“I’m sick of it,” Vegas Golden Knights forward Chandler Stephenson said of losing, “I think everybody is sick of it. Until we figure it out, I don’t know. Everybody has to dig deeper, grab their nuts and just work. That’s the bottom line.”
Stephenson’s remarks, offered to the press following a 6-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last Sunday [13 March], encapsulate how the mood has soured in Vegas. The Golden Knights’ defeat to Columbus was their fourth in a five-game skid, one that raised more questions than answers.
Stanley Cup finalists in their inaugural season, the Golden Knights aren’t used to losing and have been buyers at every trade deadline so far. However, their status heading towards the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is unclear.
GM Kelly McCrimmon has already rolled the dice this season, trading Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks to clear space for Jack Eichel. As a result, the Golden Knights have an all-star roster, one more than capable of qualifying for the playoffs when at full fitness.
And that’s the problem, Vegas just can’t stay healthy.
Although injuries aren’t exactly a rarity in the NHL, the Golden Knights have been battered by ill-health this year. To name just three examples, the Nevada franchise has spent portions of the season without netminder Robin Lehner, captain Mark Stone, and defenceman Alec Martinez.
And, by taking a glance at the league standings, you can tell.
The Golden Knights are 33-26-4 on the season, leaving them fourth in the Pacific Division with 19 games to play. They occupy the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference and the situation is fluid.
Vegas cannot afford to experience another losing streak, adding extra spice to their next game.
Preview: Vegas Golden Knights versus LA Kings
The Kings’ trip to Vegas promises to be must-watch hockey, and it’s live on the NHL Network from 20:00 GMT on Saturday 19 March.
Vegas Golden Knights Target Consecutive Wins
This is a must-win game for the Golden Knights. They snapped a five-game losing run on Friday, beating the Florida Panthers 5-3 at home, and are under pressure to find form.
With Lehner unavailable, Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer turned to rookie netminder Logan Thompson against Florida.
The 25-year-old, making just his sixth NHL appearance, enjoyed a standout night against the Panthers, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced. It was a breakout game for Thompson, who conceded three goals on 10 shots in his previous outing.
“This is a big win for the goalie department,” Thompson said following the win. “I know I haven’t been great, and every goalie coach in their mom’s basement has let me know that. I hold myself accountable, and I owed it to the team to come out and give us a chance to win.”
With Laurent Brossoit, the Golden Knights’ other option in net, struggling, DeBoer could stick with Thompson for the visit of LA.
In the offensive zone, Eichel is Vegas’ key player. The 6-foot-2 centreman has registered 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 15 appearances since his move from Buffalo – but is an injury doubt after blocking a shot with his arm against the Panthers.
“He didn’t come back, so obviously that’s not good,” DeBoer said. “He’ll get evaluated and we’ll know more, hopefully [on Friday].”
The Golden Knights, already without Stone, Martinez, Lehner, Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith, Brayden McNabb, and Nic Hague, cannot afford to add their star centre to the injury list.
“I haven’t had a group face as much adversity as this group has had thrown at them, and they keep showing up and giving us what they have,” DeBoer said after Vegas’ win over Florida. “I’m proud of them. That was a hell of a gutsy win.”
Players to Watch on the LA Kings
The Kings, 34-21-8 on the season, are in a strong position with 19 games left to play. What’s more, a win over Vegas would see them move eight points clear of the second wildcard spot. As a result, the Californian franchise will travel to T-Mobile desperate to pick up two points.
Although LA’s roster is filled with talent, Slovenian forward Anze Kopitar remains the star. The 34-year-old has 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 63 appearances this term. He is, however, in the middle of a scoring slump, registering just one point in his last five games.
In defence, the Kings are without alternate captain Drew Doughty, who is day to day with an undisclosed injury. With 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 39 matches, he leads LA blueliners in points this season – making his absence a significant blow for head coach Todd McLellan.
With Doughty out, Sean Durzi is LA’s player to watch in defence. The 23-year-old has 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 45 appearances in his rookie campaign – and has impressed thus far.
Jonathan Quick will likely start in net, backed up by Cal Petersen.