**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.**
Every hockey team has to deal with injuries. But the successful ones manage theirs better.
The Golden Knights have been tested earlier than most teams. They started this season without forwards Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, two key components. Then they lost defenseman Nate Schmidt on opening night after he and San Jose’s Logan Couture collided in the 1st period.
And of course, no injury report would be complete without including goaltender Malcom Subban, who got hurt Thursday in Arizona and forcing Marc-Andre Fleury to work on what was supposed to be a night off.
The Knights’ ability to manage their injuries has varied in their brief existence. They somehow were able to survive after Fleury sustained a concussion early in the inaugural season and wound up missing two months. They also lost Subban and Oscar Dansk during that time too.
And they always seem to manage to compensate whenever William Carrier self-destructs and goes on Injured Reserve. Carrier’s style of play lends himself to getting hurt but to ask him to adjust and play it safe would make him ineffective. He was superb Saturday in the 6-2 win over Calgary, registering a goal and an assist in what was the first multi-point game of his career. He has to play the way he does so you live with the consequences.
You could look at Schmidt’s 20 games missed due to suspension last year as an injury because it forced others to fill the gaps, something the defense didn’t do a particularly good job of. The team struggled without him. And with Schmidt out for who knows how long, once again, the defense is under the microscope.
The hope was the youngsters — Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, perhaps Dylan Coghlan or Jake Bischoff would step up and play well enough to solidify things. So far, that hasn’t manifested itself. Coghlan started the season in the minors, Schuldt joined him Friday, Bischoff got recalled from the Wolves, Hague has not distinguished himself and who knows how long Gerard Gallant sticks with him?
There was some good news from the infirmary. Eakin returned to the lineup Saturday against the Flames and the Knights will welcome his ability in the faceoff circle to win draws, to kill penalties and, most important, spearhead a tenacious forecheck and create turnovers.
If there was a common thread in the losses to Boston and Arizona, it was the lack of a strong forecheck game by the Knights’ forwards. When the forecheck is working, the game becomes vastly different. Opposing teams can’t transition as easily from defense to offense. Scoring opportunities suddenly emerge. The ice gets tilted in Vegas’ favor.
Eakin helps provide that with his tenacity.
But his return Saturday created a ripple effect throughout the lineup. With Eakin centering the third line, it meant Paul Stastny was reunited with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone on the second line. It also meant Gallant had to find a spot for Cody Glass, who started well playing with Pacioretty and Stone.
Glass found himself on the wing along with Valentin Zykov playing third-line minutes with Eakin. You may recall the preseason experiment of playing Glass on right-wing which lasted all of one period. Gallant doesn’t want to take Glass out of the lineup. But he also can’t not play Eakin. And to put Glass on the fourth line centering for Carrier and Ryan Reaves would be counterproductive to his development.
So this is a tough call for Gallant, not to mention GM Kelly McCrimmon and president George McPhee. They can’t afford to destroy Glass’ confidence if they play him out of position or with players he’s not going to be able to elevate their play by himself.
But if they send him back to Chicago, what kind of message is that to Glass?
Perhaps Glass is smart enough to adjust and can play effectively as a third-line winger. I have my concerns. It’s a huge adjustment because your responsibilities and positioning at both ends of the ice are totally different.
That said, he had a solid game against the Flames. He made plays along the wall. He found open spots on the ice to maneuver and see the play. He appeared to be comfortable alongside Eakin and Gallant gave him a certain amount of rope to play with some freedom and the result was he scored the Knights’ sixth and final goal, a fluke job that caromed off a Calgary defenseman and past a shaky David Rittich who probably thought Halloween had come early and he was forced to wear a Martin Jones costume.
But as I watch this team this week, I’ve got other concerns. The biggest is Subban. I’ve been saying for three years now that his durability has been a question mark and this latest injury, which appeared to be a lower-body of some sort, could be forcing Fleury to play more than originally planned.
Could Oscar Dansk actually give Fleury a night off depending on how long Subban’s out? Maybe. But circumstances and the schedule would likely determine if that happens.
Subban has not been put on IR yet, which is a huge positive given his previous injuries put him on the shelf for extended periods his first two seasons with VGK. But someone could’ve made some money running a Malcolm Subban Injury Pool, much like some entrepreneur would be wise to start a Will Carrier Injury Pool. You just knew it would happen at some point with Subban.
I was a bit concerned about William Karlsson’s inability to take faceoffs. I’d like a dollar for every time Jonathan Marchessault would chase Wild Bill out of the circle and take the draw himself the first two seasons. I want my center at the dot and winning faceoffs, not on the edge of the circle.
Last year, Karlsson was 47.6% at the dot in participating in 1,234 draws. The year before, he was at a 48% clip (837 face-offs). For his NHL career, Karlsson is just below 47% on draws. As a team, the Knights were middle of the NHL pack in 2018-19 on faceoffs at 50.4%. Going into Saturday’s game with the Flames, they were next to last at 45%. Only Colorado (44.7%) is worse and the Avalanche have a former Knight, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, taking faceoffs for them this season.
I always harp on the importance of winning faceoffs and while some of you may disagree (cough, Ken) that it’s not important, my response is always: “Would you rather be the team with possession of the puck? Or would you prefer to be the team chasing all over the ice to gain possession?”
Fortunately, Wild Bill was back taking draws Saturday. And guess what? He was Vegas’ best centerman, winning 9 of 16 faceoffs (56%).
I asked Gallant after the game what happened and how Karlsson was suddenly magically OK:
He’s over his issues. Everything is good. -Gallant
So there’s some more good news.
You can be certain more injuries will happen in the coming days and weeks. So far, the Knights are managing their injuries in a positive way. Nick Holden has improved by leaps and bounds and he is arguably the team’s best defenseman at the moment. Glass did OK playing as a third-line winger. Eakin’s return is a huge plus. And Fleury was Fleury, making 33 saves, including a spectacular stretch late in the 2nd period when Calgary was on a power play trailing 4-2 and threatening to pull within one.
But the overriding factor to all of this is effort. When the Knights outwork their opponent, when they forecheck the way they did Saturday, when the forwards come back and help the defensemen, thy can win with whatever lineup Gallant puts out there.
Let’s see if that’s the case today in Los Angeles.
**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.**