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Carp: Fools Gold? Or Have The Top Six Woken Up In Time?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

When the week began, my original inclination was to draw a conclusion that the Golden Knights problem with their offense isn’t with their bottom six, but rather their top six.

Actually, make that top seven as I’ll include Alex Tuch in the conversation.

Then the Knights scored six goals Monday against St. Louis. Problem solved, right?

Not exactly.

The top guns went back into cold storage Wednesday in the 3-1 loss to the Blues. So the angle was back in play.

Or was it?

Friday, the Knights scored a season-high seven goals in defeating Arizona, 7-4. Reilly Smith got two of them. Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, and Max Pacioretty also scored. The line of Smith, Marchessault, and William Karlsson combined for six points.

I left The Fortress a bit confused. Was what I had witnessed an actual wake-up by Smith and the guys? Or was it a tease and we’ll see them go back into hibernation?

I’m still not sure what to believe. Smith has always been a streaky scorer. He’ll be in deep freeze for weeks. Suddenly, he’ll be wielding a hot stick and he’ll be scoring with regularity. However, I’ve learned to never give up on him. He’s too good a competitor to stay off the scoresheet forever. And when Marchessault, that little ball of hate, gets his juices flowing, that line becomes dangerous once again.

That brings us to today’s rematch with the Coyotes and what may be the most important 24 hours of the season so far. If you read ‘Yotes coach Rick Tocchet’s postgame comments Friday, you know he was a very unhappy boss. He basically called his team out for allowing the Knights to jump them and build a 5-0 lead. Yes, his team sort of responded with a bit of push in the third period, but it wasn’t close to being enough to overcome the hole they had dug for themselves.

I will be absolutely shocked if the ‘Yotes don’t come out angry and flying this afternoon, looking to make a statement. They are fighting for their playoff lives as they are currently one point behind the Blues for the fourth and final West Division playoff berth and they figure to play with a great amount of desperation.

My concern is will the Knights match that desperation? Will they play with jump, with purpose, and with intensity? Will they not hang Marc-Andre Fleury out to dry against Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, and Connor Garland, Arizona’s primary weapons?

Most important, will the top six build off Friday’s performance and will Tuch, who last scored a goal March 13 and has one tally in his last 17 contests, find the back of the net?

There’s another facet to today’s game. The NHL trade deadline is 24 hours away. Kelly McCrimmon has publicly stated he doesn’t expect the team to make a big splash by noon Monday. But Colorado got better Saturday in upgrading its goaltending with the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk from San Jose and Joe Sakic may not be done dealing. The Avalanche currently reside atop the West Division with a four-point lead on the Knights, who have a game in hand on Colorado. The two teams have two more meetings remaining later this month — both in Las Vegas.

The Knights had organizational meetings in town earlier this week to explore all their options. Remember, they’re up against the salary cap so they’re going to have to get real creative if they want to swing a major deal. Even a secondary trade may require some heavy lifting, depending on who is involved.

If I’m GMKM, I’m watching today’s match with more than the usual interest. It’s up to him, and Prez George, to determine if there’s enough offense to beat Colorado and/or Minnesota, then be able to score often enough to win the Stanley Cup.

I still think they can use a real sniper, someone who’s a threat to score whenever he gets the puck on his stick. Unfortunately, that person may be beyond Vegas’ reach. I don’t see moving a goaltender to create the cap space to land someone and the $12 million experiment figures remain intact until Pete DeBoer decides who starts Game 1 of the playoffs in mid-to-late May.

The Knights are almost 100% healthy. Zach Whitecloud could return today. Alec Martinez was back in the lineup Friday. Hopefully, the days of fielding a less-than-complete lineup are over.

But if I’m in the VGK lineup today, I’m out to prove that Friday was not an anomaly, that as one of the guys who are paid to score, I’m earning my keep, and that I want to make it as hard as possible for GMKM to deal me outta here if he’s even considering doing so.

I also want to contribute to a win because Minnesota, which is coming off its own debacle of a performance Friday, a 9-1 loss to St. Louis, bounced back Saturday, sort of, losing to the Blues in OT, 3-2. The Wild picked up a point and they’re still on Vegas’ tail, just three points back of the second-place Knights.

I’m guessing McCrimmon has already decided on a course of action so maybe what transpires today at The Fortress doesn’t impact anything one way or the other. Still, if I’m putting on that VGK sweater this afternoon, I’m not leaving anything to chance. I want to be able to have a seat on the flight to Los Angeles after today’s game with the ‘Yotes rather than spend Sunday night on the phone with my agent trying to figure out what’s next.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

While we wait to see what the Knights do (or don’t do), their potential obstacles to the Cup were active this week upgrading their rosters.

We talked about the Avalanche acquiring Dubnyk. But others were busy as well. The Islanders needed scoring help to fill the void left by the knee injury to their captain, Anders Lee. They pilfered both Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils. They got better.

The Lightning acquired some blue line help in veteran David Savard from Columbus. You may recall Savard was the one who put Smith out of commission for a month in Year One when the Knights played the Blue Jackets in Nationwide Arena.

The Panthers, who are trying to fill the hole left by injured defenseman Aaron Ekblad, got Brandon Montour from Buffalo. You think Montour, who some people were hoping would rejoin his old Anaheim teammate Shea Theodore in Vegas, wasn’t thrilled to be going from the worst team in the league to one of the best? They also just signed Nikita Gusev, remember him?

The Sabres sent Eric Staal to Montreal, giving the Canadiens some potential offense, which will come in handy as Brendan Gallagher is out with a thumb injury. The Habs also entered the formerly Golden Knight market acquiring Jon Merill as well.

So you can see the pattern here. The teams that feel they have a legit shot at the Cup are going for it. And you can expect more of the same in the next 24 hours. They’re finding ways to add talent without taking on additional salary, which is the mantra this year given the flat cap.

And if you’re asking, “What about Seattle?” the teams that are legitimate Cup contenders aren’t worried about losing a player to the Kraken right now. Their focus is on the present. July 21 is still a long ways away.

Fortunately, the Knights have no expansion worries. They’re exempt from the draft. That doesn’t mean they won’t be involved in deals with Seattle or other teams. They likely will. But let’s see if what Sakic did in Denver, what Lou Lamoriello did on the Island, what Julien BriseBois did in Tampa has any impact on what GMKM does in the next 24 hours. I expect something will take place, just not the Mark Stone-Robin Lehner-type transaction we’ve seen in the past.

It’s all about getting better and being good enough to be the last man standing.

**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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12 Comments

  1. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    Well Carp, we’ll know in 24 hours. Then finally all the speculation, for now, can stop.

  2. Mike StG

    Another excellent piece Steve. You nailed the important point that other elite teams are improving. So Vegas can’t measure just what they’ve faced from these teams during the season. These teams will almost certainly be better than when we played them. I’m hoping that improvement particularly on L3 will force opponents to address them as a threat and take some of the focus and heat off the Top 6. Love your reference to Marchie! Well done, again.

  3. sb

    Not to worry about Smith. He’s banged quite a few off the post and crossbar. Missed by an inch on more. He’s been very close to scoring many times this season. Just some tough luck. He’s been in the right place at the right time most every game. That’s what you look for. He’s hockey smart and hasn’t lost it. Never give up on that guy. What’s the problem? Trying to get away without a Number 1 center. Same problem since Game 1, Season 2. Stastny was not The Answer, but sending 44 points out the door without replacing it hurt production, especially the PP. No knock against Stephenson ……. best bang for the buck on the team. But he’s not a ‘playmaking’ center. He doesn’t set up wingers. Like Tuch, he scores off his own plays. He really needs to move to the right wing with Tuch. Imagine Kopitar with Stone/Pac. PP fixed. Dominate offense with three strong lines. Now, we’re not getting Kopitar, but that’s the kinda center the team is missing. Four first rounders to Buffalo for Eichel, they carry his salary thru 2022 (Fluery’s $7 mil comes off the books)?

    • Floyd Newton

      Don’t forget the foolishness of mortgaging the future for a washed up defenseman in #7. 8.8 million for that pile of dog . We needed offense, better hope they can dump him and his no trade clause to the Krakken.

    • Mike StG

      sb, don’t need an elite center between Max & Mark. They need what they have, Chandler’s speed to back off the D and allow them time & space to create plays. As such, Chandler is also a threat to score on breakaways. Glass’s lack of progress is what has hurt the team, and not what GMKM had hoped for. A good 3C would be the best help IMO – Haula, Glendening. BTW – Chandler if moved to L3 would need to be C or LW. Tuch is RW and looks constantly lost on the left side, plus RW is where his speed is effective – flying in on the right side and able to shoot off the rush.

      And please NO NO NO on Eichel. He’s a malcontent (remember ROR to STL?), can’t drive play with a Hart winner (Hall), wants to be captain but doesn’t have the drive to lead his team. He would be a colossal waste of money for this team.

  4. goalie trade

    today’s web predictions=

    first round pick and Elvenes to Arizona for Conor Garland

    • Floyd Newton

      I’m rooting for The Garland deal. Need more speed with line 3 and add haula and you just upgraded big time.

  5. THE hockey GOD

    speaking of fool’s gold !

    The VGK are wearing their GOD caps. Opps, make that GOLD CAPS.

    not good..jinxed !

    Can they break the jinx ??

  6. THE hockey GOD

    More on why salary CAp is BS akin to Socialism = mediocre product.

    Beyond all of that, though, is this: Baseball absolutely does not need a salary cap. This can be said for a number of reasons. And why say lack of it helps owners, but that is not case at all.

    “Most notably, the “putative purpose “of a salary cap is to improve or maintain “competitive balance”. This is the call-to-action that team owners across leagues parrot ad nauseam (owner’s in league’s that favor the sal cap) . They do so because the argument appeals to our innate sense of fairness — this is a cooperative arrangement, after all, and not a sector in which one firm seeks to put the others out of business. They also do it because fans and observers too often “buy into their arguments without evidence” ( like a few poster on this forum, a few brain washed ones that is) . That’s a good thing for owners because the evidence (for the sal cap) doesn’t back them up.

    The only thing hard salary caps do with any certainty is increase the profits of ownership by tamping down labor costs, which — spoiler alert — is precisely why owners agitate for those caps. It has nothing to do with improving competitive balance in large part because caps don’t, you know, improve competitive balance (see: reams of evidence).

    Ref. “no-baseball-still-doesnt-need-a-salary-cap”

  7. phantom major

    nobody makes backup goaltenders look good like the Golden Knights do.

    this game looks like another Vancouver Demko bubble game

    I know they hit 4 posts, all long shots, but they also have shot many close-in open chances right into the crest on Hill’s jersey.

    the Karlsson line went from 3 stars on Fri to medicore today.

    let’s hope the 3rd period gets them going

    • phantom major

      well, I guess you can forget the Garland trade now, after he threw a dirty low hit on the vgk captain.

      there was bad blood in that one.

      • Mike StG

        Lol phantom. I just tweeted the same! Seems to me Kolesar is about to be a part of some deal. Held out of the rest of the game for no stated reason, per announcement in the arena. Change is a-comin’!! Love this time of year!

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