The Vegas Golden Knights know there’s no need to panic. The last time they lost two of their first three games, they went on to drop four of five before turning things around for a 93-point finish and a playoff spot in 2018-19. Of course, having to lean on Jake Leschyshyn and Jonas Rondbjerg as injuries mount is not an ideal way to start the campaign.
Mark Stone (undisclosed), Max Pacioretty (undisclosed), and Mattias Janmark (COVID-19 protocols) have all joined Alex Tuch (shoulder surgery) in Vegas’ MASH unit, while depth players like Brett Howden, Nicolas Roy, and William Carrier have only just returned. That doesn’t even include Alec Martinez, who has been held out of the last two games with a lower-body injury.
Yes, injuries — and the cap-strapped club’s difficulties in calling up adequate replacements — have been a major storyline through the first 16th or so of the 2021-22 season, but they aren’t the only reasons Vegas has dropped four of their first five games. Instead, the under-manned Golden Knights have revealed some troubling trends through their slow start.
Dadonov, Patrick & Howden Not Stepping Up
Look, no one can replicate Stone and Pacioretty’s productivity when the two top-line veterans are out. But for the Golden Knights to effectively hold the fort in their absence, they’ll need significantly more help from those brought in to provide additional, balanced offense.
To date, new Vegas additions Evgenii Dadonov, Nolan Patrick, and Howden have combined for all of two points — a goal from Parick and an assist from Dadonov. In fact, beyond the top-six (Stone, Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith), the club’s forward corps has produced just five total points.
Is evaluating a player’s performance five games into a new system fair? Certainly not, but these players won’t typically see the kind of ice time they’re getting with the regulars out, so Dadonov, for instance, needs to take advantage of the 17:20 he netted against the St. Louis Blues last Wednesday.
Patrick, Krebs Coming Along Slowly
For a franchise that ran out of patience with Cody Glass’s development, it’s hardly encouraging to see two more young centers developing slowly. A goal on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers finally got Patrick off the schneid this season, while Peyton Krebs has yet to hit the scoresheet.
That the 23-year-old Patrick and 20-year-old Krebs — who has shifted to Stephenson’s wing on the second line as an injury replacement — are in this position isn’t surprising. Patrick was available via trade after failing to capitalize on his lofty No. 2 draft slot with the Philadelphia Flyers, while Krebs entered the season with all of four games of NHL experience.
Vegas hasn’t caught many breaks on the injury front, but it would be nice if Patrick and/or Krebs could serve as somewhat of a silver lining and use this opportunity to earn additional minutes to make their mark. On the bright side, the oft-injured Patrick is actually among the healthy Knights for now, and Krebs has blasted through every other level of hockey.
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Golden Knights Defensive Woes
Given the sidelined personnel, the early issues upfront could have been anticipated. What’s more of a surprise is the loose defensive play exhibited by the Golden Knights to date. Usually frugal with scoring chances, the back end has allowed an average of 35.8 shots on goal over the first five games.
“We gave up probably 10 grade-A chances in the first period,” Smith told Jesse Granger of The Athletic, “which should be the number for the entire game” (from, “‘You can’t win in this league giving up 40-plus shots per night’: Golden Knights know defense must come first after slow start,” Jesse Granger, The Athletic, 10/21/21).
What’s stunning about the lackluster start from the blue line has been the unit’s relatively good health. The call-up of minor league rearguard Daniil Miromanov suggests that Martinez’s absence could linger for a few games, but otherwise, the club has a full complement of healthy defensemen (from “‘Well-traveled defenseman rewarded with recall to Golden Knights,” David Schoen, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/21/21).
As with most early-season evaluations, this article should be littered with “it’s still early!” caveats. In that sense, these aren’t crippling issues destined to plague the team but rather concerning trends worth keeping an eye on. A healthy team will come, but the Golden Knights can’t rely on that alone without acknowledging that the players on the ice need to get better. Panic button? No, but a little worry wouldn’t hurt.