With the luck that the Vegas Golden Knights have had this season, I feel like I am taking a huge risk here in writing this article which is centered around how they are finally getting healthy.
Hopefully, the Hockey Gods will not punish the team and I can avoid jinxing them.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who have battled through a substantial amount of injuries this season but are finally starting to get healthy, especially on defense. For the first time since the beginning of the season, head coach Peter DeBoer has had nearly all of his defensemen available to use. This has resulted in him playing seven defensemen and eleven forwards for the past three games, all of which have been wins.
The only defenseman out currently is Nicolas Hague who is listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury. His last game was against the Winnipeg Jets on March 15th.
A healthy defense is an enigma for the Golden Knights, but a welcome one at that. The Golden Knights have used 13 different defensemen this season and have had four defensemen make their NHL debuts. That’s also not to mention the emergency defensive signings of Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot.
There were points in the season where the Golden Knights could have been interested in Keith Yandle, simply because he does not get hurt.
As expected, these patchwork defensemen didn’t take the league by storm, as they mostly played in sheltered minutes. Daniil Miromanov, Zack Hayes, Brayden Pachal, and Kaedan Korczak all fit this bill.
“I think you can plug and play forwards at this point in the year easier than defensemen. It is really hard when you start to get into the depth of your defenseman in the organization with the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th guys that come in and you ask them to play big minutes and contribute,” said coach DeBoer.
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I agree with DeBoer’s statement here. It’s hard for a team to find success with defensive injuries, maybe more so than with players on offense. With forwards, you can manage their minutes easier and mix and match players with different lines. On defense, this is not the case as you rely solely on one D partner.
I would much rather have to play Jonas Rondbjerg and Jake Leschyshyn on the fourth line than have a defensive pairing of Hayes and Pachal who combined, have five games of NHL experience.
The Veteran Tandem
It was not long ago that the Golden Knights were playing these call-ups from the Henderson Silver Knights, asking a lot out of them and rushing their development simply because everyone was hurt.
But in the coming weeks, things have calmed down with guys like Miromanov, Hayes, Pachal, and Korczak going back to the minors and Pouliot being claimed by the Seattle Kraken.
This is due to the two biggest returns on the Golden Knight’s blue line; Brayden McNabb and Alec Martinez. McNabb, who was the last Golden Knight to play in all games for the VGK, missed 13 games with a hand injury after blocking a shot. Martinez took a skate to the face in November and missed four months with a facial laceration and a scar that looked worse than Beth’s from Yellowstone.
It cannot be overstated just how important these two have been to the Golden Knight’s current five-game winning streak. Both are averaging just under 20 minutes of ice time on the season and have greatly improved the Golden Knight’s defensive structure.
“The fact that we have got six to seven veterans back there that we are comfortable with and that it is the first time in a long long time, maybe all season, that we have felt like that is a huge comfort,” said DeBoer.
Pucks are being forced out wide and the team is blocking shots like crazy. Martinez has 45 blocked shots in just 15 games this season and McNabb is second in the NHL in that category with 154, only behind Calvin de Haan.
Logan Thompson’s recent emergence in goal has also not hurt and the Golden Knights have outscored their opponents 22-9 over their last five games.
Shea Starts to Shine
The return of Martinez and McNabb has started a chain reaction in the Golden Knight’s defense. More offensively-minded defensemen on the team are taking more chances such as Dylan Coghlan and Alex Pietrangelo. But the one that stands above them all is Shea Theodore.
It is no coincidence that Theodore is excelling offensively for the VGK. Theodore has three goals in his last three games including the overtime game-winner against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
This is the Shea Theodore we all know and love and a big part of why he is thriving is because he has Brayden McNabb as his D partner back. This allows him to jump up on the play more and pinch knowing that McNabb is the stay-at-home defenseman of the two.
There are other factors to Theodore’s recent play such as his return to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest where Theodore is from and also where he played junior hockey. Theodore’s family has been in attendance for the last three games and Theodore has scored in all three.
Maybe we have to get them season tickets.
“Confidence is huge in this league. I feel like sometimes everything you put on the net is going in and then there are stretched where nothing is happening whatsoever. But it is good to be in this stretch and hopefully, we can continue it,” said Theodore.
Could This Happen At Forward?
What has happened to the Golden Knight’s defense lately is the result of a really deep organizational pool of defensemen. It just goes to show how bad the injury crisis was earlier in the season as now DeBoer and co. have more defensemen than they know what to do with, a great problem to have.
But defense is not the only position in hockey and the Golden Knight’s offense has not been as lucky as the defense when it comes to injury. The team is currently rolling with eleven forwards as they have Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith, Brett Howden, Nolan Patrick, and William Carrier all out.
It only makes sense that the team will improve with these players coming back into the lineup slowly but surely. We are still waiting for Jack Eichel to play with Mark Stone for the first time.
The Golden Knights have 438 man-games-lost this season and are only behind the Montreal Canadiens in that department. Let me remind you that the Canadiens, who yes, defeated the Knights in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have completely sunk since then and are, statistically, the worst team in the NHL.
What DeBoer and his coaching staff have done with this roster is nothing less than miraculous and if this team can make it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I think we have to start considering DeBoer as a darkhorse candidate for the Jack Adams Award.