This whole thing about playing one game and getting a few days off inbetween can throw one off quite easily. Don’t let that deter you from the fact that the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday.
By the way, that’s still pretty cool.
But the Golden Knights have been adamant of ending this stretch before Christmas strong, and will look to do that Saturday when they face the Washington Capitals at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights (22-9-2) are 3-0-1 in this five-game homestand and have won seven of their past eight. They haven’t lost in regulation since Dec. 1 at Winnipeg. It’s more impressive seeing the wins Vegas has accumulated in that stretch — Nashville, Dallas, Pittsburgh and, of course, Tampa Bay. The Golden Knights continue to have three in hand behind the first-place Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division.
Vegas welcomes the Capitals (22-12-2) to Sin City for the first time, meaning this is the George McPhee Revenge Game and Nate Schmidt will play some role in this, too. McPhee was the Washington general manager for 17 years. That tenure resulted in eight 40-win seasons, seven division titles and an Alex Ovechkin in a pear tree.
Schmidt, the defenseman taken by the Golden Knights from the Capitals in the expansion draft, leads Vegas in average time on ice at 22:36. That’s almost seven minutes more than he averaged last year (15:29). Keep this in mind when noting how well Vegas players have played against their former teams.
The Capitals enter on the second night of a back-to-back after losing 3-2 in overtime to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday. Braden Holtby is expected to start in net after getting Friday off. Washington still has a high-powered offense with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the returning T.J. Oshie (concussion).
It’s a battle of the third highest scoring team (Vegas, 3.45) and the ninth (Washington, 3.11). Goals will be had, and Vegas is facing another really talented offensive juggernaut. Here’s what you should be keeping an eye on.
Can Vegas cross the Christmas finish line?
This is something coach Gerard Gallant has preached the past two weeks. Vegas has done well, speaking on that aforementioned four-game point streak during this homestand. Closing out strong before embarking on a post-holiday trip to Southern California is detrimental to the Golden Knights’ continuous string of success.
What Vegas has done in this homestand can’t be explained, but it speaks well in the days leading up to division showdowns against the Anaheim Ducks and the Kings. Defeating the Lightning felt like a Stanley Cup-type of victory, but that’s why they play 82 games a season. It’s important Vegas comes away with at least a point against a Washington team that has secured at least a point in nine of its last 10 games.
Golden Knights need to stay out of the penalty box
Good news: The Capitals are the 16th best power play team in the league (19.8 percent). Bad news: Washington’s power play has the capability to be as dangerous as Tampa Bay’s. That fear with the man advantage comes from Ovechkin, who is like Steven Stamkos on steroids when it comes to finding the net.
Vegas has fallen behind 2-0 in its past two games, but Tampa Bay charged to its lead by way of the man advantage. With Washington playing as well as it has, keeping the power play at a minimum will be crucial. It’s not a certainty Vegas can rely on its five-on-five play to dictate the pace of the game like it did on Tuesday, but at least the chances are greater knowing they stayed out of the box.
Vegas has the chance to make another statement
Until the Golden Knights officially clinch a playoff spot, we need to be weary about anticipating when the wheels will fall off the car. Rest assured, though, another win against another Eastern Conference powerhouse is the kind of win that’s needed before the Christmas break.
While it can be annoying, every game is vital for the Golden Knights until they’re level with the Kings in the standings. And until proven otherwise, the standings will be observed with the largest of magnifying glasses. Whenever that time comes, the Golden Knights are in the position they’re in and are at the big boys table — meaning they cannot afford to lose big-time games.
So far, that hasn’t been the case. That doesn’t mean to sleep on the Capitals.
How to watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Time: 5 p.m. PT (early start time, be aware!)