**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.**
As everyone goes about their business this Sunday, you do so knowing your favorite team is 2-0-0 and in first place.
On the surface, that’s great. And pragmatically speaking, the Golden Knights’ start is what everyone was hoping for. You’re at home, playing a team that is offensively challenged and is in rebuild mode and you’re supposedly stronger than you finished last season in terms of your own roster.
So why did Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win over Anaheim feel so uncomfortable?
There’s a number of factors, not the least of which we’re seeing early in this weird NHL season that there’s going to be a lot of pushback from the team which loses the first of these back-to-back games on the schedule. Look around the league and that was the case virtually everywhere. Only the Knights, Washington, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Nashville, and Philadelphia swept their opponent in the B2B scenario. And for good portions of Saturday, it looked like a split was going to happen at the Fortress, which definitely feels weird without 18,000 fans inside it. The Ducks had survived a 1st period onslaught by the Knights, who were debuting their snazzy gold jerseys, to keep the game 0-0 and went ahead off a 3-on-1 to take a 1-0 lead in the second stanza.
Then they clamped down defensively, clogging the neutral zone and not allowing the Knights to freewheel out of their own end. And had it not been for some great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, the outcome could have been far different. But the veteran and future Hall of Famer looked sharp and kept his team in it until William Karlsson could tie it with 1:22 remaining after the Knights pulled the goalie, and Max Pacioretty would win it seven seconds into overtime.
It was far from a stellar team effort. Yet in his postgame Zoom conference with reporters, Peter DeBoer said he thought his team’s overall performance exceeded Thursday’s, which was a 5-2 win.
Yes, the Ducks had rallied in the opener from a 2-0 deficit to square things at 2-2 heading into the third period before Mark Stone broke the tie and the Knights would go on to prevail. But I’m not buying DeBoer’s observation. There are a lot of things that I saw that need addressing, not the least of which is the defense and the odd-man rushes the forwards are allowing to occur with regularity.
Both were on full display Saturday. It may be admirable the Knights want to be more aggressive offensively. I like that they’re getting to the front of the net more and trying to get those dirty, greasy goals. However, there’s the responsibility of playing at the other end and getting back when you lose possession.
And that’s what the defense, especially a certain guy making $8.8 million, needs to do better.
It’s only two games so I’m not going to bash Alex Pietrangelo. He, more than any other player on this roster, is being hamstrung by not having a preseason schedule to get comfortable with DeBoer’s system and finding a synchronization with his new teammates. Frankly, he doesn’t look real comfortable so I think it’s fair we give him time to adjust his game.
Unfortunately, time isn’t a luxury the Knights have. They’re playing every other day and rest and recovery is going to be an important part of the process this season, especially when you’re playing just five defensemen. So Pietrangelo’s learning curve will have to accelerate, which I’m confident it will. He has shown in his brief time with the team he has elite skills. It’s just a matter of smoothing out the rough edges.
I’m also impressed with Zach Whitecloud’s progress. He is finally comfortable playing on the blue line in the NHL and he not only continues to make the smart and simple play, he’s also integrating himself into the attack and has a far better feel for the game at this level. He has been the swing defenseman so far and finds himself playing shifts with Pietrangelo, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, and Alec Martinez. That’s not easy for a young player but Whitecloud has handled it admirably so far.
When the defense is moving the puck out of its own end quickly and directly with short passes, the attack is much stouter. The top six forwards are doing their job. Pacioretty and the Captain have come out of the gate fast, it can only help Karlsson’s confidence to have lit the lamp early on and Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and Chandler Stevenson are all doing their jobs.
Of the bottom six, I’m liking what I see from Tomas Nosek, who centers the fourth line. He remains a penalty killer extraordinaire and he’s got his mojo working. Alex Tuch is also working hard on the third line and whatever was ailing him during training camp does not appear to be an issue. I love that he’s getting to the front of the net and he’s using his speed to create chances.
Cody Glass looked much better Saturday than he did Thursday and had DeBoer singled him out specifically rather than make a blanket statement about his team playing better than they did Thursday, I would wholeheartedly have agreed with him.
Ryan Reaves has done some good things too. He’s looking to make plays in front of the net and get involved offensively. His line was on the ice for the 3-on-1 that led to the Max Comtois goal for Anaheim as that turned out to be a train wreck of a shift.
Incidentally, how is Comtois the only Duck who can score? He has all three of Anaheim’s goals so far. Ducks fans must be going insane wondering what the hell is going on.
The penalty kill remains excellent, the power play not so much. DeBoer is using Pietrangelo and Theodore with different power play units in order to maximize their talents. So far, it hasn’t worked, albeit in just two attempts.
Two other things regarding the start of the season for the Golden Knights:
First, if DeBoer is true to his word and will give a 50/50 start to his goaltenders, we could see something interesting emerging. Possibly a controversy. Fleury looked like his old self Saturday and obviously is going to push Robin Lehner, who did not play badly in the opener, for the starting job. It’s obviously something worth keeping an eye on the next couple of weeks, starting Monday when Arizona comes to town for what is a four-game home-and-home series.
The other thing to watch is this 13 forwards five defensemen lineup. So far, the Knights got away with it as nobody on the blue line got hurt. But I don’t like it long-term and management’s inability to manage the salary cap properly in the off-season has forced DeBoer into playing this lineup.
Nothing against Keegan Kolesar. He’s a good guy and a hard worker. But he’s a Henderson Silver Knight playing for the Vegas Golden Knights. I want to see Nicolas Hague skating with Whitecloud and have three pairs of D. Waiting for someone to go on LTIR to clear a roster spot is not the answer. And they’re not going to use Glass’ waiver exemption to clear a spot for Hague. So we may be stuck with this for a while.
Still, the Knights got the fast start they wanted and there’s a chance this coming week to build on that against the Coyotes, who played San Jose tough and got a split of their season-opening series with the Sharks.
To be 2-0 should put a smile on your face, though it may not be an ear-to-ear grin.
**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.**