After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the Vegas Golden Knights are first in the NHL a month into the season. They have a 12-2 record and have won a total of eight straight games. Everything seems to be clicking for the team, and with three more wins, they can break the team’s winning streak record.
What has worked so well for the VGK? Here are our thoughts at Vegas Hockey Now.
I think the biggest reason why the Golden Knights are off to such a good start this season stems from just how bad last season was. Everyone was either hurt or inconsistent last season. Heading into training camp this year, the Golden Knights had oodles of personnel itching to have bounce-back seasons.
Logan Thompson wanted to prove that he can be a starter. William Karlsson wanted a bounce-back season. Phil Kessel wanted to show that he can still play.
“I think Karly has been playing tremendous to start the year now. If me and Reilly (Smith) can gold onto pucks a little bit longer and come to each other, it will make our lives easier for sure,” said Marchessault on Karlsson.
Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Alec Martinez, and Reilly Smith all wanted to bounce back from injuries. Even Bruce Cassidy had a chip on his shoulder, being let go by the Boston Bruins.
So far, everyone on this list has done just that.
The biggest player looking for a “prove yourself” season on the Golden Knights has easily been Jack Eichel. Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in a blockbuster deal, Eichel is now playing in his first full 82-game season since 2018-19.
“He had a three-month surgery when he got traded to us. Got surgery and then was back in three months, so I don’t think it was easy. Then when he came back, everybody else went out. There were 7-8 guys out of the lineup when he came back, so a lot was on his shoulders. So now we got the whole band back together kind of, and we are starting to see the benefits that he provides when you have depth in the lineup,” said captain Mark Stone on Eichel
With his neck repaired and a full offseason to recover, Eichel has 15 points in 14 games with the Golden Knights. He’s been fitting in great with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson on the first line. His overtime play netted two of the team’s wins on their current eight-game streak as well.
As arguably the flashiest and most talented player in Golden Knights history, Eichel has lived up to the hype in 2022-23, and he has been a huge part of the team’s early success.
Contributions From Everywhere
But it’s not just Eichel. The Golden Knights are getting contributions all throughout their lineup, especially after Cassidy re-arranged the training camp lines. Only three skaters on the Golden Knight’s active roster have not scored a goal this season (Alec Martinez, Alex Pietrangelo, and Brayden McNabb).
The team has had extraordinary performances from the fourth line of Keegan Kolesar, Nicolas Roy, and Will Carrier recently. The Eichel line and the Misfit line of Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and William Karlsson have been driving offense well.
“We have a really good lineup with a lot of good players. Obviously, last year we had so many injuries, so that was different, but we always knew how many good players we had,” said Nicolas Roy.
The defense as a unit has looked solid, as they have four players in the top 20 in the NHL with blocking shots. Alec Martinez leads the charge with 61 blocked shots in 14 games. The defense has kept opposing teams to the outside and made the lives of Logan Thompson and Adin Hill easier.
But when needed, both Thompson and Hill have been great. The duo is second in the league in save percentage with a .928%.
Typically, when good teams are winning, everyone is buying in, and that’s exactly what the Golden Knights are doing. They’re finding ways to win too, which will be crucial come playoff time.
“It’s important to find different ways to win games. You’re not always going to score four or five goals. You’re gonna play good defensive structured teams and good goalies. So you need to find different ways to win. It’s been good to see that we’ve been doing it, and we’ve been getting contributions everywhere,” said Eichel
We’ll see how long the Golden Knights can sustain this success. A big concern that I have is that they may be peaking too early in the season. A lot of the good teams in the NHL that the VGK will have to face in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are finding their footing.
I’m sure the VGK would much rather take the top spot in the league as opposed to, say, the St. Louis Blues, who have lost eight straight. But my point here is that the VGK could be using up all their energy just trying to prove themselves again.
“Just because you’re winning games and having success doesn’t mean you don’t go back to the board and keep learning. You take the things we didn’t do as well, look at those as a group, and work on those in practice,” said defenseman Zach Whitecloud.
Outside of this, I’m still not sold on the goaltending. Cassidy’s systems have been great for both inexperienced goalies. But I’m not sure if they can last a full 82-game season.
I also still think the VGK needs to add a forward or two. I didn’t mention the third line of Phil Kessel, Brett Howden, and Michael Amadio in my praises because they have been bad; I just think a contending team needs to do better.
The Golden Knights play the Buffalo Sabres next on Thursday at 4 p.m. It will be the second return of Eichel in Buffalo as the VGK look for a perfect road trip and nine-straight wins.