**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?
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.**