Not one Golden Knight fan would’ve expected that Vegas would go on a five-game winning streak after the All-Star break. Many were experiencing the effects of deja vu from last season, where the Knights collapsed and missed the postseason. Oh no, here we go again, right?
Not so fast! Mt. Knight has erupted, with Vegas winning their last five. With that, they’re tied atop the Western Conference with the Dallas Stars. What has caused Mt. Knight to erupt and take no prisoners?
Holding Down the Fort
There’s nothing more important than having your top six defensemen back. That’s especially true if half of them are in the top eight in blocked shots. Alec Martinez leads the NHL in this category with 160, while Alex Pietrangelo (seventh at 127) and Brayden McNabb (eighth at 126) aren’t far behind.
Granted, the philosophy hasn’t changed much from last season. McNabb led the NHL in blocked shots last season (179) while Pietrangelo was eighth (164). However, seeing your main defenders come back and take pucks is a welcoming sign.
Logan Thompson and Adin Hill have thanked them for this deed all season. The two goalies have benefitted from their defense’s services, sitting in the top four for blocked shots from teammates (Hill with 22.43% of shots blocked by teammates, while Thompson has 23.1%). This makes life easy with the All-Star goalie and life harder for opposing offenses. Thank you, Bruce Cassidy, for the goalie-friendly system!
It also helps that the Golden Knights have scored 24 goals in the past five games. That included a seven-goal explosion against the Anaheim Ducks on February 12. Such firepower has put the Western Conference–and NHL–on notice.
To put things in perspective, Vegas has ten skaters with more than ten goals this season. A balanced attack makes life harder for defending teams, for you don’t know who to stop. This concept has existed for the franchise since they started playing hockey in 2017-2018. However, adding pieces like Jack Eichel and Chandler Stephenson to the mix makes all four lines potent.
What’s more, there’s the possibility of Mark Stone returning from his back injury. If Stone comes back at some capacity this season, that adds more offensive firepower to the team. You can also say the same for trading for a star like Timo Meier or Max Domi. Vegas can certainly build on its current momentum through these avenues.
You can also point to Vegas’s health as a factor for its recent success. Getting the likes of Martinez and Shea Theodore back helps the Golden Knights, especially on defense. It also helps offensively, specifically with Eichel returning from missing time.
It’s often overstated how important it is for a team to stay healthy. But this applies to Vegas, who was burned by such problems last season. An array of lower and upper body injuries can devastate a team for a season. The Golden Knights can’t afford that, especially with the Western Conference being tight.
The Road Ahead
Five of Vegas’s next seven games are at home, giving the Golden Knights a “golden” opportunity to build some separation. Granted, they’ll be tested against playoff-caliber teams such as the Stars, New Jersey Devils, and Carolina Hurricanes. However, the next seven games will be a measuring stick for Vegas and its postseason aspirations.
That’s especially true with the Los Angeles Kings not going away. The Knights also have to worry about an upstart Seattle Kraken squad, led by young stars such as Matty Beniers. Then there’s Edmonton lurking and everyone knows the story behind McDavid, Draisaitl, and crew. The Pacific Division isn’t going to be easy down the road.
That’s what makes the upcoming slate important. After that seven-game stretch comes an East Coast trip featuring the Lightning and Hurricanes. Everyone will see where Vegas stands, especially without Thompson being around for that stretch.
Can Vegas Keep This Up?
A lot can happen in the next couple of months. A sudden injury or a hot team can change everything. That’s why times are unsettling for Golden Knight fans, even with the five-game winning streak. They can’t rest easy in a tight Pacific Division or Western Conference.
However, Vegas fans can rest easy for now, knowing that the Knights are establishing themselves firmly in the Stanley Cup chase. As for now, let’s enjoy the ride.
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