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Knights’ Shea Theodore hits ground running in return from injury

Shea Theodore says he continues to feel more comfortable as he works his way back from an upper-body injury that kept him off the ice for nearly three full months.

That could be a scary thought for the Golden Knights’ future opponents.

Since Theodore returned Feb. 20 after missing the longest stretch of his career due to injury, he has recorded an assist in all four games.

The 28-year-old defenseman has multiple assists in the last three, including a three-helper game in a 6-2 win over Toronto on Tuesday.

Theodore will look to add to the streak when the Knights (33-19-7) continue their road trip with a 4 p.m. game against the Bruins (34-12-14) on Thursday in Boston.

“I knew it would take some time to get my legs back, but I’m feeling better and better each game,” Theodore said after Tuesday’s game. “Definitely look to keep adding to that.”

He has certainly made his presence felt beyond just the eight assists he has recorded in the four games since his return.

Theodore makes the offense far more dynamic whenever he is on the ice. His assists since his return have come to six players, and only three players on the team have more than his 22 assists for the season despite his playing in only 24 of the 59 games.

“He certainly adds an element on the offensive blue line that very few players in the league can bring,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He sees plays on the ice that maybe other guys just don’t see or see as easily, so I’d certainly say he has brought that dynamic to the offensive side of our game.”

His ability to move the puck in transition makes the Knights more dangerous. Then when the puck is in the offensive zone, the fact that he finds cutters so often and is so creative at getting the puck to the net makes his teammates much more willing to fight to get to the front of the paint for tips and rebounds.

That was evident in the goal by Mason Morelli on Tuesday when the rookie was able to get near the net and get a stick on a shot by Theodore and deflect it in.

But Theodore’s offensive prowess is well-documented. His presence has also been felt on defense.

“I’d say he’s checking well, and he’s done a good job with his stick,” Cassidy said. “He’s not an overly physical guy, but he’s closing on people. He’s gapping up and taking good angles and he creates turnovers with his stick, maybe more than the physicality, so that’s been good as well.”

Theodore’s return gives the Knights their full complement of defensemen for a significant stretch for the first time this season.

That alone helps the defense, as Cassidy is once again able to deploy his three trusted pairs in the same way he did in leading the Knights to the Stanley Cup last season.

“There are no matchup issues for us when they’re going well,” said Cassidy, who doesn’t have to stress as much in road games about getting stuck in an unfavorable change. “We’re not going to be hauling any of them off the ice. We can play them in any situation. That’s what I like best about them, we can play them against anybody.”

That was the case in Toronto, with such a deep pool of talent spread through the lines, and will certainly be the case against the Bruins. Cassidy said he believes any of his defensive pairs can hold their own against any of the forward lines.

Having the group back together means Theodore is once again paired with Brayden McNabb. That partnership is one of the unsung keys to Theodore’s offensive success, as McNabb is so fundamentally sound defensively that it allows Theodore to activate offensively with trust that McNabb will cover any issues on the back end.

“Playing with him is always easy,” Theodore said. “He really helps me break the puck out.”

While Theodore will be looking to extend his personal assist streak, the Knights will also look to win back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 6 and 8 against Edmonton and Arizona.

They will have to do it against Cassidy’s former team, which he was able to get reacquainted with over the past week because the Bruins have been playing on the West Coast.

“What you see is a team that’s in every game, good goaltending, special teams are pretty solid,” Cassidy said. “I think the power play hasn’t performed like it did early in the year. But in general not a lot of weaknesses and a lot of guys doing the same damage. They’ll play hard, and they’ll play together.”

It will be the first time Cassidy returns to play a game in Boston since becoming a Stanley Cup champion, but he didn’t make too much of the occasion after practice Wednesday.

“Always good to be back,” he said. “We still come back to this area in the summer. Love it here. Big challenge on our hands tomorrow in a great building to play in, so looking forward to that.”

Cassidy indicated it is unlikely star center Jack Eichel will return to action Thursday.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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