The Vegas Golden Knights have continuously tried to improve since the team’s inception. Year One set the bar very high with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and the team has remained competitive since. Last season the Golden Knights were within a couple of wins of returning to the Final before bowing to the Dallas Stars.
This season, the VGK has occupied or been within a few points of the lead in the Honda West Division. They haven’t really encountered a big slump although their play has been lackluster as of late. The team is at a crucial point where if they lose a few more games right before the trade deadline, it’s possible a little panic sets in around Southern Nevada. To prevent the team from careening in the wrong direction, they need to answer these three questions quickly.
Is there enough scoring depth?
Right now, anyone not named Max Pacioretty or Mark Stone hasn’t been a regular on the scoresheet. Sure, we’ve seen familiar names pop up here and there, but with nowhere near the frequency this team needs to be a Stanley Cup favorite. Remember the playoffs last season? The scoring suddenly dried up against Vancouver, but Vegas survived. When it didn’t resurface against Dallas, the Golden Knights were packing to leave the bubble and come home empty-handed.
This is the first area I’d be looking to boost with a deal at the NHL trade deadline. Vegas could use a middle-six forward, preferably a center, who can score at roughly 0.6 points per game or better. So much better if they are a two-way player, but I’m more concerned about the scoring droughts that still seem to plague this team. Right now if you shut down the top line, you can beat the Golden Knights more often than not. That’s not good.
There are also some in-house options that the team was really hoping to see take the next step this season but haven’t. Really only Chandler Stephenson has grown more into the role the VGK hoped he’d handle from camp this year. Alex Tuch has still struggled to find his consistency. Cody Glass struggled so bad he was sent down to the Henderson Silver Knights after really having a shot at winning the top-line center position heading into camp. Reilly Smith has five goals this year. Jonathan Marchessault has two goals in his last 16 games. I could go on.
Simply put, after watching last year’s playoff fizzle and looking at what’s going on with this year’s team, the answer might have to come from outside the organization. What’s happening now is simply not good enough.
Can Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner stay sharp and healthy?
It’s pretty clear Marc-Andre Fleury has wrestled the starting job from Robin Lehner, although I’m beginning to wonder a bit after Fleury recording two losses in his last three outings. Not that he’s played bad, but because I think back to how quickly Pete DeBoer soured on the veteran netminder after taking over behind the bench. That led to the Golden Knights getting Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks and eventually signing him to a five-year, $5M AAV deal.
But with Lehner out for shoulder surgery and then a concussion, coupled with how he struggled in his few early starts gave Fleury a leg up. Fortunately, Lehner is finally back on the ice because it really looks like Fleury could use the rest.
Can these two guys hold up?
Another area I think Vegas could use some depth is in net. Not because of poor play, but because staying healthy seems to be an issue for Lehner in his career, and Fleury can’t eat all these regular-season minutes and then keep that same level in the playoffs. If the opportunity existed to really test one of the younger goalies at the NHL level I’d love to see if they’re ready. But with the playoff race so close with the Colorado Avalanche, that’s not really a possibility.
What will the Vegas Golden Knights get out of Alex Pietrangelo now that he’s back from injury?
It’s been a rough go for Alex Pietrangelo since he came to Vegas, missing time with various injuries totaling 15 games so far. While that’s frustrating for fans and the front office, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the player himself.
In the first few games back Pietrangelo has looked good, and you can tell he’s trying to get his game timing back as quickly as possible. The VGK needs him to be the puck-moving force that can help drive offense from the back end. They also need Alex Pietrangelo to get the power play on track, which has been inconsistent at best. And of course, he’s a top matchup guy defensively.
Being healthy in general would go a long way for the Golden Knights on the blueline. Brayden McNabb has missed substantial time and now Zach Whitecloud is out for an undetermined period of time. The Golden Knights do have pretty solid depth on defense led by the emergence of Dylan Coghlan, who might be the year’s biggest surprise out of training camp.
I don’t think a move is in order here, but Alex Pietrangelo absolutely has to (along with Shea Theodore) be the best defenseman on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Thoughts? What questions are you asking yourself about this team as we approach the NHL trade deadline? Let me know in the comments.