- The Vegas Golden Knights are coming off their worst game in several seasons losing 6-2 on the road against the Los Angeles Kings.
- They’ve also been dealing with a rash of early season injuries with the most significant to top forwards Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.
- Pacioretty is out six weeks or more with a broken foot. Stone is still being evaluated but for now is considered ‘day to day’.
The Vegas Golden Knights are two games into the 2021-2022 NHL season, a season in which they’re expected to contend for the Stanley Cup. After beating a feisty Seattle Kraken team on opening night they played one of their worst games in several seasons at Los Angeles where they were drubbed by the Kings 6-2 in a game that wasn’t as close as even that disparate final score indicates. Making matters significantly worse, they’re facing a spate of significant injuries to key contributors that could put the team behind the proverbial ‘8-ball’ in the early part of the NHL season.
During the loss to the Kings at the Staples Center, team captain Mark Stone left the game in the second period with what was described as a ‘lower body injury’. After what looked to be a routine shot, Stone headed to the bench and had to be helped to the locker room. Immediately after the game on Thursday, Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the nature and severity of Stone’s injury:
“It was an innocent play. He just locked up. He’s been dealing with something on and off, but it hasn’t bothered him to the point that he hasn’t been able to play.”
Stone is not only the team’s captain but their emotional leader–not to mention one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and a key component of the VGK offense. The latest update is at least semi-hopeful since the initial word following Stone’s departure was a potentially severe injury. That doesn’t seem to be the case, at least judging from the team’s actions. On Saturday, Vegas coach DeBoer updated the situation saying that Stone was ‘still being evaluated’ but is otherwise considered ‘day to day’. The Golden Knights do catch a scheduling break–following the game at Los Angeles on Thursday they don’t play again until they face St. Louis on their home ice at the T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday.
Head coach DeBoer is optimistic that the team’s injury situation will improve by Wednesday:
“I think the fact that we don’t play till Wednesday is going to give us the opportunity of hopefully more guys here. I think everyone likes the idea after a stinker of getting right back out and playing well the next night, but the reality of it is we got three or four guys that wouldn’t have been available tonight or tomorrow night, probably, so it’s probably not a bad thing.”
One player that won’t be back in the lineup any time soon is first line forward Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty blocked a shot in the second period that didn’t look the least bit problematic. He even returned to play five shifts in the third period. Unfortunately, it turned out that he suffered a broken foot–or ‘lower body injury’ in the NHL’s inscrutable injury nomenclature–and is considered ‘week to week’ with most projections putting the timetable for his return at six weeks. Pacioretty has been VGK’s leading goal scorer over the past two seasons. He’s put 58 pucks in the net since the start of the 2019-2020 season, ninth most in the NHL.
Despite the prospect of playing without two of their best players for the near future, DeBoer says that he doesn’t view it as a dire situation:
“You talk to the guys in the top six, and I think sometimes you’d be surprised — I get surprised sometimes — at names when you ask them, ‘Who do you think would be a good fit with guys out?’ I don’t think we’re against anything. This is an opportunity for whoever we stick in here to take the ball and roll with it.”
Defenseman Brayden McNabb echoed his coach’s sentiment:
“It’s a good opportunity for guys to step up. We’re missing some guys and it’s a real good chance for us to find our foundation of the team and play as a team. Guys have to step up.”
DeBoer also suggested that it could be a net positive and force the team to play better defensively with two key scorers out of the lineup:
“I’m hopeful this might be the best thing to happen to us. You take out guys that you rely on for offense every night in your lineup. You got to play with detail. You’ve got to have the defensive foundation. You’ve got to be prepared to win 2-1, 3-2. We’ve got to get that back. We haven’t had enough of that.”
Vegas plays their next three games and four of their next six at T-Mobile Arena which should help ameliorate the situation somewhat. The two road games in that stretch are tough ones at Colorado and Dallas. Vegas then leaves on a four game road trip with games in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Detroit. The challenge will be to get through this scheduling sequence in good shape and VGK will get a boost in early November playing six straight games at home.