The Golden Knights never could have anticipated the curveballs thrown their way in the first third of the season. And they were expecting quite a few.
The team played an entire game without its NHL coaching staff. It had a player get pulled midway through a game because of a positive COVID-19 test. It started an outdoor game in Lake Tahoe, played a period, then took a break of longer than eight hours before resuming.
To say there have been challenges would be an understatement. Still, the Knights are in a good position 18 games into their 56-game season.
They lead the West Division by a point with 27 despite playing four fewer games than second-place St. Louis. They have the third-best goal differential in the NHL at plus-16. More things are going right than wrong.
“The good news is we’re finding ways to win games,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “We’ve only lost four (in regulation), and that’s a testament to how our players are dealing with all those things.”
There are still areas to parse and nitpick as the Knights seek their third division title in four seasons and their first Stanley Cup. Here are their grades for the first period:
Listed by points
Mark Stone — The team can’t ask for much more from its captain. Stone ranks seventh in the NHL in assists with 18, and his 1.22 points per game are a career high.
Max Pacioretty — He’s one of 21 players with at least 10 goals, meaning he’s on pace for his seventh 30-goal season despite the condensed schedule.
William Karlsson — He said during training camp he wanted to score more goals. He hasn’t drastically improved there, but his points per game (0.78) is the highest it’s been since the Knights’ inaugural season.
Jonathan Marchessault — He’s shooting less than he ever has in Las Vegas, but it hasn’t affected his production. It will be interesting to see if defenses adjust to that and whether Marchessault can take advantage.
Chandler Stephenson — He’s tied with Stone for the best goal differential (plus-8) on the team at five-on-five. He’s an unflashy cog that helps make the Knights’ machine go.
Reilly Smith — He was never going to match his production from last season after scoring a career-high 27 goals. Still, seven points in 18 games is low for a top-six forward.
Keegan Kolesar — Positive: The rookie has created a lot of scoring chances in the past eight games. Negative: He still doesn’t have his first goal. His time might be coming soon.
Nicolas Roy — He was a healthy scratch Monday after a slow offensive start. He has one goal and one assist through 17 games as a sophomore.
William Carrier — He and his linemates aren’t controlling possession like they normally do, though they’ve shown signs of improvement lately. They still have more to give.
Ryan Reaves — He admitted before Saturday’s game that he and his linemates have to be better. Neither he nor Carrier has a goal.
Grade: Three out of five sticks
The Knights’ top-end talent has largely delivered. Stone, Pacioretty and Tuch are off to excellent starts on the wings, and Karlsson and Stephenson have been solid in the middle. The questions come lower in the lineup. The Knights have outscored opponents 27-16 with Karlsson or Stephenson on the ice at five-on-five and been outscored 15-9 without them. They need better play when their top two centers are on the bench.
Listed by points
Shea Theodore — He is tied for second in points per game among defensemen (minimum two games) with 0.93, along with Colorado’s Cale Makar. Norris and Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay is first.
Alec Martinez — He averages the second-most ice time on the team because of his solid all-around game. He’s been a key addition since arriving in February 2020.
Alex Pietrangelo — He hasn’t been a Norris contender to this point. But the Knights know from experience that it can take time for even high-profile acquisitions to adjust to a new team.
Nic Hague — He’s shown growth from his rookie season. His defense looks better, and his offense is up.
Zach Whitecloud — He has to rank among the Knights’ most consistent players every game. He’s solid and trustworthy is all three zones.
Nick Holden — He was a good soldier after being waived for salary cap reasons. He’s been solid when in the lineup.
Grade: Four out of five pucks
This group gets high marks even though Pietrangelo hasn’t consistently looked like an All-Star. Theodore has been extremely impressive, and young players have stepped into key roles. The blue line has also shown a tremendous amount of depth. The Knights have weathered absences from Pietrangelo, Theodore and McNabb and shown almost no ill effects.
Listed by starts
Marc-Andre Fleury — He had an off night Monday, but his save percentage (.935) and goals-against average (1.77) are still impeccable. He’s in the early-season Vezina conversation.
Robin Lehner — He’s had a rough start after signing a five-year extension in the offseason. His first five starts weren’t great coming off offseason shoulder surgery, and he’s been hurt since with an upper-body injury.
Grade: Five out of five nets
Lehner hasn’t had a good start, but it’s still impossible to give out anything less than perfect marks here because Fleury has been that good. The Knights rank second in team save percentage (.921) because of him. The only question is how long can the 36-year-old keep it up if he needs to play every game.
Power play — The Knights rank 16th (20.7 percent), a large improvement after they started 2-for-20 in their first six games. They could still use more consistency. Five of the team’s 12 power-play goals have come in two games.
Penalty kill — This has turned into a real area of strength under DeBoer. The Knights rank fourth (87.5 percent) and have given up two power-play goals in a game just once. It helps that the team ranks 30th in minor penalties taken.
Grade: Four out of five penalty boxes
The penalty killing — and lack of penalty taking — have been outstanding. The power play can be better, but it’s shown improvement in the past seven games. The Knights have to be happy with how things stand here.