home ice advantage

Will ‘Vegas flu’ continue for Golden Knights’ opponents?

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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.

Plenty of sports teams boast rowdy fans and wild atmospheres, but until the Raiders and Jon Gruden’s grimaces give them company, the Vegas Golden Knights can boast an edge that’s truly unique.

Now, sure, people might get so carried away about “The Vegas Flu” that they might exaggerate the advantage, and downplay the fact that the Golden Knights win games because they’re really good, not just out of some notion that their opponents woke up that morning wondering where that tattoo came from.

But you’d be kidding yourself if you argued that there’s no advantage, and a strong home record so far adds credence to the arguments. After going 29-10-2 at home in their inaugural 2017-18 season, the Golden Knights were still pretty tough to beat in their own building, managing 24-12-5 home record despite some bumps in 2019-20 (including a 19-20-2 record away from Las Vegas).

So, an X-factor for the Golden Knights’ 2019-20 season is simple enough: how much of an advantage might home ice be for Vegas once again?

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three QuestionsUnder Pressure]

To some extent, you can’t blame coaches for merely washing their hands of various curfew-breaking risks, and just accepting the situation.

As James Neal said as part of NBC’s doc “Knight Fever,” there are certain temptations that come with Sin City, and Connor McDavid points out that those vices may drive you to lose some sleep. Even normally disciplined players might want to let loose, and that must be especially true for Eastern Conference opponents who don’t make it to The Strip all that often during a given season.

Vegas might provide an edge even if you ignore the most obvious elements that might leave players with bags under their eyes. The weather is generally a lot nicer, and like with plenty of Western Conference teams, travel can be a challenge.

Combine those factors with over-the-top “Medieval Times”-inspired entertainment before games, along with – again – this team being quite good, and getting minor line matching advantages when you’re actually on the ice, and it’s really just common sense that the Golden Knights are just that much more formidable at home. It’s probably a relief to the rest of the league that, generally, Vegas only has a small overall advantaged in “rested vs. tired” scenarios (counting both home and away).

Yet, with this being the Golden Knights’ third season in Vegas and NHL existence, opponents might be less vulnerable to various traps.

Most obviously, the novelty factor continues to wear off. Some players might have gotten those Galifianakis nights out of their systems already. Coaches might know what “works” or the closest thing to what works, by now. Gluttons may have tired of various buffets.

Whether the advantage moves the needle or is merely marginal, the Golden Knights should seek out home-ice nonetheless. After all, we’ll never really know the answer to a painful “What if?” question: would Cody Eakin have received that major penalty for the hit that bloodied Joe Pavelski if it happened in Vegas, rather than in front of horrified San Jose Sharks fans?

We’ll find out soon enough if the NHL teams have found their vaccines for “The Vegas Flu.”

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.

Bolts shrug off talk of Madison Square Garden ‘mystique’

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It’s not just about playing a huge game at “the world’s most famous arena.”

Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers have put up gaudy stats in elimination games and Game 7 situations at Madison Square Garden, as you’ve likely seen or heard. Most obviously, they’re 7-0 in Game 7’s at MSG.

On paper, it seems like an intimidating challenge: beat the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners (employing hockey’s biggest goaltending star) in New York City for a chance to advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. It’s the sort of scenario that practically breeds “Nervous Nellies.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t taking the bait, though. At least not publicly.

Former Ranger Brian Boyle had some amusing comments about giving in to the MSG “mystique.”

“Do you think I buy it? What am I doing here if I buy it? Why would I fly up from Florida if I bought it?,” Boyle said. “They’ve obviously had success in Game 7. It’s a new year. Obviously, we’re expecting their best and they’ve been good. It’s a fun place to play.”

“They’re going to have the crowd support. We’re going to try to take it away from them as quick as we can, and hopefully it’s going to be a really fun, memorable game.”

Victor Hedman’s mindset is simple enough: he said “we’re prepared for this.”

Alex Killorn provided the sort of clever take you’d kind of expect from an Ivy League grad.

All veteran-type responses, even if most of the Lightning’s roster has never been in this spot before. Steven Stamkos was in a Game 7, and it stung for reasons that went beyond the puck he took to the face.

(Remember that?)

“Yeah, well, I remember not winning that one, so that’s tough. Don’t really remember taking the puck to the face as much as you remember losing,” Stamkos said. “That was a tough one. That was my first experience in the playoffs, and it was a great run. We’re right back in the same position right now, so I’m excited about the opportunity of having a little different result this time around. ”

source: AP
Via AP

Jon Cooper made a good point: yes, the Rangers are dominant in these situations, but none of those Game 7 wins came against the Lightning.

“We haven’t been a part of that history, so it doesn’t affect us,” Cooper said, via the Canadian Press. “I guess you look back and it’s an impressive feat to see what they’ve done. But they haven’t done it against our group and our team, and we’ve got a pretty young, confident group.”

Winning and not taking a puck to the mush would be quite the improvement for Stamkos & Co. (Hey, you need to set goals, right?)

Sutter on road teams having a playoff edge: “That’s all B.S.”

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Darryl Sutter isn’t Nostradamus, but he has become a surprisingly decent source of interesting (and often delightfully cranky) quotes. The eighth-ranked Los Angeles Kings were stout on the road in the first round and the Calgary Flames squad he coached within a game of the 2004 Stanley Cup were a low seed, too, but Sutter told Rich Hammond that he’d still prefer home ice if given the choice.

“As you go along, that’s all B.S., to be quite honest. I know from experience,” Sutter said. “It’s very simple. I’d rather have players getting treated in our treatment centers, and not in a hotel and not on an airplane, and getting practice in your own building. We’ve talked about it enough. You want to play a deciding game in your building, always.”

The chaos of the postseason forces us to try to make sense out of the sometimes senseless. In the most literal way, home ice advantage provides the last change and some faceoff perks to boot, but the true impact might just be subjective.

That being said, if the Kings manage to overcome another high seed or two (they’re primed to face the No. 2 St. Louis Blues and wouldn’t have home ice if they advanced again), Sutter might just get a reputation for overcoming the edge of home cooking.

Whatever edge that might be.

Kings would like to avoid stinking up the house at home this year

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It’s a bit funny how things work. The Los Angeles Kings spent the first two games of their series with Vancouver showing exactly how to take away home ice advantage by knocking the Canucks around and taking a 2-0 series lead. Of course now that they’re at home with a chance to potentially sweep the series, they would like to show that home ice is something that can be defended.

Unfortunately for L.A. defending the friendly confines of Staples Center is something they haven’t done very well the last two years in the playoffs. As Drew Doughty tells Rich Hammond of L.A. Kings Insider, it’s their mindset that needs to change to make sure they don’t cough up a major advantage.

“We’ve just got to play as if the series if just starting and we’ve got home-ice advantage,” Doughty said. “It’s Game 1. We’re not up two-nothing. If anything, we’ve got to act like we’re down a couple (games). We can’t go in there relaxing, or taking them too easy, because they’re going to come even harder. This is going to be the hardest game for us. We still haven’t played our best hockey. Going into Sunday, we’ve got to play our best.”

Considering the Kings are the eighth seed in the West and they’re taking care of the Presidents’ Trophy winners with seeming ease, getting too comfy is a definite worry. With Darryl Sutter as the coach, however, we’re sure he’s eager to remind them that there’s nothing to feel cozy about. Now the Kings just have to make sure they don’t show up acting like the San Jose Sharks are out there or else doom is on the horizon.

Red Wings come back, beat Blues in shootout

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The St. Louis Blues have done a lot to show that they’re not just the flavor of the month, but topping their big brothers from Detroit is a mountain they still need to climb. After winning the first two games of the season series, St. Louis lost four straight games against the Red Wings, including tonight’s 3-2 shootout thriller on NBC Sports Network.

A questionable Ryan Reaves hit seemed primed to be one of the biggest talking points of the game until the Red Wings’ ensuing major power-play advantage ended up blowing up in their faces. David Perron scored a shorthanded beauty to make it 1-0 and then a Detroit penalty allowed gave Andy McDonald the chance to score a 4-on-4 goal to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead midway through the final frame.

Normally that would be an ample lead for stingy St. Louis, but this is mean big brother Detroit we’re talking about. Some dazzling work from Pavel Datsyuk (redundant, I know) opened the door for two Johan Franzen goals and the Red Wings eventually benefited from Todd Bertuzzi’s 10th shootout goal to prevail in a useful win for the old standbys.

Those two goals were extra-shocking because Elliott’s shutout streak was ended at 241 minutes and 33 minutes, which in true Elliott fashion sort of slipped under the radar.

Check out highlights from the game below:

The impact for both teams

The Central Division is still firmly in the Blues’ control, but this loss damages their chance to take the Presidents’ Trophy and No. 1 seed in the West. St. Louis sits two points behind Vancouver for the West’s top seed with the tiebreaker advantage and two games left apiece. The Rangers also have a two-point lead with two games remaining but have more regulation/OT wins than the Blues.

In other words, it seems like the Red Wings spoiled the Blues’ chances of winning something they’re usually in the running for: the Presidents’ Trophy. Instead, Detroit is wrestling for at least one round of home ice advantage. They took a one-point lead over the Nashville Predators for fourth place in the West with both teams also having two games left, but things should remain interesting as Nashville holds the tiebreaker.

***

Long story short, it wasn’t an enormous loss for St. Louis while Detroit squeezed out two points that could be huge considering its overall road woes.

Perhaps the Red Wings also planted the seed of doubt if the two teams happen to meet in the playoffs.