Editors Note: This is part two of a two-part series released today. Check out part two.
Losing eight of twelve games after acquiring a franchise centerman is not ideal.
But for the Vegas Golden Knights, it is the current position they sit in as just 22 games remain in the 2021-22 NHL regular season. The Golden Knights have dropped from first in the Pacific Division to third over the past couple of weeks and if the Edmonton Oilers win tonight, they will pass the VGK as well.
Many Golden Knights fans are on the brink of panic. All these fans have ever known is pure success as the NHL’s 31st franchise has never missed the playoffs in four seasons. While the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup has not been achieved just yet, it is still safe to say that the Golden Knights are one of the most successful expansion franchises in NHL history.
But in 2021-22 the pressure is on to win the Stanley Cup more so than in past years. However, with the way the current season is going, many people are counting the Golden Knights out as contenders.
Today with Vegas Hockey Now we will look at ten tidbits on the Golden Knight’s season and go over five reasons to be optimistic about the team, and five reasons to panic if you are a fan of the team.
Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Golden Knights
1- Nine Regulars
Let’s start with a simple one. The Vegas Golden Knights are missing now nine players due to injury. As much as we can sit here and say that injuries are not excuses, missing all of these players does affect the team after all. Losing key leaders like Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, Robin Lehner, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, and now Max Pacioretty doesn’t come without any consequences.
The depth has had to step up for the Golden Knights and it has mostly run thin. Just when it seemed like depth players like Brett Howden, Nolan Patrick, and Mattias Janmark were turning the corner and providing that necessary secondary scoring, they were all injured as well.
This has been a problem the Golden Knights have dealt with all season. No player on the team will play in 82 games this season, which will be a first in franchise history. But putting all this in perspective the Golden Knights still being eight games above .500 is somewhat impressive all things considered.
2- He Just Got Here
Jack Eichel has four goals and four assists in twelve games with the Golden Knights. For a player that had not played hockey in roughly a year, this is incredible. But I am seeing a lot of Golden Knights fans arguing that Eichel needs to do more for the team and I disagree.
To that, I say be patient. These things take time.
Not only is there the factor of Eichel’s conditioning and his ice time slowly increasing, but there are also his linemates that have to adjust. In just twelve games with the Golden Knights Eichel has played with five different linemates and been in six different line combinations.
That’s not to mention the powerplay, and just overall off-ice bonding with the team. This is the first time the 25-year old NHL’er has been traded, and he just had a very emotional return to the Buffalo Sabres.
Eichel has already proven to be a phenomenal addition to the Golden Knights. He will only get better over time.
3- The Playoffs Are a Different Beast
Making the playoffs just overall should be the goal for the Golden Knights right now. It doesn’t matter where they finish in the standings, just make the playoffs and go from there.
Interestingly, the Golden Knights have never won a playoff series in years where they did not finish first in their division. I find this fact as more of a coincidence rather than a method to base the season on.
Ask Alex Pietrangelo what it is like to be out of the playoffs and then have a team rally to make them. Or have Peter DeBoer tell you that both his 2012 Devils and 2016 Sharks were fringe playoff teams.
All the Golden Knights have to do is get in and then anything can happen. By then we will have potentially forgotten the silly little slump the team was on in March.
4- The Pacific Division is Wide Open
The NHL’s Pacific Division has been notoriously labeled as the easiest division in the league. Two years of COVID-19 shifting the leagues’ divisions and playoff formats have led some to forget this label. While I disagree with this statement, the Pacific Division overall is the weakest in terms of point outlook.
The top-seeded Calgary Flames are seventh in the leagues’ overall standings as of March 12th. The Golden Knights, despite being third in the division, are 15th overall in the league’s standings.
This is both a blessing and a curse for the VGK as they will need fewer points to make the playoffs but also could be seen as inferior to teams with more points in the standings.
For instance, if the Golden Knights were in the Eastern Conference they would currently be behind the Washington Capitals for the second Wild Card position.
But they aren’t in the East, and the Golden Knights need to take advantage of their current division.
5- A Bump in the Road
Hockey teams struggle and no team is perfect. Golden Knights fans have been blessed with never seeing their team miss the playoffs and frankly, they don’t know how good they have it sometimes. If the Golden Knights miss the playoffs this season it could be a blessing in disguise for the organization.
Not every team makes the playoffs every single year and goes on to win the Stanley Cup.
Take the Boston Bruins, a team that has had oodles of success in the modern era of the NHL. They missed the playoffs in 2016 and then bounced back to reach the Cup Finals three years later.
A better example would be the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016, they missed the playoffs in 2017. Then a couple of years later they win back-to-back Stanley Cups with some of the deepest rosters in the modern era of the NHL.
My point here is simple. Stanley Cup contending teams sometimes fall short of making the playoffs as a whole. And for the Vegas Golden Knights, they will likely still make the playoffs, where anything can happen. The season is not over for this team. In fact, it has only just begun.