Should Golden Knights Fans Be Worried?

Photo by: Jeff Bottari/NHLI

What is going on in Vegas? Is this season a lost cause? 

The Golden Knights started their season with a record-breaking seven wins to start a season by the reigning Stanley Cup champion. The middle of the season was plagued with injury after the injury of the first-string guys, causing them to rely heavily on the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights. But are injuries the only thing holding back the Golden Knights? The Vegas Golden Knights are not having the season the Stanley Cup champions thought they would have. They are 14th in the League and were just passed for third in the Pacific Conference by the LA Kings

Former Boston Bruins and current Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy hoists the Stanley Cup / Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett.

Looking at the Roster, we can see that only Mark Stones Lacerated Spleen and Tomas Hertl’s knee injuries remain long-term. We no longer count Robin Lehner, as he will be on the LTIR for the rest of his contract with the Knights. Pavel Dorofeyev is out again after Tampa Bay with an undisclosed injury for the short term. He had just returned from missing 14 games with Concussion issues earlier this month, and Pietrangelo is day-to-day with the ick that has been ravaging teams across the country. The rest have healed up and returned to the rink, so what is keeping Vegas from achieving what they did last season? Why are they still struggling when only one key player is out long-term? Hertl, no offense to him. He has only been with the team on the IR list and hasn’t been able to contribute on the ice. But if you look at the list of games played, only three Golden Knights have played in every match: Jonathon Marchessault, Brayden McNabb, and Ivan Barbashev, the next closest being Cotter and Kolesar; everyone else has missed more than three games this season. 

Besides injuries and illnesses, Defensemen meshing, Forwards being where they need to be, Power Plays, and keeping pucks out of the net are solely holding back Vegas. Team morale isn’t an issue. Granted, we don’t see the buddy-buddy we get from the Maple Leafs and the Bruins, but we do see smiles and interactions; we saw all happy faces at the Knight Gala earlier this month. However, the Knights did have a better game after Cassidy pulled a practice to an off-the-ice session.  

So, let us look at the team.

Goalies. We need better from our goalies. Adin Hill returned after injury number one, which caused him to miss all but six minutes of one game in December, just to get injured again and miss all but two in January; he returned on January 23rd and has not exceeded the expected numbers. In his last six outings, his loss to the Lighting marks his fourth this month alone. He’s given up 22 goals; he’s not the Goalie we had in the postseason run last year. Statistically, he is ranked 18th with a 17-10-2, holding a 2.65GAA and .914 save percentage over 31 appearances this season. 

Via Vegas Hockey Now

Is Logan Thompson the better goalie this season, sidelined letting Hill run the show? No, they are about the same; Hill has a slightly better record due to OT. Some think Thompson was also nursing an injury besides the one reported in December, so we haven’t seen as much of him since Hill returned from injury. No recent injuries have been confirmed; however, there were a few sightings by fans of Thompson wearing what looked like a brace on his hand a while back. Hill is in the net more based on numbers alone; it has nothing to do with injuries. Now, Morale, that’s an entirely different issue. There is a visible difference in players after a loss, and Hill seems to handle it appearance-wise than Thompson does.

Thompson has been struggling this season in the Shadows of Hill. His last game was against the NJ Devils on March 17th, in which he let one in. Before that, he suffered a devastating loss to the Sabres on March 2nd, letting seven of thirty-five shots in. Statistically, Thompson is ranked 27th in the league with a record of 18-12-5, a 2.82GAA, and a .904 save percentage over 36 appearances this season. Logan looks looser in the net than Hill but needs to be more confident. 

Does that have to do with coaching or nerves? We will see. Logan is starting for Vegas against the Seattle Kraken on the 21st. Hill was in the net in the last match, and the Knights squeaked by with a 5-4 win in overtime. 

But Goalies cannot protect the net without their Defensemen and Forwards, and to be quite honest, a lot feel that Vegas shat the bed on the latest trade deadline when they only acquired a Forward and a Half with a defenseman. I say a forward and a half because we have yet to see how Hertl will do on the ice once he is fully recovered and released from LTIR.  

Jack Eichel rejuvenated in Vegas and it is great for the game of Hockey.

In the meantime, we have Anthony Mantha, who has played six games and scored one goal. Of the 15 rosters listed as Forward starters for Vegas, only Marchessault, Barbashev, Cotter, and Kolesar have been solid, followed by Stevenson and Amadio. Everyone else has missed more than seven games for various reasons. Among those top six players, one who has specifically carried the team is Marchessault. Marchessault has 38 goals and 21 assists and has yet to be re-signed for Vegas. He is a UFA, effective July 1st, 2024.

The rest of the Forwards stats look like this
William Karlsson 56 games, 24 goals, 22assists
Jack Eichel 49 games, 21 goals, 31 assists
Mark Stone 23 games, 16 goals, 37 assists
Chandler Stephenson 64 games, 14 goals, 27 assists
Ivan Barbashev 68 games, 14 goals 24 assists
Michael Amadio 61 games, 12 goals, 13 assists
Nicolas Roy 59 games, 11 goals, 24 assists
Pavel Dorofeyev 33 games, nine goals, seven assists
Paul Cotter 65 games, seven goals, 15 assists
Brett Howden 58 games, six goals, eight assists
William Carrier 36 games, six goals, and two assists
Keegan Kolesar 65 games, five goals, and eight assists.
Anthony Mantha six games, one goal, and no assist. (for the season he’s 62 games, 21 goals, 14 assists)

Our Centers, Left, and Right Wings need to get in there and connect enough to get the puck in the net. Somewhere, there is a disconnect. Is the constant rotation of AHL players what has brought down the whole lot? Vegas has listed 21 forwards on their roster throughout the season; only 15 are starting players, and the other six have rotated up from Henderson Silver Knights. So, how should a team get to that flow with a rotating door? Simply, they’re not, and that has become prevalent. The Knights are riding on the back of Marchessault, hoping that with Eichel’s return and Karly’s health, they can regain some traction. And while Barbashev is shaped like a Cigarette Machine, we must remember that he’s a Center, not a Defenseman; he can’t take all our opponents out for us.

Speaking of Defensemen, Zach Whitecloud and Nic Hague have been put on notice. They were split up, and Whitecloud was a healthy scratch for the game against Tampa Bay. Since then, he has participated in extra practice and has spent time with trainers. Hague was paired with Noah Hanafin during that game and was only seen at one extra skate offered. Pietrangelo, usually paired with Hanafin, has been out for the past two games.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Meanwhile, we have Martinez, who is two games back, fully recovered from a foot issue where he missed ten days, was paired with Hutton, injured in December against the LA Kings, and then a healthy scratch from Feb 12th till March 17th. Theodore, who has only been back about a month since he was injured in November against the Dallas Stars, paired with McNabb, the only defenseman who has not missed a single game this season. These pairs need serious help, and this last shake-up wasn’t enough. 

We’ve got
Noah Hanafin with Vegas has six games, one goal, eight assists. (He has 67 games, 11 goals, and 28 assists)
Alex Pietrangelo with 62 games, four goals, 28 assists
Brayden McNabb with 68 games, three goals, 18 assists
Nic Hague has 59 games with two goals, ten assists
Zach Whitecloud has 50 games, two goals, six assists 
Alec Martinez has 47 games, four goals, 12 assists
Shea Theodore has 33 games, four goals, 29 assists
Ben Hutton has 33 games, two goals, eight assists  

So, who should be paired with whom? Right now, it’s more like who will remain healthy enough to continue to play for the rest of the season. Could Hague hit it off with Hanafin and replace his pairing with Whitecloud? Yes, absolutely. Whitecloud has been plagued with injuries this season, and he is just not as strong as he was at the end of last season. Is Hague overwhelmed with wedding planning? Or is he off his game because his partner is struggling? He hasn’t been injured since November, so something else is bothering Nicolas. Martinez looks better since he has healed from his foot surgery, and Theodore is back to being the absolute beast that Vegas knows he is; he has put up an assist in every game he has played since March 9th. McNabb needs to get the recognition he deserves for being a solid player. Hutton has yet to have a chance to shine; he’s been underutilized and deserves more time on the ice. But they all need to find a way to work better together no matter who their partner is and what line they are on the ice with. 

The Power Play and Power Kill have been atrocious. Vegas’s PP% is 18.7, 22nd, and its PK% is 80.7, 12th in the league. The Knights are 6 out of 45 just since the All-Star break. The coach and players have said they need to tighten up and are trying to force plays that aren’t there, causing them to miss opportunities.

Overall, Vegas needs to spend some time finding itself. Whether through on-ice practices or off-ice activities, they need to look more like an NHL team and less like an AHL or ECHL team. They might make it past the first round right now, but this #VegasBorn gal doesn’t see us having another cup-winning season. 

Stephanie DeLaFleur

Beat Writer covering the ECHL Savannah Ghost Pirates, NHL Vegas Golden Knights and AHL Henderson Silver Knights. Follow me on X @StephiDelafleur

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