pacific division

Golden Knights surprises disappointments Gallant Fleury
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Season full of surprises, disappointments for Vegas Golden Knights

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Coaching disappointments and surprises for Golden Knights

All these months later, it’s still hard to believe. The Golden Knights fired fairly recent Jack Adams Award winner and generally well-regarded coach Gerard Gallant. If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, they replaced Gallant with Peter DeBoer, former Sharks coach and person Gallant called a “clown.”

Stunning.

As Adam Gretz noted back in January, Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon didn’t exactly share a lot of details for why Gallant was fired.

“It wasn’t a specific block of games, or a specific game,” McCrimmon said. “It’s hard to put into words I guess unless you’ve done these jobs, it’s more just the feeling that you have that a change might be needed. I wish I could be more specific than that, but that’s really how we felt …”

You can’t blame observers for finding disappointments in the process the Golden Knights went through, then.

The real source of disappointments for the Golden Knights

Under Gallant, the Golden Knights were a dominant puck possession team. They did a lot right, even if the results weren’t always there. Regardless of how McCrimmon and others “feel,” sometimes you just don’t get the bounces in hockey.

It’s especially tough for a coach to manufacture wins when your goaltending fails. Both on special teams and at even strength, Vegas’ netminding wasn’t up to snuff.

Marc-Andre Fleury‘s done a lot for this franchise, particularly during their unlikely run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. His play has dropped considerably from season to season, and 2019-20 represents a troubling picture. MAF only managed a .905 save percentage, forcing Vegas to prop him up to a 27-16-5 record.

To be fair to Fleury, he stood as easily the best option for Vegas for most of three seasons. Simply put, Malcolm Subban and other backups rarely got it done.

Really, to some extent, the disappointments revolve around the Golden Knights failing to find a goalie Plan B behind Fleury. It was a pleasant surprise, then, that they traded for Robin Lehner.

Thanks to the pandemic pause, we really only received glimpses of what the Golden Knights could look like with Lehner in net. Frankly, there’s a strong chance that Lehner is the Plan A to Fleury’s Plan B, rather than the other way around. Lehner even showed as much in just three appearances, winning them all with a sparkling .940 save percentage.

Patched up

After his first season with the Golden Knights, it sure seemed like Max Pacioretty‘s best days were behind him.

Pacioretty finished his run with the Habs with a whimper, managing only 17 goals and 37 points. Unfortunately, his Golden Knights debut seemed like a mirror image, producing merely 40 points in 2018-19.

While I would chalk up a significant portion of Pacioretty’s resurgence to playing with Mark Stone, it’s still delightful to see “Patches” rise. Especially considering how frequently he was unfairly scapegoated in Montreal.

Despite being limited to 71 games played, Pacioretty scored 32 goals and 66 points in 2019-20. He didn’t need outrageous puck luck, either, as his 10.4 shooting percentage was a bit below his 11 career average.

(Granted, he did enjoy a career-high 12.1 percent on-ice shooting percentage, but … still.)

Consider the dramatic difference between Pacioretty’s fabulous RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey for 2019-20:

Golden Knights surprises disappointments Pacioretty 2019-20

And contrast that to his troubling RAPM chart from 2018-19:

Golden Knights surprises disappointments Pacioretty 2018-19

Again, playing with Stone made life significantly easier for Pacioretty. But beyond showing what a difference a two-way star can make, it also shows that a strong player can rebound if given some time. Pacioretty served as one of the most pleasant surprises for the Golden Knights in a season where they had to navigate plenty of disappointments.

Considering the many disappointments and stunning surprises, it’s quite something that Vegas sits atop the Pacific Division during the pause.

MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:

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.

Mark Stone out week-to-week for streaking Golden Knights

Mark Stone out week-to-week for Golden Knights
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The Golden Knights announced that star winger Mark Stone is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

With a bit more than a month remaining in the regular season, losing Stone “week-to-week” sounds both scary and vague. Golden Knights Peter DeBoer notes that the team hopes Stone can return before the end of the regular season.

No doubt about it, this is a big loss. Stone generated 21 goals and 63 points so far in 65 games, continuing to draw more deserved attention as a Selke-worthy forward. Even so, you could argue that people still aren’t fully aware of how dominant Stone can be.

This ranks as a significant blow to the Golden Knights, and a frustrating one at that.

It’s been a turbulent season for Vegas, the toughest one in what’s somehow just the third campaign in the franchise’s existence. The Golden Knights are currently red-hot with an eight-game winning streak, seemingly finally putting everything together. And now they lost their two-way star.

Golden Knights hope to hold onto Pacific with Stone out week-to-week

To be clear, the Golden Knights still stand in a good position to win the up-and-down Pacific Division.

Yes, it could be worse, especially if Stone being out week-to-week translates to him still having time to get a few regular-season games in before the playoffs.

There’s also something to be said that the Golden Knights will be forced to find answers beyond Stone. Maybe they’ll stumble into different combinations that could work if matchups get dicey during the playoffs? Perhaps losing a key player will push the Golden Knights to see how much they can lean on Robin Lehner?

Overall, it’s clear this is very bad for the Golden Knights, who have spent big to contend in 2019-20.

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.

Golden Knights salvage OT win after stunning Ducks comeback

Golden Knights hold off Ducks to win in OT
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The Ducks saved a wild comeback worthy of William Karlsson (aka “Wild Bill”), but the Golden Knights ultimately salvaged a 6-5 OT win.

Golden Knights stay hot by squeaking by in OT

Karlsson admitted it as much: Vegas started to run out of gas. After all, the Golden Knights completed a stretch of three games in four nights.

After going 20 games without a goal, Karlsson exploded for his third career hat trick. Shea Theodore‘s overtime-winner pushed the Golden Knights’ winning streak to an impressive six games.

Vegas: 76 points in 64 games played (34-22-8)
Edmonton: 73 in 62 (33-22-7)
Vancouver: 72 in 61 (33-22-6)

As you can see, the Oilers and Canucks rank as big threats to that Pacific crown with games in hand. That only cements the thought that this would have hurt very, very badly if the Ducks rampaged back for a win.

Adam Henrique nearly rallied that victory. He scored the Ducks’ two last goals to send the contest to OT, and also generated two assists for a four-point night. Nick Ritchie also factored heavily into the proceedings with two goals and two assists of his own.

Anaheim is in sell mode, and at a crossroads. But could this once-proud franchise serve as a pesky upset threat down the stretch?

Also, one wonders if Peter DeBoer felt a sense of deja vu. The Golden Knights were collapsing late against a California team, only this time he was behind Vegas’ bench, and his team was facing the Ducks. Oh yeah, and the Golden Knights were the overtime winners this time around.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Blues looking for top-6 winger; Pacific Division race

NHL News
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• General manager Doug Armstrong says the St. Louis Blues could be in the market for a top-six forward. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Canucks, Oilers, Flames prime for mad dash in crowded Pacific Division. (TSN)

• Five reasons for fans to be concerned about the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Sportsnet)

• General mangers on the hot seat as the NHL trade deadline approaches. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Has Valeri Nichushkin been Joe Sakic’s best offseason addition for the Colorado Avalanche? (Mile High Hockey)

Matt Dumba‘s good deed went viral, even if he wished it did not. (Pioneer Press)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s chippy controversy is no surprise to Blues players that watched him growing up. (Sporting News)

• Commitment to team defense driving Penguins’ success. (The Point)

• Ex-Penguin Mark Johnson has made his own impact on women’s hockey. (Tribune-Review)

• What the Chicago Blackhawks have done and what they still need to do. (Daily Herald)

• The New York Rangers have officially loaned forward Lias Andersson to HV71 of the Swedish League. (Blueshirt Banter)

• Looking back at the Capitals’ history winning streak a decade later. (NOVA Caps Fans)

Jakub Vrana gives the Washington Capitals something they have not had in more than a decade. (Japers’ Rink)

• Demanding remaining schedule awaits the Nashville Predators. (On The Forecheck)

• NWHL responds to comments about league on Sportsnet. (The Ice Garden)

• The New York Rangers have been the best investment for hockey bettors. (New York Post)

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.

Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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After a fun skills competition on Friday, the Pacific Division beat the Atlantic 5-4 to win the 2020 NHL All-Star Game on Saturday. David Pastrnak won the MVP, while the Pacific split that $1 million. Those results don’t capture all of the best moments of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, however.

Let’s consider some of the funny,  entertaining, and things that we’re more likely to remember than Pastrnak winning MVP (no offense, Pasta).

Laila Anderson introduces the Blues

Having Anderson introduce the Blues’ All-Star representatives was a delight. The Blues kind of owe her after Anderson was their “good luck charm,” right?

Blues fans … cheer for Patrick Kane?

Naturally, the St. Louis crowd was pulling for a Central Division team heavy on Blues. Of course, that meant they also occasionally felt the urge not to boo Patrick Kane of the rival Blackhawks. It made for a funny moment after a Kane goal:

Kane is no stranger to hearing boos at All-Star games, as Nashville fans let him have it (to John Scott’s delight) in 2016. After Saturday’s festivities, Kane explained why the boos don’t bother him that much.

“It’s all in good fun,” Kane said. “To be honest with you, sometimes you get booed, you kind of like it a little bit. It’s St. Louis and Chicago, it’s a huge rivalry. Not only in hockey, but pretty much every other sport they play against each other. I guess that’s only baseball, but… You know what? Had a lot of fun this weekend and I thought that was a pretty cool moment …”

Tkachuk to Draisaitl

“The Battle of Alberta” was put on hold (kind of?) being that Flames star-pest Matthew Tkachuk teamed up with Leon Draisaitl on the winning Pacific team.

The two engaged in an awkward exchange. Tkachuk sent a nice pass to Draisaitl in the opening game, leading to a goal. Draisaitl high-tailed it out of there, possibly while muttering a profanity at his frenemy. Afterward, Draisaitl claimed that he was just joking.

Regardless, nothing from All-Star weekend detracts from the billboard-worthy hype for the next “Battle of Alberta.” To refresh your memory, the Flames and Oilers will meet in what should be fascinating Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 games. Buckle up (and fasten your chinstrap/actually keep your mouthpiece in, Matthew).

Big weekend for Tomas Hertl

Casual hockey fans might know a lot more about Hertl. He brought laughs (and frightened chills) by wearing a Justin Bieber mask during the skills event.

Hertl followed up that style with substance. The Sharks forward scored four (often beautiful) goals in the first round, then managed the All-Star Game final’s clinching goal.

Overall, the 2020 NHL All-Star weekend provided plenty of fun, memorable moments, Tkachuk vs. Tkachuk, and a Mascot Showdown. Chalk that up as a success. If you want more information regarding the events, check the sections below.

Read up on the two first-round games:

Atlantic 9 – Metropolitan 5
Pacific 10 – Central 5

Celebrities, Skills, and more

Recent All-Star Game winners, MVPs

Winners:
2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

MVPs:
2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

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.