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Knights’ strong start sets them up for success, once again

The similarities are eerie.

The 2022-23 Golden Knights earned 26 points from their first 15 games while scoring 57 goals and giving up 34. The Knights, one year later, have 25 points while outscoring opponents 58-32.

In both cases, the team’s sprint out of the gates has it atop the Western Conference standings one month into the season.

It’s not a bad formula for the Knights to follow — it sure worked for them last year. Their hot start helped them earn home-ice advantage in every playoff series they played en route to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

The Knights seem hell-bent on ensuring the road to the Cup will go through T-Mobile Arena again. They’re also giving themselves plenty of margin for error. The Knights are up 11 points on fourth-place Anaheim in the Pacific Division standings. The top three teams earn automatic playoff berths.

“You never want to chase early in the year, the standings,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It just makes it too hard later. You can play good hockey, not get a bounce, get a few injuries and then it just becomes tough. I’ve always believed that in this league, get out in front of it early.”

There are differences between the Knights’ starts the last two seasons as well.

Last year’s group walked into training camp steaming after missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. There was a lot of learning during Cassidy’s first camp, but the team came out hungry to prove it still belonged among the NHL’s elite.

Turns out, the Knights were right.

This year’s team is no less motivated. It’s just a different type of fuel. The Knights want to be remembered as a “team of the decade” type of franchise, like the Chicago Blackhawks from 2010-15 or the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2020-22.

They’re trying to hold themselves to a higher standard. That’s why players have been self-critical at times despite the hot start, wanting to tighten any lapses they see emerging in their game.

“Over the course of the year, you want to continue to improve,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “It’s not going to be a linear thing. There’s going to be ups and downs. I think that good teams recognize when they’re not doing things the way that they should be.”

One thing causing those hiccups is the fact the Knights have sprinted out of the gates despite a myriad of injuries.

Last season they were able to avoid adversity early. Their only absences their first 15 games were right wing Keegan Kolesar (twice), left wing William Carrier (once) and defenseman Nic Hague (once).

This year, defenseman Zach Whitecloud alone missed 14 games with an upper-body injury. Martinez (eight games), Hague (five), Carrier (three), defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (five) and centers Nicolas Roy (eight) and Chandler Stephenson (two) have sat out as well.

It’s a credit to the Knights’ resilience they powered through to earn almost the same number of points their first month of the season.

“We have a lot of depth at a lot of different positions,” captain Mark Stone said.

The Knights can use this cushion to their advantage.

They don’t need to rush anyone back because they need wins. They don’t need to alter their goalie rotation between Adin Hill and Logan Thompson.

The Knights have set themselves up for success with a similar start as last year. They hope that leads to the same ending as well.

“Hopefully we’ll continue to get better,” Cassidy said. “We should get healthier here moving forward. That alone will probably make us better.”

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

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