After being shut out for the first time in franchise history in Tuesday and seeing their five-game winning streak snapped convincingly, the Vegas Golden Knights are back in action to face the Minnesota Wild for the first time ever.
This will be the first time Alex Tuch and Erik Haula will face their former team. Haula was Vegas’ selection in the expansion draft, while Tuch was traded to the Golden Knights as compensation for not taking a Minnesota defenseman.
Vegas is coming off a 3-0 loss to the Dallas Stars, which also saw its eight-game home winning streak snapped. Malcolm Subban lost his first game as a Golden Knights goaltender.
The Wild, however, haven’t been any better. Minnesota has lost its past two games by a combined 13-5. Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk hasn’t risen above a .900 save percentage in his last four games.
Meanwhile, it seems like the Wild are relying on the same few players every game for points. Jason Zucker is riding a four-game point streak while Charlie Coyle has gotten a point in three of those four games. Other players are finding the back of the net, but those two have been their most important forwards.
The defense has also contributed to the Wild’s inability to limit goals. The Wild haven’t allowed less than two goals since Dubnyk’s three-game shutout streak. That has to be good news for the Golden Knights. Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s game.
Malcolm at even strength
Outside of giving up three even-strength goals on Tuesday, Subban has been terrific since returning from injury. He has been well worth the waiver claim the Golden Knights submitted to get him.
The biggest factor in his success is his even-strength save percentage. Outside of Tuesday’s loss to Dallas, Subban has recorded a save percentage of at least. 900.
This is Subban’s first game after a loss with Vegas, so it’s important to note how well he rebounds after Tuesday. The Golden Knights are very likely to win if they can keep Minnesota from scoring. That sounds cliche, but this is unfamiliar territory all around for this Golden Knights team, especially Subban.
Clearing the crease
On the three goals Radek Faksa scored against the Golden Knights, the defense couldn’t clear the crease. Faksa was able to plant himself on the doorstep of the net and tuck away goals that would normally be stopped.
On the first of the Stars’ goals, Nate Schmidt and Haula followed Dan Hamhuis to the side of the net, leaving Faska all alone in front of it. On the second and third, Deryk Engelland played irresponsible defense, allowing Faksa to get back near the net.
If the defense takes care of the front of the net better, it will allow Subban to make easier saves, something he’s proven very capable of. For the defense, it’s a question of tightening back up the loose ends from Tuesday.
If the Golden Knights can keep the penalty minutes to a low mark — say six or fewer — they win. It’s above that mark where they struggle, outside of the Nov. 25 game against the Arizona Coyotes, where Vegas had 10 penalty minutes and still won.
The Knights were not disciplined against the Stars. They had eight penalty minutes, which cost them dearly. Even with a successful penalty kill like Vegas has, giving an opposing team four to five power plays in a game is a recipe for disaster.
Especially when one of Vegas’ better defensive defensemen this season, Luca Sbisa, is injured. Sbisa will be traveling with the team to Minnesota and Winnipeg (hopefully playing in at least one of the games). Even with a healthy Sbisa, staying disciplined and limiting penalties will be a factor in every Vegas game.
With David Perron likely out a third straight game, the first line is having to rebuild on the fly. James Neal and Haula are having to learn how to play with Brendan Leipsic. That experiment could eventually foster a good line, but until then, secondary scoring will become increasingly important.
Players like Leipsic and Tuch, Tomas Nosek and Cody Eakin will have to step up and score for the time being. Now would be a good time for Leipsic to score his first goal. Now would be an excellent time for the defense to continue being involved, and step up more offensively.
If lines besides the second of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith and the second are able to produce, this contest against the Wild could be a return to form for the Golden Knights. The Knights are still waiting for a bottom-six forward to thrive.
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM