here? Vegas still has a lot of draft pick capital at its disposal, but at some point there has to be a big picture outlook where it has to remember that even with its year-one success this is still an expansion team building an organization from the ground up. It can not keep shipping away draft picks and prospects and ignoring the future.

All of that salary cap space the Golden Knights had at their disposal in future years has also quickly started to go away with several long-term contracts signed over the past few months (Marchessault, Smith, Fleury, Pacioretty, Tuch, Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Colin Miller are all signed through at least the 2022 season, while Stastny is locked in through 2021.  Karlsson will once again be a restricted free agent after this season and is currently doing enough to show he, too, is worth a long-term deal).

Everything went right for Vegas in year one, and it produced an incredible, almost too good to be true story. They are going to need everything to go right the rest of the way this season if they are going to come close to repeating because, so far, everything has worked against them. It all has them facing quite a deficit in the standings.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Golden Knights look to get back on track vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

No team has been as consistently inconsistent as the Ducks. They’ve gone through some positive stretches, but they’ve also had to endure a seven-game losing skid already.

Like Vegas, the Ducks have also been hit hard by the injury bug. Ondrej Kase, who returned to the lineup on Monday, missed the first 18 games of the season, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves have also missed a significant amount of time, and they also started the season without Ryan Kesler. They also lost Cam Fowler in the third period of Monday’s win against Nashville (he’s day-to-day).

The fact that they’re tied for a Wild Card spot (Colorado has two games in hand) is pretty impressive when you consider they had a long losing streak and they’ve been without key figures all season. So, how have they been able to keep their season on the rails? Simple, it’s because of John Gibson.

The 25-year-old has been extraordinary between the pipes for Anaheim. His 6-6-3 record and his 2.47 goals-against-average don’t do him justice, but his .931 save percentage shows just how efficient he’s been.

A win over the Golden Knights would allow the Ducks to string together back-to-back victories for the first time Oct. 14 and Oct. 17.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully something we can build off.” Gibson said after Monday’s shootout win over Nashville. “…It seems like we’ve been able to win one here and there, but not go on a run. Hopefully we can start stringing some together, take this as a stepping stone and build from it.”

What a difference a year makes for Vegas. At this time last year, the Golden Knights were the talk of the NHL because of how dominant they were. But as of right now, they’re closer to the bottom of the Pacific Division than they are the top.

Vegas has accumulated just 15 points in 18 games, which means only the Los Angeles Kings (11) are below them in the conference standings. Some of the magic seems to have worn off from last season, but it’s also important to note that they’ve dealt with some key absences. Paul Stastny (injured), Nate Schmidt (suspended), and now Erik Haula (injured) won’t be available for this game. The good news, is that Schmidt only has two games left to serve.

“You look at how our team is playing and what we did last year, playing fast was our No. 1 thing,” Schmidt said. “I think that’s something that we haven’t done as well lately. I really think that’s what it comes down to. When you’re playing fast, you have effort, you have guys buying in, you have discipline and you have all those other things. It is the underlying factor right now. If we get back to playing fast, the other things will take care of themselves.”

Max Pacioretty, who was the team’s biggest off-season acquisition, has gotten off to a rocky start. The 29-year-old has just two goals and no assists in his first 14 games as a Golden Knight. That’s not what they expected when they gave up Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and a second-round draft pick for him right before training camp. Something has to give with Pacioretty at some point.

Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with a special on-site edition of NHL Live outside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones, and NHL insider Darren Dreger. John Forslund (play-by-play), Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) and Roenick (reporter) will call Ducks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Tomas Tatar scores winning goal in Max Pacioretty’s return to Montreal

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It was a big night in Montreal on Saturday as Max Pacioretty made his first visit to the Bell Centre in an opposing sweater. Even though he seemed determine to score in his first game against the Canadiens since the September 10 trade that sent him to Vegas (he recorded a game-high nine shots on goal!), it was one of the players he was traded for that ended up stealing the night and scoring the big goal against his former team.

Tomas Tatar, whose 2018-19 redemption tour continues following a disappointing run with the Golden Knights a year ago, scored his seventh goal of the season mid-way through the third period to help lift the Canadiens to a come-from-behind 5-4 win.

It was a fortunate bounce as he was actually trying to make a pass across the ice to a teammate, but that still had to feel good for Tatar. Really good.

Vegas paid a huge price for him at the trade deadline a year ago (sending three draft picks, including a first-rounder to the Detroit Red Wings) and it never really seemed to work out for him or the team. In 20 regular season games after the trade he recorded just four goals and two assists, and then saw his role greatly reduced in the playoffs to the point where he was at times a healthy scratch.

Not what anybody expected in early March.

After all of that, Vegas included him in the trade package with Montreal in exchange for Pacioretty, which seemed to be a pretty strong deal for the Golden Knights.

All Tatar has done over the first month of the season with Montreal is score seven goals to go with eight assists in his first 17 games with the team.

Pacioretty, for what it’s worth, is off to a tough start in Vegas and has just two goals (and no assists) in his first 13 games with the team. He signed a long-term contract extension with Vegas just after the trade.

Look, it is still very early in the season. At some point Pacioretty is going to start scoring goals again and he could still go on to be a huge part of the Golden Knights over the next few seasons (at least, he better be given the price Vegas paid for him and the contract they gave him).

Tatar will also probably cool off at some point from this current pace.

But what has gotten lost in all of this, from the initial trade to Vegas, to his struggles with the team, to his inclusion in the Pacioretty trade, is that Tatar is a really good hockey player.

He has been a really good hockey player throughout his entire career and has been a lock for at least 20 goals every year he has been a full-time player in the league. That is no small accomplishment. Vegas took too much heat for what it gave up for him at the deadline, he took too much heat for hitting a cold spell after the trade at the wrong time of year, and so far Montreal looks to have done very well for itself in a tough trade it ended up having to make.

It all really worked out in Montreal’s favor on Saturday.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Red Wings keep sending mixed signals about rebuild

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Every time I start to feel some doubt about questioning if the Detroit Red Wings are truly committed to rebuilding, something silly surfaces.

Wednesday provided the latest head-scratcher, as MLive.com’s Ansar Khan reports that the Red Wings are “committed” to keeping Jimmy Howard, and are likely to hand the 34-year-old goalie a multiyear extension.

Considering the circumstances, such a decision would be downright baffling.

Old goalies, and the same old mistakes?

Again, Howard is 34. Goalies might age better than, say, snipers, but even that might be changing, as the NHL gets speedier every year.

My guess is that Howard would receive a lower AAV than his current $5.29 million cap hit in an extension, yet I’d also wager that he’d be be paid far more handsomely with a proactive extension – with a team that sure seems more smitten with him than virtually any other front office in the league – than what he’d get on the free agent market.

The Red Wings would essentially be negotiating against themselves here.

If such a move came to fruition, it could be a prime example of a team falling too deeply in love with their own players, and Detroit is in this mess, in part, because GM Ken Holland’s had his blinders on when it comes to overpaying supporting cast members like Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm.

Worse yet, the Red Wings already made a fairly bloated investment in an aging, fine-but-unspectacular goalie in signing 30-year-old Jonathan Bernier to a three-year contract at $3M per year.

Khan writes that “the Red Wings see no point in searching for a better alternative in July’s thin free-agent market,” which is confounding for a number of reasons. To start, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun recently noted there could end up being some rather interesting choices. As we’ve seen in cases like Robin Lehner so far providing a .928 save percentage at a $1.5M clip for the Islanders, teams can find serious bargains in reclamation projects (and, again, even Howard could possibly be much cheaper if he endures an average season). If nothing else, Detroit might be able to take a swing at a younger option.

What’s there really to lose if the Red Wings end up losing? Logically speaking, they’d likely benefit from tanking for a bit, so why spend what would likely be serious cash on creaky combination of Bernier and Howard?

Well, the more you wonder, the tougher it is to shake the impression that the Red Wings are either in denial of this truly being a rebuild, or refuse to believe that this process will take very long.

Holland & Co. really need to be objective and ask: what’s the ceiling for this situation?

Perhaps there are too many feelings involved here, which would only strengthen arguments that it might be about time for Holland to step aside as GM. If there’s any truth to rumblings about Steve Yzerman being the heir apparent, why saddle him with more risky contracts for older players?

I mean, unless Holland is actively trolling Stevie Y …

Howard’s value

Howard is a fine goalie, yet he’s far from irreplaceable.

The aging netminder’s save percentage is .917 this season, slightly up from his middle-of-the-pack save percentage of .915. That mark ties Howard for 23rd in the NHL among goalies who’ve played in at least three games this season. Not exactly “we can’t let this guy go” material.

This post isn’t meant to deny that Howard has value. Plenty of NHL teams could use a steady, experienced goalie, even if it’s fair to wonder how frequently Howard can flirt with elite play.

The Red Wings should take advantage of other teams’ goalie worries to net a nice return for Howard. It’s easy to picture the Flames, Kings, and other teams paying a decent ransom for Howard, especially if Detroit offered to take a short-term cap headache back to make the money work and receive even better future assets. Basically, there’s at least some room for Holland to make Howard the next Tomas Tatar: a perfectly suitable but contextually expendable player who could be moved for – hopefully – a strong return.

Even if a trade isn’t possible, let’s not forget that there have been multiple stretches where Red Wings fans and hot stove enthusiasts wondered if there was any way that the Red Wings could get out of what once seemed like an interminable Howard contract.

Now that they’re mere months of being liberated from that problem deal, they want to invest once again? The Red Wings must be snoozing through recent history classes.

***

To be clear, Howard’s an OK goalie. Sometimes he’s excellent; sometimes he struggles. It’s fine if you like him more than the average No. 1 guy. But, really, it would be pretty tough to make an emphatic argument that he truly moves the needle, especially since Howard isn’t getting any younger.

Keeping Howard around seems like the safe move. He’s familiar. The Red Wings don’t love the idea of bottoming out.

If they’re being honest, the Red Wings would admit that the risks far outweigh the rewards here. They also need to look in the mirror and realize that a rebuild is very much happening, and it will only drag on longer if they don’t embrace reality.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.