As the National Hockey League takes a week off for the All-Star Game in Florida, the Vegas Golden Knights sit at third place in the Pacific Division and are lucky to be there.
After dropping eight of their last 10 games and currently sitting on a four-game losing streak, the Knights have not been the same team they were in the first quarter of the season. Over their first 20 games, the Knights had a record of 15-4-1 and sat in third place in the overall league standings. With a record of 14-14-3 since they have been a mediocre to below-average team since. Their 2-6-2 record in the last 10 games is the worst last 10 of any team in the NHL.
There are several reasons for this slide. Injuries are a problem. Mark Stone, Jack Eichel and half the defense have all missed significant time.
Jack Eichel, the Knights’ best center, missed most of December with a still unknown lower-body injury. Shea Theodore, a top-pair defenseman for the Golden Knights, just recently returned after missing six weeks with a leg injury. Zach Whitecloud, another defenseman, has been out with some kind of knee or ligament injury since the beginning of December as well, and there is no timetable for his return. Although recently he did start skating at practice.
The most important injury that will set back the Golden Knights is the top-line right wing and captain, Mark Stone. In game two of the 2021-22 season, Stone sustained a back injury that required surgery that sidelined him for most of the season. Stone left a game against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 12 this year with what seemed to be a mysterious injury. It was revealed on Feb. 1 that Stone’s back issues had flared up again requiring yet another surgery which was successful. This will take him off of the roster for a significant time, most likely the rest of this season.
Now that the Golden Knights are beginning to get healthy again, the struggles on the ice can be attributed to more than just injuries. The two main reasons are a lack of scoring and not being able to find effective wings for Jack Eichel.
To start with a lack of scoring. The Golden Knights’ top scorer over the last ten games has been William Karlsson with four goals and two assists for six points, and there are only three other players that were half a point per game during that stretch. Those players are Phil Kessel, Jonathan Marchessault and Nicolas Roy. Two of those players are in the bottom six of the forward group.
Jack Eichel currently has just a single goal and assist in the Knights’ last 10 games. Reilly Smith has three assists and no goals. Additionally, all-star fill-in and current Knights point leader Chandler Stephenson has four assists and no goals in his last 10.
The scoring from the defense hasn’t been much better. Over this last stretch, their highest-scoring defenseman has been Alex Pietrangelo with a goal and two assists for three points. There is only one other defenseman with multiple points, that being Nicolas Hague.
Consequentially, the Golden Knights have had one of the worst offenses in the league, scoring a total of 21 points over this 10-game stretch. If the three games were taken out in which they have scored three or more goals, the Knights would have eight in seven games.
Secondly, the inability to find effective wings for Jack Eichel has killed any effectiveness that his lines have over the season.
Last season, when it was healthy, the line of Eichel, Stone and Max Pacioretty was one of the most effective in the entire NHL. After trading away Pacioretty in the offseason and with Stone’s recent injury, Eichel has been stuck with Michael Amadio, who throughout his career has been between the NHL and American Hockey League.
This is due to Head Coach Bruce Cassidy’s reluctance to break up the line of Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith. However, that has been one of the few somewhat effective lines for the Golden Knights over the last month.
There is some hope though. With Mark Stone being put onto Long Term Injured Reserve, the Golden Knights now have 12 million dollars in available cap space going into the trade deadline on March 3. Should the team management feel this is a roster that can truly compete for a Stanley Cup, and if this team manages to turn it around, then there should be no question when it comes to buying big at this trade deadline.
It is hard to see that happening though. Losing a team captain for the rest of the season, and with the rest of the division seemingly heating up as the second half of the season progresses, it is going to be very difficult for this team to make it to the playoffs.
At least for Golden Knights fans, should this team fall out of the playoffs, there is a generational talent in this upcoming draft that looks like he could turn any struggling team into a contender overnight.
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