The Vegas Golden Knights have some new and returning faces on the roster in March. Jonathan Quick’s 5-1-0 Knights record has helped Vegas rise the ranks.
New faces are making an impact as the Vegas Golden Knights fine-tune their game ahead of their return to the playoffs.
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The headline performance in the Golden Knight’s 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night belonged to Jonathan Quick. He improved to 5-1-0 since landing in Vegas on March 2.
With his 375th career win, the 37-year-old moved past John Vanbiesbrouck into second place all-time among U.S.-born goaltenders. He now trails only Ryan Miller’s 391 wins.
Quick’s departure from the Los Angeles Kings, where he played his entire career and won two Stanley Cups, was unexpected. But he has stepped up in a big way since the Columbus Blue Jackets engineered a second trade that sent him back to the Western Conference and closer to home, even though he’s now playing for a former rival.
“It’s difficult,” said Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy. “You’ve spent your whole career in one spot. To come to a new group, I think it’s helped a lot that Marty’s here — (Alec) Martinez. I think they had a good friendship, and (Brayden) McNabb, to a certain extent.”
McNabb spent three seasons in Los Angeles before he was claimed by Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft. Martinez’s tenure with the Kings lasted 11 years and included both Stanley Cup runs.
In 2014, Martinez scored the overtime game-winning goals in the Western Conference final, dethroning the Chicago Blackhawks, and in the Stanley Cup final against the New York Rangers. Quick’s tour de force came in 2012 when he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
A similar connection exists between Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and new forward acquisition Ivan Barbashev. That pair went on the memorable worst-to-first run together in St. Louis in 2019.
“Flags fly forever, right?” said Cassidy. “I imagine they’ll always have a bond.”
Barbashev was held off the scoresheet on Tuesday, but already has eight points in 12 games with his new team. A 27-year-old on an expiring contract who hit a new offensive high with 60 points last season, he was a sought-after rental at the trade deadline.
Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon gave up 2021 first-round pick Zach Dean to get him. Cassidy has slotted Barbashev onto the top line with Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault, while also using him on special teams.
“He’s fitting really nicely,” said Pietrangelo. “I’ve seen him play for a long time, and he can play at an elite level.
“The year we won the Stanley Cup final, the way he played on that line, basically playing a shutdown role, was pretty impressive. He’s carried that over defensively.
“Last year, he put up some big numbers, so he’s an all-round player. I think Barby’s pretty versatile in how he needs to play. He’s pretty good at adjusting.”
Tuesday night, Cassidy wondered aloud if having a fellow Russian in the lineup has been helpful for Pavel Dorofeyev, the 22-year-old who was called up just after the trade deadline.
In two NHL games last season and a three-game audition in December, the third-round pick from 2019 failed to register a point. But in his last five games, the native of Nizhny Tagil, Rus., has posted six points. Three of his four goals have been game-winners, including a slick deflection that beat Thatcher Demko on Tuesday in Vancouver.
“He’s hotter than burnt toast right now,” said linemate William Karlsson during his post-game TV interview.
“Maybe Pav, having Barbashev here now has helped him acclimate as well for the little things,” Cassidy said. “Pav’s been around for a while. He was here at camp; he’s been up before. But it probably helps.”
With no former teammates or fellow Latvians in the mix and no Stanley Cup rings to call his own yet, former Pittsburgh Penguin Teddy Blueger is on a bit more of an island.
“It’s our job as coaches to give them value, too, as players,” said Cassidy. “I think we’ve done a good job with that — identifying a role for them, giving them minutes so they feel like they’re part of this.”
Slotted in as a depth center, Blueger picked up his second goal and fifth point in 10 games with Vegas on Tuesday, beating Demko with a sharp-angle shot.
Perhaps even more importantly, he and linemates Brett Howden and Michael Amadio — another former Los Angeles King — have been entrusted as starters to set the tone with the first shift of the game.
Before Tuesday’s game, Cassidy said he wanted his team to “start on time,” and they absolutely did — jumping out to a 1-0 lead after Phil Kessel jumped on an Ethan Bear turnover to open the scoring at 3:01 of the first. By the end of the opening frame, the Golden Knights had extended their lead to 2-0 while outshooting Vancouver 14-5.
“I think we’ve been starting on time real good lately,” said Pietrangelo. “Even the last game against Columbus, I thought we did a really good job — we almost scored on that first shift and carried that momentum throughout the game (a 7-2 home win).
“This time of the year, it’s important, especially on the road,” he continued. “We found what works: that Blueger line has been really good for us, starting games, and we’ve had a lot of success in the first.”
Since Barbashev was acquired on Feb. 26, with Blueger and Quick arriving soon after, the Golden Knights have gone 9-3-1. Tuesday’s win bumped them up to 94 points. They’re fourth overall in the league standings, behind only Boston (113 pts), Carolina (100 pts) and New Jersey (98 pts).
Despite a litany of injuries once again, including to key players like Mark Stone and goalies Robin Lehner, Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit, the Golden Knights sit first in the Western Conference as of Wednesday morning — two points ahead of Los Angeles and four up on the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild.
Now that Quick has reached his milestone, it will be interesting to see how he’s deployed the rest of the way. Thompson was activated off injured reserve before Tuesday’s game and served as backup. Brossoit is also on the road trip that will land in Calgary on Thursday and Edmonton on Saturday.
Cassidy will also use these final weeks of the regular season to continue working to mold his group into a cohesive whole by the time the playoffs begin.
“We want to be a more complete team,” he said. “We’re going to have to be better for the full 60 minutes.”
- Jonathan Quick Leads the New Faces as Golden Knights Prep for Playoffs
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