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Rest Matters At This Time Of Year, Regardless Of How You Get It

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Nobody wants to see a player get injured. Whether he is on your team or an opponent.

Every NHL team deals with injuries over the course of the season. How each organization handles it can mean the difference between winning and losing.

The Golden Knights, as you no doubt know by now, do not discuss injuries publicly. That comes straight from general manager George McPhee, who does not want to give the opposition any kind of edge. I’ve broached the subject before so I won’t belabor the point.

This is more about getting ready for the postseason.

When Max Pacioretty landed awkwardly after making contact with Winnipeg’s Jacob Trumba Thursday night, many feared we were witnessing an encore of Erik Haula’s knee injury in Toronto back in early November.

Word came Friday that Pacioretty’s lower-body injury was not as serious as first feared and the veteran winger was listed as day-to-day.

If you’ve followed the Knights, day-to-day sometimes morphs into week-to-week. If Pacioretty is going to miss any games, now’s the time to keep him on the shelf and let whatever he has heal up.

Same goes for Marc-Andre Fleury. I’m guessing if he had to play now, he could. The team never put him on injured reserve. He has been day-to-day for nearly two weeks. And he has stayed out of his crease during that duration.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

William Carrier has been injured. He is no longer on IR and was back in the lineup Saturday in the 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit at T-Mobile Arena.

Even Haula’s skating more regularly and he could very well be practicing with the team when the playoffs begin in three weeks.

That’s the target — for everyone — three weeks from now.

Resting players, whether they’re hurt or not, is the prudent thing to do. Everyone was freaking out back in January when Fleury was playing every game and people were worried that he was being worked to death. There were fears he was going to play 70 games and would be worn out come playoff time.

As of today, Fleury has played 59 games this season. He’s not going to play 70 games. The time off for his supposed lower-body injury has been a blessing for he and the team. Fleury has been able to stay off the ice, rest his legs, keep his mind fresh as he and his wife Veronique were welcoming their third child Friday.

When the bell sounds the second week in April, No. 29 will be there to answer the call.

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Golden Knights’ “Top” Line Playing Like It – Just In Time

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

For the first couple of weeks of March, you were sure the world had flipped upside down.

Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and the recently acquired Mark Stone were the Golden Knights’ top line. They were competing. They were scoring. They were dominating at both ends of the ice.

It made you wonder what was going on with William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, the Knights’ regular No. 1 unit. They had been running hot and cold most of the year and if you were the opposing team’s coach, you had greater concerns for the Stastny line.

But as we have seen the past week, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith are playing like the top line they should be. And could the timing be better?

We’re in the final push to the playoffs. The Knights, who are likely to remain in third place in the Pacific Division, have 41 wins and 87 points with nine games to play, seven behind second-place San Jose and nine in front of Arizona, which is batting for the final wild card spot.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

And while it’s easy for us to look ahead to the second week of April and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, if you’re Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith, these final 2 1/2 weeks, beginning Thursday at T-Mobile Arena against Winnipeg, are critical in building momentum and confidence. You want to go into the postseason playing your best hockey and we’re seeing signs of that from the line.

Here’s the way things have broken down over the last five games, which saw the Knights go 4-1 as part of their current 9-1 run:

Marchessault — 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points
Smith — 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points
Karlsson — 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points

That’s a combined seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points, an average of four points a game for the line. Any coach would take that kind of productivity.

So what changed?

Part of it is Smith is 100 percent healthy and he has remained on the line after Gerard Gallant moved him around after he returned to the ice after he missed nearly a month in early January with an injury. When he’s right and playing his game, Smith is arguably the best two-way winger on the Knights, though some may point to Stone and say he has supplanted Smith in that role.

Marchessault? His thing is putting the puck in the net. And with back-to-back two-goal games, he may be finding his groove. Granted, he beat a sieve of a goalie Sunday in Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen, who could have the worst glove I’ve seen from an NHL goalie in years. But think about all the times we’ve seen Marchessault look up to the heavens after hitting a crossbar, missing an open net or getting robbed by the other team’s goalie? Things tend to even themselves out in hockey and if you’re a goal-scorer like Marchessault, your puck luck ultimately finds its level.

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Alex Tuch Readies For The Playoffs

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When Mark Stone was acquired by the Golden Knights on Feb. 25, it impacted the entire team.

But no one was more affected by bringing Stone into the fold than Alex Tuch.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The 22-year-old from upstate New York was playing on the second line with Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Since the trade, Tuch is now skating on Vegas’ third line with Cody Eakin and either Tomas Nosek, Brandon Pirri or Ryan Carpenter.

He has gone about his business, working harder in the defensive end of the ice, fitting in with his new linemates, finishing his checks and forechecking hard.

The second-year right wing has 49 points. He has already surpassed last year’s totals of 15 goals and 22 assists with 19 goals and 30 assists after scoring the final goal in a 6-3 win Sunday over Edmonton at T-Mobile Arena.

It hasn’t really been an adjustment. I’m supposed to go in there and not change my game. I might be in a different place at a different time, but you can’t change your style. I don’t think it matters who I’m out there with. My job is to use my speed, get shots and make plays. -Tuch

All of this bodes well for the upcoming playoffs, a brand of hockey that seems well-suited for Tuch’s game and skill set. There are 10 games left to the regular season. Whether or not Tuch wins the team scoring race should be secondary to the fact his game is really good at the moment and he can be expected to carry his solid play into the postseason.

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Los Knights? Bueno!

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Long before Las Vegas got an NHL team, I suggested that it made sure to reach out to the city’s large Latino community and have a Spanish radio broadcast of the games.

Fortunately, Kerry Bubolz listened. And last year, selected home games were on ESPN Deportes (1460 AM).

This year, all the home games are being broadcast. Hopefully in the future, all games, home and away, will be broadcast, assuming it’s financially feasible.

But the announcement Monday by the team that it was expanding its social media reach to Spanish was an excellent move. Obviously, the hope is to grow the fan base and attract younger followers. Social media has proven to be the right medium to accomplish both.

I admit, my Spanish is extremely limited. I took French in high school and I would need help if I tried to conduct an interview with Marc-Andre Fleury or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare or Jonathan Marchessault in French.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the importance of what the Knights are doing by reaching out to the Latino community of Las Vegas. My question is: “What took them so long?”

Here’s a quick Q&A I conducted via email with Brian Killingsworth, the team’s chief marketing officer:

Q: Why do this now? Why not wait until next year? Better yet, why not have done it before this season?

A: “Our efforts to reach the Hispanic communities are always on-going. This was a concept that we wanted to do right in an authentic and intentional way. In order to do it right, we had to have the resources and strategy in place so we felt that now was the appropriate time.

“We are really pleased to have it launched and we are excited to continue to build on this and other initiatives the rest of this regular season, hopefully into the playoffs should we qualify, offseason and into next year. This is going to be a sustainable outreach.”

Q: How many Twitter followers are there for your English account? What is the projection for Spanish Twitter?

A: “Currently, we have just over 430,000 followers on Twitter. For @LosVGK, to corner ourselves on an actual projection is not prudent. “There is not a lot of baselines to measure this on as we are the first team in the NHL to have active accounts of this nature. We will reevaluate this as the content is produced and as we progress.”

Q: Are there plans to travel the radio guys next year or through this year’s playoffs? Or will the broadcast on ESPN Deportes remain strictly a home-only situation?

A: “This is something we will continue to evaluate. We would like to have as many games broadcast in Spanish on ESPN Deportes as possible. ESPN Deportes is an important part of our broadcasting assets.”

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The Stone Age Impacts Golden Knights Defense

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — When the Golden Knights acquired Mark Stone at the NHL trade deadline back on Feb. 25, it was assumed the offense would perk up as Stone had 28 goals in the bank from his time in Ottawa.

But who knew the defense would be the unit that has come alive?

Collectively, the Vegas blue line corps is playing some of its best hockey of the year. And while it may be a coincidence that it has come since Stone’s arrival, the changes Gerard Gallant made a few weeks ago, moving Deryk Engelland with Nate Schmidt, playing Shea Theodore with Brayden McNabb and giving Jon Merrill a regular spot in the lineup, seemed to have worked.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The defense accounted for both goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Calgary at T-Mobile Arena. More important, the Knights have allowed just nine goals in the six games Stone has worn the steel grey No. 61.

Obviously, Marc-Andre Fleury’s play in the crease has been a big part of that. But don’t discount the job his D-men are doing in front of him.

The Knights are winning more battles in their own end. They’re more active in using their sticks to take away the cross-ice pass. They are making smarter decisions in breaking out of their own end. They are pinching in the other team’s end more judiciously and not getting caught in as many odd-man rushes the other way. They continue to block shots at a high rate. They seem to be communicating better.

All of that was again on display Saturday here in Vancouver at Rogers Arena against a Canucks team which Vegas handled a week ago, 3-0, and 6-2 Saturday for their sixth straight win. The Knights scored a franchise-record five first-period goals and there was no looking ahead to tonight’s big game at the Scotiabank Saddledome and the rematch with the Flames.

And as many predicted, Stone finally scored as a Golden Knight as he opened the scoring 1:32 into Saturday’s contest.

Gallant said you never know what’s going to happen when you change your lineup. But these moves appear to have worked so far.

It was just shaking things up. When you’re losing, you’re not happy. So we made a few changes with the D and so far it’s worked. I like the way they’ve been playing. -Gallant

You ask the defensemen what’s turned things around, you get different answers.

I think change can be good sometimes. You get a little stagnant with the way you play. I just think that it’s about trending. If you continue to play well, you want to make sure you keep doing those things that help you win. Colin Miller and Jon Merrill have been playing fantastic for us. When you have that kind of depth on your team, that’s important. -Schmidt

Theodore said the defensemen are reacting better to the puck and making the right play more consistently.

I think we’re just quick to pucks and we’re not giving them as much time and space in the corners. Usually when you give teams with good skill players time down low they’re going to make plays. I think our centers have been coming in and killing those plays and that’s been big for us. -Theodore

Engelland said it has been a collective mindset that has seen the team’s defensive uptick.

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The Game’s In Great Shape … But Is It?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Is hockey in a good place?

The NHL’s 31 general managers seem to think so, as do the league’s top officials.

The annual GM’s meeting in Boca Raton, Florida wrapped up two days of congratulatory back-patting Tuesday as they declared the sport is healthy and there’s no need for radical change at this time.

You’re always looking and talking and tweaking. But the good news is you don’t have to find a problem. The game’s in pretty good shape right now. Real good shape. -Brad Treliving, Flames GM

The changes they implemented a couple of years ago, such as cracking down on slashing, appear to be working. According to sportsnet.ca, slashing penalties continue to fall and players have adjusted their games accordingly to avoid a trip to the penalty box.

Scoring continues to rise with an average of 6.2 goals per game, the highest it has been since 2006. That may be part and parcel with the fact slashing penalties have been on the decline, thus creating more quality chances for the guy with the puck.

It seems like we’re just about perfect. The game is in a really good place in terms of whatever you want to measure. Goal scoring’s up. Comebacks are up. Fighting’s down. Stoppages of play are consistent over the years. All the various ways we measure the game show us it’s just about as good as it’s ever been, which is great news for all of us. -George McPhee

He has a point. The game overall has more flow. We are seeing more teams rally to create a competitive game. Witness lowly Ottawa taking the Islanders into a shootout Tuesday after trailing 3-1 and 4-2 in the second period. Teams always think they have a shot to pick up a point.

The GMs, to their credit, keep looking to make hockey safer. They are proposing a player whose helmet comes off proceed directly to the bench rather than continue skating. For William Karlsson’s fans who love to see those flowing blond locks, that’s not good news. But better to have Wild Bill safely on the bench rather than suffer a serious head or eye injury because he lost his lid and decided playing without it was the macho thing to do as is the current hockey culture.

And speaking of culture, one thing I wished was addressed at the GM meetings apparently wasn’t. That something is injuries and the clandestine handling of them.

Currently, a guy gets hurt and the league leaves it up to the team to decide how much information gets disseminated. Some teams will tell you everything, a few just enough and most nothing more than a “lower-body” or “upper body.”

We all know how the Golden Knights operate in this department. McPhee divulges so little when it comes to injuries, you thought he worked in the CIA, not the NHL. He has said on more than one occasion that it’s about protecting his players.

Nobody outside the team truly knows what’s going on with Will Carrier. In Erik Haula’s case, GMGM had no choice but to confirm the guy hurt his knee back on Nov. 6 in Toronto. It was clearly evident and in plain sight for everyone to see.

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Brayden McNabb Is Getting Back On Track

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

I’m not a huge analytics guy. But when it comes to discussing how good Brayden McNabb has been for the Golden Knights, perhaps I need to Corsi-fy and Fenwick-ish my analysis of the 6-foot-4, 28-year-old defenseman.

Nah. I’ll just trust my own lying eyes.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

And what I see is a smart, honest hockey player who works well with his partner, helps out his goalie, makes wise decisions when to join the rush and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body.

In other words, I like Brayden McNabb.

So do his coach and his teammates. He’s exactly what the Golden Knights need at this point of the season and moving forward into the postseason.

He has played in all 66 games. He leads the team in blocked shots (121). He is third on the Knights in hits (168) after Ryan Reaves and Will Carrier. He averages just under 20 minutes a game in time on ice. He is an excellent penalty killer pairing with Deryk Engelland.

He also has three goals and 14 points heading into Sunday’s game against Vancouver at T-Mobile Arena a the Knights continue to try and put some distance between themselves and Arizona for the third spot in the Pacific Division.

I think the longer you’re in this league, you get comfortable with everything. You know the system. You know your teammates. You learn when to join the rush and when to hang back. I’ve become smarter and I don’t take as many chances as I used to when I first got to the league. -McNabb

Gerard Gallant loves honest hockey players, guys he can just send over the boards and not be surprised at what they do. In McNabb, he’s got a player who’s as honest as the day is long.

I don’t know there’s much improvement from last year to be honest with you. He’s done the same job as last year and I loved him last year.

He’s a great penalty killer. He shuts down the other team’s top players and I like what he brings to our group. -Gallant

McNabb admits he’s not perfect. He had a tough stretch in mid-February where he was taking penalties, getting beat in his own end and simply not playing well. But he has turned it around. His last three games have seen a return to making good decisions, staying out of the box and doing his job. Not coincidentally, the Knights have won all three and are solidifying their third spot in the Pacific.

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The Golden Knights Have Found Their Captain

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

When the Golden Knights launched their inaugural season in 2017, the team decided it would not have a captain.

The mantra from general manager George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant was, “We have 23 captains.”

They pointed to the veterans in the locker room as the team’s “leadership group.” If anything needed to be said, if anyone stepped out of line, Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, David Perron or Deryk Engelland would take care of it.

Sure enough, the room stayed together, the Knights had a historic first year and made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

But Neal and Perron left in July. Replacing them were Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Both have been in leadership roles with Pacioretty having served as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, a prestigious honor given the history of that iconic franchise. Stastny was an assistant captain in Colorado.

Yet, you can’t help but wonder if something has been missing in the Vegas locker room this year. Yes, Fleury still commands everyone’s respect. Engelland is still with a voice among his teammates. I don’t know that either Stastny or Pacioretty are active in being leaders in Vegas since I’m not in the room on a daily basis. I would like to think they are.

But maybe the time has come to narrow the voices from 23 to one.

Mark Stone arrived Monday from Ottawa in the biggest trade on NHL deadline day and the 26-year-old who wore the “A” with the Senators would be the perfect person to be the Golden Knights’ first captain. Obviously not this season. But by September, the team should seriously consider giving Stone the “C.”

Here’s why.

He has seen what dysfunction can do to a team, how it can tear it apart and lead to frustration. He tried to hold the room together in Ottawa and while you can argue he wasn’t successful given the Senators’ record, the fact he came to the rink every night, played hard, and set an example of doing things the right way as the team’s best player speaks volumes to his character.

His performance in Vegas will earn his teammates’ respect. They’ve all played against him and he’s a pain to go up against. Now he’s one of them and the Knights will benefit from Stone’s work ethic, his skill, his experience, and his competitiveness and daily commitment. As GMGM said Monday after acquiring him, it’s not every day a special player joins your organization.

I don’t know that he changes it because we have a terrific room, great leadership, real quality people. He certainly adds to it. He’s as fine of a person as you can find in this game. You like him off the ice, you like him on the ice. Kelly McCrimmon knows him very well, he had him as a young player. I worked with him at the World Championships a few years ago, we won the gold medal in Russia. So, he is the type of player that you will always look for and hope to be able to land. -McPhee

Ultimately, it’s the players who have to believe in the guy they decide to follow. He’ll do his talking on the ice for the time being.

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Deal or No Deal? Should The Golden Knights Make A Move?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

From Feb. 1 through Saturday night, there had been 20 trades consummated in the NHL.

The Golden Knights were not a participant in a single one of them.

The trade deadline is 24 hours away. And it begs the question: What will George McPhee do?

Will he make a major move? Will he make a couple of small deals? Will he stand pat?

You can make an argument for any of the above and have a valid point. My gut is telling me he is listening about participating in a big deal, one that perhaps could have multiple teams involved. Whether he takes action, only he knows. He doesn’t share his thoughts with me, though sometimes it would be nice to have a general philosophical conversation with GMGM about hockey and take his temperature on various topics surrounding the game in general and his team in particular.

But that’s not his style. So that leaves me to guess what I think he’s going to do, which is a dangerous, and most likely, inaccurate game.

A week ago, I proposed making a serious run at Ottawa forward Mark Stone, the team’s leading scorer. I cited several reasons why Stone should be McPhee’s target with the caveat being he has to have a guarantee Stone would agree to a long-term deal to play in Vegas. No rentals here.

As of this morning, Stone was still with the Senators while Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel are no longer in Ottawa, both having been dealt to Columbus in separate trades. I have no doubt Sens GM Pierre Dorion is going to demand a ton for his best remaining player and the price may simply be too steep at this point for the Knights.

But if you’ve watched this team perform the past three weeks, it’s not just scoring that they need or a boost to its anemic power play.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The defense has struggled, particularly Colin Miler and Brayden McNabb. McPhee watches the same game we all do and while he may view things through a slightly different prism, he no doubt sees some sketchy play from his blue line corps and perhaps his attention may be shifting from looking to trade for some scoring to shoring up his defense.

He has been quoted recently that he likes this team the way it is currently constructed and that when they are playing the right way, the Knights are a very good hockey team. But the reality is Vegas has not been on the right side of things lately. They were on Feb. 16 when they dominated Nashville, 5-1. They played O.K. in losing to Boston in a shootout last Wednesday, 3-2.

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Hurricanes Breathe Life Into Stale Postgame

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

It was Feb. 1. The Golden Knights had just dropped a 5-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes. And as the Knights trudged off the ice at the PNC Center in Raleigh, it was turn-the-page time and focus on the next game against the Florida Panthers the following night.

The Hurricanes, however, weren’t quite done.

They remained on the ice and celebrated the win. First, it started with a team clap of the hands that looked like something Iceland’s national soccer team does. But it morphed into a quick game of childhood favorite “Duck, Duck, Goose.”

They call it the “Storm Surge” in Carolina. Don Cherry calls it something else. Cherry, who is 85 and has had a bully pulpit for decades on the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada telecast, ripped the ‘Canes.

These guys to me are jerks. And I’ll tell you one thing, they better not do this in the playoffs.. . . This is a joke.

Young men expressing themselves for joy of winning. You don’t do this thing in professional hockey. What are these guys? Jerks or something?

I know what I’m talking about. You never do anything like that. They’re still not drawing. They’re a bunch of jerks as far as I’m concerned. Imagine Justin Williams doing stuff like that. -Don Cherry

The team obviously has a different point of view. Williams, the team’s captain, plays a major role in all this.

And the coach doesn’t have a problem with the postgame celebrations.

We want to have fun when we win. The game should be fun. That’s why we’re doing it. I want the players to enjoy winning and the fans to enjoy being here. -Rod Brind’Amour, Hurricanes coach

My first thought when I saw the initial celebration earlier this year was, “What the hell is that?” But as the cellys became more creative and elaborate, I started to enjoy them. I hadn’t played Duck, Duck, Goose since I was a tyke back in the late 1950s. So I have to admit seeing a bunch of grown men doing it was pretty funny.

And the others are funny too. The fans offer suggestions, the players take them under advisement and then figure out what they’ll ultimately do.

Understand these “Storm Surges” take place after victories at home, long after the opposing team has left the ice. So the night of Feb. 1, all of the Golden Knights were in their locker room when the frivolity began, so none of them saw it.

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