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3 storylines to follow as Knights prepare for stretch run

Updated February 3, 2024 - 10:04 am

The Golden Knights will keep enjoying their time off as several NHL stars take center stage in Toronto this weekend.

Center Jack Eichel was supposed to be the Knights’ lone representative in the All-Star Game on Saturday. Instead, his surgery for a lower-body injury will leave the club with no dog in the fight.

That’s just fine for a Knights team in need of some rest. They were tied for the most games played in the league when they began their break after a 5-2 loss to Detroit on Jan. 27. They get to kick up their feet until they play the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights have 32 regular-season games remaining, though the defending Stanley Cup champions expect to play well into the summer once again. Here are some potential storylines for the stretch run:

1. Shape up for the postseason

The Knights are in good position to qualify for the playoffs.

They have an eight-point lead on fourth-place Los Angeles for one of the Pacific Division’s three guaranteed spots. They’re also 10 points up on the Nashville Predators, who would be the first team left out of the wild-card mix as of Friday.

The key for the Knights now is getting healthy by the time the postseason begins.

Center William Karlsson has been activated off long-term injured reserve and could be in the lineup for the team’s game Tuesday. Karlsson hasn’t played since Jan. 1 with a foot injury.

There has been no clear indications of when Eichel could return. The ESPN broadcast of the Knights-New York Rangers game Jan. 26 did say coach Bruce Cassidy believes Eichel could return in late February or early March.

Defenseman Shea Theodore (upper body) and left wing William Carrier (shoulder) are recovering from injuries as well.

The Knights will want to get everyone back before the playoffs to give themselves time to build chemistry before the stakes soar.

2. Goalie rotation

The Knights hoped to have close to an even platoon in net this season between 2023 All-Star Logan Thompson and postseason hero Adin Hill.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

Hill missed a significant stretch of games with a lower-body injury. Thompson was left on his own for much of the first half, doing his best to keep the Knights in games despite dealing with aches and pains of his own.

Hill returned before the break and has been tremendous when he’s in the net. He leads the NHL in save percentage (.936) and goals-against average (1.94) among goaltenders with at least five starts.

Hill may deserve more than 50 percent of the Knights’ starts if he keeps that up. Cassidy will have to decide what his ideal rotation looks like if both netminders can stay healthy throughout the second half.

3. Northern threat

The Knights, while in a good spot to make the playoffs, have work to do to win the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed again.

There are two rivals from the north that have a shot to win the Pacific Division this season. They could even bump the Knights to third place and force them to start the postseason on the road.

First-place Vancouver has a seven-point lead on the Knights and still has a game in hand. The Canucks also bolstered their roster Wednesday by making a trade for Calgary center Elias Lindholm.

Third-place Edmonton is also hot on the Knights’ heels. The Oilers have won 16 straight ahead of their visit to Las Vegas on Tuesday. They would tie an NHL record for the longest win streak with a victory against the Knights.

Edmonton, after a disastrous 3-9-1 start that got coach Jay Woodcroft fired, is 26-6 under replacement Kris Knoblauch. The Oilers are five points behind the Knights with five games in hand and have a chance to cut the lead to three on Tuesday.

Both teams will be threats down the stretch as the teams jockey for playoff seeding. And the Knights could see one or both teams in the postseason’s first two rounds.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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