Three questions facing Vegas Golden Knights

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.

1. Can the Golden Knights do it all over again?

As we’ve mentioned once or twice today, the Golden Knights were a huge surprise last year. They had regular season success and playoff success. Everything seemed to work. They ended up having a killer first line, their defensemen performed extremely well as a group and they got solid goaltending from a number of different goalies.

The Golden Knights have already stated that the shootings in Vegas near the start of the hockey year helped motivate them throughout the year. Also, the fact that they all had a chip on their shoulder because they were all set aside by their former teams.

Recreating the season they had in 2017-18 isn’t going to be easy. Finding the motivation to start from scratch and do it all over again is easier said than done. The roster underwent some changes this off-season, as they signed Paul Stastny from Winnipeg. They also lost David Perron and James Neal. Those are two significant losses that won’t be easy to replace.

[2017-18 Review | Under Pressure: Tatar | Breakthrough: Karlsson]

A lot of things have to go right for the Golden Knights to go back to the Stanley Cup Final, but they showed that they’re capable of playing at a high-level for an entire hockey season plus playoffs. There’s a lot of work for them to do, but head coach Gerard Gallant and GM George Mcphee have pushed all the right buttons once, they can do it again.

“I think we can play even better,” McPhee said, per NHL.com. “There was an opportunity for a lot of guys to play regularly and play higher in the lineup, and a lot of them developed. The development in the playoffs can make you a much better player than you’ve ever been, and so we expect the guys to come back next September and that group should be better.”

2. Will the line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault be as productive as they were last year?

Karlsson, Smith and Marchessault were an unexpected trio that ended up working out perfectly. When they were together, they played extremely well. Karlsson led the team in goals (43) and points (78), Marchessault added 75 points of his own and Smith contributed 60 points.

The line was way better when they played together. When they were apart, each player had a CF% below 50 percent. Together, they were able to dominate possession and overwhelm teams with their speed and offensive talents.

You’d have to think that playing almost a full year together would only help further develop the chemistry they built up. The numbers they posted last year suggest that they can continue being one of the best lines in the division, the conference and in the league.

For the Golden Knights to be one of the elite teams in the West, again in 2018-19, they’ll need this line to perform at the highest level. Thankfully for that line, they have a pretty good supporting cast. Erik Haula, Stastny, Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and Tomas Tatar are all capable of chipping in offensively, too.

The top line will have to do most of the heavy lifting, but they did that for year and there’s no reason to think that they can’t do it all over in 2018-19.

3. Can Marc-Andre Fleury still handle a heavy workload?

Fleury was one of the big reasons why the Golden Knights were able to go on a long playoff run. He was outstanding in the first round and he was able to keep it going for most of the postseason. He finished the playoffs with a 13-7 record with a 2.24 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

The 33-year-old also missed 25 games early on in the regular season because of a concussion. That limited him to just 46 appearances in 2017-18. The veteran has now suited up in 46 and 38 games over the last two seasons. Is he capable of handling a bigger workload? That’s the biggest question mark between the pipes for the Golden Knights. On the flip side, playing fewer games during the regular season could’ve led to him being fresher during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Last year, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace did a solid job while Fleury was on the shelf. The odds of them being able to accomplish that again is unlikely. Vegas will need their starter to perform at a high level if they want to be one of the elite teams in the conference and the league.

McPhee rewarded Fleury with a three-year, $21 million contract extension this summer. It’ll be up to him to live up to the new deal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blackhawks F Katchouk will be sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced Sunday.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.