From one end of the rink to the other, when Mark Stone is on the ice he’s almost always making winning contributions.
He’s a strong offensive threat who drives possession, plays great defense, logs heavy minutes on special teams and has built a reputation for his uncanny ability to pick his opponents’ pockets. He may not be the top scorer in the sport, but he’s one the NHL’s most well-rounded and valuable players.
The Vegas Golden Knights coped with the absence of Stone from Jan. 12 to the end of the regular season due to the winger’s back injury. When they activated their captain from the LTIR for Game 1 of their series against the Winnipeg Jets they had plenty of reason to hope for a significant boost.
That’s not what they got.
Stone led all Golden Knights forwards in ice time in a 5-1 loss (21:28), but he was a minus-3 without managing a shot on net. In fact, Vegas was outshot 12-5 in his even-strength minutes with a xGF% of 20.29%.
The do-it-all winger couldn’t get anything done.
Given the length of his absence, some level of rust was to be expected. There was no reason for the Golden Knights to panic about a player of Stone’s calibre. Even so, it must have come as a relief to Vegas to see its leader produce a dramatic bounce back in Game 2.
With just over seven minutes left in the game he scored his first goal in 105 days by crashing the net.
Then he put the game away with a snipe from the slot:
Those goals were part of a complete effort that included an assist, five shots on net, and four hits — a number of checks he managed just once in 43 regular-season games.
His on-ice numbers turned on a dime too, as Vegas outscored the Jets 3-1 and outchanced them 11-6 with Stone buzzing around. His xGF% of 65.17% was more than triple his brutal Game 1 mark.
After seeing the worst version of Stone, the Golden Knights got a glimpse of the best the winger has to offer just two days later.
Vegas entered its series with Winnipeg as a solid favorite, but this matchup could end up closer than it initially looked on paper. The Jets have a proven set of forwards and one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders between the pipes.
If the Golden Knights get performances from Stone like we saw on Thursday, it will help them pull away, though. When this team’s captain is firing on all cylinders, this can be a dangerous group.
We’ve already seen them dominate with Stone rolling and get battered on an offday for the star winger.
That’s an oversimplification, of course, but Golden Knights fans can breathe a little easier knowing the same Stone they’ve been watching for four-and-a-half years is back and ready to help drive another deep playoff run.