LAS VEGAS — Nov. 11 may turn out to be an important date in the history of the Vegas Golden Knights.
It was on that date veteran goaltender Laurent Brossoit cleared waivers and remained in the Knights organization.
Why is that important? When Long Thompson hurt his left leg Thursday in the third period against Minnesota and it was determined the following day his status would be classified as “Week-to-week,” it meant the team had to make a roster move.
Coach Bruce Cassidy was optimistic Thompson will return to the ice before the regular season ends in early April. When exactly, he couldn’t say. But the fact one goaltender is already out for the year — Robin Lehner — having a second check out for the season would be really tough.
But the team had some insurance in Brossoit, who has eight years of NHL experience, to pair with Adin Hill. Brossoit had played fairly well in the American Hockey League with the Henderson Silver Knights after he had off-season hip surgery and didn’t really get going until November. Brossoit’s career NHL stats show a winning record (42-41-8), a 2.84 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
He played 24 games with Vegas last season so he’s familiar with most of the guys who will be skating in front of him. Cassidy is not familiar with him so he wasn’t ready to commit to the workload he will give to Brossoit. That will come after he sees what happens when Brossoit plays.
Right now, Hill will inherit the starter’s job in the short-term. He has played well for the most part, spectacular at times and struggling at others. But here’s his opportunity to keep this team moving in the right direction as the No. 1.
He did that Sunday at T-Mobile Arena, turning aside 23 of 25 shots in backstopping Vegas to a 7-2 win over Anaheim, the team’s third straight victory since returning from its Winter/All-Star break. His stop on Ryan Strome’s breakaway early in the third period was a big moment. The Knights were holding on to a 2-1 lead and after Hill stymied Strome, the Knights got goals from Shea Theodore and Phil Kessel 91 seconds apart to grow the lead to 4-1. Of the 18 skaters Vegas dressed, 14 found the scoresheet.
“It’s always good when you get that kind of support,” Hill said. “I’m not preparing any different even though I may find myself playing more.”
Cassidy was pleased with the performance from his starting goaltender.
“I thought he played well,” Cassidy said as Hill improved to 12-5-1. “His puck play was clean. Neither goal was his fault. And obviously the stop on the breakaway was key.”
But Brossoit will certainly get his opportunities. Perhaps together, they can resist the need for management to acquire another goalie for the short-term.
It’s going to be worth keeping an eye on Sean Burke, the Knights’ goaltending coach, who will try to get the most out of Hill and Brossoit. If he can get both to play consistent and do their jobs, perhaps there’s a chance the Knights weather this latest setback. They have 29 games to go, and of those 29, eight are against teams at .500 or below. You still have to be able to beat the opponents with winning records but it’s imperative you win against the losing teams.
We know for Vegas, which leads the Pacific Division with 68 points and is in a dogfight with Edmonton, Los Angeles and Seattle, the focus needs to be on making the playoffs. So getting good play from whoever is in net is going to play an important role in trying to achieve that goal.
With Mark Stone now on injured reserve, not LTIR, there is not yet money to work with. That’s important to note as the Mach 3 trade deadline is still 19 days away. At the moment, his roster spot is probably more valuable to the team than his cap hit of $9.5 million. My guess is general manager Kelly McCrimmon is going to try and find some scoring depth with that $9.5 million when and if it becomes available after the team moves Stone to LTIR. But he may be thinking of devoting some of that financial windfall to acquiring a goaltender, depending on what happens between now and the trade deadline. If either Hill or Brossoit get injured and are out for a significant amount of time, then GMKM will have no choice but to trade for a goalie. However, if both struggle, then he has to weigh his options.
And no, Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t coming back to Vegas to play for the Golden Knights. There’s virtually no chance management wants to do business again with Allan Walsh, Fleury’s longtime agent. So they’d look elsewhere if need be.
I think barring an injury to either, the Knights will ride it out with Hill and Brossoit. The fact Thompson will rejoin the team at some point this year is encouraging and I believe together working with Burke, they can provide enough solid play and not be a liability. Brossoit said the other day he feels like he’s in a good place with his game and from working with Silver Knights goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite, he moves up to the parent club with his skills sharp and intact. In 23 games in Henderson, Brossoit was 8-11-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. Not horrible numbers considering he’s had a less-than-stelar group performing in front of him.
The fact we’re seeing the team’s top players rediscovering their offensive game and the defensive pairs are back together from the ones that helped the team get off to a fast start indicates that the lineup is going to produce, regardless of who is in net.
“Every line was on the sheet. That’s a coach’s dream,” Cassidy said. “It’s great for the team when everyone is contributing.”