Golden Knights mid term report card hits high marks
January 09, 2018 3:07 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
The midseason report card for “our” Vegas Golden Knights is surprising, yet not so stunning.
Let’s face it, no one outside of the organization foresaw the success of the NHL’s newest franchise. Yet based on the way the team plays, grades of “A” run throughout this teacher’s evaluation.
There will be no “Mommy, the dog ate my report card” excuses. With a victory Sunday, Vegas (28-10-2, 58 points) is on pace for 120 points, which should be enough for a Pacific Division banner to wave in the rafters of T-Mobile Arena and a battle for the top seed out of the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Yes, I said it – top seed and possible favorite to win it all. My fellow Nevadans already know this, as Futures odds on the Knights have dropped down to 7/1 and falling at most betting parlors.
Sure, improvement is needed in all areas – either you’re going up or down. There is no remaining stagnant – but our local hockey gurus know where the holes lie.
VGK Report Card
(Thru 41 Games)
• Offense: A-
• Power Play: C+
• Defense: B
• Penalty Kill: B-
• Goalies: A
• D-men: B
• Forwards: A-
• Overall: A+
If these categories were ranked like the Billboard music charts, almost every line would be a grade-with-a-bullet.
Remember these marks are for the entire season not just the past week. So if I were evaluating simply based on the past month (since the Dec. 1 loss to Central Division leader Winnipeg), they might as well be A-bingo (a term used to mediate diving, meaning all judges gave identical scores).
Goaltending got a bump because of the injury factor. You can’t win when your best isn’t in the net, although one could argue VGK did so anyway. It’s rare, but it is the team’s reality.
Team scoring was hurt by a rancid power play (especially at home) in the opening month.
Being a new franchise, this came as no surprise, yet (with a bullet) the Knights in no way resemble the team that opened the season on special teams.
Among the forwards, ask any opposing coach: Which is the Knights’ No. 1 line – or 2, 3 or 4 for that matter? Matchups like Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson are a problem when facing Vegas.
The work rate for these players is so high, but with so many “team” players, no one wants to be the low man on the totem pole (as the cliche’ goes).
Defense will be the key to a long playoff run, which is a concern. The pairings still are attempting to gel, which leaves the goalies alone to make too many saves on wide-open looks.
On the flip side, the forecheck has been extremely productive, forcing opponents into panic mode on simple breakouts.
Just last week in Chicago, three of Vegas’ five goals came as a result of the Blackhawks being unable to clear their own zone or a turnover at neutral ice.
It’s simple: if the forwards can play defense in and out of your own end, the easier it is for your defense while they come together – hopefully, by the second week of April.
The last NHL club to win consecutive Stanley Cups then not qualify for the following year’s playoffs were the 1969-70 Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs won two crowns, lost in the next final, then took two more titles before missing the playoff party on a fourth-place tiebreaker to the New York Rangers.
Everyone keeps saying the Pens will turn it on by February, but the last time I looked at the standings it was a battle with the improving Philadelphia Flyers (who just beat St. Louis) and the suddenly slumping N.Y. Islanders.
Both the Flyers and Isles have at least one game in hand on Pittsburgh in the standings. NBC Sports and NHL marketing will not be happy introducing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the last-place Penguins.
The reason could be the expansion draft with the Pens and Tampa Bay facing the same dilemma as last season, yet taking different roads to a solution.
Both had future salary caps issues with a veteran goalie and his protege ready to play.
Tampa Bay elected to trade Ben Bishop at the deadline and keep Andrei Vasilevskiy.
As we all know in Vegas, the Pens stayed pat, then lost Marc-Andre Fleury to stock the Knights.
At least the Pens hoisted the Cup, so their decision worked. And Tampa Bay is currently the best team in hockey – well, at least in the Eastern Conference – so they’re pleased, too.
Now, Penguins youngster Matt Murray is playing only .500 hockey, as PIT ranks 25th in goals allowed, while the Bolts are tied with Boston and “my” L.A. Kings for first.
Something tells me the Pens miss James Neal and a few others.