LOS ANGELES — The Vegas Golden Knights lost more than their first game of the 2021-22 season, Thursday night. They may have lost their captain.
Mark Stone was injured with 12:20 to go in the second period against the Los Angeles Kings and did not return. It was a freak play as Stone had just intercepted a pass and got off a shot from the slot. Suddenly, he was wincing in pain, barely made it back to the Knights’ bench and needed help to get to the Vegas dressing room with what appeared to be a lower body injury that was not due to any contact.
He did not return and things, which were already spiraling downhill for the Knights, completely unraveled as the Kings, who spotted the visitors a 1-0 lead on Shea Theodore’s goal nine minutes into the contest, dominated and completed a 6-2 victory on their opening night at Staples Center.
Coach Peter DeBoer did not have an update on Stone’s condition after the game, but did say Stone has been dealing with a lingering issue. However, he did not indicated if it was related to what happened in the second period.
The Kings (1-0) even won the battle of rookies as forward Vladimir Tkachev was impressive in his NHL debut, outplaying the Golden Knights’ Jake Leschyshyn and Jonas Rondbjerg. The 26-year-old Tkachev, who went undrafted in 2014 and has spent the majority of his career in his native Russia playing in the Kontinental Hockey League was dangerous every time he touched the puck and finished with a pair of assists.
Kings coach Todd McClellan was quoted as saying Tkachev is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers and it sure looked that way Thursday. Whether it was stick handling his way into open space or making passes to teammates to create scoring opportunities, Tkachev was making the game seem easy.
His late first-period pass to Anze Kopitar led to a power play goal a 2-1 lead for the Kings, the first of what would be a hat trick on the evening for the superstar center. That Kopitar scored against the Golden Knights is nothing new. He has been a thorn in their collective side from the very first time these teams squared off against each other in 2017. But the fact he was able to get the pass through to Kopitar at the point may say as much about the poor coverage on the penalty kill by the Knights as it did about Tkachev’s vision of the ice.
The penalty kill was perfect Tuesday against Seattle in the 4-3 win over the Kraken. But against an experienced team like the Kings where even a rookie could help quarterback the power play, it’s a telling sign the Vegas PK still needs work.
The Kings’ first PPG was the result of one of the Vegas rookies who were debuting — Leschyshyn —taking an offensive zone tripping penalty with 1:34 to go. Normally, that would drive a coach crazy. But Leschyshyn was playing the puck and he was off-balance himself when he took down Mikey Anderson.
Leschyshyn and Rondbjerg didn’t embarrass themselves in their debut and with fellow rookie Peyton Krebs on the left side, the rookie trio acquitted themselves in a positive way. They were quick to loose pucks, forechecked well and came back in their own end to help out. They totally get DeBoer’s system and they appeared comfortable out there.
“They were put in a tough situation but I thought they competed well and responded to the challenge,” DeBoer said of the two rookies.
Unfortunately for the Knights (1-1), they were outplayed virtually everywhere on the ice. It had been a tough night in net for Robin Lehner and DeBoer spared him any further abuse by replacing him with Laurent Brossoit at the start of the third period. Lehner allowed four goals in 31 shots faced as the Kings dominated in the Golden Knights zone for most of the 40 minutes he was on the ice.
“I actually thought Robin might have been our best player the first two periods,” DeBoer said.
How bad was Thursday for the Golden Knights? They had a 4-on-1 in the third period and didn’t get off a shot. That sums up how dismal things were.
“We got outworked,” Reilly Smith said. “We’ve got to play better.”
The team is off until Oct. 20. They’re missing several pieces and DeBoer hopes the time off will allow them to regroup and reboot.
“We’re going to try and figure things out and try and get some people back,” he said.