LAS VEGAS — The battle drills brought smiles. A few well-earned goals brought cheers. And the Vegas Golden Knights are a loose group preparing for the Edmonton Oilers in Round Two of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
Defenseman Brayden McNabb was the only absentee at practice.
Coach Bruce Cassidy downplayed his absence, but it wasn't definite that he would be available for Game 1.
"He skated earlier on his own. I suspect he'll join us for practice tomorrow," Cassidy said. "I'll give you a better answer on his availability after practice tomorrow. We'll see how he does."
The defense will be a big deal in Round Two. The Golden Knights defensemen that Cassidy chooses to face Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be a big deal. Alex Pietrangelo will likely draw the heavy lifting, but if Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft splits them up, Shea Theodore and the third pairing will get a good dose of the Oilers stars, too.
Cassidy suggested Edmonton will only use three lines (11 forwards) and seven defensemen, which means a double dose of McDavid.
A steady defender like McNabb will go a long way. Without McNabb, Ben Hutton took the left side beside Alex Pietrangelo.
Golden Knights Lines:
Extra: Phil Kessel
Golden Knights Battle Drills:
With a couple of days before Game 1, Cassidy let the boys have at it. The Golden Knights gathered around the zone to hoot and holler as three forwards tried to score on two defensemen and the goalie.
Spirits are high, and there is a loose feeling around the team.
Winger Phil Kessel remains an odd man out of the Golden Knights lineup. Despite being out of the lineup, Kessel was in good spirits as he chatted with Hockey Now for almost five minutes.
For those who have followed Kessel since he became a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Pittsburgh, chatting with the media for five minutes would seem only slightly less plausible than a goalie goal in a tie game.
Kessel was the obvious choice as the forwards crew got healthy. Keegan Kolesar and Brett Howden have been playing well lately. Howden notched two goals in Game 4 against Winnipeg and four points in the series.
McDavid vs. Eichel
The Round Two series will feature the top two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft. McDavid was first, and Eichel was second. Cassidy didn't harbor notions that Eichel was better than the all-time great McDavid, but he did point toward Eichel getting better now that his first playoff series is under his belt.
Eichel will be matched against McDavid at least occasionally, if not often. Cassidy appreciated the significance of the matchup even as he
"Connor is on his own (level). That's no disrespect to Jack. … (the matchup) is good for Jack. It's great for Jack to have an opportunity to play against the best," Cassidy said. "I think where Jack is, he wanted to play in a playoff series. Period. Now that he's got that under his belt, he's got a little momentum."