Golden Edge mailbag: On improved defensemen, Brandon Pirri

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (27) battles for the puck against San Jose Sharks left wing Marcus Sorensen (20) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

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The most interesting question of the NHL season — who will hoist the Stanley Cup? — will begin to be answered soon when the playoffs start next week. Until then, let’s get to it.

“Thank goodness for (Jon) Merrill and (Shea) Theodore improving so much this year.” — Paul (email)

The Knights’ defensive corps got a boost this season from Merrill’s emergence and Theodore’s continued growth.

Merrill, 27, has a career-high 15 points this season and is plus-17 after starting this season with a career rating of minus-34. He was the seventh defenseman when Nate Schmidt returned from his 20-game suspension in November, but he’s played so well he’s only sat twice since Dec. 23.

“He’s playing a good all-around game,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s played real good hockey. He keeps playing well, he keeps playing solid and that’s what we need from him.”

Theodore, 23, has also taken a step forward after a promising rookie season in 2017-18. He’s six goals and eight points better than he was last year with two games to play, and he took off after he moved to the right side of the ice and was partnered with Brayden McNabb.

The two are a combined plus-15 (McNabb plus-8, Theodore plus-7) since being paired together because their contrasting styles — McNabb is steady, Theodore is aggressive — complement each other.

“He’s definitely able to support me when I’m trying to jump up and make some plays,” Theodore said. “It’s good having a steady guy like that.”

“What’s happened to Brandon Pirri?” — Linda (email)

Gerard Gallant said Pirri had a lower-body injury March 25 and the forward missed the next four games.

He was back Monday against the Edmonton Oilers and assisted on Cody Eakin’s first period goal. Pirri poked the puck free from the boards, where forward Alex Tuch and Oilers defenseman Kris Russell were battling for it, and Eakin picked it up and scored.

“I thought it was a good game and we’ll continue to build on it,” Pirri said. “We just have to tighten things up. (Monday) we played the way this team was built to play. We were tight defensively, and we forechecked really hard and played fast. If we want to be successful in the playoffs, that’s what we have to do.”

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