It’s becoming commonplace for a new hero to be unearthed every other game for the Vegas Golden Knights. That’ll happen when fourth-string goalies play and Ships sail through rocky waters back to Russia.
Yet it seems foolish to look at the last 10 games for the Golden Knights and say William Karlsson hasn’t been the best player for Vegas. He made another case for that Friday, scoring two goals in Vegas’ 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
“Right now, I’m really enjoying hockey,” Karlsson said.
And he should have every reason to love hockey right now. He’s a top-six forward on an expansion team that has 21 points through 16 games and is second in the Pacific Division. Karlsson, by all accounts (and through his own admission), is playing the best hockey of his young career right now. That comes as no shock considering it took Karlsson 10 games to match last season’s goal total (six), which took him 81 games to reach with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Golden Knights are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, and that’s despite the disappointing 1-4-1 result in their six-game road trip. In that stretch, Vegas is 4-2-1 when Karlsson registers a point.
But Karlsson’s emergence as a go-to offensive force in the Golden Knights’ lineup is more eyebrow-raising when you look at the timing of it all. Karlsson started the season as a bottom-six center, but was moved to right wing for three games ... the only three games Vadim Shipachyov played as a Golden Knight.
Karlsson registered a goal and three assists in those three games (the goal being the overtime winner against St. Louis), but it wasn’t until Shipachyov was sent down to Chicago the second time where Karlsson began to excel. He was moved to second-line center to play with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, and complimented the two veterans on why he’s played well.
“I think the chemistry from (the three) of us has paid off,” Karlsson said. “I always know where they are and they’re always open when they get the puck.”
That chemistry was evident on Karlsson’s second goal Friday, a short-handed goal that was the game’s final tally. Once Smith corralled the puck along the boards, Karlsson was already near center ice with a one-on-one opportunity against Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Karlsson’s back-hand score was his second short-handed goal of the season.
“Great pass by Smitty,” Karlsson said. “I saw an opening and I went for it. I just yelled, and I got it. It was a big goal. They had a power play and wanted to get back in the game, and we were hoping to kill off some momentum.”
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant has had to juggle the task of playing natural centers out of position, much like Karlsson, a lot this season. Performance does help in these situations, though.
“Ever since (Karlsson) went to the center position, he’s played a lot better,” Gallant said. “When he plays that well, he’s staying where he’s at. We like him at center now with the two guys he’s playing with.”
Karlsson is three goals away from matching his career-high, which he will surely pass at this rate within the next couple of weeks. And at some point, as it has been all year long with the Golden Knights, there’s a chance Karlsson will cool down and someone else will emerge from the ashes and find some way to carry Vegas to some wins.
If that person can remotely play as well as Karlsson has, that’s not a bad thing.