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Golden Knights grades through stoppage of NHL season

The NHL’s stoppage could be a blessing or a curse for the Golden Knights if the season resumes.

On one hand, the Knights are getting time to heal after injuries piled up. Forwards Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch and Chandler Stephenson were hurt when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other, the Knights were rolling. They had the league’s fourth-best points percentage since coach Pete DeBoer was hired Jan. 15 and the second-best in the Western Conference behind the Colorado Avalanche. They had just won two crucial road division games against Calgary and Edmonton to stay in first place in the Pacific Division. They appeared to be peaking with 11 games remaining.

Now, that momentum is stopped, but the Knights still would be plenty formidable if the season is played out.

Here’s a look at the team’s performance before the pause, broken down by position group and player:

Forwards

(Listed in order of points)

Left wing Max Pacioretty — The All-Star is one point shy of matching his career high of 67.

Right wing Mark Stone — His all-around impact is massive. The Knights have to hope he and Pacioretty — both week to week with lower-body injuries — are ready to return when the NHL is.

Golden Knights' Mark Stone (61) eyes the puck as Los Angeles Kings' Ben Hutton (15) gets trippe ...
Golden Knights' Mark Stone (61) eyes the puck as Los Angeles Kings' Ben Hutton (15) gets tripped up during the first period of an NHL hockey game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

Right wing Reilly Smith — He has a chance at his first 30-goal season. He already has a career-high 27 goals.

Left wing Jonathan Marchessault — He’s scoring at nearly an identical clip to last season. He’s recording 0.71 points per game vs. 0.72 in 2018-19.

Center William Karlsson — He’s on pace for his fewest goals with the Knights, but his importance remains undeniable. His speed, defense and playmaking are still great assets.

Center Paul Stastny — The trusty veteran found his stride when he returned to the top six.

Golden Knights' Paul Stastny (26) eyes the puck in front of St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester (1 ...
Golden Knights' Paul Stastny (26) eyes the puck in front of St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester (19) during the first period of an NHL hockey game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

Center Chandler Stephenson — The pending restricted free agent’s all-around game continues to impress.

Left wing William Carrier — His career season was rewarded with a contract extension in February.

Right wing Alex Tuch — Injuries and inconsistency have made this a frustrating season for him.

Center/left wing Tomas Nosek — His ability to shift from center to wing and back has been a luxury for DeBoer.

Right wing Ryan Reaves — The unrestricted free-agent-to-be is having his second-best offensive season with 15 points. He had 20 last season.

Center/right wing Cody Glass — A knee injury ended his rookie season in February. He had 12 points in 39 games.

Vegas Golden Knights center Cody Glass (9) fires a shot a goal versus the Anaheim Ducks during ...
Vegas Golden Knights center Cody Glass (9) fires a shot a goal versus the Anaheim Ducks during the third period of their NHL Hockey game at the T-Mobile Arena on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

Center/right wing Nicolas Roy — His confidence appears to be growing by the game, and he flashed in a brief top-six role.

Center Cody Eakin — The original Golden Misfit was moved before the trade deadline to alleviate a center logjam.

Center/left wing Nick Cousins — Known for his agitating style of play, he has shown a surprising amount of skill. He was acquired Feb. 24 from Montreal.

Left wing Brandon Pirri — His offensive skill set gave him a second chance in March, but he has just two points in 16 games.

Center/left wing Gage Quinney — He became the first Nevada-born player to appear in an NHL game. He has one assist in three games.

Grade: Four out of five sticks

Injuries hampered this group, but there was a lot to like before the NHL shut down. DeBoer put Karlsson, Pacioretty and Stone together to form one of the league’s best lines. The depth after that is good enough to match up with most teams in the playoffs.

Defensemen

(Listed in order of points)

Shea Theodore — His production — he’s tied for the fifth-most points among defensemen in 2020 — has been nothing short of special, especially as a 24-year-old coming off a battle with testicular cancer.

Golden Knights' Shea Theodore (27) skates with the puck past Columbus Blue Jackets' Kevin Stenl ...
Golden Knights' Shea Theodore (27) skates with the puck past Columbus Blue Jackets' Kevin Stenlund (11) and Golden Knights' Cody Eakin (21) during the second period of an NHL hockey game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

Nate Schmidt — He’s scoring a career-high 0.53 points per game while still handling tough defensive assignments.

Nick Holden — He’s been a consistent contributor. That earned him an extension in February.

Nic Hague — He’s been in the American Hockey League since the All-Star break. At 21, he still has a lot of upside.

Brayden McNabb — He and Schmidt are a solid shutdown pair. McNabb took too many penalties early this season, but he has just 10 minutes in the box in his past 46 games.

Alec Martinez — Talk about a first impression. He scored eight points in his first 10 games after being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings.

Jon Merrill — He’s been a team player — even playing forward in a pinch — but was bumped from the lineup when Martinez arrived.

Deryk Engelland — He’s played one game since Zach Whitecloud was called up. Will the 37-year-old play again?

Zach Whitecloud — The rookie earned his keep with steady, disciplined play. He played 16 of the team’s last 18 games.

Grade: Four out of five pucks

This sure turned around in a hurry.

The Knights’ blue line was an obvious weakness before the trade deadline, but the outlook is a lot brighter now. Theodore became a star, Martinez added a steady hand and Whitecloud looked as if he belonged. Those three developments make it harder to poke holes in this group.

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury — The 35-year-old’s play remains inconsistent. He’s 8-4-1 with an .899 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against average since the All-Star break.

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save on a shot by Los Angeles Ki ...
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save on a shot by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 1, 2020, as Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown (23) looks on. (Chitose Suzuki / Las Vegas Review-Journal) @chitosephoto

Robin Lehner — The trade acquisition — and pending unrestricted free agent — is 3-0 since being acquired at the trade deadline.

Malcolm Subban — The team ran out of patience with Fleury’s longtime backup and moved him in the Lehner deal.

Grade: Three out of five nets

Goaltending remains the Knights’ most fascinating question.

DeBoer will have a lot of decisions to make regarding his netminders. The most crucial: Who does he want starting Game 1 of a playoff series? The veteran face of the franchise (Fleury) or the newbie who was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season (Lehner)?

Special teams

Power play — Still humming along at a 22 percent clip, which ranks ninth in the NHL.

Penalty kill — The Knights are 29th in the league (70.7 percent) since DeBoer took over and changed their approach. That doesn’t square with the coach’s track record, but the team might be struggling to adjust on the fly.

Grade: Three out of five penalty boxes

The power play has been successful, but the penalty kill needs to improve.

DeBoer’s more aggressive in-zone approach to the penalty kill has led to wide-open chances for opponents. That’s going to happen from time to time, but it’s happening too frequently. Maybe some time away will help the team process the tweaks.

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

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