Without checking the Golden Knights’ stats page, who would you guess is the team’s playoff points leader heading into Game 3 vs. the Avalanche?
Considering the time Max Pacioretty‘s missed, you might cancel him out. And maybe realizing how much Pacioretty clicks with Mark Stone, maybe you’d guess Stone isn’t quite there. But even then, who would you guess.
Time’s up. The answer is … um, Mattias Janmark, with six points in eight playoff games. Hmm.
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Truly, kudos to Janmark, whose six playoff points include a hat trick from Game 7 vs. the Wild, highlighted by a bold first goal considering the do-or-die context:
That’s impressive stuff. But it’s still a little off-putting for the Golden Knights, especially considering that Ryan Graves’ Game 1 hit kept Janmark out of Game 2 vs. the Avalanche, and possibly beyond.
All due respect to Janmark and other supporting cast members, but the Golden Knights could really use more from their top two lines, starting with Game 3 vs. the Avalanche on Friday (10 P.M. ET; NBCSN).
Pacioretty’s return has helped, but Stone needs to throw in more
Whether he’s hobbled by a lower-body injury or not, Max Pacioretty’s made an impact since returning to the Vegas lineup. After their Game 7 win, Peter DeBoer spoke about the emotional impact of Pacioretty’s return.
Pete DeBoer on Max Pacioretty's impact-
"Just writing his name on the board for the lineup, I think, gave the group a lift."
"It changed everything, about our confidence, our confidence to score."
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) May 29, 2021
Players are judged for their production (and wins) most of all, and Pacioretty’s played as well as anyone can expect. So far, he’s a goal and two assists for a point-per-game in three playoff contests.
He’s creating a volume of chances, too, with nine shots on goal (or three per game).
So there’s hope there, and maybe that could hoist up Mark Stone, who’s currently mired in a four-game pointless slump. (Chandler Stephenson‘s offense comes and goes, especially when his wingers are hit-or-miss.)
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Of course, before Stone – Pacioretty developed dynamic duo chemistry, the Golden Knights were propelled by the trio of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith.
Heading into Game 3 vs. the Avalanche, the effort’s at least been there for the Golden Knights’ original top line. That manifested itself most obviously when Reilly Smith’s hard work resulted in a key goal in Game 2.
Some more quality with the quantity from Karlsson, Smith, Marchessault?
Maybe Smith, Marchessault, and Karlsson need to continue to hammer away at finding the right balance between quantity and quality?
It’s easy to beat up on Vegas for all of that volume, but sometimes it all works. (Carolina finally got a win vs. Tampa Bay in their Game 3, for example.) If nothing else, if you’re causing havoc in the other end, you might keep the puck away from top Avs threats such as Nathan MacKinnon.
(At least, if you’re careful not to get burned by lightning-fast Avs in transition.)
But maybe a bit more tweaking is in order. Take Jonathan Marchessault, for instance.
It’s a mix of good and bad news with Marchessault. The potentially explosive forward only has three points (1G, 2A) through nine playoff games; however, he has an assist in each of the past two contests.
And he’s generating chances. Marchessault’s fired 33 SOG in nine playoff games, including six SOG in two vs. Colorado. Ultimately, he hasn’t scored a goal since Game 2 vs. the Wild, so the VGK need more — particularly against the lethal Avs attack.
A chance to be underdogs again
Truthfully, it’s still kind of stunning that the Golden Knights are a legitimate contender in year four. Maybe most jarring is that they’ve probably gotten fairly used to it.
Even before the Avalanche built a 2-0 series lead heading into Game 3, the Golden Knights were somewhere between mild to considerable underdogs.
While this isn’t exactly a comfortable situation, it’s also a feeling that Marchessault’s line, in particular, can recall. So maybe that’s why he seemed to project confidence, as The Athletic’s Jesse Granger reports (sub required).
“This is the first time in four years that it feels like the first year,” Marchessault said. “Right now we’re in an underdog situation and we kind of have nothing to lose, really. The best team in the league is Colorado. So for us, we’re just trying to get there, try to surprise them, and take it one game at a time.”
Is everyone buying Marchessault’s attempt to cast the Golden Knights as “misfits” again? It may only really matter if they believe it.
AVALANCHE VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (COL leads 2-0) – series livestream link
Game 1: Avalanche 7, Golden Knights 1
Game 2: Avalanche 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 3: Fri. June 4: Avalanche at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4: Sun. June 6: Avalanche at Golden Knights, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Game 5: Tues. June 8: Golden Knights at Avalanche TBD
*Game 6: Thurs. June 10: Avalanche at Golden Knights TBD
*Game 7: Sat. June 12: Golden Knights at Avalanche TBD
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.