As the Vegas Golden Knights move into their round-robin play, they are still without one of their top players. Max Pacioretty did not travel with the team to Edmonton because he suffered an injury during training camp.
Although the injury is minor, head coach Peter DeBoer said, “I expected he would be back by the end of the camp, but he wasn’t. It was a little longer than we thought. He’s not with us, and he’ll join us as soon as he’s healthy and able to participate.”
Regular Season Production
In his second season with the Golden Knights, Pacioretty put up near career-high stats. This is more impressive considering that Vegas still had 11 games left to play before the season came to a pause. During the 2019-20 campaign, the 31-year-old winger recorded 32 goals and 34 assists. His 66 point season was just one point shy of his career-best 67 points, set in 2014-15 and 2016-17. This season with the Golden Knights, Pacioretty led the team in goals, points and power-play goals.
He also finished second in plus/minus with a plus-18 rating. Pacioretty was a staple of the first line throughout the season and his goalscoring touch fit in perfectly with William Karlsson’s play-making ability. He was also able to produce when Chandler Stephenson played alongside him, as Stephenson’s relentless forecheck allowed Pacioretty to find open ice and generate Grade-A scoring chances.
His Absence in the Bubble
As stated earlier, Pacioretty did not travel with the Golden Knights to Edmonton due to a minor injury he is nursing. This has the potential to be a huge setback for Vegas, but the decision to keep him home was calculated. The Golden Knights wanted to ensure their star winger had the necessary means to fully rehab his injury. In Edmonton, each team has two hours of ice time available to them per day as well as access to a weight room. However, DeBoer said that the unlimited ice-time Pacioretty would have in Las Vegas was a major reason to leave him behind.
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With their first line winger out of the lineup for an unknown amount of time, the Golden Knights will have to call on the rest of their lineup to fill the void. Luckily for Vegas, they have a large amount of depth on their roster. Without Pacioretty’s goal-scoring prowess, players such as Karlsson and Alex Tuch may have to increase their output. Tuch only played 42 games during the 2019-20 season, but still managed to finish top five in power-play goals for Vegas with three. Pacioretty’s absence on the power play could allow Tuch more opportunities with the man advantage. Due to his size and strength, Tuch has the chance to be a force in front of the opposition’s goaltender.
Another player that may be asked to do more offensively is William Karlsson. Although he was on pace for a career-high in assists, his 15 goals on the season seem low compared to previous campaigns. Karlsson will be without Pacioretty on his line, so the young Swede may get more high-level opportunities with the puck. Karlsson has notably been productive for Vegas in the playoffs, so if the trend continues it will be beneficial for the Golden Knights.
A second aspect of the game Vegas might need to focus on is team defense. Due to Pacioretty’s current absence, there is a possibility that the Golden Knights offensive numbers might be down. During the regular season, Vegas had the third-best shots against average in the league with 29.3 per game. However, the loss of an offensive star could see the Golden Knights lose some time on attack and have to play in their own zone more which would cause their shots against to increase.
As a team, the Knights only had 12 players on their roster produce a plus/minus rating below zero during the 2019-20 season. This shows that Vegas is committed to playing defensively. One part that will need improvement in the playoffs is their penalty kill. This season Vegas was ranked 27th on the penalty kill at 76.6 percent. Vegas was ranked 18th in penalty minutes and spent 566 minutes in the box. A more disciplined approach might be needed in order to have the team succeed as killing penalties is clearly not one of their strong suits.
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Lastly, the Golden Knights will need their goalies to continue their level of play. The tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner might be one of the best duos in the 2020 playoffs. Fleury posted 27 wins with a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.77 and a save percentage (SV%) of .920 during the regular season. Lehner, in his short time with Vegas, has been lights out. In his three games in Sin City, the 29-year-old had three wins, a GAA of 1.67 and a .940 SV%. During his media availability on July 29, DeBoer said, “I think we have two starting goalies. I think we are going to need both guys if we go as deep as we want to go.”
No matter what happens in the round-robin, Vegas will still be a top-four seed in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, but the loss of Pacioretty will play a key role in whether they are the top or the fourth seed. As a whole, the Golden Knights are a deep team with plenty of playoff experience and a winning tradition. For them, this will hopefully just be a minor setback as Pacioretty is expected to travel to Edmonton once he is healthy.