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Vegas Golden Knights Opening Night Positives and Negatives

On Tuesday, October 12, the Vegas Golden Knights had the honor of welcoming the Seattle Kraken to the NHL for their first game in franchise history. Though the game ended as a victory for the Golden Knights (a controversial result) many concerns about the team remain.

The Positives

A few minutes into the game, the Golden Knights scored a perfectly executed team goal with their first shot. The top-line with the defensive pairing of Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb, all played a part in the sequence that led up to it.

The play started with McNabb back in his own zone drawing two of Seattle’s forwards attention, before getting the puck to his defensive partner. Theodore, after recognizing Stephenson gaining speed and approaching the neutral zone, hit him with a breakout pass. Because of Stephenson’s skating, the Golden Knights were able to catch Seattle’s forwards out of position. Which gave Vegas a lane to enter the offensive zone.  After gaining the blueline, Stephenson dished the puck to  Mark Stone on the right side. Since all three of Seattle’s forwards were behind on the play, their defenders were only able to cover two of Vegas’ three forechecking players. Stone and Stephenson had drawn the attention of both defenders upon their zone-entry, which resulted in Max Pacioretty being left unguarded. After receiving Stone’s pass, Pacioretty ripped the puck glove side, after seeing Phillip Grubauer, Seattle’s Goaltender, over-extend with his lateral movement.

The second line, not wanting to be outdone, came out a few minutes later to score a goal of their own. Though not as clean as the first goal, the chemistry of the second line was on full display leading up to it. Jonathan Marchessault began the sequence in his own zone after he went to receive the puck when his defenseman failed to clear it. In his own clearing attempt, the puck, fortunately, bounced to William Karlsson, who initiated a counterattack. After skating the puck from his own zone to the offensive zone, Karlsson passed the puck to Reilly Smith. Though his initial shot attempt missed, the puck made its way to Marchessault who had stayed above the goal line. He sent the puck along the boards to the opposite side of the zone, where Smith, in a crafty move, directed the puck to Karlsson. Who then dished the puck back to a net-driving Marchessault, who undressed Grubauer before tucking it in the back of the net.

The chemistry between the so-called “Misfits line” is undeniable. They have the capability of controlling the pace of the game when they are on the ice. The way they played off of each other’s strengths so seamlessly is not something that can be taught. Marchessault got his scoring opportunity because of how well he understands his linemates. He trusted Karlsson and Smith to handle themselves deep in the zone, which allowed him to stay above the goal-line and act in support of both his linemates and defensemen. Because of this, when he saw Smith get the puck to Karlsson, he knew he had to find a lane in order to receive his centerman’s pass.

The third goal Vegas scored on Seattle showed how good-positioning leads to scoring opportunities. The play started in the neutral zone, where Zach Whitecloud was able to disrupt Seattle’s attempted breakout pass. When he secured the puck he chipped it up to Stone who had been waiting at the blue-line along the boards. Stone, upon receiving the pass, entered the zone where he saw Nic Hague skating towards the slot. Hague shot the puck immediately after receiving Stone’s pass to which it redirected off of Pacioretty’s glove/stick. A good play all around, that started as a result of Whitecloud’s positioning, and Hague knowing to skate towards the slot when he was needed to.

Though the manner in which Stephenson scored Vegas’ fourth goal may not be considered to be a positive. The circumstances leading to it were. The play started as the result of Stone’s ability to intercept the other team’s passes.  After he carried the puck into Seattle’s offensive zone, he played tic-tac-toe with Pacioretty before passing to Stephenson. Or more accurately, Stephenson’s skate. Though it was a controversial call it was still counted and ended up being the game-winning goal.

The Negatives

The game’s opening shift was not pretty. Both Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo made mistakes following the first faceoff of the game. Both of which lead to a pair of scoring chances for the Kraken. The only reasons why the game was scoreless at this point were because of Chandler Stephenson’s defensive stick and the crossbar. The refs calling Pietrangelo for tripping was what ended up stopping Seattle’s initial assault. All of which occurred before the game’s 30-second marker.

They were not able to capitalize on any of their powerplay opportunities, which wouldn’t normally be a problem in itself. However, with how dire Vegas’ powerplay has been recently, many were hoping to see an immediate sign of improvement.

Seattle scoring three consecutive goals on Vegas to tie up the game is an issue. It makes it seem like they took their foot off the gas. A common saying in the hockey community is, no lead in an NHL game is secure. It’s problematic when a team feels comfortable enough to play with less effort than it took to gain the lead. That is when they start to make mistakes.

If the VGK can’t string together a full 60-minute performance consistently throughout the season, they are going to struggle.  Especially since the NHL has returned to a schedule that does not solely contain divisional opponents.

It may show on the stat sheet that Robin Lehner allowed Seattle to score three goals. Though puck mismanagement did play a major part in that one.

On Seattle’s first goal, Lehner made the initial stop, but the puck rebounded right to the front of the net. Where Alec Martinez had tied up Seattle’s Ryan Donato. Despite this, Donato was able to break free from Martinez long enough to put the rebound into the net.

Seattle’s forecheckers catching Vegas’ defenders flatfooted led to the second goal. On top of that, the puck actually went in off of Shea Theodore’s stick.

The third goal Seattle scored against Vegas is the one that Lehner should have probably saved. The play began when two Seattle players had double-teamed Jonathan Marchessault causing him to lose the puck. Seattle forward, Morgan Geekie then came into possession of it. Geekie was in a one on one with Zach Whitecloud before finding space to shoot. Ripping it over Lehner’s glove. Though it started with Marchessault’s turnover, it should have still been a routine save for Lehner. Geekie should not have been able to score from his position, being right-handed. When Geekie had taken the shot, Whitecloud had been sufficiently covering his left. Lehner should have probably felt comfortable enough to completely commit to taking away that angle completely.

 

Featured image courtesy of Ryan Pinder and Sportsnet

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