General manager Kelly McCrimmon made a splash in the offseason by trading “misfit” Reilly Smith and extending Ivan Barbashev. It is worth noting that Barbashev’s AAV of $5 million is the exact same as Smith’s.
The Vegas Golden Knights had high expectations for Barbashev for the 2023-24 season. For most of last season, coach Bruce Cassidy had trouble finding the right combination of forwards to put alongside Jack Eichel. Barbashev slotted in on the wing with Eichel his first game; that is how the lines were for the playoffs.
Barbashev was a big part of Eichel leading scoring for playoffs and Jonathan Marchessault winning the Conn Smythe. The first lining coming together can be largely credited for the Golden Knights winning their first Stanley Cup in team history. Would the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup without acquiring Barbashev? It is a fair discussion.
Where is Barbashev?
Barbashev has just one point through the first five games. Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars was concerning. Barbashev had just 12:47 time on ice of ice time over 18 shifts. For comparison, William Carrier’s time on ice was 11:40 minutes and Keegan Kolesar’s time on ice was 12:45 minutes. Barbashev had fourth-line minutes after starting the game on the top line and did not take the ice for the last 2:45 of the third period or overtime.
Barbashev brings a physical element to the Golden Knights. Remember when Barbashev basically eliminated Radko Gudas with a reverse hit in the Stanley Cup Final? Barbashev was not finishing checks in Thursday’s game against the Jets and took a poor third-period penalty in the offensive zone.
Blame Eichel for Barbashev’s slow start?
Coach Cassidy wants Eichel to shoot more often. Eichel got the memo as he leads the NHL in shots on goal in the new season. Could Eichel’s newfound love for shooting be the reason for Barbashev’s slow start? While that perspective is a bit of a stretch, it is a fair variable to point out. To counter that perspective, every shot taken leads to a scoring opportunity. Eichel is creating chances and it would be nice if Barbashev could capitalize on a few of the chances that Eichel is creating.
Reilly Smith’s effect with Pittsburgh
Smith has four points (two goals) in the first four games. Smith is on the second line with Evgeni Malkin, who was named the NHL’s third star of the first week. The Pittsburgh Penguins are off to a 2-2 start. Smith’s arrival ignited the Penguins’ second line.
The 32-year-old had 56 points in 78 games for the Golden Knights last season. Smith chipped in with 14 points in the playoffs over 22 games.
The positive in all of this
The Golden Knights are perfect through the first five games of the new season. All 18 skaters are not going to be perfect every game. Barbashev has the ability to have an effect on the outcome of every game he plays. It is safe to assume that Barbashev will find his scoring touch.
The Golden Knights depth has been on display early and coach Cassidy has not been afraid to mix up the lines. We saw that on Tuesday against the Stars. It would not be a surprise to see Paul Cotter on the top line if Barbashev does not get going soon.