The Vegas Golden Knights’ 2021-22 season is all of two games old. So why does it feel like some believe the sky is falling and things have already come off the rails?
The Knights are 1-1 after holding off Seattle 4-3 on opening night Tuesday and getting drubbed on the road Thursday at Los Angeles, 6-2. There were few positives to find in the loss to the Kings. But there’s one significant caveat that coach Peter DeBoer is willing to lean on: he has yet to have the roster he anticipated having on the ice together.
The Knights knew they would be without forward Alex Tuch when the season began so they prepared to go without him. They weren’t counting on Nicolas Roy, Brett Howden, William Carrier and Mattias Janmark all missing opening night. Granted, none of the quartet are top-six performers, but the goal for this team during the offseason was to improve the bottom six forwards. That has yet to manifest itself.
And now, captain Mark Stone, who skates on the team’s top line, is dealing with some sort of lower body injury suffered in the second period against the Kings. That certainly doesn’t help the situation.
“We’d like to have a full practice with everyone,” DeBoer said, hoping at some point during the team’s five days off until they host St. Louis Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena that might happen. “But we definitely have some things we need to work on.”
Are they as dire as the “red flags” goaltender Robin Lehner alluded to after being yanked following the second period at Staples Center? Or are they more about some tweaks and attention to detail that forward Reilly Smith believes is needed to get the team playing consistent hockey?
One thing that was noticeable in both games, the Golden Knights’ opponents were outworking them in stages. It allowed Seattle to rally from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game in the third period. The Kings? they fell behind 1-0, got even on Dustin Brown’s goal, then let Anze Kopitar take over to the tune of a hat trick and a five-point night.
The Knights are implementing a new forecheck system. It works to a degree when they execute it the right way. But it remains a work in progress. The penalty kill is still an issue as the Kings were 2-for-2 with the man advantage. The defense is still lax in its own end though Lehner refused to point the finger of blame the D-corps.
“I’ve got to play better,” he said.
Actually, the entire team needs to play better. Too many turnovers leading to odd-man rushes. Not enough sustained offensive zone pressure by the four lines. Tuesday, the top two lines carried the Knights to victory over the Kraken. Thursday, Keegan Kolesar played well on the third line, and the rookie line of Peyton Krebs, Jake Leschyshyn and Jonas Rondbjerg played with pace and diligence as the fourth line.
Their reward? They get to play in the AHL tonight for the Henderson Silver Knights in their season opener at Orleans Arena.
The Knights have six goals so far. Chandler Stephenson is tied with Max Pacioretty for the team lead with two tallies apiece. In Stephenson’s case, he hasn’t scored using his stick yet. His first goal, the game-winner Tuesday, went off the outside of his skate. The second goal, which came late in the third period against the Kings, went off his leg.
An optimist would call that fortuitous. A pessimist would prefer to think Stephenson is more lucky than good. Either way, it’s just part of the weirdness that is the Golden Knights’ start to 2022.
Things are about to get tougher, not easier. The Blues are the opponent Wednesday. Then come the Oilers (Oct 22), the Islanders (Oct. 24), both at T-Mobile Arena followed by road games at Colorado (Oct. 26) and Dallas (Oct. 27). DeBoer isn’t sure who’s going to be available so his attempt at a reboot or a training camp 2.0 may not yield the desired results.
One thing the Knights can control is the effort with which they play. Rarely has that been an issue in the team’s brief history. But it bubbled to the surface Thursday and Lehner said it was the first time he could remember during his time in Vegas the Knights got outworked.
That stings. Then again, so does losing. Fortunately for this team, it’s just two games. There’s time to get the ship righted. It just my be a question of how many hands does DeBoer have on deck in order to got that ship back on course.
So while it’s too early to hit the panic button, you certain have a right to be concerned.