The Bruce Cassidy era of Las Vegas hockey begins Tuesday night when the Vegas Golden Knights open their 2022-23 campaign in Los Angeles against the Kings.
Cassidy was fired by the Boston Bruins following a fourth-place Atlantic Division finish and a 107-point season that ended with a seven-game Eastern Conference first-round playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, He takes over for Peter DeBoer, now the coach of the Dallas Stars.
DeBoer was fired after the injury-plagued Golden Knights surprisingly missed the playoffs for the first time in team history with 94 points and a fourth-place finish in the Pacific Division.
The Golden Knights will be without starting goaltender Robin Lehner, who had double hip surgery, for the season but captain Mark Stone, who had just nine goals and 30 points in 37 games and needed back surgery, is healthy again. So is mid-season acquisition Jack Eichel, who had 14 goals and 11 assists in 34 games following neck surgery.
“It’s night and day,” Stone said of his back. “The nerve pain is gone. Thank God. I have never been through that in my life before.”
Vegas, which went all to the way to the Stanley Cup Final in its initial season in 2017-18 but lost in five games to the Washington Capitals, had been expected to challenge Colorado for the Western Conference title last season. However, the Golden Knights, already lacking depth because of salary cap woes, couldn’t overcome key injuries to Stone, Lehner, Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez.
Pacioretty, who had 97 goals and 97 assists in 224 games with Vegas, was dealt along with promising defenseman Dylan Coghlan to Carolina to help clear $7 million in salary cap space needed to re-sign restricted free agent forward Reilly Smith.
The Golden Knights signed veteran Phil Kessel, 35, to a one-year, $1.5 million to help fill Pacioretty’s scoring void.
Cassidy said he’s happy to open the season with a road game in Los Angeles. The Kings finished third in the Pacific with 99 points and lost to Edmonton in seven games in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
“I’m glad we’ve got L.A. right away,” Cassidy said. “It’s a team we’re going to need to be better than this year, a team we’re going to have to outplay. So let’s get after it right away and find out where we’re at.”
Los Angeles overcame a 1-5-1 start to its season and key injuries to defenseman Drew Doughty, who played just 39 games before undergoing wrist surgery, left wing Viktor Arvidsson (back surgery) and defenseman Sean Walker (knee surgery), to snap a three-year playoff drought.
The Kings made a key offseason move when they acquired left wing Kevin Fiala, who had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season, from the Minnesota Wild. Fiala will begin the season on the No. 1 line with five-time All-Star center Anze Kopitar and 2022 All-Star right wing Adrian Kempe, who scored 35 goals last season.
After making a surprise run to the playoffs, Kings coach Todd McLellan said his team will try to deal with increased expectations this season. That starts with winning a playoff series for the first time since the team’s 2014 Stanley Cup run as well as getting off to a good start to the season.
“We’d like to take a step forward,” McLellan said. “We would. We took a big leap last year. We’d like to build on that and move forward.
“The biggest thing is can we re-establish our game quickly? We go 1-5-1 (to start the season) we’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We were fortunate to crawl back into it last year. We prefer to have a better start than that.”
Added Doughty: “We need to win a playoff series, or two, or three, whatever it is.”.
–Field Level Media