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Opponents are better prepared for Vegas in expansion team’s second season
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed the greatest debut by any team in modern NHL history. Coached by Summerside's Gerard Gallant, they set league records for an expansion team with 51 wins and 109 points. After finishing atop the Pacific Division, the Golden Knights marched to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final before falling in five games to the Washington Capitals.
A month into their sophomore campaign, however, the Golden Knights have tumbled back to earth. With just seven wins and 15 points in 18 games, they sit near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
For his efforts last season, Gallant won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year. Helping his players regain their winning ways, however, is proving a much bigger challenge than navigating through a highly successful inaugural campaign.
Several factors account for the Golden Knights' struggles. Injuries sidelined forwards Alex Tuch, Erik Haula and off-season additions Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Puck-moving defenceman Nate Schmidt received a 20-game suspension for violating the league's rules against performance-enhancing drugs. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's play isn't up to last season's stellar level.
Perhaps the biggest reason is they're not catching teams by surprise anymore. Opponents are better prepared for them compared to last season.
Alien in Vancouver
The rebuilding Vancouver Canucks are off to a better-than-expected start, entering this week atop the Pacific Division. Part of the credit belongs to rookie Elias Pettersson.
With 10 goals and 17 points in 12 games, Pettersson leads the Canucks and all NHL rookies in scoring. Despite missing six games to a concussion, the 19-year-old centre earned NHL rookie-of-the-month honours for October.
Nicknamed “Alien” during his Swedish playing days, his otherworldly hockey skills have drawn praise around the league. He's even garnered comparisons to NHL greats Wayne Gretzky and Pavel Datsyuk.
Pettersson still has a long way to go to become a full-fledged superstar but he has the potential to be something special. He's already providing a new measure of hope for Canucks fans.
Sprong on the block?
Former Charlottetown Islanders star Daniel Sprong is having difficulty finding his niche with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Expected to become a top-six forward, the 21-year-old winger is showing little of the skills that made him a star in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Entering this week, he has just four assists in 12 games and spent their last two games in the press box.
Sprong's struggles are giving rise to talk he could become a trade candidate. A recent report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited multiple sources claimed the Penguins were listening to offers but it was unclear if they received any serious proposals.
General manager Jim Rutherford may be reluctant to move Sprong and risk seeing him blossom elsewhere. Still, he isn't shy about making deals at any point in the season to help his club. With the Penguins lacking secondary scoring and slipping in the standings, Sprong could become a trade chip that brings in a more reliable scorer.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with the Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.