Key injuries have been 'nothing new' for Vegas Golden Knights the last two seasons

“We’re still grinding here. Teams don’t care. Vancouver’s not worrying about who’s in their lineup or who’s not. They’re missing (goalie Thatcher) Demko. We’ve dealt with it all year.”

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While Connor McDavid has a lower-body issue which is surprising and a large story in these parts, BREAKING NEWS!!!, the visiting Vegas Golden Knights could probably be excused a shrug of the shoulders reaction to McDavid being out day-to-day.

Vegas always has people hurt. Not of McDavid’s calibre with the Edmonton Oiler captain one assist away from joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr at that 100-assist milestone in a single season.

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Any time McDavid, who was hurt in Saturday’s Calgary game at the Saddledome, can’t play, you write a column on it. But now, Bruce Cassidy, the Vegas coach, won’t have to answer game-day questions now about what’s tougher “Connor and Leon (Draisaitl) on the same line or centering two lines?”.

Fact is, man games lost for the reigning Stanley Cup champions, has maybe been their most relevant regular-season statistic for several years now.

Missing some big names

Their captain Mark Stone has a lacerated kidney and his availability for the playoffs, at any point, is murky.

Their best defenceman Alex Pietrangelo has missed eight of the last 10 games with illness. They won’t have their Cup-winning goalie Adin Hill (lower body), big centre Nic Roy or their banging winger William Carrier for Wednesday’s important fixture, either. But, the games don’t stop for injury.

Vegas did get their trade deadline pickup Tomas Hertl into his first game Monday in Vancouver after he had been out for over two months after knee surgery. Hertl was very good, winning three late face-offs with the Vegas goalie pulled, against the Canucks, but the Golden Knights, currently in a wild-card spot, fell 4-3.

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Hertl, will fit in somewhere in the top-6 in Vegas. He was acquired from San Jose for 2023 first-round Swedish centre David Edstrom and a 2025 first-rounder, with the Sharks also eating 17 per cent of the $8.137 million cap hit to get it down to $6.75 million for six seasons after this. He played wing with Chandler Stephenson in Vancouver but Hertl, 30, also played lots of centre for the rebuilding Sharks. He’s a big body on a Vegas team with lots of them.

“He was good (in Vancouver). He got hit a couple of times so the rust of not playing with bodies around him for awhile tired him a bit… but he was strong on the puck, great on face-offs and in front of the net,” said Cassidy, speaking for Hertl who wasn’t available on an optional practice day for Vegas.

”He did a lot of what’s advertised. His linemates are going to have to learn to get open around the net at the hash-marks, the slot area, to the blue paint because he’s able to shake people (checkers) off and bring more people to him which opens up others,” said Cassidy.

“We didn’t put a limit on his minutes (20:20) at all. He played on the penalty-kill more than we’d like because (Brett) Howden took a couple of penalties in that spot and Nic Roy’s out. Maybe he got a few more minutes than I thought, but he’s in great shape,” said Cassidy, who had him play 3:52 on the power play, 2:15 on the PK and 14:13 even-strength.

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“Interesting thing is he played with Stephenson last night, and he takes pride on draws, too. One of them is not going to be there. Hertl’s the new guy so he can’t go in there and say ‘I’ll take it.’ What we’re missing is a rightie (face-offs) with Nic Roy out, but I think he (Hertl) is good on his off-side too.”

Last season was the first time Cassidy got to see him often in San Jose after his years with Boston but Cassidy also felt Hertl has been overshadowed there.

“When he was in San Jose, I was thinking of (Joe) Pavelski and (Joe) Thornton and (Brent) Burns,” he said.

So back to McDavid, who likely isn’t hurt badly but is out for precautionary reasons and will play sometime before the season ends, and those Vegas injuries. They’ve only had three players-Jonathan Marchessault, Ivan Barbashev and Brayden McNabb—play all 77 games and only four others (Stephenson, Keegan Kolesar, Paul Cotter and Mike Amadio) play even 70. Stone has played 56 games, Jack Eichel 58. They’ve used 34 skaters and three goalies.

‘Nothing new’ for Vegas

“We’re still grinding here. Teams don’t care. Vancouver’s not worrying about who’s in their lineup or who’s not. They’re missing (goalie Thatcher) Demko. We’ve dealt with it all year,” said Cassidy.

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“It’s nothing new for us, last year we had it. It’s not an excuse. Maybe in the one-goal games, that’s when it (injuries) most affect things Those are the guys who make a difference in the game. Like in Vancouver last night, we needed more offensive plays and it didn’t quite happen or us.”

Is it more unsettling for a coach when goalies are hurt moreso than defencemen or forwards? Like Hill right now, like last season when Logan Thompson was hurt, then Laurent Brossoit in the playoffs, then Hill had to come in during the Oiler second-round series?

“I dunno. I don’t have a great answer for you. It’s how the guys play in front of the goalie. If you’re not playing well there, not having a goalie becomes more of a factor,” said Cassidy.

“Sometimes (as a coach) you have to plug in three forwards and two D (which is hard). With us this year we’ve had Adin (32 games) or Logan, healthy (44). We’ve also had (Jiri) Patera play five games for us so we don’t run one guy into the ground,” said Cassidy.

They survived last year with the goalie roulette because they had the best top 6 D in the league and rolled over four defensively very sound lines.

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“Yeah, it became a great story (Hill coming in),” said Cassidy.

So, Vegas plays with the hand they’re dealt, like all teams.

“Our goal right now is getting in with a healthy lineup. That’s still a big question mark with a number of guys I can’t give you the answer for… when they’ll be able to go,” said Cassidy.

“But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll get in, we’ll be seeded where we’re seeded, we get some people back and it’ll be like the old the band’s back together mentality,” he said.

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