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Grading Golden Knights after second period of season

The Golden Knights should get as much rest as possible during their bye week.

They’re going to need it.

When they return Friday at the Carolina Hurricanes, they begin what probably will be a monthlong swim upstream to stay in the playoff picture. The Knights hold the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot, but their 18th-ranked points percentage of .548 means they’re dangerously close to tumbling further down the standings.

Staying afloat won’t be easy. Their schedule until the end of February features teams with a combined 290-187-60 record. Just four of their 14 games in that stretch will be against opponents with more losses than wins.

There will be few chances to catch their breath. Their margin for error will be slim. And their dance on the razor’s edge will take place while new coach Peter DeBoer seeks to exert his influence on the team’s systems and special teams.

How did the Knights find themselves where they are? And what things should DeBoer change to get them in the playoffs for the third straight season?

Here’s a look at the Knights’ performance almost two-thirds of the way through the season, broken down by position group and player:

Forwards

(Listed in order of points)

Left wing Max Pacioretty — He was a deserving All-Star for the first time in his career. His 47 points lead the team.

Right wing Mark Stone — He’s playing at an All-Star level. The Knights are outscoring opponents 31-21 at 5-on-5 when he and Pacioretty are on the ice and are being outscored 72-60 when they’re not.

Right wing Reilly Smith — He’s following his usual pattern of producing in seasons that end in even years. His 20 goals are one behind Pacioretty’s total for the team lead.

Center William Karlsson — He defends, kills penalties and is winning faceoffs more regularly (career-high 51.2 winning percentage). But his offense (10 goals, 34 points) is lacking.

Left wing Jonathan Marchessault — He was slowed by a nagging lower-body injury in early January and has two points in four games since his return.

Center Paul Stastny — He’s in a groove after being reunited with Pacioretty and Stone. He has nine points in his past nine games.

Left wing William Carrier — He has a career-high 14 points and is three games from reaching a career high in games played.

Right wing Alex Tuch — He’s been inconsistent after an early injury. He has 13 points, none in his past nine games.

Center/left wing Chandler Stephenson — He’s exceeded expectations since arriving via trade. He’s plugged holes all over the lineup, and his speed has been a major asset.

Center/right wing Cody Glass — The rookie is still recovering from an upper-body injury. When he comes back, DeBoer will have to decide whether he fits best at center or wing.

Center/left wing Tomas Nosek He’s been more than adequate at fourth-line center, and his versatility has been helpful.

Right wing Ryan Reaves — He leads the NHL in hits with 218, 23 more than the next-closest player. He knows his role.

Center Cody Eakin — He has struggled and was briefly demoted to fourth-line center by previous coach Gerard Gallant. The Knights have been outscored 17-7 at 5-on-5 when he’s on the ice.

Center Nicolas Roy — The rookie proved capable each time he was called up from the American Hockey League. He has five points in 14 games.

Grade: Three out of five sticks.

There are players among this group (Pacioretty, Stone, Smith, Stephenson) who have been standouts. Others (Tuch, Eakin) have been disappointments. Some (Karlsson, Marchessault, Stastny) have been inconsistent. Overall, this looks like a talented group that isn’t playing up to its potential — the story of the Knights’ season. It’s up to DeBoer to get the group to reach that potential.

Defensemen

(Listed in order of points)

Shea Theodore — The Knights have to be pleased with his progress, as he’s on pace to surpass his career high in points (37). That’s impressive even without considering he’s overcome a testicular cancer diagnosis from last summer.

Nate Schmidt — His season has been filled with highs and lows, but in his last game, he played well against the Boston Bruins’ top line. The Knights need more performances like that.

Nic Hague — Scoring his first NHL goal, against the Bruins, was obviously a special moment for the rookie. The team needs him to continue to be assertive offensively.

Nick Holden — He, as would be expected of a 32-year-old veteran, has been steady but unspectacular. His positive attitude and team-first demeanor stand out.

Brayden McNabb — He and Schmidt haven’t been as solid a shutdown pair as they were in the Knights’ first two seasons. Finding that form again is key to the team’s prospects.

Deryk Engelland — His play picked up when Gallant had the team play zone coverage in its defensive zone. If DeBoer tweaks that system, it might affect Engelland more than most.

Jonathon Merrill — The highlight of his season was scoring his lone goal as a fourth-line left wing. He was a healthy scratch the past four games.

Grade: Two out of five pucks.

Outside of Theodore, there are few standout seasons here. Schmidt and McNabb could turn it around, but this group needs help. Adding a player should be a priority before the trade deadline.

Goaltenders

(Listed in order of games played)

Marc-Andre Fleury — He’s had some clear highlights, such as a spectacular save against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a climb to fifth on the NHL’s all-time wins list, but his 16th season has been below average by Fleury’s Hall of Fame-level standards. He dealt with personal tragedy in November with the death of his father.

Malcolm Subban — His 6-7-3 record, .898 save percentage and 3.04 goals-against average aren’t impressive. His infrequent usage also does him no favors. He’s started one of the Knights’ past 11 games.

Grade: Two out of five nets.

It seems strange to say, but the Knights need more out of their goaltenders. Fleury (-1.99) and Subban (-4.72) have a negative goals saved above average. They rank 36th and 46th in the league in the stat. Finding a mix of Fleury and Subban that gets the most out of both needs to be one of DeBoer’s chief concerns. He struggled to do that in San Jose with Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, but Fleury is vastly superior to them.

Special teams

Power play — The Knights rank eighth at 22 percent. They haven’t allowed a short-handed goal.

Penalty kill — The Knights have the league’s worst penalty kill since Jan. 1 at 62.5 percent. They rank 19th (79.5 percent) for the season. It should be an area of concern for DeBoer.

Grade: Three out of five penalty boxes.

Special teams overall have been a positive. The Knights have scored 31 power-play goals, allowed 34 and have seven short-handed goals. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see DeBoer put a new stamp on things coming out of the bye.

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

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