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Even without goals, Karlsson making plays for Golden Knights

Updated February 20, 2020 - 10:53 pm

I’m not a big analytics guy. Numbers have their place in sports, but too often don’t include those intangibles that separate good from great and great from elite.

William Karlsson, however, is an example of a player whose comprehensive stats disprove what eyes might believe.

He’s still the best center on a Golden Knights roster and pretty much the exact same player as last year.

He’s also still worth the eight-year contract with an annual average value of $5.9 million that he signed in June of 2019.

No matter what his goal total says.

“I don’t usually think about it until you guys ask me,” Karlsson said when queried Wednesday about not scoring goals of late. “Now, I will drive home thinking about it.”

The Knights on Thursday evening continued their assault on this supposed Stretch of Death, winning their fourth straight by handling Tampa Bay 5-3 before 18,376 at T-Mobile Arena.

The Lightning had won 11 straight coming in and yet suffered the same fate as the Blues and Islanders and Capitals before them this homestand.

Florida will finish things out when visiting Saturday, the same evening Vegas will honor the 40th anniversary “Miracle on Ice” team.

There hasn’t been anything supernatural about how the Knights have beaten some of the league’s top sides.

Just really, really good play.

Karlsson didn’t score again Thursday, but be assured that will change Saturday.

(More on that later).

Droughts occur in an athlete’s game like they have in California. It’s inevitable.

But while Karlsson is paid to accumulate points, setting the ice on fire with 43 goals in an expansion season and helping lead Vegas to a Stanley Cup final predictably set the bar at a towering level.

I’m not yet sure anyone really knows who he is when it comes to goals.

His career high before landing in Las Vegas was nine in 2015-16.

Then he went totally nuts with the 43.

Then he had 24 last season.

He is sitting on 10 for 2019-20 but recently returned from missing a month with a broken finger, still not able to totally grip a stick and take face-offs, which he had actually improved on.

This is when those stats come into play:

In 54 games this season, Karlsson has 37 points (.698 per game).

In 82 games last year, he had 56 (.682 per game).

Face-offs won: 51.2 percent this year as compared to 47.6 last.

Power play, penalty kill, being handed the toughest defensive assignments by head coach Pete DeBoer.

Karlsson is still doing a whole lot up and down 200 feet.

Speed helps in all of the above. He has a lot of it.

“As long as I’m contributing, I feel good,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s hockey. It’s unfortunate that the goals haven’t been there, but assists are part of goals and as long as I’m scoring points, that’s good. I think the part about (not scoring goals) is more mental, like everything in sports.

“I don’t think it has affected my overall game, but the more you miss, the more you feel let down.”

He’s now centering Max Pacioretty (28 goals) and Mark Stone (21), players Karlsson joked are a lot heavier than Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, who he teamed with as a top line for much of his time here.

Goals will come

“I think when you have offensive players, everybody goes through hot and cold streaks,” DeBoer said. “Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane did when I had them in San Jose. The key is not to overreact or change too much. (Karlsson) is getting chances, opportunities, looks in the right areas of the ice.

“You stick with it and eventually they’ll start going in. He is doing everything we’re asking of him.”

The goals will likely come very soon.

The thinking: I wrote a column before the homestead about how much the team’s goalies have struggled.

Marc-Andre Fleury has since won four straight and is playing some of his best minutes since the season’s outset.

I wrote this week about how the trade for defenseman Alec Martinez from the Kings certainly wouldn’t add much, if any offense.

He had a goal and an assist in his debut Thursday.

Translation: Bet the house and maybe your first born that Karlsson scores Saturday.

These guys might actually start asking that I chronicle their shortcomings.

If so, they might never lose again.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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