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Can Golden Knights’ top six forwards carry them early in season?



Vegas Golden Knights Mark Stone

One thing was clearly evident from the Vegas Golden Knights’ season opener Tuesday: they’re not as deep with their forwards as they thought. At least not right now.

With a rash of injuries and protocols keeping a half-dozen players from seeing action in the team’s 4-3 win over Seattle at T-Mobile Arena, coach Peter DeBoer was fortunate his top two lines were intact. Otherwise, who knows what would have transpired? The Kraken might have had more than Morgan Geekie celebrating, and that would have really ticked off the Golden Knights’ social media.

But with Max Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone accounting for three goals and eight points and Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson teaming up for the other goal, the Knights won their season opener.

“Our top two lines were exceptional,” DeBoer said. “We were shorthanded and we needed to lean on the big guys.”

DeBoer essentially played three lines plus one against the Kraken, electing to shorten his bench and not use rookie Pavel Dorofeyev and defenseman-turned-forward Dylan Coghlan much after the first period. It’s a ploy he probably doesn’t want to implement too often and perhaps the Knights will get some people healthy in the coming days. Following Thursday’s game in Los Angeles against the Kings, Vegas doesn’t play again until Oct. 20 when the Knights host St. Louis. That should provide enough of a break to get themselves close to whole.

What was really impressive about the top line’s performance was they spend much of the time apart from each other during the preseason as Stone was injured in the first exhibition game and DeBoer sat Stephenson and Pacioretty a couple of times to give some of the team’s younger players a look.

“We didn’t play together much in the preseason,” said Pacioretty, who had two goals and an assist Tuesday. “But we’ve been together for a while so it was fine.”

Stone, who had three assists Tuesday, said: “Things didn’t end too well for us last year in the playoffs. There was a lot of soul-searching during the summer and we wanted to be ready for the opening day of camp, ready for the opening of the season. We want to be consistent for 82 games and the playoffs and be consistent there.

“It wasn’t our best playoffs last year so it starts now, building that chemistry.”

Stephenson had the game-winner as the puck went off the outside of his right skate and past Philipp Grubauer to break a 3-3 tie that Geekie had created with a laser over Robin Lehner’s shoulder 35 seconds earlier that triggered what the Knights thought was a bit of an execessive celebration.

“I was pretty fired up,” Stone said after watching Geekie’s stick-twirl celly. “I think it got our whole line fired up.”

Karlsson, who set up Marchessault’s pretty first-period goal that saw him deke Grubauer to the ice, go around him and tuck the puck in the goal as he crossed the goal line, said, “It was just instinctive. Reilly (Smith) forced a turnover, He got it to me and I got it to Marchy and he did the rest.”

DeBoer said the hybrid third line of Nolan Patrick, Evgenii Dadonov, Keegan Kolesar and Peyton Krebs competed and though they failed to dent the scoresheet, they were on the ice for only one of the three Seattle goals.

“I thought that group was pretty good,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t have a true line because we were rotating four guys. But I thought they did some good stuff for us. Again, it’s a big ask, playing nine, 10 forwards, everyone’s minutes go up a couple and you’re paying a team that’s rolling four lines and playing with a lot of energy like Seattle did.

“I’m not sure you want to do that every night, but we got it away with it last night.”

Mattias Janmark remains in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and will not make the trip to L.A. Jack Dugan had a lower-body injury which is why he wasn’t available Tuesday and necessitated playing Dorofeyev and Coghlan.

“We still have a lot of guys we haven’t seen yet,” DeBoer said in trying to ascertain his bottom six. But at least he knows he has stability with his top two lines and he will continue to need to lean on them, at least for the present.

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