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Grading the Golden Knights one period into the 2019-2020 season

There’s a cliche in the NHL: If a team isn’t in a playoff spot at Thanksgiving — typically referred to as “American Thanksgiving” in the Canadian-heavy league — it’s time to start worrying.

Thanks to Max Pacioretty, the Golden Knights don’t have to worry this Thanksgiving.

The left wing’s game-tying goal with 0.3 seconds left Wednesday at the Nashville Predators saved the team from a 3-2 defeat. Instead, the Knights won 4-3 in overtime and picked up a crucial two points that had them sitting in the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot Thursday. In the past five seasons, 76.25 percent of teams (61 of 80) that had a playoff spot on Thanksgiving made the postseason.

The eighth spot is still disappointing for a team that began the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. But it’s something for the Knights (12-11-4) to build off as they seek to use Wednesday’s win to turn their season around. Their next step in that process is playing well Friday against the Arizona Coyotes (15-8-3) at T-Mobile Arena.

“It’s a big win, but it’s all in our next game,” left wing Jonathan Marchessault said. “The follow-up game is going to be huge, especially at home against Arizona.”

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

FORWARDS

(Listed in order of points)

Left wing Max Pacioretty — He leads the team with 25 points. He looks much more comfortable in his second season with the Knights.

Center William Karlsson — He’s tied for second with 23 points and is a team-best plus-7. His $5.9 million cap hit looks like a bargain.

Right wing Mark Stone — He’s tied with Karlsson in points and has played well in all three zones. His assist on Pacioretty’s game-tying goal against Nashville was a thing of beauty.

Right wing Reilly Smith — The unsung hero of the team, Smith is tied for the team lead in goals with Stone with 11. He continues to play capably in all situations.

Left wing Jonathan Marchessault — It has been a tough start for Marchessault, who has 16 points. His shooting percentage (5.6) is well below his career average (10.4).

Center Paul Stastny — He has only 12 points, in part because he has spent time on the third line to lengthen the Knights’ lineup. That helped the team but hurt his production.

Center/right wing Cody Glass — The rookie has nine points, with five on the power play. He hasn’t found his groove at 5-on-5 yet.

Left wing William Carrier — He has seven points and is on pace to shatter his career high of nine. At 24, the speedy bruiser appears to be on the upswing.

Center Cody Eakin — He started the season injured and didn’t have a point in his first nine games. He has seven in 14 games since.

Center/left wing Tomas Nosek — It has been an inconsistent start for the versatile forward. He briefly lost his lineup spot to rookie Nicolas Roy.

Right wing Ryan Reaves — Reaves brings the same things to the Knights each night: A hard forecheck and plenty of hits. He leads the NHL in hits with 133.

Center Nicolas Roy — The rookie looked solid in his first six games. He’s now with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, but he probably will get another chance.

Left/right wing Alex Tuch — He has played in only 10 games because of injury. His speed and forechecking ability are still there, but he has only two points.

Left/right wing Valentin Zykov — He had two assists in seven games, then was suspended for violating the terms of the NHL/NHL Players Association Performance Enhancing Substances program. He was sent to the AHL on Thursday.

Left wing Brandon Pirri — One of last season’s surprises had one assist in 11 games and was placed on waivers. He’s now with the Wolves.

Grade: Three out of five sticks

This group has underachieved but also has been unlucky. The Knights have talent but rank 15th in goals per game (2.93). They’ve been outscored 58-48 at 5-on-5. But their first, second and fourth lines have generated more scoring chances than their opponents. It just hasn’t translated into goals. Eventually it should. Until then, this is the highest grade they probably deserve.

DEFENSEMEN

(Listed in order of points)

Shea Theodore — He was treated for testicular cancer this offseason but has shown no ill effects. He has 12 points and is receiving a lot of power-play time.

Nate Schmidt — He was injured in the season opener and missed 12 games. Upon his return, he has looked like the Knights’ No. 1 defenseman yet again.

Nick Holden — It hasn’t been a great season for the veteran. He, Deryk Engelland and Jonathon Merrill are rotating as healthy scratches.

Brayden McNabb — He got out to a poor start with 22 penalty minutes in the first 11 games. He has settled down since then, with eight in his last 16.

Nicolas Hague — The 20-year-old rookie has been promising. He hasn’t looked spectacular but has made few first-year mistakes.

Deryk Engelland — The 37-year-old has been in and out of the lineup. He already has 18 penalty minutes this season after having 18 last season.

Jonathon Merrill — He hasn’t done much to build on his career 2018-19 season. He’s fighting with Holden and Engelland for lineup spots.

Jake Bischoff — The 25-year-old made his long-awaited NHL debut in Pittsburgh after being a healthy scratch many times over the past two seasons. He’s currently with the Wolves.

Grade: Two out of five pucks

The Knights’ blue line had to survive an early-season absence from Schmidt for the second straight year and made it through OK. But even with Schmidt back, this group has been inconsistent. There have been too many blown coverages in the team’s defensive zone. This is an area the team could look to upgrade at February’s trade deadline.

GOALTENDERS

(Listed in order of games played)

Marc-Andre Fleury — The 34-year-old continues to make highlight plays, including one against the Toronto Maple Leafs that will be in contention for the best save of the NHL season.

Malcolm Subban — Fleury’s backup is 1-4-2 with a 3.45 goals-against average and .888 save percentage. That’s not great for a team that wants to rely on him more.

Oscar Dansk — The 25-year-old wasn’t put in a great position for his lone start in Philadelphia. It was his first game in 16 days. He performed poorly and gave up six goals on 37 shots.

Garret Sparks — He briefly saw mop-up action for Fleury in a 6-1 loss to Colorado. He allowed two goals on 14 shots.

Grade: Four out of five nets

Fleury, who has appeared in 20 games, continues to be the Knights’ best player on a regular basis. But there needs to be less of a drop-off when he leaves the crease.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Power play — The Knights rank ninth (21.2 percent) after finishing 25th (16.8 percent) last season. Glass’ playmaking has helped lift the first unit.

Penalty kill — This is another area of improvement. The Knights are sixth (84.4 percent) after ranking 14th (80.9 percent) in 2018-19. Their kill has slipped in November, though.

Grade: Four out of five penalty boxes

Special teams is a major reason the Knights aren’t further down the standings. They’re one of five teams, along with the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals, that have a top-10 power play and penalty kill.

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

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

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