LAS VEGAS — Bruce Cassidy’s patience is wearing thin.
The Vegas Golden Knights continue to struggle at T-Mobile Arena, where they are a dead-flat average 8-8 following Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders. Even the return of Alex Pietrangelo, the team’s all-star defenseman, couldn’t change the team’s struggling fortunes at home.
Cassidy said it’s time to get this straightened out once and for all. The Knights are simply giving away too many points in a division they should be dominating. He wasn’t singling anyone out, but he’s not pleased with the collective performances of his guys in a building that should be one of the toughest in the NHL to play in. The Knights play to 103% capacity in 17,500-seat T-Mobile Arena.
“If it was an easy solution we would have fixed it,” Cassidy said. “We have to have a better mindset with the puck. We have to play direct and that’s what we need to fix.
“Once the players go over the boards, it’s up to them. They have to make the right decisions and make the right plays.”
Pietrangelo returned to action for the first time since Nov. 26 after his 4-year-old daughter Evelyn had a medical scare that saw her hospitalized with a brain ailment. He missed nine games during his family emergency absence.
Fortunately, she is doing much better and is expected to make a full recovery. But for her dad, it was the kind of situation where work was placed on hold and family came first.
There’s no question the Knights missed him on the blue line, especially in the wake of Shea Theodore and Zach Whitecloud both being knocked out of commission and leaving Cassidy’s blue line corps shorthanded. Saturday, Pietrangelo played a team-high 21:45 minutes and assisted on the second of Reilly Smith’s two goals. But he appeared to struggle with his rhythm, particularly the first two periods as the Islanders built a 3-1 lead and Cassidy acknowledged as much.
“He’s had a heavy heart being away from the team We need there’d be some rust there,” Cassidy said. “I think Petro is such a good athlete and keeps himself in such great shape, that he can handle the minutes. It’s more about getting his game reps and getting back up to speed.”
Smith said of Pietrangelo’s return to the lineup: “It’s great to have him back. Obviously, it’s been tough what he’s been going through with his family. For him to be back with us (Saturday) was great. We definitely need him.”
But there are bigger issues at the moment as the Knights prepare to host Buffalo Monday in the second of a four-game pre-Christmas homestand. The lack of scoring remains a huge problem, particularly from the third and fourth lines. With Jack Eichel still out with a lower-body injury and Paul Cotter out of the lineup for now after being injured Thursday in Chicago, Cassidy has had to shuffle things around.
He moved Phil Kessel off the third line to the top line, also shifting him from right wing to left wing as he played with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. The entire line struggled and the one time they were noticeable was in the third period when a shot from Kessel hit Stone in the back of his left leg and he needed to be helped off the ice. Stone returned to the game but he appeared to be struggling. Cassidy said he wasn’t sure of the severity of Stone’s injury and whether he would be available for the game against the Sabres Monday.
With Kessel moving up, it meant Jonas Rondbjerg skated with Michael Amadio and Jake Leschyshyn on the third line. The trio managed six shots and were never a threat offensively. The fourth line of Nicolas Roy, William Carrier and Keegan Kolesar fared worse, combining for just three shots.
In the last six home games, where the Knights have gone 1-5, they’ve managed just nine goals, eight of which came in regulation. They needed an overtime goal from Jonathan Marchessault to beat Philadelphia 2-1 on Dec. 9. They’re not good enough defensively right now that they can score one or two goals and have it hold up.
The team has guys who can put the puck in the net. Whether it’s Kessel, Stone, Stephenson, William Karlsson or Roy, they need to start doing so with some regularity.
Smith, who has been Vegas’ best offensive player of late and has a team-leading 16 goals, said it’s a matter of the Knights working through their woes.
“If we knew that, we would have flipped that a while ago,” he said of finding an easy solution to their struggles at home. “We just have to do better and make this a hard place for other teams to come in and play. Right now, it’s not.”