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Golden Knights’ injuries, COVID absences don’t slow them down

The Golden Knights’ season has featured more twists and turns than a soap opera.

Countless injuries, some mysterious? Check. A contagious virus weaving its way through the locker room? Check.

The team is one evil twin away from winning a Daytime Emmy Award.

Yet the craziest part of all? The Knights keep winning. They wrapped up a 5-1 homestand with a 3-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday to improve to 11-7. They’d be in the playoffs as a wild-card team if the season ended Sunday morning, and they’re only three points back of Calgary’s 25 for second place in the Pacific Division. Edmonton leads with 26 points and also has a game in hand on the Knights.

“I don’t know if I’ve been part of a group with more adversity thrown at them early in a season than what this group’s seen,” said coach Pete DeBoer, who is in his 15th NHL season. “They’ve handled it exceptionally well.”

The Knights’ season started with injuries.

Centers Nicolas Roy and Brett Howden and left wing William Carrier were hurt to begin the year, and left wing Mattias Janmark was in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. Things only got worse from there.

Captain Mark Stone and left wing Max Pacioretty were injured the second game of the season. Defenseman Zach Whitecloud needed hand surgery after blocking a shot. Center William Karlsson broke his foot. Then Carrier, left wing Jonathan Marchessault and center Michael Amadio entered the COVID-19 protocols this week.

Add it all up and through 18 games, the Knights have 102 man-games lost. They had 121 all of last year in 56 games.

The impact of the injuries have been massive as well. Pacioretty, the team’s leading goal scorer the previous two seasons, has missed the most games with 16. Stone is tied for third-most with 12. The Knights’ top center in Karlsson (until trade acquisition Jack Eichel gets healthy) is fifth at 10 and counting.

“It seems like every game there’s something else happening, a little more adversity,” right wing Reilly Smith said.

All the absences have created numerous opportunities for new faces to break into the team.

The Knights have already used 32 players, the third-most in franchise history. They played 35 their first and third season. Eichel’s eventual debut means this year’s team could easily break the record.

The Knights have also had six NHL debuts this season (left wings Pavel Dorofeyev, Paul Cotter and Ben Jones, center Jake Leschyshyn, right wing Jonas Rondbjerg and defenseman Daniil Miromanov), tied for the most in their history with their inaugural campaign. They only had three all of last year.

The debutantes have contributed, too. Three of the six (Cotter, Leschyshyn and Rondbjerg) have scored a goal and four (the trio plus Miromanov) have recorded a point.

The Knights already have goals from 21 players and points from 26. The team record is 27 and 30, respectively.

“It just shows our young guys are stepping up and getting an opportunity,” goaltender Laurent Brossoit said. “The minutes they’re gathering right now and how well they’re showing is huge for down the stretch throughout the season. They’re feeling like they can produce more and more. I think that’s going to be huge.”

The Knights will need those contributions. In hockey, like in any good soap opera, the twists and turns never stop coming.

The team received welcome news this homestand when Stone and Whitecloud returned and Pacioretty started skating with the group again. But the COVID-19 related absences and injuries to defensemen Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez showed the Knights aren’t going to suddenly have smooth sailing because they’ve had a bumpy ride so far.

They need to be prepared for the next surprise lurking around the corner. They’ve already shown they can handle it.

“I think we’re riding a wave right now,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of positivity. And in the NHL, that goes a long way.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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