Ve­gas mak­ing Cap­i­tal gains

Pa­cioretty, Stastny and Stone give Knights se­ri­ous star power

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - STEPHEN WHYNO

Al­most 18 months since the Ve­gas Golden Knights’ im­prob­a­ble in­au­gu­ral sea­son ended, they look much more like the team that van­quished them in the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal.

If you can’t beat ’em, be more like ’em.

Once a rag­tag group re­ly­ing on more will than skill, Ve­gas is be­gin­ning to re­sem­ble the Washington Cap­i­tals they faced in the 2018 fi­nal. The Golden Knights don’t have clones of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nick­las Back­strom, but they added some se­ri­ous skill in for­wards Paul Stastny, Max Pa­cioretty and Mark Stone and could eas­ily fol­low the Cap­i­tals’ cham­pi­onship model.

“They’ve done a great job,” Cap­i­tals gen­eral man­ager Brian MacLel­lan said. “I think they’ve added another layer. I thought when we beat them, we were a lit­tle bit deeper team, es­pe­cially up front. Then adding Stone, adding Pa­cioretty, sign­ing Stastny — those are three re­ally good play­ers, so they have a whole new layer of of­fen­sive, re­ally solid play­ers on their team. In the­ory, I think they’re a bet­ter team than they were.” The Golden Knights who went to the fi­nal in their ex­pan­sion sea­son had a first line of Jonathan Marches­sault, Wil­liam Karls­son and Reilly Smith and leaned heav­i­est on de­fence­men Nate Sch­midt, Shea Theodore and Deryk En­gel­land. All those play­ers re­main but have the pres­sures eased off them, given in­ter­nal pro­mo­tions and ex­ter­nal ad­di­tions.

For­ward Wil­liam Car­rier, one of more than a dozen play­ers left from the 2018 fi­nal, said this is a bet­ter team.

“Right now, we’re a more tal­ented team,” coach Ger­ard Gal­lant said. “It’s a dif­fer­ent team. We’re a more skilled team than we were back then. But back then we had that air about (us) — we were the hard­est work­ing team in the league. I want us to get back to that. We were a fast team, we were a quick team that first year and ev­ery­thing went our way. We had a lot of puck luck and a lot of good things that hap­pened that first year.”

Those good things stopped when the Cap­i­tals wore down the Golden Knights with their depth and won the se­ries in five games. Last spring, Ve­gas got knocked out in the first round when a blown call in Game 7 against San Jose snow­balled into a dis­as­trous third pe­riod. Bounc­ing back from two tough play­off ex­its is another lesson the Golden Knights can learn from the Cap­i­tals, who kept get­ting stopped in the sec­ond round or ear­lier be­fore win­ning it all.

“They have a re­ally sta­ble team — they can es­tab­lish all four lines and roll,” Washington’s Jakub Vrana said. “They play hard, and they work hard for ev­ery inch of the ice. That’s what’s been win­ning them games. We do the same thing.”

Blend­ing the work ethic and the grit­ti­ness that got Ve­gas into the fi­nal with the tal­ent that could get it over the top is now the chal­lenge. Gal­lant doesn’t shy away from the com­par­i­son to the Cap­i­tals.

“The work comes be­fore the skill, and when you get your tal­ented guys and your skilled guys work­ing real hard, then that’s when you’re go­ing to have the right team,” Gal­lant said. “I think the team in Washington, that’s what they do. They’ve got some real tal­ented hockey play­ers, but when they work hard, they’re a great team.”

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