Monday, March 18, 2019 | 2 a.m.
It would take either a ridiculous hot streak or a depressing losing streak for the scenario not to come to fruition.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, and an eye on next month’s playoffs, here are 10 things to keep an eye on as the Golden Knights push toward the postseason:
There is a significant chance that the last week of the season means nothing in the standings. The Golden Knights are far behind San Jose and Calgary and have a decent lead on Arizona. If the final few games ultimately mean nothing, perhaps Vegas sits some players to keep them fresh for the postseason.
Getting Fleury ready
Marc-Andre Fleury has shouldered an enormous workload this season, and it’s not unreasonable to say the Golden Knights’ playoff hopes rest on his performance. They did last season. He is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury, and won't make the trip to San Jose. It's not how the Golden Knights envisioned, but if this is the break he needs to be 100 percent for the postseason, they'll take it. The greater concern if this is more than typical bumps and bruises.
Mark Stone heating up
The arrival of Mark Stone from Ottawa was as symbolic as it was practical: The Golden Knights are in it to win it. They went out and acquired a bona fide superstar, a player who will both score and prevent goals. He was quiet in his first five games with just a pair of assists, but that can be chalked up to learning a new system. He has seven points in nine games since the trade, and looks ready to go for the rest of the season.
A true top six
William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith were great on the top line last year, but James Neal and David Perron helped a second line that was almost as good. Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny helped mitigate the Neal and Perron departures in the offseason, and now Stone gives the second line a 200-foot threat in a way it didn’t have last season.
Third-line left wing
Someone needs to play there. And no one has latched onto the position without letting go. Brandon Pirri has played well offensively but has struggled defensively. The opposite is true for Ryan Carpenter and Tomas Nosek. Maybe one of them grabs onto it? Or maybe the Golden Knights look outside the current active roster for aid.
Beefing up the roster
The trade deadline is history, but the Golden Knights could still improve their roster. William Carrier’s return is imminent, but Erik Haula could see the ice this year as well.
If the Golden Knights wanted to add players, Russian winger Nikita Gusev could be an option, as could Providence College winger Jack Dugan. Vegas owns the rights to both, but would need their respective seasons to end before they would sign.
Jon Merrill’s progression
It’s been a treat to watch Merrill’s progression from the beginning of the year to now. He struggled to find consistency on the third pairing with Nick Holden early on, and missed a full month after Nate Schmidt’s suspension ended.
He’s been terrific on both ends of the ice for the Golden Knights over the last month or so, and at times looks like the team’s best defenseman.
Through the ups and downs of the season, the Golden Knights’ penalty kill has remained a steadying rock. It seems that even when the faces change, the results are the same. Twelve players have at least 45 minutes of short-handed ice time this year, and the group has combined for an 81.9 percent kill percentage, seventh-best in the league and third-best in the Western Conference.
Shea Theodore’s offense
The Golden Knights gave Theodore a lot of money this offseason, and he has lived up to his offensive promise. The 23-year-old defenseman has a career-high 11 goals and 33 points, which are both best among team blueliners. He has 10 points in his last 14 games, and keeping it up would give the Golden Knights a deadly weapon from the back end in the playoffs.
Stars putting the puck in the net
Depth scoring is nice, but it’s nothing if the big guns don’t flex their muscles. Last year Karlsson, Smith and Marchessault formed perhaps the best line in hockey. While they aren’t at that level this season, they were also terrific in the playoffs, which they will need to be if Vegas is to have success. Same with Stone, Pacioretty and Stastny. The trio has been terrific since Stone joined the team, but that will all be forgotten if they disappear down the stretch and in the postseason.