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Carp: Despite His Struggles, Golden Knights Missing Wild Bill

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Seeing Peter DeBoer behind the Golden Knights’ bench Thursday in Ottawa wasn’t the only shock to the system. Not seeing William Karlsson on the ice may have been a bigger shock.

After all, Karlsson had never missed a game in his NHL career. He was the one reliable factor the Knights had, whether it was Gerard Gallant or DeBoer coaching him. We’ve been so accustomed to seeing No. 71 on the top line for the most part that we probably have never given it a second thought.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But Karlsson’s out with an upper-body injury. He’s listed as week-to-week, which in Knight-speak means we might not see Wild Bill for quite a while. And that’s not a good thing in terms of the team’s short-term success.

We all know Karlsson’s been struggling offensively. You need only look at his game log to know he has had a tough season when it comes to putting the puck in the net. He has just 10 goals and last lit the lamp back on Dec. 13 against Dallas. Yet despite his lack of alacrity for scoring goals, his 34 points ranks him fourth overall, behind Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Reilly Smith. He has managed to still contribute offensively despite his goal-scoring struggles.

Chandler Stephenson is doing a serviceable job as Karlsson’s replacement. He’s been a great acquisition for the Knights as he has shown tremendous versatility and an ability to fit in wherever whichever coach, first Gallant, now DeBoer plays him. But Karlsson is an important part of this system and to be without him for any significant length of time is not to Vegas’ advantage.

Let’s start with the fact he is responsible in the defensive end of the ice. He is +4 overall and averages just over 19 minutes of ice time per appearance. He wins battles at both ends of the rink and he’ll block a shot or use his stick to break up a pass.

He has developed into a very good penalty killer. And while the Knights’ overall PK hasn’t been great (they’re tied for 21st in the NHL at 78.9 percent), Karlsson has teamed with Smith to do a nice job.

He’s also been good in the face-off circle this year. In the 49 games he has played to date, Karlsson is winning 51.2 percent of his draws. He has never been above 50 percent in his career. In his first year with the Knights, he was 48 percent. Last year, it dropped to 47 percent. So that’s a marked improvement.

He’s also been more engaged physically, which may or may not be a good thing. He has 14 minutes in penalties, which is putting him on pace for a career high in that category. So he probably won’t win the Lady Byng. But I like seeing him battle in the corners, get to the front of the net and compete in that area.

Then there’s the continuity factor. When a top-six forward such as Karlsson exits the lineup, it means the coach is forced to juggle things to compensate. It has helped Paul Stastny, who has ben reunited with Pacioretty and Stone on the second line. And as I said earlier, Stephenson is doing a serviceable job centering for Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, who just recently returned from his own injury after missing five games.

Where Karlsson’s absence hurts the Knights is with the bottom six. Stastny’s moving up to the second line creates a void of a skilled player on the third line. That means either Cody Eakin, Tomas Nosek or Nic Roy are playing third- and fourth-line pivot duties and that impacts the wingers on the third line. I’m thinking specifically Alex Tuch, who is continuing to struggle offensively and would probably be better served playing with Stastny or Stephenson than with Eakin or Nosek or Roy.

And let’s not forget the Knights are also without the services of Cody Glass and have been so since he went out Jan. 4 against St. Louis with a knee injury. So that’s not an option for DeBoer at the moment.

You can bemoan the fact that Karlsson’s not scoring goals. You can point to his contract extension and say he is a bit of a comfortable fat cat now that he got paid, an argument I don’t buy. But he is a key contributor to this team and the Knights are better with him than without him.

There’s one game left before the All-Star break and the team’s bye week. Maybe we’ll see him back in the lineup at the end of the month in Raleigh against the Hurricanes, or during that four-game road trip in early February. In that regard, the schedule-makers at the NHL did Vegas a favor as it has lessened the impact of one if the team’s missing one of its key components.

Either way, the Knights need No. 71 back on the ice. And the sooner Karlsson returns to the lineup, the better.

**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**

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9 Comments

  1. schmitty 88

    88 was lost out there last night a couple games in the press box might be a wake up call

    • james Regdos

      Schimdt has been horrible this season. Terrible passing , cant win puck battles, truly a huge disappointment.

  2. Tim

    Karlsson’s a gamer he’s definitely missed.

    • Jeremy Craven

      Karlsson is not as valued as this article suggests. First off he has no trade value anywhere else in the league so we are stuck with him. Second the reason he got that contract just like Englland, he’s a fan favorite. His offensive skills are deplorable. He did the same thing last year from mid December through the middle of February. So his struggles are nothing new. Everyone wants to talk about his defense but as a top line guy his main function is to create offense…..He is a heck of an athlete but has low hockey skills. The latter years of this contract will absolutely cripple this team…

      • Danny

        Although Carp is usually right on, he hits the iron here on Karlsson.
        His job is to score.
        Carp’s argument is like saying “it’s ok if somehow Mike Trout couldn’t hit the ball all year, he catches a fly ball once in awhile, so his bajillion dollar contract is worth it, and you fans shouldn’t expect the poor guy to do any more than he’s doing. “

  3. Vgk4life

    Karlsson massively over achieved his first year here. The whole team did, but him more so than most. Hes a decent player, but even healthy he will never achieve those numbers again. He is settled back down to what he was.

  4. DOC Williams

    I feel bad for “Wild Bill”. He is a quiet, moody guy. I think he is not a mature professional. He does, though, play hard most every night. He can still be a positive for the Knights in feeding his wingers and on the PK. That 1st season was an out-liar. He could still be a 20 goal guy. But not ever going to be a 40-50 goal guy as that 1st season suggested.

  5. Danny

    Although Carp is usually right on, he hits the iron here on Karlsson.
    His job is to score.
    Carp’s argument is like saying “it’s ok if somehow Mike Trout couldn’t hit the ball all year, he catches a fly ball once in awhile, so his bajillion dollar contract is worth it, and you fans shouldn’t expect the poor guy to do any more than he’s doing. “

  6. Mike G

    I love Karlsson and I think people that just look at goals totally underestimate his value. The dude is a warrior. I’m certain he’s been playing hurt for awhile but he never makes excuses. He’s a team player, he’s got great chemistry with his line mates. He’s awesome on the PK. He wins face offs , he stays out of the box, he plays great defense, he’s a character guy who shows up to work every single day… but of course his goal production is down so he “sucks” and is a “bad contract”

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