The Vegas Golden Knights started the 2022-23 season with a new head coach and a new outlook. That fresh start led to a 13-2-0 start after a 7-4 thrashing of the Buffalo Sabres on November 10, their ninth victory in a row at the time. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy was pushing all the right buttons after leading the Boston Bruins to six consecutive playoff appearances. The Golden Knights were back to being a serious contender in the Western Conference.
But then the shine wore off, and the Knights returned to the pack in the Pacific Division. After their torrid start, the Vegas went just 16-16-4 in their next 36 games leading up to the All-Star break. Cassidy, who has never been known to pull any punches with players, benched winger Phil Kessel mid-game shortly after the former first-round pick broke the NHL’s consecutive games streak. Then in January, Cassidy called out star center Jack Eichel in the media by saying that Eichel wasn’t quite doing enough for his team. “Jack just hasn’t been the same driving force for us as he was at the start of the year on both ends of the ice,” Cassidy told reporters after Vegas’ January 19 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. “The expectations are not being met by Jack. He needs to be better for us, especially as we’re down a few guys that create offense for us. He needs to be one of the drivers.”
Cassidy has had some issues with players in the past. The biggest reason for his dismissal from the Bruins was the players voicing their displeasure with Cassidy’s brutally honest approach and willingness to tell the truth to the media. The Golden Knights were in a vulnerable state as the All-Star break approached. Cassidy sensed an opportunity to use a different method.
During the stoppage in league play, Cassidy held a team meeting. Since the return to action, the Golden Knights are 5-0-0 in February, highlighted by a 5-4 win over the stealing Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. During the five-game winning streak, Vegas is outscoring opponents 24-9, and Eichel (2 goals, 3 assists) and Paul Cotter ( 3 goals and an assist) have been leading the way for Cassidy’s club.
The Golden Knights are back in first place in the Pacific, and Cassidy mentioned in a recent press conference that everyone is excited to go to the rink every day. A stark contrast from their bumpy stretch from mid-November through January. This time it wasn’t tough love that helped turn things around. It could be that Cassidy’s attempt to bring the team together has given the team new life.