**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.**
We all knew the potential for disaster this six-game road trip presented when the Golden Knights embarked upon it 10 days ago. Little did we know the true adversity the team would have to endure.
There were 12 possible points attainable when the team left Las Vegas to start the longest trip of the season in San Jose. They got eight of those dozen points, going 4-2-0, which given the circumstances, was a remarkable job.
- The team lost one of its top defensemen to injury.
- They were booted from their San Jose hotel on game day, a potential huge distraction.
- Their best player tested positive for COVID-19 only for it to be a false positive.
- They had two back-to-backs to deal with.
- They had to face two of the better teams in their division.
That doesn’t include William Carrier’s injury, which forced him from the lineup and eventually resulted in coach Peter DeBoer making one of his best moves of the year in reconfiguring his bottom six.
Yet here the Knights are this morning, still in first place in the West Division. How did they manage to do that?
A few reasons:
One, they have great leadership. Putting that “C” on Mark Stone has turned out to be the right call and he, along with the other veterans, kept the room together. Don’t underestimate the importance of that, especially when you’ve lost two in a row and things were looking a bit bleak.
Obviously, we’re not in the room so we don’t hear or see what goes on. But trust me, the message was made clear after they dropped those two games to Minnesota.
Stone also led on the ice, scoring in Friday’s 5-4 overtime win at St. Louis, then potting a pair in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Blues to help right the ship following the two losses in St. Paul to the Wild.
Two, the coach knows what he’s doing. Say what you want about DeBoer, but virtually every move he has made this season has worked. His moving Tomas Nosek and Nic Roy up to play with Alex Tuch and dropping Cody Glass and Keegan Kolesar down to the fourth line to partner with Ryan Reaves worked Friday as the third line generated three points (Nosek’s goal and assist plus Roy’s assist), giving the team some desperately needed bottom-six scoring.
Saturday, Glass was not in the lineup, replaced by Patrick Brown who didn’t look out of place playing with Kolesar and Reaves. I’m glad to see Brown get a chance and I hope Saturday was not a one-off for him.
Three, losing Alex Pietrangelo has no doubt hurt. While No. 7 was struggling to find his footing in Vegas, he’s still an important part of the team. Getting Brayden McNabb back was big after he missed 15 games. He came out and established a physical presence, blowing up Minnesota’s Kyle Rau Wednesday. Having him back to protect the front of the net and kill penalties is important.
The Knights do have depth on the blue line. Dylan Coghlan plays with more confidence each game, the hat trick Wednesday against Minnesota notwithstanding, and he’s not afraid to make a mistake. He’s earning his keep.
Then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury. He went from being inactive to having a key role in Friday’s win over the Blues in what must’ve been a surreal 24 hours for him. After he tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, had to isolate in his hotel room, then learning he had a false positive test and ultimately returning to the ice, all without his normal prep.
We know hockey players are creatures of habit and whenever you jerk with their routine, it usually results in a subpar performance. Not with Fleury. It was as if he merely had Thursday off, which might’ve been the case normally anyhow, and he turned in another superb effort in beating the Blues twice, a team that like Minnesota and Colorado, causes matchup problems for the Knights.
For Fleury to play as well as he did speaks to his professionalism and skill, not to mention his experience in handling adversity.
There’s still a lot of unanswered questions as the team returns home to face San Jose Monday and Wednesday. We don’t know the extent of Pietrangelo’s injury or how long he is truly expected to be out. We’re not sure how long Carrier will be out either, though his absence can be compensated for much easier than Pietrangelo’s.
Will Glass respond as he tries to keep his spot on the roster? Will Kolesar ever score? He’s getting Grade-A chances but he can’t put them away.
And when will we see Robin Lehner again? Read on to find out.
But for now, the Knights handled the adversity of the road trip well and they are still the team to beat in the division, even if they didn’t look like it at times in the last few days.
We had a lot of things stacked against us; six games in 10 nights and all the stuff we dealt with on the road — from being kicked out of our hotel to the false positive tests — to end up coming out the end of this trip 4-2 in some tough buildings is a great road trip. -DeBoer
Will Lehner bounce back?
At some point, Lehner will appear in a Golden Knights uniform, skate out onto the ice and play a game in goal.
When that point comes, nobody really knows. But the fact he’s back skating and practicing, albeit with the Silver Knights, is an encouraging sign. How encouraging? Maybe we see him this coming week on the road later this coming week against Los Angeles, the team he last faced back on Feb. 7.
We’ll likely never know the truth was to what got him put on long-term injured reserve and I’m not going to speculate as to what happened. Maybe after the season he’ll talk about it, but it’s important to focus on looking ahead. Because the reality is the Golden Knights are going to need a healthy Lehner, playing well, if they are serious about winning a Stanley Cup.
Yes, we know running Fleury into the ground isn’t going to result in a parade down the Strip even though Fleury continues to defy logic with his stellar, consistent play. You need two good goalies playing well.
That was the intent when the team gave Lehner the security he was seeking. A five-year, $25 million deal was supposed to put his mind at ease, get him comfortable and feel like he finally had a home and not play looking over his shoulder.
But given what has transpired, how well Fleury has played and how much Lehner has not played, there is a different kind of pressure on Lehner to respond and perform well whenever DeBoer puts him in net. He is going to have to be consistent and give his team the same chance to win that Fleury has so far.
Remember DeBoer’s “All bets are off” comment before training camp? Well all bets are off that statement. It’s Fleury’s net and it’s up to Lehner to earn his minutes, win the coach’s and his teammates’ trust and be the goalie the Knights know he’s capable of being.
The Knights have 31 games remaining in the regular season. Lehner is going to play an important role in how they perform over the second half of the season and perhaps the playoffs.
**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.**