Skip to Content

Nobody Puts On A Show Like Vegas

Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates his game-tying goal with Shea Theodore
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Before they became Stanley Cup winners, the Vegas Golden Knights were, in some ways, the people's champ. As they faced obstacles to attracting big crowds that cheered loyally and loudly—no lifelong fans, a relatively small local population, a saturation of entertainment options in their market—they did so much more than just open their doors and shout "Hockey here! Getcha hockey here!" To build this fanbase, they've emphasized eye-catching moves to ice the best, shiniest roster, and they've refused to rest on their laurels. This just-passed trade deadline was George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon at their wheeling-and-dealing best.

Last Tuesday, Vegas sent two draft picks to the Capitals in exchange for the 20-goal scorer Anthony Mantha, who can definitely contribute with the support of a talented line. To follow up, they got the best defenseman Calgary had to offer in Noah Hanifin. And just under the wire, they swung a shock deal for longtime San Jose attacking presence Tomáš Hertl, who's on injured reserve but should be a major boost when the playoffs come around just as he heals up and they can add him to the active roster without moving any other contracts. (The league is eventually going to fix that whole "no salary cap in the playoffs" loophole, I'm sure, but until then Vegas is just doing what every team can do, and wishes it did.)

These reinforcements add to a defending champ that, while very likely to make the playoffs, hasn't really distinguished itself in a crowded West since a hot start. Injuries—Vegas always seems to suffer more of these than most, though maybe it just feels that way because they carry so many established players—have stifled them yet again. Surprise Stanley hero Adin Hill, while showing flashes of his spring-'23 self in goal, had to miss a big chunk of starts over the holidays. On defense, Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez have both been below 100 percent. And Mark Stone, team captain and top-line winger when he's healthy, lost the rest of his regular season to a lacerated spleen (ouch).

While Vegas's goals for and against, both above-average but not spectacular, align pretty closely with last year's team, they've been caught up of late in games that just feel totally out of their control. Teams like Toronto, Boston, and even Buffalo have exploded on them for bunches of goals that have left the Knights unsteadily trying to beat the 10-count. It's made for eventful nights—heading into the Mantha trade the team had allowed at least five goals in five of its previous seven—but that's no way for a champion to comport itself. With teams like Edmonton, Vancouver, Dallas, Winnipeg, and Colorado all flashing their fangs, the Knights shuffled meekly back into the role of underdog.

Tuesday's victory in Seattle did not feel like Vegas vigorously seizing control of its destiny: they're lucky as hell that they got the two points. But it does mark the team's first back-to-back victories in more than a month, and the journey to get there was a blast. After a slow-churning first, the Knights outscored the Kraken 2-1 in the second to take a lead into the final 20, but then a hungry Seattle squad forced one of those dizzying Vegas lapses. They scored one, then two, then three unanswered, and even though the Knights were able to respond to the last by willing a quick one of their own, it still put them down 4-3 in the game's final seconds.

A charming thing about Vegas, to me, is that their two most important scorers in that inaugural Final run in 2018 were William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, and their two leading scorers right now, in 2024, are William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. It was Marchessault, Mr. Vegas, who got to play the hero last night with the extra attacker on. Jack Eichel trapped an attempted clearance at the blue line, then sent the puck to Chandler Stephenson in the middle of the O-zone. Stephenson must have like ESPN or something, because without turning his head, he tipped the puck cross-ice to the open man in the opposite circle. Marchessault one-timed it faster than the goalie could dive, and we went to overtime.

The 3-on-3 action, as it often does, started in a contemplative mood but soon broke wide open. It was Eichel, one of Vegas's biggest-ticket acquisitions, who took a rainbow pass from Alex Pietrangelo after a defensive stop and outskated a wheezing Oliver Bjorkstrand for a breakaway. He didn't get fancy on the finish—just aimed to the goalie's left and converted to lift Vegas ahead of Nashville for seventh in the conference.

"The desperation was for sure there," Eichel said afterward. "And that's what our team needs for the remainder of our year.”

Sure, Eichel might prefer to be coasting at the top, unworried by the results of the next few weeks, but the Knights are in a situation where desperation can be fun. They're a defending champ fighting an uphill battle, doing everything in their power to be as strong as possible for the playoffs after a worrying few months. Watching them pull out a momentum-shifting win like Tuesday's is like watching a world-class acrobat after he puts on a blindfold. You can know all the talent that's there, but an element of danger remains. I pity the "favorite" that has to face them in the first round.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter