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Golden Knights have high expectations once again

LAS VEGAS — Expectations for the Vegas Golden Knights remain as high as ever two years after reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

With the potential for having its most talented roster yet, in the franchise’s third season, the team expects to challenge in the Western Conference once again.

”We know we got a good hockey team where if we play well we’ll have a chance to win a lot of hockey games,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. ”I think our team gets better every year on paper, but you gotta do it on the ice. It’s one game at a time and go out and play the game and hope to stay injury free.”

One player eager to start the season is defenseman Nate Schmidt, who missed the first 20 games last year while serving a suspension for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Schmidt has been all smiles this year and the liveliest player in the locker room.

”I told Turk (Gallant) I’ll play all seven (preseason) games if it could delete what happened last year in comparison, because it just feels good to be back,” Schmidt said. ”Preseason or not, it feels good to be back in the mix with the guys.”

The feeling is likely mutual as Vegas opened last season 8-11-1 without Schmidt then went on a 19-4-3 tear when he rejoined the team.

WHO’S HERE: Schmidt, G Marc-Andre Fleury, F William Karlsson, RW Mark Stone, LW Jonathan Marchessault.

WHO’S NOT: F Erik Haula, C Ryan Carpenter, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

KEY PLAYERS: The Golden Knights closed their 2018 season on an 11-6-2 run after Mark Stone arrived via trade with Ottawa. He had five goals and six assists in the 18 games but he really came to life during the team’s seven-game series with San Jose, registering six goals and six assists. His 25 overall games with Vegas was a mere preview of what the team can expect with him in uniform the entire season.

”There’s no secret to how he plays, he’s just the smartest guy out there,” Jonathan Marchessault said. ”He makes everybody look better, and I think that’s probably the best quality to have as a hockey player.”

Stone, Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Karlsson, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny comprise the top six. Third-line forward Cody Eakin is coming off a career-best 22 goals and 41 points and should be motivated entering the final year of his contract. The 28-year-old downplayed the need for a second straight breakout season, but his performance could dictate where he lands next year.

”When you play the right way, team first, you get rewarded and that’s really what it’s all about when it comes to winning hockey games,” Eakin said.

On defense, Dylan Coghlan may have emerged as the dark horse during the preseason, as the hard-shooting prospect has shown offensive potential that would bolster a third pairing on the blue line.

OUTLOOK: The scoring is there for the Golden Knights, the defensive pairings are solid, and it could come down to the 34-year-old Fleury. Last year he started 34 of Vegas’ first 40 games, including 13 straight during one stretch.

”Common sense says you don’t want to play him as much as you played him in the past, but we’re gonna see how the schedule goes and see how he’s going and see how he’s playing and we’ll go from there,” Gallant said.

Gallant said he’ll confer with goaltender coach Dave Prior on who will be in net each game, and that Fleury has input on his playing time.

”We have a plan,” Fleury said. ”I try to manage my body throughout the season to rest maybe and recover better than I used to.”

PREDICTION: Everyone in the locker room has said it’s time to turn the page. The Golden Knights held a 3-1 series lead in the first round against San Jose last year and a commanding 3-0 lead in Game 7 before losing to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime. It still stings, and Vegas wants revenge. With a healthy lineup, among the best forward groups in the league and Fleury in net, another Western Conference Final is certainly possible.

Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

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New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont Park race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena by Belmont Park which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.