The Vegas Golden Knights only have 18 games remaining in the regular season as we have hit the final quarter mark of the year. The team finds themselves on good solid ground, but still a step away from where they want to be at. They will play the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow at 4:00 p.m.
In the meantime, here are five of the biggest questions we have for the team in the stretch run, as well as our spitball answers.
1) How Will the Goaltending Play Out?
Perhaps the most interesting thing to keep an eye on for the Golden Knights right now is their goaltending. Due to injuries, they currently have five NHL goaltenders on their roster with one of them out for the season and two of them hurt. Adin Hill and Jonathan Quick make up the team's current tandem.
So many questions surround the team's goaltending. When will Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit be able to come back? What will the team's tandem look like when they do come back? Is Adin Hill emerging as the starter? How much will Jonathan Quick be utilized? Will any more injuries occur?
Our Prediction: This one is hard to predict as the Golden Knights, and me for that matter are taking this situation one day at a time. You (ethically) can't send either Quick or Thompson to the minors after everything they have been through and accomplished.
Right now Hill looks like the team's best goalie and I think he easily takes up one of the two slots once LB and LT return from injury. My gut is saying that they will go back to Thompson and Hill. But I would not be surprised if Thompson struggles in his return and is sent down to the AHL along with Brossoit.
We can bicker all day about who the team's tandem should be. But on paper, they aren't much of a threat in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2) Can Jack Eichel Keep It Up?
After stumbling into the All-Star Break, Jack Eichel now has 13 points in his last 15 games. He has looked like the star centerman the Golden Knights traded for. With Mark Stone out of the lineup, Eichel is taking over the team and is leading by example. The question now comes down to if Eichel can keep this up.
Our Prediction: We think Eichel is more than capable of continuing his current pace and think he will reach a point-per-game pace. He'll finish the regular season leading the team in points, but will then have the true test in the playoffs, something he has never been a part of.
3) What Does The Team Look Like Healthy?
We wrote a whole piece on this the other day. The Golden Knights are currently without Nicolas Roy, Will Carrier, Mark Stone, Laurent Brossoit, and Logan Thompson. Now that trade deadline acquisitions Teddy Blueger and Ivan Barbashev are on the team, who will be out of the lineup once everyone is healthy at forward? Head coach Bruce Cassidy and goaltending coach Sean Burke will have this problem again if all four goalies can get healthy.
Then, there is the question Mark. Mark Stone's back is in the process of recovering and it is unknown if he will be able to return this season or in the playoffs if the team makes it. If he is able to return in the Spring, how will he perform? Will he be the same player he once was or will injuries diminish his play?
Our Prediction: Once Roy and Carrier return, we think it will be Paul Cotter and Brett Howden out of the lineup. If Stone returns at a time when the team is fully healthy, either Phil Kessel or Michael Amadio would be next in our eyes.
4) Where Do They Finish in the Standings?
The Golden Knight's chances of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs are strong. But after last season, we now know better than to pencil them in on the bracket. They currently lead the Pacific Division with 82 points but have three teams within four points of them.
It will be a fight to the finish, and we will likely write a full-length story on all of the playoff implications, but with 18 games left the VGK need to bag points
Our Prediction: The Golden Knights will slip out of first place in the Pacific Division as the Los Angeles Kings will emerge as division champs. However, they will still make the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second seed in the division and play the Seattle Kraken as a result.
5) What Happens in the Playoffs?
Right now the Golden Knights are focused on just getting in. But if and when they get there, how does this team fair off against a wide-open Western Conference? What most seasons come down to is results, so how will the 2022-23 Vegas Golden Knights be remembered?
Our Prediction: It will depend on the opponent, but we still see the Golden Knights out in the first round.