Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 6-7-4   Knights 9-7-3

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN

DIAMONDS AND DUST: Sinbin.Vegas

The Hawks will begin a mini-roadie through the nouveau riche of the NHL, with tonight’s stop in Sin City before heading to Music City on Saturday night. Clearly Sin and Music go together, as every person who’s thrown a bible at you has told you.

And these are not two venues that many in the following will be greeting giddily. We know what happened to the Hawks the last time they were in Nashville, and they have yet to get a point out of Vegas in two seasons and three trips. In fact, they’ve been done to the tune of a combined 13-7 there, and last year’s 4-3 loss was the only time they were within a zip code of the Knights in their own resort.

You can debate whether or not it’s a good time to catch a team after they’ve lost four of five and six of eight. Clearly, they’re not playing well. But also clearly, they’re probably pretty angry and going to come out with a fair measure of piss and vinegar. Especially as those four losses for the Knights were on the road and this is their first home game since. The archers and drummers will be even more amped up.

Not that there weren’t some bad losses for them on their recent trip. There are few excuses you can come up with to justify losing to Detroit and barely squeaking by Columbus in regulation. OT losses in Winnipeg and Toronto are more understandable, as is getting kicked to shits by the Caps in DC. Just kind of a thing they do these days. That all happened to Vegas.

And it’s mostly because the offense has dried up. They scored 10 goals in those five games, and they haven’t managed more than three goals in any game in November, nor more than two in their last four. They only managed 19 shots in their loss to Detroit, which was definitely a “Let’s get this the fuck over with and get home” kind of effort. They kind of did the same thing against Columbus, which sort of indicates they’re picking their spots a bit.

Don’t worry, the Knights are still going to be annoying all season. They’re still one of the better metric teams around, and they produce just about as good and as many chances as anyone, ranking third in xGF/60 at evens. They’ve had issues with the other side, as they’re barely middling in the ones they’ve given up, and that might have something to do with having a pretty immobile defense beyond Nate Schmidt. They’re also unlucky in that they’re shooting less than 7% as a team, and they can’t get too many saves with just a .909 at evens. The former will straighten itself out before too long. The latter…

…maybe not so much. As you know by know. Seabiscuit lookalike Marc-Andre Fleury is old and has been abhorrent of late, with an .877 SV% over his last five starts. Malcolm Subban isn’t going to save any team, and counting on him for more than a spot start here and there is going to lead to a downfall. The Knights had better hope for that goals-explosion soon, because there’s a more than zero chance their goaltending just never quite comes around again. They’re just going to count on a soon-to-be 35-year-old Fleury to find it.

Still, this is a test of the Hawks apparently new “system” of being more open and adventurous…which saw them give up 57 shots to a barely interested Leafs team. If the Knights are fully engaged, then they might give up 75. This is a team the Hawks really haven’t come close to being able to run with since they came into existence, and now they apparently seem intent on going toe-to-toe with just about anyone, it could be ugly. It could also be the only way.

The Hawks almost got their first regulation win against the Knights the last time they played, but that involved maxing out while the Knights were kind of only there. And even that got them a last-minute equalizer. The Hawks were able to skate with them in the neutral zone and Duncan Keith had his best game in three seasons or so to cut off things at the blue line. That game also cost the Hawks Connor Murphy, which indicates some of the strain of the effort.

The tweaks the Hawks have made are meant to get their forwards out against d-men they’re either faster than or more skilled than or both, and usually that will be the case. It will be here, as you want to get isolate in space against the likes of McNabb and Engelland and Holden. The problem is you have to sacrifice a bit the help you’re giving your d-men to get out from under the frightening speed of the Knights forwards, so how the Hawks escape will go a long way to indicating where this one will go. Can the Hawks D find enough time to even just chip off the glass and behind the Knights defensemen for their forwards to skate onto?

Good test for Boqvist tonight too, as this is the exact type of opponent the Hawks need him for while also being the one he has to figure out how to get out from under. He has the feet to actually open himself up and get the Hawks into the neutral zone and beyond, and he’s the only one, but he also has to navigate his way through the furious Knights forecheck which has buried basically all of his teammates on the blue line in every meeting. See how he handles it.

If the Hawks are serious about taking their hand off the throttle, then it won’t be boring. At this point, we can’t ask for much more.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Golden Knights 27-16-4   Hawks 16-22-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

SEARCHING FOR ELIZABETH SHUE: SinBin Vegas

It sounds strange to say that the Hawks have never beaten an expansion team. You’d think you’d have gotten one by accident, all things being norma.. But the Golden Knights aren’t really a normal expansion team, and these haven’t been the normal Hawks. So in five tries, the Hawks have drawn an 0-fer. And they rarely have been close. Last out where they took the lead against the Knights in the 3rd is about as good as they’ve done, and they promptly hocked that up like a smoker’s phlegm as quickly as they could. This is also the same team that put a snowman on the Hawks at home. So yeah, let’s just say it’s not a great matchup.

The Knights come in after just having a seven-game win-streak snapped at home on Thursday by a San Jose team they’re having a tussle with at the top of the standings. After some wonky health and dips in performance, the Knights were getting both back at the time, with Marc-Andre Fleury shaking off some of the malaise that’s draped on him most of the year. Paul Stastny returned to give the Knights a second line worth worrying about, though now Reilly Smith and Cody Eakin have ended up on a trainer’s table. Eakin looks like he’ll slot back in tonight on the third line, though.

It’s not quite the fireworks of last year. Vegas’s leading goal-scorer is Alex Tuch with just 15. They’re only middle of the pack, averaging an even three goals per game even though they have some of the best possession-numbers around. And it’s some of the same problems that Carolina has had for years. You have to have some front-line snipers to turn that possession into goals, and not just William Karlsson vomiting up a 25% shooting-percentage for a season out of nowhere. The Knights have a bunch of good players, but perhaps not enough premier scorers to avoid some ruts at times, especially when Pacioretty has been subpar.

That hasn’t stopped them from being a major headache for the Hawks, as they simply can’t live with Vegas’s speed. With Brent Seabrook returning from illness tonight, that doesn’t figure to get any better either. The Knights move the puck out of their zone quicker than the Hawks’ forecheckers can bother them, and their forwards can beat the Hawks’ D all over the ice. especially to the outside. This causes the Hawks’ defense to back up and provide more space at the line, which is where the creative destruction happens. The last time these two met Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom weren’t in the lineup, and Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta were. We’ll see if that makes any difference.

For the Hawks, Slater Koekkoek, their new toy from Tampa won’t play tonight but they say he’s going to get a look. So one would have to believe that Brandon Davidson can start packing his bags. How Koekkoek will then get into the six is another questions, but one thing at a time, people. Henri Jokiharju will flip to the left side to accommodate Seabrook, and one has to wonder how much more accommodation and how much longer the Hawks can afford Seabrook. We’ll start to get answers on that soon.

Collin Delia will get the start again as he should, and shouldn’t see too many other lineup changes from the team that played well against Nashville. That means Caggiula and Saad on a third line and Top Cat in the top six. So y’know, fine.

Whenever the Hawks plan on being relevant again, they’re going to have to find a way to play a game this fast and play it well and beat the teams that already do it. Maybe that’s not tonight, maybe it’s next year. But I for one am a little tired of the Knights’ act, especially against the Hawks. So it would be enjoyable to finally get one over on them, just to see there’s been any progress whatsoever. That means none of this bullshit, three-passes-out-of-the zone ploy. Get it out and up and to your forwards as fast as possible. As little passing to someone standing still or moving backwards as possible, because that’s what the Knights feast on. Forward, forward, forward. You’ll give up chances, sure, but you’ll get Top Cat, Kane, and Toews in space too. Let’s have some fun.

 

Game #47 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Perhaps it’s just sour grapes, and lord knows our vineyard is awash with those. But we were kind of surprised that the Vegas Golden Knights, in less than two years of existence, have become a cap-team. And hey, we guess you can’t argue with the results. A Cup final and what looks to be a chance at another deep run this spring. That’s what a cap team should do. Even if most of it is on the back of a resurgent Marc-Andre Fleury. Still, looking at some of these deals, and what else he might hand out soon, you can’t help but wonder if George McPhee didn’t cock this up royally. And if he doesn’t hamstring the Knights going forward from here.

Some of these contracts are a bit bewildering. Nate Schmidt will see his extension kick in next year at a cap-hit of $5.9M. And ok, fair, he’s 27 and in his prime. He’s also never bettered last year’s 38 points. He’s scoring at a higher pace this year, though won’t get to that thanks to his ridiculous suspension. But for $6 million a year? That’ll give him a higher cap-hit than Matt Niskanen, who has bettered Schmidt’s career-high in points twice and the Caps thought was more worth keeping than Schmidt was. And then promptly beat the Knights in the Final. It’s the same as Matt Dumba, who scored 50 points last year and was well on his way to doing so again before getting hurt this year. It’s more than Dougie Hamilton. Schmidt’s a nice player to have, but at that rate?

So ok, traded for Max Pacioretty. Fine, Knights needed a second line after last year’s foray. Signed him for four more years at the age of 30, and Patches has 12 goals. Sure, Paul Stastny has been hurt most of the year, but Pacioretty has scored without a center in Montreal before. And he only put up 17 goals last year (in 64 games). Was maybe taking a half of a season before committing the worst idea?

Shea Theodore is getting $5.2M for the next seven years. And yes, he’s only 23. Maybe a couple years in this looks a steal. Except he was coming out of his entry-level deal, and hasn’t shown to be that dynamic of a force out from the back yet. He’s good. Is he worth quite this?

Some of this is just matter of degrees. You want players like Schmidt and Theodore on your team. Pacioretty seemed a pretty decent risk given his track record. Stastny has always been injury-prone, but maybe you take that chance, even if he’s never really changed any team he’s been on drastically.

And yet with a completely blank slate, the Knights will only have about $11M in space after the season. And a good portion of that will have to go to William Karlsson. That should make for a fascinating negotiation. Karlsson is only on pace for about 25 goals or so, which is what he probably is long-term. But his 43-goal season of last year will still be prominent in the memory of his agent. He’s restricted, so will McPhee hold the line and try to keep him as close to the $5M per year he gets now? Or will he push that closer to $8 or $9M? Will that force out meaningful depth players like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare who is unrestricted and certainly looking for better than $1.4M? Oscar Lindberg? Good thing they’ll lose that David Clarkson money the summer after next season.

That’s what McPhee appears to be aiming for. In the summer of 2020, the Knights will have some $30M in space or more once Clarkson’s insurance policy goes away, and Nick Holden, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin, and Ryan Reaves come off the books. Maybe they’ll run at Taylor Hall to make up for the decaying Pacioretty at that point.

That’s the thing about the Knights. They’re not terribly young. Only Theodore and Alex Tuch look poised to be built around long-term. Marchessault is 28. Smith is 27. And if you think that lasts forever, just look at Pacioretty, who had a bigger resume than them before turning 30.

But hey, they made their splash. It was a much bigger one than anyone could have anticipated. Still, when you have no payroll whatsoever 18 months ago, and now this, one wonders how much longer the magic will last.

 

Game #47 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Ken Boehlke is one-half of sinbin.vegas. This was the Q&A we did with them when the Knights were in town just a couple weeks ago. Follow them @SinBinVegas.

We know the Knights benefitted last year from insane goaltending along  with their more than solid even-strength play. But having among the worst save-percentage and shooting-percentage this season seems a violent market correction. Is there something systemic here more than just rotten luck?

What it really comes down to is Grade-A scoring chances and the subsequent execution of them. Early in the season the Golden Knights were having a hard time creating anything in the dangerous areas (in the house, if you know that term) but what was worse than their inability to create the chances was a consistency in not finishing those chances when they did arise. Luckily, as tends to be the case in hockey, that has turned recently, especially since they’ve begun to play more
Pacific division teams.

How big is the injury to Paul Stastny?

To be completely honest, it hasn’t had a major impact to this point. It’s the loss of Haula that seems to be more of a detriment to the team. Stastny certainly would have been, and hopefully will eventually be, a nice center for the 2nd line, but Eakin has stepped in incredibly well and appears to be thriving with goal-scorers on his line again. The loss of Haula however has definitely taken an level of speed away from the team and at times they don’t look like the quick, ferocious, probably considered annoying team that won the Western Conference. They’ve been searching for anyone to make the 3rd line go since Haula’s gruesome injury, but it hasn’t really happened yet. Would they be better with Stastny back? Of course, but if you gave me one or the other right now, I’d rather have Haula.

And the suspension to Nate Schmidt? While he’s unquestionably a good player is he really a top pairing d-man that a team would miss so heavily?

I’ll be completely honest in saying I heavily underestimated the impact Schmidt would have in the lineup upon his return. When a guy is out for the first 20 games of the season and the last memories of him are the Cup Final when not a single defenseman was any good, there certainly has to be a level of skepticism about how good the player really is, especially a player who has only a one year track record of being a top pair defenseman. But this guy is everything and more on the ice that made the hockey world realize that he’a a top 20 defenseman in the league and maybe even better. He’s kind of been this a stabilizing force to the defense in that they aren’t allowing an odd-man rush a period anymore, but it’s added an element of transition back into Vegas’ game and most importantly, it’s meant the return of Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to more familiar, less defensively responsible, roles. All of that was a long way to say, YES, Nate Schmidt is that good.

Max Pacioretty started slow, there was concern, and now he’s bagged six goals in four games. Was this just a product of all scorers going through hot and cold streaks?

I don’t think it was simply a cold streak that a scorer tends to go through. We’ve all seen those cold streaks and they tend to mean lots of great saves against, post hits, miraculous backchecking, and the likes. That’s not what this was for Pacioretty. He was just not good. He wasn’t creating much by means of scoring chances and he was uncharacteristically a liability defensively. When I say he was bad, I mean, he was legitimately one of the worst forwards on the team. However, he’s definitely not that anymore, and it’s not because he’s scored a bunch of goals recently. It seems to have much more to do with
his linemates. Playing with Alex Tuch isn’t as simple as it would seem. He’s so much faster than he looks and he plays with a power that’s not horribly common in the NHL. Pacioretty seemed to always been a half  second behind Tuch, likely because he didn’t expect Alex to be able to pull off some of the stuff that he does. Now, Pacioretty expects Tuch to win every puck, to undress guys at the blue line, and to fire passes through people every shift. Pacioretty is starting to find himself in much better positions when Tuch and Eakin create turnovers, and the three of them are starting to look dangerous every single time out as a unit rather than individually. Pacioretty told me about two weeks ago that he thought he was thinking too much and it was slowing him down. That’s a huge problem when you play with Tuch. That appears to be over
and the flood gates might just be open.

 

 

Game #30 Preview Suite

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Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Knights 12-12-1   Hawks 9-10-5

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN outside the 606, NBCSN Chicago inside

DIAMONDS AND DUST: Sinbin Vegas

I suppose one of the good things about following a team in transition is that every couple of weeks you get something new to watch and study. A few weeks ago it was Jeremy Collition and the changes he would bring. Let’s throw Gustav Forsling in there, just because he was an improvement on a defense that was just that bad, and because we have so little. And tonight, the Hawks will unveil Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. They even gave them normal numbers. So you know it’s real.

While the United Center faithful didn’t have any strong attachment to Nick Schmaltz, at least I don’t think they did, it won’t stop them from having the knives out and the boos ready if Strome and Perlini don’t immediately make an impact (somewhere around four goals each, I’m guessing). Stan Bowman isn’t out there for everyone to jeer, so they’ll go through his proxies if they have to.

From practice yesterday it doesn’t sound like Strome is going to slot directly into the second line, which he should, because no one has told me why we have to stick with Artem Anisimov and the increasingly shrinking amount of things he does. Strome will start on the fourth line between Marcus Kruger and…Alex Fortin? Dominik Kahun? Maybe Perlini? Perlini is a good bet to start on the third-line with Kampf and either Kahun or Fortin. And if things go well, don’t be shocked if Strome gets a promotion right away.

Elsewhere, Henri Jokiharju is under the weather and they’re not sure if he’ll play, which is a real fucking problem tonight. But we’ll get to that. Corey Crawford will start.

This is not the best night for any new Hawks to debut (or de-butt in the words of Matt Riddle) or for them to be without The HarJu, because the Golden Knights are the type of team the Hawks can’t deal with and the team that simply used them as a hand-puppet last year to do unspeakable things they could blame on an alter-ego. This is the model the Hawks probably want to chase in terms of style. It’s the one they can’t actually match in terms of ability to play it.

The Knights have struggled all year, or more to the point they’ve been extremely unlucky. Their metrics actually suggest they’ve been better this year than they were last. What they haven’t been able to do is get a save or catch a fish with dynamite. They roll in with the sixth-lowest shooting-percentage at even-strength and the third-lowest save-percentage as well, and that’s with two shutouts in their last two games. Marc-Andre Fleury has been sinking them until this week. and other than Jonathan Marchessault they can’t really get anyone to consistently score. William Karlsson‘s shooting-percentage has cut in half from last year, which no one gleefully saw coming, of course. Reilly Smith has the NBA Jam announcer following him around at all times screaming, “CAN’T BUY A BUCKET!” Max Pacioretty was nowhere until a six-goal week last week. As any Vegas visitor will tell you, the market correction on good luck can be swift and violent and leave you weeping with no pants.

Still, this is a team coming in off shutting out the Flames and Sharks, two teams ahead of them in the Pacific, on back-to-back nights at home. This is the team that plays fastest in the league, and no matter how you try and dream it up you can’t find a way that the Hawks defense can live with that. If there’s something to cling to, it’s that the Knights have been woeful on the road, at 5-9-0. But again, that’s mostly because Fleury or Malcom Subban have been trying to stop pucks by talking nicely to them for most of the season. Their metrics are right in line.

The task is tall and clear. This is one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Knights give up the second-least amount of attempts, the least amount of shots, and the second-least amount of scoring chances at evens in the league per 60. Their expected goals-against per 60 is fourth-best. They give nothing, and we know they can take everything from the Hawks on any rush. It also would behoove the Hawks to like, kill off a power play. Maybe even two, but I don’t want to be accused of being greedy. Either way, the Hawks are going to have to find a way to create chances with a lineup short on offensive dash against a team giving up basically nothing all year. Good seats still available!

Still, the Hawks schedule isn’t kind for this month. The Knights are on it twice. So are the Preds. So are the Jets. So are the Avs. The Sharks appear once. Blink and the Hawks could be done by Christmas. So if it’s ever going to click into gear, it had better be right now. If it doesn’t…Stan, meet Hextall.

 

Game #25 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Ken Boehlke is one-half of sinbin.vegas. Follow them @SinBinVegas.

We know the Knights benefitted last year from insane goaltending along  with their more than solid even-strength play. But having among the worst save-percentage and shooting-percentage this season seems a violent market correction. Is there something systemic here more than just rotten luck?

What it really comes down to is Grade-A scoring chances and the subsequent execution of them. Early in the season the Golden Knights were having a hard time creating anything in the dangerous areas (in the house, if you know that term) but what was worse than their inability to create the chances was a consistency in not finishing those chances when they did arise. Luckily, as tends to be the case in hockey, that has turned recently, especially since they’ve begun to play more
Pacific division teams.

How big is the injury to Paul Stastny?

To be completely honest, it hasn’t had a major impact to this point. It’s the loss of Haula that seems to be more of a detriment to the team. Stastny certainly would have been, and hopefully will eventually be, a nice center for the 2nd line, but Eakin has stepped in incredibly well and appears to be thriving with goal-scorers on his line again. The loss of Haula however has definitely taken an level of speed away from the team and at times they don’t look like the quick, ferocious, probably considered annoying team that won the Western Conference. They’ve been searching for anyone to make the 3rd line go since Haula’s gruesome injury, but it hasn’t really happened yet. Would they be better with Stastny back? Of course, but if you gave me one or the other right now, I’d rather have Haula.

And the suspension to Nate Schmidt? While he’s unquestionably a good player is he really a top pairing d-man that a team would miss so heavily?

I’ll be completely honest in saying I heavily underestimated the impact Schmidt would have in the lineup upon his return. When a guy is out for the first 20 games of the season and the last memories of him are the Cup Final when not a single defenseman was any good, there certainly has to be a level of skepticism about how good the player really is, especially a player who has only a one year track record of being a top pair defenseman. But this guy is everything and more on the ice that made the hockey world realize that he’a a top 20 defenseman in the league and maybe even better. He’s kind of been this a stabilizing force to the defense in that they aren’t allowing an odd-man rush a period anymore, but it’s added an element of transition back into Vegas’ game and most importantly, it’s meant the return of Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to more familiar, less defensively responsible, roles. All of that was a long way to say, YES, Nate Schmidt is that good.

Max Pacioretty started slow, there was concern, and now he’s bagged six goals in four games. Was this just a product of all scorers going through hot and cold streaks?

I don’t think it was simply a cold streak that a scorer tends to go through. We’ve all seen those cold streaks and they tend to mean lots of great saves against, post hits, miraculous backchecking, and the likes. That’s not what this was for Pacioretty. He was just not good. He wasn’t creating much by means of scoring chances and he was uncharacteristically a liability defensively. When I say he was bad, I mean, he was legitimately one of the worst forwards on the team. However, he’s definitely not that anymore, and it’s not because he’s scored a bunch of goals recently. It seems to have much more to do with
his linemates. Playing with Alex Tuch isn’t as simple as it would seem. He’s so much faster than he looks and he plays with a power that’s not horribly common in the NHL. Pacioretty seemed to always been a half  second behind Tuch, likely because he didn’t expect Alex to be able to pull off some of the stuff that he does. Now, Pacioretty expects Tuch to win every puck, to undress guys at the blue line, and to fire passes through people every shift. Pacioretty is starting to find himself in much better positions when Tuch and Eakin create turnovers, and the three of them are starting to look dangerous every single time out as a unit rather than individually. Pacioretty told me about two weeks ago that he thought he was thinking too much and it was slowing him down. That’s a huge problem when you play with Tuch. That appears to be over
and the flood gates might just be open.

 

Game #25 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We, or maybe just I, spent most of the season bitching about the Vegas Golden Knights, and specifically how stupid they made the league and really the nature of the sport look. Because they didn’t reinvent any wheel here, despite what some would like you to think. They just put together a bunch of fast players, got somewhat lucky when other teams overvalued complete stiffs and gave them useful parts instead, and then told them to get the fuck up the ice as fast as possible and score. And because hockey is decided on such tight margins, you only need a few bounces and a division made up of partially digested foodstuffs to suddenly find yourself with more than 100 points and in a Stanley Cup Final.

But really, the indictment wasn’t on the Knights but on the league that A.) couldn’t see what the Penguins had been doing the previous two years and replicate it and B.) fanbases and front offices who still can’t see how arbitrary all this can be.

It could very easily go sideways on the Knights, and it wouldn’t take too many of those bounces reversing themselves for it to do so. They’re not getting .927 from Fleury again. Wild Bill Karlsson is not shooting 25% again. Without Nate Schmidt, other teams might discover that this blue line actually sucks, though the Knights system and speed shelters it just about as well as any team can.

But they’re also buffeted against that better this year. And the division still requires golf shoes to wade through. We’re goin’ in…to Sin City…

2017-2018: 51-24-7 109 points  272 GF 228 GA  50.9 CF% 50.6 xGF% 8.3 SH% .921 SV%

Goalies: No reason to not run it back from last year, though handing Marc-Andre Fleury the contract extension they did is going to end up with everyone covered in expired pudding (does pudding expire? I can’t even remember the last time I had pudding, honestly. Do adults eat pudding? They do, right? How come I never do? Has it all gotten away from me?).

I know how it goes whenever I say something definitive, as the “Fels Motherfuck” is becoming Chicago lexicon right up there with “Zorich To Linebacker!” But there’s simply no way Flower gets back to a .927 SV% this year. We have 13 years of data to look at with him. His career-mark is .913. Last year’s spasm of godliness was a career-high by six points. Fleury put together back-to-back .920+ years in Pittsburgh in ’15 and ’16, but bottomed out in ’17 with a .908. What exactly he’ll put up this year is hard to pinpoint, so I’ll go safe and general and say it’s probably between his career mark of .913 and .920. Which is fine. Can the Knights do as much with just “fine” in net? Probably not. But they can still be good.

Fleury’s “Starry Season” masked the fact that the Knights also got highly competent work out of Malcolm Subban, both as a backup and when Fleury was hurt. And Subban had struggled in the AHL his last two seasons there, much less the NHL. He’s still only 24, and we know the learning curve for young goalies is steep and treacherous. Maybe last year is a glimpse of what he can be, but the Knights will not be wanting to turn too much over to him this season.

Defense: Whatever you think of Nate Schmidt’s suspension–and you think it’s ridiculous because it really is given his very plausible and backed-up defense–he’s gone for a quarter of the season. It’s a big miss. Which is weird to say, because we’re fairly sure he was never top-pairing quality, and yet he was in Vegas and they were a good defensive team.

So before delving any further into the Knights’ blue line, it’s important to remember how their system protects what is a unit that lacks talent. They aren’t asked to break themselves out of trouble. They barely have to pass. The defense is merely asked to get the puck out to the neutral zone for the forwards to skate onto. It can be the fly pattern or simply a chip off the glass. And because the forwards are so frenzied and make everything look like Smash TV, the Knights d-men aren’t in the d-zone all that much. Their forwards also help a ton on the backcheck. Because they have to.

Because when you look at a list of names like Colin Miller, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland, and Nick Holden, we know everyone pretty much sucks aside from Theodore. And the sample size isn’t huge on him yet. They’re not even that quick. But again, the Knights ask of little of them as possible. So every piece of logic and evidence I have says it’s not a good blue line. But it also might not really matter. Fuck, the Penguins won two Cups with defensive corps that were just above mop-bucket residue. It’s kind of the way things are going.

Forwards: Let’s clear this up right now. Jesse Marchessault and William Karlsson are not combining for 150 points again or 70 goals. I just can’t believe that, because alone Karlsson is not going to shoot 25% again. Seriously, the dude had one of every four shots go in. In the past 10 years, only two players have managed more than one 20%+ shooting season, and they are Alex Tanguay (who somehow did it five times and I don’t know why we even bother trying to figure out this world) and Mike Ribeiro. Karlsson has a date with a Lady named “Regression” and she just ordered the lobster.

Marchessault could actually consider himself a touch unlucky, as even with his 27 goals last year he saw his SH% drop from 15% the year before to 10% last campaign. We’ll see what he is this year. The Knights are simply better supported though for any kind of sinking from the top line because the second line is Alex TuchPaul StastnyMax Pacioretty, which is probably their first line when all is said and done. That’s going to generate more scoring than Tuch-Doofus Du Jour-James Neal. Though with Stastny and Patches, it’s probably not as quick but if Neal found a home in this system, they’ll find a way to get something out of those two as well.

The bottom-six is still comprised of the hopped-up gnats it was last year like Erik HAULA!, Cody Eakin, Tomas Nosek, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, and because they have to give away at least one roster spot to galactic stupidity Ryan Reaves is here (please let Gerard Gallant use him with the goalie pulled again. I need as much mirth in my life as I can get right now). The names don’t do much for you but again, they’re all quick and they’re told to be quicker and most teams can’t live with it with their third-pairings.

Outlook: They’re not the Sharks. Regression is going to hit them in a few spots. But with that second-line and all the games they get against the other teams wandering the countryside with no particular plan or urgency, it’s hard to see them losing the 15-20 points that would make a playoff spot suddenly in jeopardy. Maybe Fleury falls completely apart. Maybe Subban can’t bail him out at all. Maybe Karlsson and Marchessault shoot like 7%. But those seem extreme. Second place seems like home, a comfortable 98-102 points. Who who else in the Pacific can you safely say gets there?

 

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San Jose Sharks

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE THE NHL IS A BUNCH OF STUPIDHEADS!

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Sharks fustigated the Ducks in 4, and the Knights did worse to the Kings in 4

At some point, the bubble has to burst. Thanks to the Kings deciding to play their first-round series like they were relegation fodder, the Knights got to simply waltz into the second round in their first playoff asking with barely a sweat. A steam-room for half an hour would have been more taxing. The Sharks won’t be as cowardly or stupid, but then they don’t have a horseshoe and salt and a rabbit’s foot jammed in their colon like the Knight have had all season. The Sharks come with no less playoff savvy than the Kings had, they just have a much better roster. One hopes this is where the Knights dance of the seven veils finally comes to an end, because this has been a bit silly.

Goalies: Whatever we said about Sergei Bobrovsky, the opposite just might be true of Martin Jones. He threw a .970 at the Ducks in the first round, though to be fair the Ducks didn’t post much more of a threat than a veiled suggestion at him. But this follows his .935 in the first round loss last year to the Oilers, and his .923 in the Sharks’ run to the Final in ’16. Jones just might be a playoff goalie, and he’ll get more support than Jonathan Quick got.

You used to toss all sort of jokes at Marc-Andre Fleury, and then he’d let those jokes pass by his glove or through his legs into the net. Not so now. Fleury was even better than Jones in the first round with a .977, but then again he faced even less of a threat than Jones did as the Kings barely sent one forward over the red line all series while Dustin Brown looked at things with his Dustin Brown face. We can say for sure that Fleury will get tested more here, but this is the same guy who backstopped the Penguins through the first two rounds last year. Where and if the Knights break, it’s unlikely to be in net.

Defense: While it doesn’t get the pub outside of Brent Burns, this is the Sharks’ strength. It’s not as good as it could be, as for reasons he can’t even understand or explain Peter DeBoer has eschewed Joakim Ryan for the smoldering husk of Paul Martin to play with Brent Burns which is a really bad idea. The Sharks defense actually spent a lot of time on the back foot against the Ducks, though with all of the Ducks merely looking at their watch the whole series they didn’t give up a lot of good chances. You’d still take this top four, and Vlasic and Braun have a better chance at nullifying the Knights’ top line. It’s not the quickest outside of Burns, making the not-playing of Ryan even more curious, and they might have to play it cautious to keep from the Knights getting behind them a lot. Which was the Kings’ problem.

I feel like I’m done trying to explain anything that goes on with Vegas. On paper, this defense sucks. Nate Schmidt is the only one you’d want. Maybe Shea Theodore if you’ve had one too many, which is the state I assume most NHL general managers operate in. But McNabb and Engelland suck and we know this. I couldn’t pick Colin Miller or John Merrill out of a lineup. And yet because the Kings didn’t do anything other than occasionally try and spread germs to them, they were untested in the first round. You’d think they’ll get no such breaks from the far deeper Sharks, especially as Donskoi and Hertl seemed to get going in Round 1. This has to be the weak point the Sharks can exploit.

Forwards: Hanging over this series is when and if Joe Thornton will return. The real question is whether the Sharks are better without him right now. Pavelski has been a much better center than wing, and he was a pretty good wing. The Sharks play faster without Thornton, and their goal-, attempt-, and scoring chance-rates have all risen since Thornton got hurt. If the Sharks jump out to a lead in this series they can hold Thornton back even longer, though it sounds like he’s never going to be healthy. Even without him, this is a deep team. The Sharks got contributions from all four lines in their ass-stuffing of the Ducks, which has been a calling-card of the Knights. When Thornton does come back it’ll be interesting if they don’t try and simply get what they can out of him and just have him replace Eric Fehr on the fourth line. For right now, they’ve got enough.

The Knights were a little more top-heavy than the Sharks in Round 1, though given the way the Kings tried to play a Panic Room game there weren’t a lot of chances to go around. They only needed seven goals to get through. Seven goals won’t get it done here, and while the Sharks will be more open than the Kings were the Knights are going to have to get more from the likes of Eakin, Nosek, Haula, and the bottom six to get out. Because the likelihood is that Pavelski, Kane, Hertl, Donskoi are going to match whatever the Knights’ top six does.

Prediction: This one’s going to go a while, because both goalies are playing too well to see either team get out of this in four or five. Each will get at least one goalie win. And while everything seems to be breaking the Knights’ way, I trust the Sharks’ defense and bottom six more than theirs. The Sharks also probably get an emotional boost from Thornton’s return, especially as it looks like it’ll happen, in whatever form, at home in Game 3 or 4. Sharks in 6. 

Everything Else

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Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Does The Real Caesar Live Here?: Sin Bin

The Hawks finally return to West Madison tonight for the first time in 2018 after their longest road trip of the season that saw them volley back and forth between coasts to welcome for the very first time the Vegas Golden Knights, who inexplicably sit atop the Western Conference with games in hand on basically everyone who is their closest competition for the top overall seed.

Everything Else

Ken Boehlke and Jason Pothier run SinBin.vegas. They were kind enough to take the time to answer our nonsense. Follow their work on Twitter @Sinbinvegas.

So like the crusty old hockey guys we are, seriously we only drink Molson now, we’ve scoffed for a while at the Knights success. But it’s getting time to get past that, obviously. What is the key here? Gerrard Gallant? A unique style? As lots of people will be seeing this team for the first time live, what should they be looking for?

Boehlke: The biggest thing is their depth. The top line is clearly a cut below every other team’s, but the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are better than pretty much every team. Plus, their defense pairings can hang with anybody and are pitching in a ton of offense. They all play a quick brand of hockey and no matter who is out there at any given moment they are dangerous in transition. You turn the puck over in your own end or in the neutral zone (or even near the blue line) the Golden Knights will be in front of your net getting a scoring chance in a hurry. Defensively, they play the simplest game you’ve ever seen in the NHL. Simple fast decision making usually has them breaking out of their own zone easily and quickly (except last night against St. Louis). Gallant is the ultimate players coach and deserves a ton of credit, but there’s more to his style that’s any different than anyone else. He just has this calming effect on the players and they seem to really want to play for him. Finally, what should they be looking for? Well, quick decision making, great transition from their own end to the neutral zone into the attacking zone, and a bunch of odd-man rushes. They don’t do anything you’ve never seen before, but they are good at doing things you have. That was a long answer, but that’s what you get when you ask seven questions masqueraded as one.

Pothier: 

The Golden Knights play a relatively simple game. Limiting mistakes, pushing the tempo and maintaining possession are a few reasons why Vegas has 56 points in 39 games. Vegas plays smart, makes quick decisions and keeps their foot on the gas. They’re also very balanced, getting impact production from their offense and defense. Plus, Vegas has gotten steady goaltending all season. Lastly, Head coach Gerard Gallant is the perfect leader. His roster came together quick and believed they could win. He’s not a cheerleader type, but a coach that allows players to trust their instincts. Gallant won’t mess with his lines often, and gives players opportunities to work out of funks. His assurance with the players has created a fun, loose environment. One that’s perfect for winning. 

William Karlsson never had more than 25 points in a season, now he’s got 33 in less than half of one. What’s the deal here?

The main thing is usage. In Columbus he was a third or fourth liner who was normally asked to concentrate on his defense. He’s an excellent defensive center, but now the Golden Knights are giving him a bunch more offensive zone starts and have put him on a line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault who have made him into an attacking star. He’s just an all around stud player and his success is as much an indictment on the Blue Jackets not knowing what they had more so than the Golden Knights utilizing him properly. This guy is a stud and is going to be for a while. He may not score 30 goals every year because that shooting percentage is preposterous, but his 200 foot game isn’t going to change as time goes on.

Karlsson’s offensive stats are hard to ignore, but his overall play is what’s more impressive. He’s became a lockdown center effectively playing the full sheet of ice. His neutral zone decisions have created countless odd-man rushes for his linemates Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. Like many Golden Knights, Karlsson has benefited greatly from more ice time. The Swede is averaging four minutes per game more than his career average. Columbus couldn’t promise the same opportunities. Now that Karlsson is on the ice more his skill is more defined. The Golden Knights have a core two-way center that has a knack for finding the back of the net.

It’s the same thing with Malcolm Subban. He was never that impressive in the AHL with the Boston organizations, and is now rocking a .922. Is that just maturity and experience or a huge spasm of luck or something in between?

All the credit in the world goes to the Golden Knights goalie coach Dave Prior for Subban’s turnaround. He hit the waiver wire and Vegas pounced on him. Why? Because Prior knew it would only take a few simple fixes to turn him from a bum to a the 1st round talent he was when he was drafted. He’s a lot quieter in the net and he doesn’t take nearly as many risks. Prior has taught him to stay standing a bit longer than normal and with his elite reaction speed and big frame it’s made all the difference. He seems to be the real deal, but I still want to see how he responds to getting lit up. It’s been all positives here. That wasn’t the case in Boston and Providence. Can he keep his head on straight after giving up five or six goals? If he can, he might be the future for the Golden Knights, if not, maybe Oscar Dansk is.

Subban has played above anyone’s expectations, including the Golden Knights organization. In Boston, there was internal pressure because he was a first-round draft pick. His role never developed in the AHL and the Bruins were left waiving him. He’s incredibly athletic, strong and humble. Subban has refined his skills with the aid of Vegas goalie coach Dave Prior. Which could be a big reason why he’s playing so well. All that being said, it’s still early to declare Subban as the goaltender of the future. Vegas fans will be happy if he is. They really love to cheer “Soooooob” when Subban makes a nice save. 

So the goalposts have had to shift now, yes? Where George McPhee might have been tempted to do some selling at the deadline to get long-term assets, he can’t really do that now, correct?

Absolutely not. The only thing he can do in regards to selling is “selling to buy.” If he flips one or two of the UFAs (Neal, Perron, and Sbisa) he’s got to bring back a long term piece that can also help now. No longer are 2020 2nd round picks a valuable commodity. My guess is McPhee completely stands pat at the deadline and just lets this team ride it out, but he’s not afraid to make a splash trade so who knows. But I will tell you this, every time he’s asked about the deadline he runs the same line, “I’m not going to sit here and derail anything.” So, if you take him for his word, he’s not going to sit here and derail anything.

I’m not fully counting out roster movement at the deadline. The Golden Knights GM has continuously said he won’t derail the momentum. However, he carefully reminds fans that it’s too early to plan for the playoffs. Which in my mind suggests McPhee is more concerned about building the future. Is it still possible that McPhee trades a player like David Perron for a prospect or draft pick? Of course, the only problem is disrupting a first-place team. McPhee can’t do that, his boss Bill Foley would be livid. 

With the incredibly surprising start, as well as the novelty, how has the first half-season gone over in Vegas? Are they in the news and such? Buzz?

It’s everywhere. Literally the only thing people in Vegas talk about. It’s kind of a euphoric state in which everyone can’t believe how good they are and therefore there’s very little actual hockey talk. Instead it’s just a bunch of hyperbole and disbelief about how awesome it is to have a team that’s not awful. It feels a lot like a college town where you have to know what’s going on or you are basically a social outcast. That doesn’t mean anyone actually knows what’s going on, cause they don’t and not enough people know about my website, but they certainly know what happened in the last game. It’s cool and it’s only going to get better when the real games start in April and hopefully May and June.

The Golden Knights are the talk of the town, and righteously so. However, to my disappointment the local radio and tv stations haven’t fully committed. The NFL, Raiders, NBA, and UNLV continue to lead the local airwaves. During some local programming it sounds as if the Golden Knights were never created. It’s not the fans fault. Vegas fans are loud, passionate and enjoying this fairy tale inaugural season. The entire city is amped for the second half of the season, and possibly the postseason

 

Game #40 Preview

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