The Golden Knights back among the elite

They’re two points ahead of the Seattle Kraken and Los Angeles Kings in their division, and they’re only one point behind the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars for first place in the West.

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That doesn’t worry general manager Kelly McCrimmon, though.

« You just have to care about our team, » McCrimmon said Monday as he spied on the young players at the 2023 USA Hockey BioSteel Top Prospects Game in suburban Detroit. “I think that’s what’s most important. »

The Golden Knights finished their first half of the season with a 27-12-2 record. They are now 28-15-2 after picking up just one win in their last four games, all played at home.

But they’re on course for a playoff return after missing the spring game last season for the first time since joining the NHL in 2017-18.

It will be up to them to complete the job.

“We got 27 wins in the first half (of the season), noted McCrimmon. I don’t know if we’ll be able to replicate that in the second half of the schedule, but there will probably be 21, 22 or 23 teams trying to find a playoff spot.

« That’s our goal, and you can’t look too far ahead, because it’s hard to win in this league. Everyone wants to win.

« I don’t look at other teams in our section or our association as much as I look at ours. If we keep up the pace, there will be a place for us. »

The Golden Knights started the season on a high note with a 13-2-0 record. At this point, they were good first in the NHL.

It was an excruciating pace, but it energized everyone in Vegas.

Last season was plagued by injuries and the team finished three points behind the Nashville Predators and the last playoff spot in the West.

« When you’ve had a season like the one we had last year, a good start helps turn the page, » McCrimmon admitted.

Video: FLA@VGK: Eichel accelerates and beats Bobrovsky on breakaway

The Golden Knights have faced other challenges since.

The defender Alex Pietrangelo missed nine games for personal reasons, while the center Jack Eichel (13), striker Jonathan Marchessault (6) and defender Alex Martinez (4) have missed several games due to injuries.

The defenders Shea Theodore (16) and Zach Whitecloud (15) are currently on the sidelines, and captain Mark Stone missed the last two games. His absence should also be spread over a few weeks.

But there are several positives.

New head coach Bruce Cassidy will represent the Golden Knights in the 2023 Honda All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Fla. on Feb. 4 (3 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Its impact was particularly felt on the special teams. Last season, Vegas ranked 25th in powerplay (18.4 percent) and 21st in shorthandedness (77.4 percent). This season, Vegas ranks eighth (24.8 percent) and 16th (79.1 percent), respectively, in the two categories.

« I think he’s a very smart coach, » McCrimmon said. He pushes the guys and he holds the players accountable. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your role is on the team, he brings guys up to where they should be, and that’s what good coaches are able to do. He is a very solid coach and he does a great job with our team. »

The situation in net, which was the biggest question mark before the season, is another positive aspect. Logan Thompson is 18-12-1 with two shutouts, a 2.72 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. The reservist Adin Hill posts a record of 10-3-1 (2.61 – .909).

Thompson will also represent the Golden Knights in the All-Star Game and is expected to be a candidate for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL’s rookie of the year. His good work is deserved, he who was never drafted and who made his way through the ECHL and the American Hockey League.

« He jumped at the chance, » McCrimmon said. He is now 25 years old, but for me he has always been able to be a No. 1. He has always developed by improving, and the time has come for him to become a player of the NHL. »

Eichel has also become the player we know when he is healthy. He totals 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 32 games this season and he allows Vegas to count on a real number one center.

“It’s great to have him back in our lineup,” said the GM. He can change the look of a game with a single presence on the ice. He has this agility on skates and this unique talent. »

The Golden Knights have taken advantage of their depth to overcome injuries so far. But McCrimmon pointed to two things the team needs to watch: home record and health. With a 13-12-0 record at T-Mobile Arena, Vegas ranks 22nd in the League in point percentage (.520) at home.

« We have to be better at home, » insisted the boss. It’s something we want to focus on in the second half of the season.

“It’s all about health for me, in order to be able to use your best players. It allows you to have the necessary depth in each position. »

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