Golden Knights continue to befuddle

The Golden Knights remain atop the Pacific Division despite their inconsistent play and the absence of key components in their lineup.

LAS VEGAS — The Vegas Golden Knights are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma at the moment.

They’ll play well enough to win for parts of games, then a turnover, surrender a fluke goal or take a bad penalty and all the good gets wiped out. Just when you think the team turned the corner with a dominating performance against Washington last Saturday to salvage a subpar seven-game homestead, Vegas falls flat on its face 24 hours later in a college rink and gets beat by Arizona, one of the NHL’s bottom feeders.

This is a team Winston Churchill could appreciate.

Tuesday, they did more than enough at Prudential Center to beat New Jersey, one of the league’s upper echelon teams, only to have the Devils score late on a shot that deflected off defenseman Brayden McNabb to tie it 2-2 and eventually win it in overtime after Ben Hutton got whistled for tripping and Dougie Hamilton potted the game-winner in a 3-2 Devils victory after Jack Hughes made a superb play to get him the puck.

No Mark Stone, you say? Still no Shea Theodore and Zach Whitecloud? Even William Carrier is out. Sorry, the excuses don’t wash. Not when you have Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo, Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson and Reilly Smith on the ice.

The Knights have enough talent to pick up the slack. They have a coach who knows what he’s doing. The goaltending, for the most part, has been good enough. It certainly was Tuesday against the Devils as Logan Thompson deserved a better fate after making 33 saves. 

But when your power play is producing just three goals in 12 games, when your best player hasn’t scored in six straight games, that’s a problem. A big problem.

Earlier this season, Eichel was producing at over a point a game. He was everything the team could hope for when it acquired him a year ago and he was certainly playing like a $10 million player.

But since Stone went out with what is apparently another injury to his back on Jan. 12 and has missed the last five, Eichel seems to have gone cold. Coach Bruce Cassidy has tried just about every able-bodied winger to try and jump start No. 9 but nothing is working.

Stephenson, who I was touting for a spot in the NHL All-Star Game two weeks ago, has not scored in seven games. He assisted on Hutton’s goal against the Devils but he certainly hasn’t picked up the slack.

The Knights got Brett Howden back Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 23 and he found himself in a fight. Given the team’s luck these days, I’m shocked he didn’t break his hand on Nathan Bastian’s head.

Fortunately for the Knights, Howden is O.K. and we’ll see him in the lineup Friday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. More important, Theodore may be ready to return to the ice Friday. He has been out since Dec. 9 with a lower-body injury and he has been missed for a variety of reasons, mainly his ability to transition the puck out of his own end, support the rush and be an effective part of overtime.

Maybe his presence stimulates Eichel, who is catching heat from the fans, the media and even his own coach as Cassidy called him out last week, saying he needs more from his star center.

For weeks, many were trying to assign sole blame for the Knights’ woes to veteran winger Phil Kessel. The NHL’s reigning Iron Man hasn’t been the offensive boon people were hoping for. But he has eight goals and 19 points in 49 games. There are bigger culprits when it comes to a lack of scoring. 

But let’s get back to Stone. Cassidy has classified the captain as “week-to-week” and we’re probably looking at after the All-Star break in early February to make a true determination of his availability the rest of the way.

Remember, he had back surgery last May and while this injury reportedly isn’t the same as the one that put Stone on the shelf last year, it’s a concern, particularly for a 30-year-old hockey player.

Stone has not been placed on injured reserve yet. If the team’s medical staff determines this is an issue that is not going to be fixed soon and the Knights put Stone on LTIR, it opens the possibility to replace him as the team will suddenly have more cap room to chase a Bo Horvat or a Timo Meier. Stone makes $9.5 million and a good portion of that would come off the books should he be shut down for the season. Of course, the bill would come due at some point when Stone returns and GM Kelly McCrimmon would have to find a way to fit everything within the NHL’s salary cap. But that’s never stopped the Knights before.

The NHL trade deadline is March 3. We should know well before then what Stone’s fate is and what the Knights will likely do. 

As for Carrier, he is on IR. The likelihood is we see him back after the All-Star break. He is having a record year with 11 goals and 16 points. He has been a contributing factor to this team’s success so don’t sell his abilities short. He has given the bottom-six forwards a nice lift with his play prior to going down on Jan. 14 against Edmonton.

But the Knights have been treading water for the better part of two months thanks to all the missing pieces and even though they were still in first place in the Pacific Division this morning with 61 points (29-17-3), that lead is tenuous at best. The Kings are right on their heels, as are Seattle and Edmonton. Even Calgary is making its move upward. So every point is important, contrary to the idiotic statement the announcers on ESPN+ made going into OT Tuesday that the extra point doesn’t matter to either team because they play in different conferences.

Who comes up with something that asinine? The Knights missed the playoffs by three points last year. Damn right every point matters.

So as the team takes today off and enjoys themselves in Manhattan, they need to find a way to pick up points Friday against the Rangers and Saturday against the Islanders at UBS Arena. They can use the upcoming Winter/All-Star break to regroup, get things figured out, see what their medical situation is, then make some decisions when things pick back up on Feb. 7 in Nashville against the Predators. 

If you’ve ever tried treading water, you know it can tire you out quickly. With a record of 2-6 in their last eight games and a power play that is operating at low-wattage at the moment, this is a team in need of a lifeboat.  

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x