Jonathan Marchessault’s loud “Woo!” could be heard echoing throughout a stunned Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday.
The Golden Knights sharpshooter had just squeezed the puck between goaltender Martin Jones’ left arm and torso from the goal line to give his team a 4-0 lead in Seattle. The Knights’ first two games were one-goal nail-biters. Their third was a 5-2 rout that let the team celebrate a little early for the first time.
Coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t much care about the manner of the wins at this point. The Knights are far from a finished product. They’re still finding their way with new players, new systems and new line combinations.
Picking up points is what matters, especially after the Knights’ 1-4 start last year helped set the table for them to miss the playoffs.
“I don’t know what this team is going to look like in April,” Cassidy said Friday. “Right now, I feel like let’s just get the points, bank the points, don’t beat yourself. … Don’t let it get away from you and regret.”
Cassidy’s message seems to have sunk in during the Knights’ 3-0 start. The wins are the key, but here are three other notable developments:
1. Depth providing edge
The Knights have been at their best throughout their history when rolling their four forward lines and getting everyone involved in the game.
That’s exactly what Cassidy has been able to do to start this season.
The coach has said that in an ideal world none of his forwards would play less than 10 minutes in a game or more than 20. He’s stuck to that through three games. The most a forward has played is captain Mark Stone’s 20:40 against Chicago. The shortest stint was right wing Michael Amadio’s 9:46 in the opener.
The Knights’ depth is strong enough to spread the workload out like that. Fourteen players have scored at least a point, including all three members of the fourth line. Cassidy is using the group to start games, and it responded with a goal in its opening shift against Seattle.
Center Nicolas Roy’s line “got off to a huge start to put that one in,” goaltender Adin Hill said. “It gives your team confidence.”
2. Goalies holding up
The two goaltenders the Knights opened the season with have combined for 97 NHL appearances, 267 fewer than last year’s primary starter, Robin Lehner, had on his own.
That created questions about how Hill and rookie Logan Thompson would fare over a full season. The answer is still a long ways away, but they’re off to a good start.
The two goaltenders have allowed five goals through three games while making 85 saves. Thompson already has two wins and a shutout to improve to 12-5-3 in his NHL career.
The Knights hope Cassidy’s new defensive system makes life easy on the two netminders as they grow into their larger roles. The team doesn’t want them to be spectacular, just solid. That’s what’s happened so far.
“I think both goaltenders, if you look at the three games, have not let in a bad goal,” Cassidy said. “I think they’d tell you they’d like to stop every one, but there’s no bad goals so far.”
3. Watch out for Theodore
Defenseman Shea Theodore seemed excited about the changes Cassidy was making in training camp. Now it’s easy to see why.
Cassidy’s defensive system is allowing Theodore to show off his skating more, and as a result, the Knights are dominating play with him on the ice. He has been out for five goals at five-on-five and none against. No one else on the team is better than plus-two.
Theodore also had his best offensive game Saturday with a goal and an assist, become the first Knights defenseman to score this season.
Cassidy’s style has worked for defenders in the past. Boston’s Charlie McAvoy finished in the top 10 in the Norris Trophy voting the last three seasons under him, including top five the past two years.
Theodore is talented enough to get into the same conversation if he builds off his start and leads what he believes is an “underrated” blue line.
“It’s good to get on the board early,” Theodore said. “Hopefully that can continue for all of us.”