Before we get into the hockey stuff, today is Veteran's Day and I would like to thank all of the veterans AND active duty military personnel (and their families) for their dedication, honor, and sacrifices made for their country. You are always in our minds and our hearts. The Golden Knights will honor the veterans on Wednesday, November 13 during their game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
With Game No. 19 in the books, the Vegas Golden Knights find themselves mired in a rough patch, without a clear-cut path to success. Although they find themselves in a tie for third with the Vancouver Canucks, the team can't be happy with a losing record. Sitting at a mediocre 9-7-3, the Golden Knights need their veterans to take the reins and right the ship.
Boasting a good mix of young, energetic players and grizzled veterans, the Golden Knights expect better results. They have many proven winners, with years of NHL experience, up and down their lineup. In honor of Veteran's Day, let's take a look at a few VGK vets and how they've performed thus far.
For this exercise, I will be using players with over 8 seasons or 500 games of NHL hockey under their belt.
Paul Stastny, USA Today Sports
Stastny is known as the dependable two-way center, among the tremendous center depth of the team. Stastny is strong in the faceoff circle while primarily centering the second line. He's been flanked by Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, two ultra-talented wingers. That line has been the best forward line, both statistically and by the eye test. Their consistency is key for the Golden Knights.
Going into the numbers, Stastny has posted respectable counting stats. Through 19 games played, he has nine points (5 goals, 4 assists), with four of those goals and two of his assists coming on the Power Play. His linemates surely benefit from his two-way play, leading the way in points scored. His underlying stats look good, with an even-strength Corsi For % of 55.4% and a Corsi-rel of 6.2.
Nick Holden, USA Today Sports
Together with Jon Merrill, Holden has formed the best defense pair to start the season. While Nate Schmidt was hurt the Holden-Merrill pair surprisingly gave the Golden Knights some stability in his absence. As of late, they have not been as good, but have not been the "problem" with club.
Holden was a surprise to make the team out of camp, as he spent much of the 2018-19 season as a healthy scratch. Nonetheless, he has suited up in every game this season. While he has been just fine in his own end, his limited upside is less-than-ideal for a team struggling to find offense and wins. His game is very vanilla and he may need to be replaced at some point for a spark.
Max Pacioretty with Paul Stastny, USA Today Sports
The man they call Patches shares the team lead in points with his linemate Stone (6 goals, 10 assists). He has been a focal point of the Power Play, setting up for one-timers in the low, right faceoff circle. He's never been known for his defense, so seeing the points rack up is important for Pacioretty.
Dating back to the preseason, Pacioretty has seemed faster, quicker, and more aggressive on the ice. He has been hits more often and aggressively than in past seasons. For a brief stint, he and Stone served as linemates and mentors to rookie sensation Cody Glass, in Cody Eakin's absence. Pacioretty has performed as expected thus far and has recorded a point in 12 of his 19 games played.
Reilly Smith, USA Today Sports
For the past two seasons, Reilly Smith has been the unsung hero of the Vegas Golden Knights. His willingness to play in the dirty areas, engage in an aggressive forecheck, and kill penalties has been extremely valuable to the team. His work in the corners has been crucial in opening up ice for his fellow first-liners, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.
Smith already has 10 goals this season, more than halfway to his 2018-19 total of 19. He has been "Mr. Reliable" for his previous three teams in his career and his stay in Vegas has been no different. He and Karlsson wreak havoc on the PK with their speed and tenacity. While his linemates have struggled to score at their previous efficiency, Smith has arguably been the best player in the Golden Knights' first 19 games.
Ryan Reaves, USA Today Sports
By now, we all know who Ryan Reaves is and what he's looking to do when he's on the ice. He's the last of a dying breed, an enforcer. Not many teams in the NHL employ a guy with that skillset, but the Golden Knights have suited Reaves up in every game this season, even amid offensive struggles. Reaves makes an impact on the forecheck and plays a strong physical game, but more skilled guys are also serving that role. Guys like Wayne Simmonds, Tom Wilson, and Michael Ferland are the new "tough guys" of the NHL.
While Reaves isn't an offensive dynamo, he does possess some puck skill and has found the net twice, adding one assist. It's hard to tell how long the Golden Knights can or will keep their current fourth line intact, while they're struggling to win games in Alex Tuch's continued absence. If the third line isn't producing, which it isn't, the team needs a fourth line that can score. While Reaves and Co. do a fine job of puck possession, depth scoring will never be their speciality. Reaves has done exactly what you'd expect, dropping the mitts twice this year.
Cody Eakin, USA Today Sports
In a contract year, Cody Eakin has not been the player Golden Knights fans have come to know and love. Whether it's injury-related or not, something has been off with Eakin early on this season. His play has not been reminiscent of season's past and the general ineptitude of the third line has been detrimental when the top two lines are held in check.
His underlying stats have been pretty terrible, even with the versatile Glass on his wing. It is important to note that he missed the first four games of the season due to injury, but after 15 games, he does not look up to speed. His Corsi For % of 40.6% and Corsi-rel of negative-13.9 are atrocious and far below what a good two-way center of his caliber should record. The team's struggles are not solely on Eakin, but he has not been the reliable 3C he typically is.
Deryk Engelland, USA Today Sports
An aging veteran defenseman, who struggled last season, probably shouldn't have been resigned by the Golden Knights. While he is a good guy to have around the locker room, Deryk Engelland just isn't the on-ice defenseman the team needs him to be. He is often beat to the edge and has shockingly been paired with multiple rookie defenseman early on this season. He's looked at as the mentor, but his on-ice production simply isn't good enough.
He finally served as a healthy scratch in two games this season, something many have been calling for over the past year. In 2018-19 he drug down Shea Theodore and Schmidt's underlying stats and this season he was called upon to mentor and play with rookies. He wasn't set up for success and hasn't been strong. Engelland was kept around because he is one of the best penalty killers in the NHL, in Gerard Gallant's words, but that value hasn't outweighed his general struggles.
Marc-Andre Fleury, USA Today Sports
Flower has been great, there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. There have been multiple wins this season that were solely because of the effort given by Marc-Andre Fleury and the team has admitted as much. He has posted a decent stat line albeit with shaky team defense in front of him.
Fleury's 2.52 GAA and .920 Sv% are right in line with his career numbers of 2.56 GAA and .913 Sv%. Amazingly, he still has the ability to steal games, at 35-years-old, getting the Golden Knights by throughout their struggles. He's been the goalie of record in 14 of the 19 games, putting him on pace for 60 games. There's has been a push to get him rest, with even Oscar Dansk getting a start, but he remains the unquestioned number one in Vegas.
All-in-all the veterans have been a mixed bag of production. This mixed bag has led to mixed results on the ice. The talent is there, but the results have not been. Eventually a move will need to be made to get the team back on track. Whether it's a trade, a call up from the Wolves, or another big line shuffle, remaining stagnant hoping for a turnaround is a risky play. While they aren't in grave danger, the competition is better this season and they have far less wiggle room.
A Wednesday home game against the sputtering Chicago Blackhawks awaits, giving the Knights a golden opportunity to pick up a much-needed win. Some out-of-the-box thinking may be needed to snap out of this current funk. Tuch's impending return will also help, but his timeline has been kept fairly secret to this point. Only time will tell how good or bad this team is, but they are certainly underperforming out of the gate.
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