After two dominating games against the San Jose Sharks to start the season, the Vegas Golden Knights hit a speed bump as they dropped their next two against the Boston Bruins and Arizona Coyotes. As hockey players are creatures of habit, so has this season been for the organization. After starting 2-0 and dropping two straight, they have now won two in a row. Victories against the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings have put confidence back in their locker room.
In their two losses, the team looked lost defensively and a big part of that is due to the fact they are without Nate Schmidt. He is still week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Nic Hague is filling in for the injured Schmidt and is starting to gain more confidence with every game he plays.
Over the last two games, the team has played better as a group and are connecting on more passes and playing as a five-man unit. The team is slowly getting healthy, as Cody Eakin returned from injury on Saturday night.
Cody Eakin Returns
Eakin made his season debut against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. The gritty, two-way center adds good depth down the middle for the Golden Knights and it allows rookie Cody Glass to move to the wing on Eakin’s line as he adapts to the professional game and playing against grown men.
Having him in the lineup allows Paul Stastny to move up in the line up and focus on more offensive responsibilities. He has three goals and five points when Eakin is in the game, taking the majority of the grunt work away from Stastny.
Eakin is looking to forget about the end of last season when he was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for a phantom cross-check. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and wants to have a good season so he can cash in this summer. With the cap trouble that the Golden Knights have, this could be his last season in a black and gold sweater.
The return of Eakin means Brandon Pirri was sent to the press box. He has not started the year as he hoped to, being a liability in his own zone and forcing plays, causing him to turn over the puck and give his opponents multiple scoring opportunities.
Special Teams Clicking
The power play has five goals in their last 13 opportunities, including a three-for-three outing against the Kings. Stastny scored two with the man advantage, setting up in the slot and deflecting pucks or finding the open seam for a one timer. The Golden Knights zip the puck around the zone, making the defenders move back and forth until they see the other team out of position and strike.
The team’s top unit has all six goals. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Stastny all have two goals on the power play. Shea Theodore and Glass are the other two members of that unit. Pacioretty leads the club with four power play points while Theodore has three assists with the extra man to lead the team.
As good as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been even better. They have only surrendered one power play goal and are first in the league while down a man, registering a 95.5% kill rate. The penalty killers have scored three times while shorthanded, the most in the league, and are at a plus-two when a player is in the box.
With a victory against the Kings, head coach Gerard Gallant won his 250th game as a bench boss in the NHL. The win moves him into 60th all-time in NHL history, tying him with Don Cherry and Milt Schmidt. He is only 994 more wins away from the top of the list as Scotty Bowman has 1,244 career victories.
Pacioretty scored his 250th goal against the Kings; he is also two games away from 700 and four points from 500. Stone is one assist away from 200 in his career and has a total of nine points in six games this season. Theodore is one game away from 200 in his career.
Transactions and the Week Ahead
Nicolas Roy was sent down to the Chicago Wolves in order to activate Eakin from the injured reserve. Jimmy Schuldt was also sent down to the AHL as he had been a healthy scratch all season. He only played in one NHL game last season and needs game reps to develop so this is the best option for him. Jake Bischoff was called up to be the spare defenseman in case someone gets hurt on game day.
The Golden Knights will have a short two-game home stand against the Nashville Predators and the Ottawa Senators. The Predators play in a tough Central Division and are led by newcomer Matt Duchene. He leads the Predators with seven assists and nine points. The Senators will start their west coast road trip at the Fortress on Thursday and even though they aren’t among the league’s stronger teams, the Golden Knights can’t tread lightly.
Then they’ll hit the road for a three game trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Chicago Blackhawks. The Penguins have been ravaged by injuries early on as Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjustad, and Alex Galchenyuk are all on injured reserve. The Flyers and Blackhawks started the season in Prague and have logged a ton of miles already this season.
Keep a lookout for my weekly three stars article. The first star will receive five points, second star three points, and third star one point. I will donate one dollar per point to the player’s charity of choice who has the most points at the end of the season.