Goaltending not an issue for the Golden Knights

Logan Thompson and Adin Hill have performed admirably through the first six games.

LAS VEGAS — Remember when everyone was wringing their hands over the Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltending situation prior to the start of training camp?

And that was before Robin Lehner was going to miss the entire 2022-23 NHL season with hip and shoulder issues.

It seems like the worries have dissipated. The angst of summer has turned into optimism in the fall as the Knights appear to have not one, but two good choices for coach Bruce Cassidy to put in net. And that list may grow to three in the coming days.

Logan Thompson and Adin Hill have performed admirably through the first six games and not coincidentally, the Knights have gotten off to a strong start.

Saturday was a tough time for the Knights as they fell to the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in front of 18,207 at T-Mobile Arena to fall to 4-2 for the season, which is less than two weeks old. Thompson stopped 22 shots but wished he could’ve prevented Valeri Nichushkin’s game-winner which came with 11:50 to play in the third period.

“You’ve got to make timely saves,” Thompson said. “It’s a stop I should’ve made.”

He’s being a little tough on himself. The Avs’ star winger made a fantastic hockey play, stickhandling around two VGK defenders, getting quickly to the net and beating Thompson upstairs to make it 3-1.

The Knights closed within 3-2 on Chandler Stephenson’s goal but were unable to get the equalizer as the Avs rebounded from Friday’s 3-2 loss at home to the Seattle Kraken.

When you examine Vegas’ good start, you can point to a relatively easy schedule which has included games against Chicago, Seattle and Winnipeg. You can certainly look at the resurgence Jack Eichel is having with his career. In six games so far, Eichel has three goals, four assists and seven points. This team obviously is buying into Cassidy’s philosophy which he brought with him from Boston after his six-year stint with the Bruins.

But the real reason Vegas is off to its good start is between the pipes. As Cassidy said after Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Jets at T-Mobile Arena, whoever is in goal is stopping the puck and you can’t bottom-line it any better than that.

Thompson, who is just 25, plays with an air of confidence. He’s not afraid to take some risks and he’s really quick at getting side-to-side in covering his crease. When one gets by him, which hasn’t been often so far, he shakes it off and moves on.

Hill plays the position a bit different. His game is based on solid positioning, reading the play, tracking the puck and having excellent rebound control. In his two games played so far, Hill has allowed just four goals and has a .934 save percentage.

It’s not quite a Yin-Yang scenario but each goalie has his own style and quirks, much like no two golfers’ swings aren’t alike.

So why have Thompson and Hill been so successful early on? A couple of things: First, Cassidy brought in Sean Burke to be the team’s goalie coach and Burke, who played 22 years in the NHL and spent six years coaching the Coyotes’ goaltenders, knows a thing or two about playing the position. It appears he has connected with his two netminders in Vegas.

Second, Cassidy’s system, which demands accountability on and off the ice has had a positive impact on the Knights’ defensive posture in front of their net. Centers come back, help take away the middle of the ice and along with the defensemen, force opposing wingers to the perimeter and reducing the number of high danger chances. It increases the odds of the goalie coming up with the save.

Finally, the Knights are committing fewer turnovers which can lead to odd-man rushes the other way and ultimately result in goals. There’s not as much risk-taking and between attacking as a five-man unit — doesn’t every coach want that? — and relying on a solid forecheck system, the Knights are making life easier for whoever is in goal on a given evening.

“It’s been a good start,” said Thompson, who is sporting a 2.29 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in four appearances thus far. “Sean Burke has helped me clean up a few things in my game. Adin has been great for us. Our styles are different but we’re both doing our job and stopping the puck.”

There’s a lot of hockey left to be played and with Laurent Brossoit making progress as he attempts to return from off-season hip surgery, the Knights may suddenly find themselves with additional depth in a key position in a couple weeks. And this is an organizational luxury. With Jiri Patera and veteran Michael Hutchinson holding things down at AHL Henderson, it meant Isaiah Saville, who might be the most talented goalie in the team’s system, finds himself playing goal for the Savannah Ghost Pirates (Don’t you love that nickname?) of the ECHL.

So should Thompson or Hill get injured and miss significant time this season, the Golden Knights won’t need to hit the panic button. There is enough talent and experience throughout the organization to fill the breach. And who would have thought that would be the case back in July?

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