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Healthy Mark Stone sparks Golden Knights in 1st half of season

Michael Amadio didn’t think Mark Stone saw him at first.

Amadio was hanging out by the left side of the St. Louis Blues’ net late in the second period Dec. 23, and Stone had the puck. There were two Blues skaters and goaltender Jordan Binnington between Amadio and the Golden Knights’ captain. Plus, Stone wasn’t even looking his way.

One thing Amadio forgot? Stone seems to see every inch of the ice. He turned his head at the last second to thread a pass across the offensive zone to Amadio, who had a wide-open net to shoot at.

“Unbelievable,” Amadio said. “Great play by him.”

That goal from the Knights’ 5-4 win over the Blues shows how dangerous Stone can be at his best. Halfway through the season, he’s there.

After undergoing back surgery in May, Stone looks as good as ever for the Knights. He has points in seven straight games while leading his team to the best record in the Pacific Division and Western Conference.

“He’s back,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “He’s been back for a while. … He’s been carrying us, leading us. He’s just been on a roll.”

Stone set a goal before the season. He wanted to play in all 82 games after missing 45 last season with his back injury.

Stone has not only missed a game, he’s barely missed a practice. His back has held up despite a daunting schedule. The Knights have played 41 games, tied for the second-most in the NHL, and taken two road trips east.

Stone was confident he could put his back issues behind him because his former Ottawa teammate Jason Spezza underwent the same surgery as he did. Spezza played another 10 seasons before retiring in May. The Knights’ early schedule put Stone’s back to the test, but it passed.

“It’s almost kind of exciting,” Stone said. “That’s probably one of the harder schedules I’ve ever been through, whether it was through injury or not. I’m excited with the way I feel, excited with the way the team is playing, excited where this team is in the standings. I feel all up to speed now.”

That’s showing in his play.

Stone is second on the Knights with 38 points. His plus-12 rating at five-on-five is the second-highest on the team, according to the website Natural Stat Trick. He’s third in the NHL with 47 takeaways.

As he does when he’s on, Stone is subtly bending the game to his will every time he’s on the ice. He’s never been the fastest skater, but he thinks the game like few others. Coach Bruce Cassidy said not only is Stone’s vision rare, his timing when passing the puck is impeccable. Cassidy compared Stone to an NFL quarterback who knows how long to hang in the pocket before releasing the ball.

“He’s one of those guys that just has that composure and knows when time is closing on him and when he can hang onto it,” Cassidy said. “That’s just a God-given talent.”

The fact that Stone is putting all his gifts on display again is a huge reason the Knights were so successful in the first half.

They missed everything their captain brought for much of last season. The playmaking. The leadership. The exuberant on-ice celebrations.

All of those are back this season. Stone has 13 points in his past seven games, helping the Knights go 5-1-1 in a stretch when they were ravaged by injuries.

“We had some key offensive guys out of the lineup, so (my line) felt we had to step up offensively to kind of fill that void,” Stone said. “If you have guys out of the lineup, you have to have guys step up. We wanted to be those guys.”

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

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