Golden Knights looking to get healthy, reestablish identity

Vegas Golden Knights center Michael Amadio (22) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal...
Vegas Golden Knights center Michael Amadio (22) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)(Nam Y. Huh | AP)
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 3:15 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - The Golden Knights are Stanley Cup playoff spectators instead of participants for the first time in franchise history and are now in the process of self-reflection, as they begin what will be their longest offseason in existence.

General Manager Kelly McCrimmon said in September of 2021 before training camp, that this was the best roster the VGK franchise had ever assembled.

“It’s hard to imagine because we never saw it.,” explained McCrimmon. “We came out of training camp this year and I remember saying, ‘Boy I think that Carrier-Roy-Kolesar is going to be a great fourth line for us. They’re going to give us a real identity.’ I think it took till game 78 to see it and they made it two periods. To have the identity of the team that you want you do the best job of accumulating the personnel that you can, you trust your systems, you trust your coaches. No player has to do it all, that’s how this team is built. We never saw it because of the continuity in lineups, lines, it just wasn’t there.”

Year five of the franchise will always be remembered as the first time VGK missed the playoffs, as well as the injuries that led to a season of failure. Vegas had more than 500 man-games lost due to injury. Teams who had similar numbers, all finished last in their respective division.

“It bled into being a four-line team, play the way we want to play, take over games with pressure,” explained Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer. “Do those things, and play the type of hockey Vegas is used to playing, like you saw in the playoffs with Colorado and Minnesota and some of the runs we’ve been on. There are always things there, but everything bled from that.”

“Down the stretch we played with 11 forwards, we’ve always been a team that’s relied on four lines,” said Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty. “Our identity on that fourth line, you see them year after year, they were starting games for us, almost every game at one point. Especially at T-Mobile we had a bunch of big bodies around, getting the crowd into it, banging guys into the glass, maybe the Zamboni door would rattle a little bit and the fans get into it. That’s our identity right there, playing fast and playing for each other. I think when guys are playing more minutes, you can’t play the way we want to play, it’s just impossible. That’s why we took pride in being a four-line team, we had to get away from due to the injury problem.”

The gold standard in Vegas will always be the inaugural Golden Knights team that reached the Stanley Cup Final. Fans and players alike admit that first season will never be replicated due to the success amid all the unusual circumstances, but the Golden Knights believe the style of play then, can and should be brought back to the Fortress.

“I think one of the big things for our club is reestablishing that identity,” said Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez. “I think we got away from that a little bit. I’ve been on the receiving end of it in LA and just a high-speed, always back down your throat. I’d come into this building knowing I’d be put in the first row about three times in the first period. There is an element of that I think we can really bring back. Not just the physicality, but the speed. There is no harder thing to defend than speed, but if you also have in the back of your mind that the next shift you have a line that’s going to put you in the first row, eating nachos, it makes you think. I think maybe we’ve gotten away from that and need to bring that style back a little bit, bring back a little more emotion.”

“What was our identity the first year?” asked forward Jonathan Marchessault. “Hard working team, tough building to come play in, resilient, never take defeat, we’re never out of the fight. I don’t think we were that this year. Maybe it’s on a guy like me, maybe guys who have been here since day one have let it slip. I think it’s on us, the veteran group we have here, to make sure we’re hard to play against every night and I don’t think we were this year.”

The Golden Knights recognize the extra time off will allow guys to get healthy, but Captain Mark Stone says the team also needs a mental reset, and use this as a humbling experience to come back hungrier next season.

“We’ve added great players over the years into our lineup, I think we let that slip a little bit, that we were just going to win with great players,” explained Stone. “The last two years, there were games at T-Mobile where the game was over in five minutes, we were up two, three-nothing, putting teams on their heals and I think we have to get back to having that killer instinct mindset. Outwork your opponent and then when you have the skill of players we have and you get that work ethic, it’s going to be a tough team to beat.”

“We just have to get back to being the relentless team that we can be,” said forward William Karlsson. “I look in the locker room and there is not a doubt in my mind we can get back to that. For the opponent it’s like wave after wave coming after them and that’s why we’ve been successful too. I think we lost that a little bit, and try to get back to that. Yeah it comes down to effort, but it’s also the creativity as well along with the effort.”

“We have everything to prove, and everyone feels like we are good enough, to first make the playoffs, then compete for the cup. I feel very hungry and I think a lot of the guys feel the same and go out and prove next year this was just a lesson learned.”