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Golden Knights open camp looking for competitive advantage

Updated July 12, 2020 - 3:35 pm

Before the Golden Knights broke in March and returned to their homes, the organization’s stated goal was to stay ready and come out the other side with a competitive advantage when the NHL resumed its season.

With training camp for the NHL playoffs set to begin Monday at City National Arena, general manager Kelly McCrimmon said he was pleased with the overall buy-in from the Knights.

“I’m really happy with how the players have handled this. The state of our team is real strong. It’s right where we want it to be,” McCrimmon said Sunday during a videoconference call. “And then, just the commitment that the players have made. The number that stayed in town. The turnout we had for Phase Two.

“It’s hard to say exactly what those things mean, but given the choice of having that kind of interest level and commitment level from your players versus not having it, I sure think this is what we preferred.”

The Knights’ training camp roster features 18 forwards, 12 defensemen and three goaltenders. They are allowed to carry a maximum of 31 players for the postseason.

Center Peyton Krebs is the only player not expected to participate Monday. He must complete one more day of quarantine and will join camp Tuesday, according to McCrimmon.

The 2019 first-round pick had 60 points in 38 games for his major-junior team and impressed the Knights’ brass last fall while he rehabbed a partially torn Achilles.

“He’s an elite, young player that, at worst, is going to get great experience,” McCrimmon said. “The bottom line with the decisions that we’ve made in respect to camp are who can help us win a Stanley Cup game. This isn’t about player development. This isn’t about public relations or ‘It’s a nice story.’ We brought the people to camp that we think could help us win a Stanley Cup game.”

The Knights, who open the round robin Aug. 3 against Dallas in Edmonton, Alberta, don’t have many position battles like a traditional camp. But the spotlight will naturally gravitate toward the goaltenders.

Marc-Andre Fleury had a .905 save percentage in 49 appearances this season, the lowest of his career since 2009-10 with the Penguins. Robin Lehner won all three starts with the Knights after he was acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline in February.

The top two forward lines appear set with leading scorers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone at full strength after being injured at the pause. Coach Pete DeBoer has decisions to make at left wing on the third line and fourth-line center.

The biggest challenge will be to regain the form that saw the Knights win 11 of 13 before the season was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s back to school, really,” McCrimmon said. “It’s a chance for the coaches to go right through our entire foundation, our systems play. To get some reps, to work on details and really position the team to be at its best before we depart for Edmonton.”

The Knights are scheduled to arrive in Edmonton on July 26 and will play an exhibition game against an opponent to be determined before the round robin begins.

The Western Conference quarterfinals are scheduled to start Aug. 11, and the Knights’ opponent will be determined after the round robin and qualifying round.

McCrimmon expected players, coach and staff will adapt to life inside the secure zone in addition to playing games without fans in the arena.

“We’re coming from training camp to the Stanley Cup playoffs. And with the stakes as high as it will be, I don’t see it having a tremendous negative impact, to be honest,” McCrimmon said. “We’d all like to be playing at T-Mobile, in front of our fans, but this is going to be really good hockey. It’s going to be very competitive.”

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

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The Golden Knights are the +450 favorites to win the Stanley Cup, 2-1 favorites to win the Western Conference and -350 favorites over the Blackhawks in their first-round series.