There's lots of ways to look at the recent spate of games played by the Vegas Golden Knights but the overarching theme with this group is they have yet to establish who and what they are as a team.
One can say they have picked up points in six of their last 10 games. Or one can state they've lost seven of their lost 10. Vegas has 21 points which has them sitting just outside the wildcard playoff picture but only two back of a tie for second spot in the Pacific Division.
The Golden Knights have yet to go on a cushion-building run, nor have they done much damage to their playoff aspirations. The club has a points percentage of .553 which is good for 20th in the NHL. But a few wins in a row and that could shoot up to top-10 status.
This team has alternately looked impressive and mediocre. The roster is loaded with talent and the coaching staff is considered one of the most complete in the NHL. But something's missing and it's difficult to precisely pinpoint who or what the Golden Knights are at this moment.
Identity has become a cliché buzzword in pro sports but that's because it's fitting.
"To be honest, I look at it like the honeymoon is over. It's the third year now so there are going to be expectations, critics and doubters. We have to handle that and react the right way," said veteran winger Max Pacioretty, who sits second in team scoring with six goals and 16 points through 19 games.
"We can't let that creep into our room or into our game or our heads as individuals. We have to create an identity here quickly where we're resilient. If we let up a goal, we come back and play in-your-face hockey. That hasn't been the case. We let up a goal and play too much on our heels. It is up to us as a group now to individually all make sure that when we do face a tough time in a game, that we just worry about our own game and make sure we play the style we know we can play.
"Resilience is what comes to mind. We're not a team that has some of the superstar skill you'll see in shootouts and go back and forth with teams. We want to grind teams down, play as a unit of five, forecheck, backcheck. We're not going to float around and wait for our opportunities to come to create highlight-reel goals. We want to play in-your-face hockey. At times we've done it this year, but hasn't been enough. We have to find a way to be more consistent in doing so."
The Golden Knights have given up third period leads in three of their last six games. Veteran Mark Stone says putting games away would make his group feel much better about themselves.
"I don't think we're playing overly poorly, but we're not playing our best. When we are at our best we know what we're capable of," said Stone, who leads Vegas with eight goals and 18 points. "I guess one positive is we're not playing at our best, but we're still in a good spot to get out of it. Just a matter of putting teams away when we have the opportunity to … I don't think we are giving up a ton of chances, but when we do it's usually a Grade A. For us right now, it is about finding ways to finish teams. You look at the game in Toronto, you look at the game against Montreal or Winnipeg and especially in Detroit where we have tons of chances to score goals and put teams away but we haven't been able to do that."
When the Golden Knights went to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago, the group was considered the hardest working in the NHL. That was their identity and they hung their collective hats on it game in and game out. They also played smart hockey and were backstopped by one of the best goalies in the NHL.
The current group of Golden Knights players can also get to a place where they're able to claim the same hallmarks.
"It's not one or two guys, it's the whole team. You don't look at it like you want to face adversity, but if we look at the positives it's going to give us a chance at handling it and reacting the right way," said Pacioretty. "It seems as if when we're down, or when we let in a goal, we have a serious letdown in our play and that leads to a couple bad results where we don't like our play for stretches of time and end up losing games. We have to find a way to be resilient. Hopefully these last couple games give us the experience we need to overcome adversity and be better from it."