Healthy and united Golden Knights for a quick start

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Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill (33) makes a save against St. Louis Blues center Jordan Kyrou (25) while Golden Knights defenseman Nicolas Hague (14) helps defend in the third period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, November 12, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ellen Schmidt)

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Captain Mark Stone stood in front of his locker Saturday night and acknowledged that the Vegas Golden Knights probably didn’t deserve to win that night.

A reporter posed a positive question about the Knights’ third-period surge as something to build on. Pierre shrugged.

“It would have been nice to win the game,” he said.

It’s the expectation these days in Vegas that the end result is all that matters. The St. Louis Blues did something only two other teams had done this season: beat the Knights.

Just one season after missing the playoffs for the first time in their short history, the Knights are among the hottest clubs in the NHL. St. Louis’ 3-2 victory ended Vegas’ nine-game winning streak, a streak the Knights hope sends a message that they have little interest in missing the playoffs again.

The Knights (13-3) have 26 points, the best in the Western Conference and second overall behind the Boston Bruins (28 points). Vegas freshman coach Bruce Cassidy spent the previous six seasons in Boston, leading the Bruins to the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals.

Now he’s trying to do the same for the Knights, and it’s a long time between now and April when the playoffs start. But, for now at least, the Knights have a number of factors working in their favor.

One is health.

Vegas lost more than 500 games to a man to injury last season, and the Knights struggled to find chemistry when the next man wasn’t as good as the replaced player.

Injuries haven’t forced Cassidy to juggle his roster so far, though it doesn’t take much in the NHL for that trend to change quickly.

Cassidy has already shown the ability to change his plans on his own. He broke the “Misfit Line” of wingers Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault and center William Karlsson, remaining players from Vegas’ first season in 2017-18. This club nicknamed themselves the “Golden Misfits” because they were brought together in an expansion team.

In Game 6 of the season against the Colorado Avalanche, Cassidy put that group back on the ice in the third period in search of the offense, and he’s been with them ever since. Vegas lost that game 3-2, but then snapped that nine-game winning streak.

Cassidy made another notable change in the offseason by switching to a zone defense. Opponents have largely been forced to shoot wide, easing the burden on goaltenders Logan Thompson and Adin Hill as they typically don’t have to make many high-risk saves.

“You could see hockey IQ in training camp,” Cassidy said of his players who picked up the system. better. You stick with it, and it works.

“We are starting to see cracks on the last road trip. We give up too many chances, too many goals, but there are different reasons for that. It’s not always the system.

Even with those cracks, the Knights went 5-0 on their east swing. They weren’t so lucky in their home comeback against the Blues. St. Louis had no trouble getting quality shots, but Stone didn’t seem alarmed by the long-term issues.

“You can’t be perfect for 82 (games),” Stone said. “We’re in a bit of a lull, but we’re finding ways to win games, so maybe that’s bitten us a bit.”

The goaltending situation was expected to be concerning after the Knights shut down Robin Lehner in the offseason due to hip surgery, and replacement Laurent Brossoit missed the start of this season for the same reason. Brossoit now plays for the Knights’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Henderson Silver Knights, after acquitting waivers last week.

Thompson made a meteoric rise to the NHL because he took the unusual route of coming from Canadian college hockey rather than the junior circuit. He took over in goal late last season and showed promise going 10-5-3 with a .914 save percentage, allowing 2.68 goals per game.

But it was a small sample. What he would do in a full season was a big unknown, but Thompson is now 8-2 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.31 goals-against average.

The Knights didn’t suffer a drop when they went to Hill, who is 5-1 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.32 goals-against average. His performance gave the Knights the ability to ensure Thompson is not overworked.

As much as anything, Cassidy said the key to the Knights’ early success was team cohesion.

“I don’t know if there’s a team that’s had a level of success if the guys aren’t playing for each other,” Cassidy said. “There could be a story from 20 years ago where the guys all hated each other and they won, but I think it was the New York Yankees or something. I don’t think it was. was hockey.

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This story was originally published November 14, 2022 3:36 p.m.

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