May 25, 2024

Nine Golden Knights had in-season surgeries, Cassidy says

Seeing their bid for consecutive Stanley Cups end in the first round wasn’t the only pain the Vegas Golden Knights felt this postseason.

Nine Vegas players had surgeries this season, coach Bruce Cassidy shared Sunday after his team’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

“Nine guys. Your roster is only 23, so nine players,” Cassidy said. “Two of them internal surgeries. You never know how those are going to play out. Some other ones were a little more defined, but I give our guys a lot of credit.”

Even though the Golden Knights had 20 players returning from their 2022-23 title team, they still faced questions heading into the playoffs. Most of those queries were about what a fully healthy Golden Knights would look like once the postseason started. That also included questions about how trade deadline acquisitions — such as forwards Tomas Hertl and Anthony Mantha, and defenseman Noah Hanifin — would fit in to an established team.

The Golden Knights opened the series by winning both games at the American Airlines Center in Dallas to take a 2-0 series lead before the Stars won three straight games. Vegas rallied with a 2-0 win in Game 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to force a Game 7.

“Up 2-0, it would’ve been nice to find a way to win two of those three games,” Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “They made some adjustments that I don’t think we adjusted well enough right way. That’s on us as players to find a way when we’re up 2-0 to get the job done.”

NHL Injury Viz, a site that tracks games lost to injuries, has data revealing how the Golden Knights were among the teams to lose the most player games to injury during the 2023-24 season.

In total, the Golden Knights had 10 players who missed more than 10 games because of various injuries. Some players, such as defenseman Shea Theodore (35 games) and left winger Mark Stone (26), had extended absences. Others, such as goaltender Adin Hill, also missed more than 10 games but were out with separate injuries. Hill missed seven games this season with a lower-body injury and another 15 games with an undisclosed injury, according to NHL Injury Viz’s data.

Cassidy added how those injuries also came at a time in which the Golden Knights were trying to find cohesion with their forward lines and defense pairings.

Hertl, who was traded on March 8, was an example of the Golden Knights’ challenges. He was still a member of the San Jose Sharks when his last regular season game came Jan. 27 before he played in the NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 3. Nine days later, the Sharks announced Hertl would undergo a knee procedure that would not see him return until April 8. He played just six games with his new club before the playoffs.

In total, Hertl missed what amounted to 28 regular-season games between the Golden Knights and the Sharks.

“Some of those surgeries are obviously correcting a problem, but it takes as a while to get back up to speed,” Cassidy said. “That would be the unfortunate part. They came and did get healthy enough for the playoffs. That was the positive, and now you are trying to get a team up to speed in a hurry.

“I didn’t do a good enough job of that but that’s a lot of surgeries in one year for guys to overcome, and it defines your game.”

Stone, who underwent multiple back surgeries last season, was recovering from a lacerated spleen this season before returning ahead of Game 1. The Golden Knights captain said he was proud of how the team performed in the face of what was a challenging set of circumstances.

“We had a hard time staying healthy,” Stone said. “Still found a way to get into the playoffs, and we did give ourselves a chance to win the series with a one-goal loss in Game 7 against the top team in the conference. It’s disappointing. That’s really the only way to say it. It’s disappointing.”