The Vegas Golden Knights, now in first place in the Western Conference, are about to hit the ice from a well-deserved holiday break and will face the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on Wednesday.
Vegas won the first two meetings against its division rivals, winning 4-2 in Anaheim on Nov. 22 and a 4-3 shootout victory in Vegas on Dec. 5. That home victory in early December is part of a eight-wins-in-nine-games stretch for the Golden Knights, securing a possible 17 of 18 points.
At time of publishing, it’s unclear who will start in net for the Golden Knights. If it is Marc-Andre Fleury, it will be his 700th career NHL game.
The Ducks have been on and off since the last meeting. They've won their last two games but lost three straight before that. Still, the Ducks are hovering around playoff territory with 40 points. They're fourth in the Pacific Division, even with a minus-7 goal differential.
Their leaders have been Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry. But with the return of Ondrej Kase, Hampus Lindholm, and Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks have gotten back to much-needed full strength. Since his return on Dec. 11, Getzlaf has one goal and eight assists. Since his Dec. 16 return, Lindholm has three goals, and Kase has seven points (four goals, three assists) and has scored a goal in three straight games.
Here’s what to check for in this crucial division matchup.
The past four games for the Golden Knights were crucial not just from a standings perspective, but in dictating play. Against some of the League’s greatest opponents, the Golden Knights were the dominant possession team. They didn’t turn the puck over and capitalized on their five-on-five play. That was evident against the Florida Panthers.
Vegas never dipped below 50 percent Corsi at 5-on-5. They owned the first period with a 24-12 differential, tied in the second at 16, and then crushed the Panthers 22-9. That's the kind of damage the Knights can do, and they need to do it more consistently.
Vegas hasn’t faltered down the stretch in games. It’s actually been the team to climb back from early deficits and have made games out of it (highlighting that Tampa Bay game, especially). The Knights have to continue that stretch of puck possession, especially now that they’re facing a healthier Ducks team, especially with Getzlaf back in the fold.
Win the net-front battle
The Capitals had zero shots on the power play in front of the slot. They had several shots on the side of the net at even strength, but the defense and Fleury were able to contain the high-octane Washington offense. Tampa was also kept away from the highest-danger rebound areas and only scored there on the power-play. Even Pittsburgh was kept away from the front of the net.
You get the idea. Vegas, which has done a great job at eliminating scoring opportunities, needs to do that again.
Vegas needs to continue to play that tight defense and limit Anaheim’s chances, . That's been a huge step in getting the Golden Knights victories, and if the Ducks are kept to the outside, then they'll be significantly less dangerous.
Defend the dot
All six goals against the Golden Knights during their current four-game win streak came from either the faceoff circle or within a few feet. There are a few ways to defend those shots.
Blocking shots and envelop the puck is a good start. If the shot gets blocked but bounces back, that can be another scoring chance. But if the shot gets eaten up by the blocker, then the chance for a rebound is taken away.
The second is to continue winning faceoffs. While only one goal of the past six has been the direct result of a faceoff, the Knights have lost most faceoffs in this stretch (92-100).
If the Knights can win defensive battles both up close and from the circle, then the Ducks will be limited.
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Time: 7 p.m. PT