After a bumpy start to their second season, the news has been mostly good for the Vegas Golden Knights lately.
By beating the surprisingly feisty Islanders 3-2 on Thursday, Vegas is now measurably hot, winning nine of their last 11 games. Plenty of underlying numbers indicate that this could very well be a team to stay, or at least one that can really make opponents uncomfortable with their frenetic pace.
Unfortunately, you can also see a red flag pop up for the Golden Knights here and there.
Few players fit the dichotomy of the Golden Knights’ short-term/long-term situation quite like Marc-Andre Fleury.
On one hand, “MAF” has put together a commendable 2018-19 so afar, a run that makes it easier to accept his middling save percentage of .909. While his individual stats have been up and down (just check his strong November vs. weak October and December), Fleury’s been an absolute workhorse, appearing in 29 of Vegas’ 33 games. He edges Craig Anderson for the most games played and minutes played so far this season, and both goalies are getting up there in age and wear-and-tear (Anderson is 37, Fleury is 34).
The Athletic’s Jesse Granger notes the troubling history for workhorses in recent postseasons (sub required):
Of the 13 starting goaltenders that have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the beginning of the salary cap era in 2005, none played more than 70 games in the regular season. In fact, only two of the 13 played more than 60 games. Fleury is currently on pace to play 72.
Last season, we saw wizard-like Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (now 24) and eventual champion Braden Holtby (now 29) admit that they were worn down, and both of those netminders have faced way fewer pucks over their careers than “The Flower.”
To some extent, this might be part of Gerard Gallant’s M.O. with goalies. During his years with the Florida Panthers, he seemed comfortable with leaning fairly heavily on Roberto Luongo, who logged 61 and 62 GP at ages 35 and 36. That’s not monstrous, yet it’s also more than ideal; it feels akin to an NFL team handing far too many carries to a RB, arguably shortening that runner’s career in the process. Could Luongo’s workload partially explain his health struggles? Maybe.
This isn’t to say Gallant is outrageous, as Malcolm Subban‘s really struggled this season, generating a lousy .859 save percentage in five appearances. It would be easier to criticize Gallant’s choices if he … had other good ones.
Still, there’s likely a safer medium between throwing away starts (if Subban can’t rebound) and running MAF into the ground, as Friday game against the Devils represents Fleury’s 12th consecutive start.
The Fleury situation is far from the only curious one, as it seemed like Max Pacioretty might be a healthy scratch. After some digging, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen unearthed that Pacioretty might sit instead of playing through an injury:
At this point, the goal is to parse coach-speak. After all, Schoen reports that Gallant said that “there’s nothing wrong” with Pacioretty. That could mean that this is merely a minor issue, or it could mean that it would have been more of a coach’s decision.
Overall, it’s still a situation to watch. Pacioretty has absolutely had his relative struggles during his first campaign with Vegas. “Patches” only managed two goals and zero assists through 10 October games, but seemed to right the ship with 16 points in his last 18 contests. Granted, in the last three games, Pacioretty was held without a shot on goal twice (though he managed four SOG in that other contest), so maybe there are subtle signs of struggle.
It’s a bummer for hockey dorks (raises hand) that Pacioretty could miss Friday’s game, as Paul Stastny is slated to finally return. Many of us were intrigued by the prospect of seeing a seemingly rejuvenated Pacioretty with Stastny, particularly since Alex Tuch has been pretty fantastic since he got back into the swing of things upon recovering from his own injury.
Alas, it looks like we’ll need to wait a little longer, unless the Golden Knights decide to let him play through his minor injury and/or minor struggles.
Overall, things are looking up for the Golden Knights, but they’re not perfect. Luckily for Vegas, you could say that about virtually every other team, including Friday’s opponent in New Jersey.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.