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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.