What can the Knights do to overcome the loss of Mark Stone?
The Golden Knights will need to find a way to win without their captain, as Mark Stone is out indefinitely after back surgery.
The Golden Knights’ victory celebrations Tuesday against Nashville — featuring hugs, fist bumps and bonding time with the guests on their annual fathers’ trip — were missing a certain jazzed-up leader ready to high-five everyone’s hands off.
Knights captain Mark Stone wasn’t on the ice for the win against the Predators. He’s not likely to return anytime soon. He’s out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery Jan. 31, his second procedure in nine months.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said he was told there’s “an opportunity” for Stone to return this season. He’s just not sure exactly when that would be. So much will depend on how Stone recovers, and how long the Knights keep playing beyond the regular season.
That means the team will have to find a way forward for the foreseeable future without him. Tuesday’s win was a start, but the Knights will need help in a lot of different areas to overcome his absence.
“It’s tough for Stoney,” center Jack Eichel said. “I know how competitive he is and how much he wants to be in the lineup. But he’s got to take care of himself there. … Other guys have to step up. We have to find a way to fill his void.”
Stone does so many different things for the Knights.
There’s his on-ice work, for starters. His combination of smarts and tenacity makes him a joy to play with and a terror to play against.
But that only scratches the surface of his value.
Stone, as the Knights’ captain, is one of the team’s emotional heartbeats and energizing forces. His goal celebrations on the ice or on the bench are legendary.
He’s not the most vocal leader, but he has his own special way of getting his teammates into the fight.
There’s a reason the Knights were 12-13-1 after Stone went on long-term injured reserve with his back issue last season and are just 2-5-2 since he got hurt Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers this season.
They know it’ll be a challenge to stay consistent with him missing again.
“Everyone knows what’s ahead, Stoney being out,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “I think everybody is ready for it.”
Even with Stone out, the Knights at least aren’t lacking for leadership.
Eichel and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo are former NHL captains. Right wing Jonathan Marchessault and defenseman Alec Martinez haven’t been afraid to address their teammates in the past.
Cassidy even wants Stone to stay involved while he’s recovering. The captain admitted at the end of last season he “felt like it was tough for me to voice my opinion” when he wasn’t in the lineup.
Cassidy has already talked to Stone about staying present this season, especially because he’ll be around doing rehab work.
“I think it’s important he touches the guys when he can when he’s here,” Cassidy said. “I think there’s just a lot of respect there.”
Filling Stone’s on-ice role will be more difficult.
The Knights will need depth forwards to step up and contribute, like Michael Amadio, William Carrier and Phil Kessel did against Nashville. The team will also have to find a winger who builds chemistry with Eichel like Stone did.
The injury does give the Knights more flexibility to look for help outside the organization if they need to.
Placing Stone on long-term injured reserve the rest of the season would give the team an extra $9.5 million in spending power before the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline.
The Knights won’t be hamstrung financially if they need to add someone for the stretch run. It’ll be up to the team, without its captain, to show it’s worth investing in.
“I think we just need to be confident in ourselves,” Eichel said. “We just got to get back to believing in our game. Believing in our ability. I think that’ll jump-start our game.”
Contact Ben Gotz at email@example.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.
■ Who: Golden Knights at Wild
■ When: 5 p.m. Thursday
■ Where: Excel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
■ TV: AT&T SportsNet
■ Radio: KKGK (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
■ Line: Knights -110; total N/A