The Vegas Golden Knights have never missed the playoffs in their storied history.
That storied postseason history dates back only four years, of course, but ever since the upstart Golden Knights reached the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, the expectations surrounding them have been as high as the stratosphere. The Golden Knights have played 11 playoff series in four years. It went from being invaluable postseason experience for a ragtag expansion group to being the expectation. The fact that the team has been a perennial contender since season No. 1 is nothing short of remarkable.
All of that makes it somewhat surprising that the Golden Knights are a bubble team in danger of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially considering the club’s acquisition of Jack Eichel earlier this season.
The Eichel saga finally came to an end in November when the Buffalo Sabres traded him to the Golden Knights and he immediately underwent neck surgery—his preferred artificial disc replacement surgery—and it boosted Vegas’ stock.
Eichel has been exactly as advertised with 10 goals and eight assists in 24 games.
The problem has been the injuries. Only two players have played at least 70 of the team’s 72 games: defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and winger Keegan Kolesar. For the last three weeks of March, the Knights were without goalie Robin Lehner, the netminder they opted to keep last summer when they dealt away Marc-Andre Fleury for salary-cap reasons, and they’re currently without Lehner’s No. 2, Laurent Brossoit. Defenseman Alec Martinez missed significant time, as did Zach Whitecloud, further depleting the blue line. The club is still without forward Reilly Smith and star wingers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.
Skilled role players like Shea Theodore and William Carrier are having down seasons, though you could make the argument that those are partially the result of missing half the lineup.
This team hasn’t had much of a chance to play together at full strength, and it may not if this trend continues. The Knights are running out of time with only 10 games left. They aren’t completely out of the Western Conference wild-card race—only two points behind the Dallas Stars and four points behind the Nashville Predators—but both of those Central Division teams have games in hand.