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Early injury woes can’t keep Knights from piling up wins

Updated November 7, 2023 - 7:11 pm

The Golden Knights team that took the ice Saturday — the one that demolished the 2022 Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche 7-0 — was missing three regulars in center Nicolas Roy and defensemen Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud.

Beyond that, defenseman Alec Martinez was so banged up afterward that he missed the Knights’ next game Sunday with an upper-body injury. It marked the third time in 13 games the team played without half of its normal blue line.

That somehow hasn’t mattered to the Knights. They’ve used nine defensemen, tied for second-most in the NHL, and have played without Roy the past six games. They still have the league’s best record at 11-1-1.

The Knights learned last season the importance of depth in winning a Cup. They’re getting the same lesson early this season, with young players stepping in to fill key roles.

“It’s good kind of getting their feet wet this early in a season,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “You never want guys to get hurt, but it gives other guys opportunities to build some confidence in their own game. Obviously, I think we know with last year how many guys you need over the course of a season, the course of the playoffs to step in and play well.”

Enough Knights players are hurting that there were 20 at Tuesday’s practice despite the team being given Monday off. Left wing Paul Cotter skated on two lines because center Chandler Stephenson was given another rest day to heal some bumps and bruises.

There is hope on the horizon, however.

Coach Bruce Cassidy said Martinez skated before the rest of the team Tuesday morning and should return Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings. Roy also hit the ice early, though Cassidy said he needs more time before rejoining the lineup.

One player who did practice with the Knights is Whitecloud. The 26-year-old has yet to play this season after suffering an upper-body injury that required surgery in the preseason. Tuesday was Whitecloud’s second time working out with the team, as he also took part in Saturday’s morning skate.

Both times he wore a red no-contact jersey. Cassidy said Whitelcoud will not play Wednesday, but he could return Friday against San Jose or on the Knights’ upcoming road trip.

“He’s a big part of this team,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “(We’re) definitely going to need him. It was nice to see him back.”

What’s been impressive is how the Knights have survived with all those players missing.

Their ninth defenseman, 22-year-old Kaedan Korczak, has made seven appearances. No other NHL club has dug that deep into its depth that often. The San Jose Sharks, the only team to ice 10 defensemen, have used their eighth, ninth and 10th defensemen twice each.

It’s a testament to the way Korczak, 24-year-old Brayden Pachal and veteran Ben Hutton fit into Cassidy’s system. Even in the Knights’ first regulation loss of the season Sunday to Anaheim, the three weren’t on the ice for a goal against.

It took the team 35 players — including a franchise-record five goaltenders — to become champions last season. The Knights are well on their way to taking a similar path this season, yet it isn’t slowing down their ambitions.

“The guys we’re putting in have helped us win games,” Cassidy said. “We’d like our top six (defensemen) to be healthy eventually. We feel that they give us the best chance to win, but we have no issue using our depth at all. It’s shown. They can play in the league.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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