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Golden Knights trying to overcome several key injuries in season's second half

Jack Eichel Vegas Golden Knights Jack Eichel - The Canadian Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The news Tuesday that Jack Eichel would be “week-to-week” after undergoing surgery for a lower-body injury was the latest of many health setbacks the Golden Knights have experienced this season.

Somehow, though, defending champion Las Vegas remains in a strong playoff position.

The Knights, who host the New York Rangers on Thursday, are in second place in the Pacific Division with 55 points, seven behind Vancouver entering Tuesday's play.

“You've got to have that no-excuse mentality,” captain Mark Stone said. “Everyone's got to play a little bit better version of their game.”

To underscore that point, Stone noted that the third line that included Brendan Brisson — a rookie making his NHL debut — was on the ice when Nashville went to a 6-on-5 down two goals late in Monday's game. The Knights not only kept the Predators from scoring but later got an empty-net goal from Jonathan Marchessault to salt away the 4-1 victory.

“They've got to step up when that opportunity comes," Stone said. "They kept the puck to the outside and didn't give them anything. And our line goes out and we roll another line.”

The Knights haven't exactly been rolling, though they are showing signs of recent life. They have won two of their past three games and three of five following a stretch of six losses in seven games.

Vegas is still searching for consistent offense. The victory over Nashville ended a three-game stretch in which the Knights didn't score over the first two periods. Vegas has been shut out five times; the Knights were blanked just twice all of last season.

The four goals against the Predators were more than the Knights scored in their previous three games combined.

“Breaking the puck out, winning wall battles, everything comes down to that,” defenseman Nic Hague said. “All five guys coming together. I thought (Monday) was much better. It kind of brought us back to what we know and what we expect from ourselves.”

A major question is whether this season will resemble more of two years ago or a year ago. The Knights lost more than 500 man games to injuries in 2021-22, helping cost them a postseason appearance for the first time in the franchise's short history.

Last season, the Knights lost eight of 10 games entering the All-Star break, but came out roaring after that to secure the best record in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

If they are to make another such run this season, the Knights will have to find a way to overcome these injuries:

— Eichel was injured Thursday against the Boston Bruins. He managed to reenter that game and help the Knights win 2-1 in overtime, but the longer he is out of the lineup the more it could become a major problem. Eichel leads the team with 19 goals and is tied with Stone with 44 points.

William Karlsson hasn't played since the Winter Classic at Seattle on New Year's Day because of a lower-body injury. Like Eichel, Karlsson is listed as week to week. He was having his best season since his first in Vegas when Karlsson scored 43 goals and had 78 points in 2017-18. Karlsson is third on the team this season with 32 points.

Shea Theodore underwent surgery in late November for an upper-body injury and still hasn't been in the lineup. He led the Knights at the time with 14 assists and also had 18 points, the club's most offensive-minded defenseman.

— Goalie Adin Hill has had trouble getting back in the lineup since suffering a lower-body injury in November, and was due to return to the ice Wednesday at Colorado. Coach Bruce Cassidy said Hill informed him that day he didn't feel physically ready to return and still hasn't been back in the net. Hill came off the bench last postseason to help carry the the Knights to the Stanley Cup title.

Injuries haven't been the only issue. Illnesses also have kept players out of games, and one nearly prevented Chandler Stephenson from playing Monday. He wound up playing and delivered assists on two of Stone's three goals.

“Sometimes you play better when you're not feeling 100% because you don't overextend yourself,” Cassidy said. “But nice to have him.”

If only Cassidy had more of his players available.