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Golden Knights hope commitment during pause pays off in playoffs

William Karlsson had the option of returning to his native Sweden when the NHL paused in March. That country’s protocols during the coronavirus pandemic eventually allowed players to skate as part of their workouts.

But the Golden Knights center stayed in Las Vegas during the monthslong, league-recommended isolation period. Backup goaltender Oscar Dansk, a fellow Swede, moved in as a roommate, as well.

“First of all, I didn’t know how long this break was going to be,” Karlsson said. “I wanted to be here for the start when it all started again.”

Karlsson wasn’t alone. Forward Tomas Nosek, a native of Czech Republic, remained in Las Vegas, as did goaltender Robin Lehner (Sweden). So did most of the team, for that matter.

By all accounts from players, coaches and management, the Knights had the majority, if not all, of their roster participating for five weeks of small group workouts before training camp.

The belief is that commitment will pay off with a deep run during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Knights, who went 3-0 in round-robin play to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, will face Chicago in a best-of-seven quarterfinal series.

“I think it says a lot for the team, what we think we can achieve here,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland, a longtime Las Vegas resident. “Everyone still has the same goal as in the beginning of the year. I think everyone really believes we have a good opportunity here.

“You’re in Vegas. It’s a beautiful city, whether you’re locked down or not. The weather is always good. It’s never raining. I think that helps a little bit to keep guys around. I think everyone wanted to stay here and for the most part work out together as much as they could.”

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt (88, left center) jokes around with teammates duri ...
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt (88, left center) jokes around with teammates during practice at the City National Arena on Friday, July 24, 2020, in Las Vegas. (LtoR) They are defenseman Deryk Engelland (5), Nate Schmidt (88), Jon Merrill (15), Alec Martinez (23), Jake Bischoff (45) and Ryan Reaves (75). (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

In addition to avoiding any travel restrictions, general manager Kelly McCrimmon said the organization had zero positive COVID-19 tests.

The Knights’ effort and health during the Phase Two group workouts put them ahead of where coach Pete DeBoer expected the team to be entering training camp.

That allowed the Knights to concentrate on special teams or scrimmage rather than conditioning before they departed for Edmonton, Alberta.

By contrast, a team such as Boston dealt with multiple issues during training camp, and it may have been reflected in its struggles during the round robin. The Presidents’ Trophy winners with the best record during the regular season went 0-3 in the round robin and finished with the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think it’s been a very good surprise to me is how committed this team is,” Lehner said. “Everyone’s been here since Day One of Phase Two. … I think this team knows how this is a good opportunity for this team, and it has a really strong chance of going far. Everyone’s been committed.”

The Knights’ conditioning appeared to be a factor in their three round-robin games. They outscored their opponents — Dallas, St. Louis and Colorado — 9-1 in the third periods and overtime.

“I think right now we have an edge because we’ve been doing small practices for quite a few weeks now,” left wing Jonathan Marchessault said at the start of training camp. “We’re already ready and scrimmaging. It’s all about getting that game speed back. Day One of training camp, we’re right back into the scrimmages. It’s good, I think. I think in the long run it’s going to pay off.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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