The Vegas Golden Knights are one game off from the halfway mark of the 2021-22 NHL season. They currently sit first in the Pacific Division with 48 points in their 40 games played. For the most part, the team has had a successful season so far with a winning record despite injuries and a current spot in the Stanley Cup Playoff picture.
With the team once again on a multi-day break from game action, let’s go now go over some of the negative surprises the Golden Knights have had this season. This is part two of a two-part mini-series released today going over both the positive and negative surprises from the Golden Knights season which is now almost halfway over.
1- Injuries and COVID-19
Like we did in our positive surprises, let’s start with the obvious one here. The Vegas Golden Knights have been decimated with both injuries and COVID-19 cases all season. Injuries are not excuses, but the Golden Knights have had a significant number of their star players miss games such as Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, Alec Martinez, and now Jack Eichel.
You have to wonder if it is just bad luck or if something is in the water for the Golden Knights who currently have six players unavailable (Eichel, Pacioretty, Martinez, Laurent Brossoit, Nicolas Hague, and Logan Thompson). With the NHL’s announcement today regarding no longer testing asymptomatic players after the All-Star break, hopefully, the injury bug will die down for the Golden Knights.
Only three players have played all 40 games for the Golden Knights this season. Keegan Kolesar, Brayden McNabb, and Reilly Smith are this trio. Even head coach Peter DeBoer has missed games due to COVID-19 concerns. For the Golden Knights, the “next man up” mentality is getting old and they can only hope that they can get healthier over time.
2- Early Powerplay Struggles
The Vegas Golden Knights started the season with an atrocious powerplay as they failed to score on nineteen straight attempts to start the season. Not only this but this powerplay goal drought started all the way back on June 6th, 2021 against the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Most of the Golden Knight’s early powerplay struggles can be chalked up to the fact that they were missing key players from their lineup such as Stone and Pacioretty. As players returned, the Golden Knight’s powerplay drastically improved and now operates at 20.59% which is good for thirteenth in the league.
Eichel has also been practicing with the Golden Knight’s top powerplay unit and we could possibly see a top powerplay unit of Stone, Pacioretty, Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo, and Chandler Stephenson. Throw in the Misfit Line, and Shea Theodore on the second unit, and the Golden Knights powerplay is completely diffrent.
3- The Home Record
The powerplay has greatly improved since the start of the season. Now, the negative focus on the Golden Knights is starting to become the team’s home record. A historically good team at home, the Golden Knights are 12-9-2 on home ice this season. They have dropped big games such as Marc-Andre Fleury’s return to Las Vegas, and overtime/shootout games against the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
On the bright side of things, the team’s road record has been solid. The Golden Knights swept their East Coast road trip in late December against the Bruins, Devils, Rangers, and Islanders. The team’s road record will be tested next week as they journey southeast for four tough matchups against the Capitals, Hurricanes, Panthers, and Lightning.
As the Golden Knights continue to sit atop the Pacific Division standings, they will want to improve their record at T-Mobile Arena. Otherwise, the fight for home ice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs could start to mean nothing for the team.
4- Robin Lehner’s Goaltending
Robin Lehner has been okay for the Golden Knights this season. But the Golden Knights need a little bit more out of Lehner than just my initials. In 28 games played Lehner is 15-11, has a .904 save percentage, and a 2.95 goals-against average. He has been pulled twice, injured once, and has stopped seven of nine shots in shootouts.
Lehner started a good chunk of the Golden Knights games at the beginning of the season as DeBoer wanted to get him in as many games as possible after his offseason injury. The Golden Knights came out of the gate with a 1-4 record and Lehner was pulled in game two of the season against the Kings.
For a goaltender looking to replace the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury, Lehner still has some work to do in winning over many Golden Knights fans. The team is hoping that some consistency in net will start to come as they get both of their goalies back from injury. Lehner was hurt in his return to Long Island, and backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit was hurt in the four games that he started in the absence of Lehner.
5- Smith and Dadonov’s Lack of Consistency
Two more players that have been good, but need to contribute a little bit more for the Golden Knights are Evgenii Dadonov and Reilly Smith. With the emergence of Eichel and cap-space being a thing, both Dadonov and Smith have been linked in some NHL trade rumors. Both carry a $5 million dollar cap hit and Smith is pending UFA.
Smith has one goal in his last eighteen games, but he is still contributing offensively on the Misfit Line with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. As one of only three players on the Golden Knights roster who has played every game, Smith is second on the team in scoring with 11 goals, 18 assists, and 29 points. Smith is a proven scorer, but with his name linked in some NHL trade rumors and on a contract year, he needs to find consistency.
Dadonov on the other hand has six points in his last six games. He has been skating on the top line with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson. Overall his numbers are decent with ten goals and ten assists for 20 points. That is a 43 point pace over an 82 game schedule. Who knows where he ends up when Pacioretty and Eichel return, but for Dadonov, continuing to score at his stable pace can only be beneficial to his future with the team.