The Golden Knights are back at it tonight against a tough Central Division opponent in the St. Louis Blues, who sit first in the Western Conference with 12 points through eight games. Vegas isn’t very far behind with 10 points in six games, but tonight’s matchup could be the team’s most difficult challenge yet.
Vegas will look to become the first team in League history to win six of its first seven games in its inaugural season.
St. Louis is a well-rounded team with plenty of offensive firepower, sound defense and solid goaltending. The team has gotten contributions from throughout the roster, including at least one goal from every defenseman in the lineup.
Vladimir Tarasenko is the Blues’ most dangerous offensive threat and has scored in four straight games. But Jaden Schwartz leads the team in goals (6) and points (12), scoring four goals in his last two games. Captain Alex Pietrangelo has been stellar on the blue line with 10 points, 34 shots and 13 blocks.
The Blues entered the regular season without defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forwards Ryan Reaves, Jori Lehtera and, of course, David Perron. But St. Louis’ most notable offseason move was the acquisition of Brayden Schenn, who has played well as the team’s second-line center. Schenn has six points in eight games and a Corsi For percentage of 50.7.
Goaltenders Jake Allen (4-2-0) and Carter Hutton (2-0-0) have a combined 2.60 goals-against average and .924 save percentage this season, though Allen gets the nod tonight.
Despite St. Louis’ hot start, the team has below-average special teams statistics, including the 21st-ranked power play (16.1 percent) and 23rd-ranked penalty kill (77.1 percent) entering tonight’s game. By comparison, the Knights rank 28th on the power play with a frightening 7.7 percent conversion rate and hold the 19th-ranked penalty kill at 78.9 percent.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s showdown against the Blues.
Will the Knights clean up the penalty kill?
After defeating the Boston Bruins last Sunday night, the Golden Knights had the third-best penalty kill in the National Hockey League, operating at 92.8 percent. After Tuesday’s performance against Buffalo, however, the Knights have dropped 16 spots in the rankings and now hold the 19th best PK, operating at 78.9 percent. Two reasons for that — the season is still in its infancy, and the Knights gave up three power-play goals in one game.
Through the first five games of the season, the Golden Knights’ PK killed off 13 of 14 opposition power plays, surrendering just one such goal to the Dallas Stars in the season opener on a beautiful Tyler Seguin deflection. Tuesday night against Buffalo, however, Vegas surrendered three goals while shorthanded, including two in the second half of the third period. Plus, the game-tying goal from Evander Kane at 19:51 of the third may not have been an official power-play tally, but Buffalo pulled its goalie and had the extra attacker on the ice.
That means the Knights essentially gave up four goals while shorthanded in 60 minutes of hockey. That is something the team must clean up, and it has to start tonight against the Blues. Though it may be obvious, playing with more discipline could go a long way.
Can Malcolm Subban get it done against tougher competition?
Tonight’s game will be a true test for Subban, who is 2-0-0 as a member of the Golden Knights.
For a goalie making just his fifth career NHL start, there’s a lot of pressure on 23-year-old Subban. That being said, he has handled his role remarkably well thus far, and he has played even better than his 2.42 GAA and .911 save percentage would suggest. To be fair, three of the five goals he has given up were power-play tallies, and the other two were scored while the opposing teams had an extra attacker on the ice. In essence, he has given up five goals while shorthanded but has been perfect 5-on-5.
It’s hard to expect much more from Subban in this position. However, he will have to be at the top of his game tonight if Vegas wants to keep up with the highly-skilled St. Louis Blues.
Will David Perron score against his former team?
Perron is coming off a two-goal performance against Buffalo that included the game-winning overtime snipe.
He faces his former team tonight after scoring 102 goals and 244 points in 422 career games in two stints with St. Louis. He has two goals and five points in six games this season and will look to add to his five career points against the Blues.
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV Free Game
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Time: 7:30 p.m. PT