In this edition of Vegas Golden Knights News & Rumors, Alex Pietrangelo is undecided about attending the 2022 Winter Olympics despite already being selected on the team. In other news, it hasn’t been a great start to the 2021-22 season for Robin Lehner, who was recently given a Bronx cheer after being pulled in a game versus the Dallas Stars. Chandler Stephenson has had quite the opposite season however, as he is doing an admirable job as the team’s top line center despite recently going through some tough times personally.
Pietrangelo Hesitant to Attend Olympics
In early October, Team Canada announced that Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Pietrangelo were the three players they were naming to their team as part of a request from the International Olympic Committee. Of course, this was back when everyone expected the players would be attending the event, something many are much more skeptical about now, Pietrangelo included.
“There’s a lot of things, especially guys with families, that we’re taking a look at,” Pietrangleo said. “I’m not going to make a decision until we get all the answers, because I think those are hard to come by right now.”
The main reason players are so skeptical about attending is because of the current COVID-19 protocols. As things stand right now, any athlete who tests positive for the virus would have to provide two negative tests within a 24-hour span. If they are unable to do so, they would be required to isolate for three-to-five weeks. Pietrangelo brought that issue up, and explained why it has him feeling very uneasy.
“I’ve got four kids that are under the age of three and a half,” he said. “For me to be potentially locked up there for five weeks plus the Olympics, that’s a long time being away from my family.”
Pietrangelo’s comments come shortly after Lehner announced that he would not be attending the event, for reasons very similar. Given the amount of uncertainty with protocols, along with many players currently on the leagues COVID protocol list, it seems very unlikely we will see NHLers play in Beijing.
Lehner Jeered by Home Crowd
Since being traded to the Golden Knights in early 2020, Lehner hasn’t been received by the fans like he was as a member of the New York Islanders. At the time he was acquired, the team already had Marc-Andre Fleury, who was a fan favorite. Many were upset that Lehner seemed be cutting into Fleury’s playing time, and were even more furious when the team opted to trade their franchise icon to the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason.
Lehner had a chance to step up and gain the support of his fans in 2021-22, but has been unable to do that to this point due to some shaky play. In 22 games this season he owns an underwhelming 3.05 goals against average (GAA) along with a .906 save percentage (SV%). As a result, some fans have grown even more upset with him. They showed this by giving a loud cheer when Lehner was pulled in a game just over a week ago by the Dallas Stars. The 30-year-old isn’t letting that get to him, but admits he needs to be better. (from ‘Justin Emerson: Robin Lehner not fretting recent struggles in Golden Knights’ net’ , Las Vegas Sun 12/14/21).
“It’s been a little bit – understatement, it’s been too many goals. End of story,” Lehner said recently to the press. “I’ve been working hard, I know it’s going to turn. I’ve been through this stuff before.
“It ebbs and flows sometimes when it comes to your bounces, but obviously it’s not been up to my standards as of late. We’re finding ways to win through this, and I know it will turn.”
Prior to these recent struggles, Lehner was viewed by many as a top 10 goaltender in the NHL. It has certainly been a slow start for him personally, though it is fair to suggest the team’s lengthy injury list recently played a big part in that. Expect him to turn things around in the near future.
Stephenson Playing with Heavy Heart
Back when the Golden Knights acquired Stephenson in December of 2019, nothing much was said by neither fans nor media. During his time with the Washington Capitals, he was viewed as a bottom-six player with limited offensive capabilities, hence why the Golden Knights were only forced to give up a fifth-round draft selection in the deal. Fast forward to where we are now, and thoughts of Stephenson have changed in a major way.
The 27-year-old started to find his offensive game immediately upon joining the Golden Knights, recording 22 points in 41 games with them in his first season. Last season was even better, as he managed to put up 35 points in 51 contests. While both these were very solid totals for a player that came as cheap as he did, it is nothing compared to what he has done in 2021-22.
Stephenson, who is centering the Golden Knights’ first line, leads the team with 29 points in 29 games. He doesn’t look out of place as the teams top centerman, just recently put together seven assists in just two games. What made the two games all the more impressive was that they came shortly after the passing of his grandmother, something he spoke to media about after a four point outing. (from ‘Canadian Press: Stephenson’s season-long resiliency peaks during big night’ , Bradford Today 12/13/21).
“Just a special night; I lost my grandma,” Stephenson said. “I think she was helping me tonight with that one. I’ve never had four points, so something needs to be said about that. It’s tough and a sad couple of days, but I’ve had a lot of support here. Team, staff, players, everyone was there for me. It helps you get through it.”
Stephenson has arguably been the team’s best player through the quarter way point of the 2021-22 season, and they will need him to continue that play as their number one center until Jack Eichel is ready to make both his season and Golden Knights debut, something that should happen in or around February.
Up Next for the Golden Knights
Thanks to Friday’s 3-2 shootout win over the New York Rangers, the Golden Knights find themselves on a four-game winning streak. Three of those four wins have come against highly competitive teams, and suggest that they are getting back to being their usual elite selves. Up next is a game on Sunday against the New York Islanders to close out their week.
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Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.