The date is Dec. 28, the year of our lord 2017. The Vegas Golden Knights, in Year 1 of hockey operations, are the first Western Conference team to reach 50 points.
This is truly a time to be alive and a time where a lot of things don’t make sense. Alas, that is the reality Vegas finds itself in with the new year approaching. The top team in the West will play the second night of a back-to-back tonight against medieval rivals, the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
The Golden Knights are coming off a dominant 4-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. Malcolm Subban made 27 saves in the victory for Vegas, who enters tonight on a 10-game point streak. Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start for the Golden Knights, marking the star goaltender’s 700th career NHL game. Vegas is on its third five-game winning streak of the season and looks to make it a franchise record sixth straight win tonight.
Los Angeles has gone cold as of late, losing four of its past six after winning eight in a row. The Kings look to avenge their first loss against the Golden Knights on Nov. 19, a 4-2 contest at T-Mobile Arena. Jonathan Quick was pulled 11:55 into the game after allowing three goals. He is expected to start tonight with Darcy Kuemper as the backup.
It’s a battle of division rivals, and a battle that wasn’t supposed to mean much in December but here we are. Here’s what to watch:
A Quick exit?
Quick, a Conn Smythe winner and two-time Vezina finalist, looked like anything but that in his first outing against the Knights. From being unable to turn aside low-danger shots to making ill-advised decisions with the puck, he was chased barely over half a period into the contest, being replaced by Kuemper, who has been one of the league’s top backups this season.
Then again, the Knights know all about backups. In fact, it was none other than fourth-stringer Maxime Lagace that earned a victory in Vegas’ last tangle with Los Angeles, stopping 27 of 29 offerings.
If Vegas can figure out Quick, well, quickly, then there is a solid chance for victory.
A brief aside on Jonathan Quick—he has a reputation that far exceeds his true value. There is a notion that Quick is a Superstar Goalie, but this is just the second season he has been reasonably better than average (2011-12 being the other). Let’s not make him out to be something he is not.
Second time not quite the charm
Entering this contest, Vegas has played a second game against five teams so far this season, and they have walked away with just one regulation win, which, when it comes against the Arizona Coyotes, is about the softest two points available this year. They won in a shootout in their second tangle with the Ducks, and fell to the Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets in their round two showing.
Will the Golden Knights reverse course? Or will they, due in no small part to being on the second leg of a back-to-back, fall again? Only time will tell, but having Fleury in net is almost certainly a source of confidence for the Vegas faithful.
Yet another matchup against elite talent
How many times have the Golden Knights faced off against a top-20 forward and top-20 defenseman in the same game? Judging by the past three seasons (2014-17) of wins above replacement per 82 games data from Corsica.hockey, the answer is six. You may be surprised — although with this team, maybe not — to find out that the Knights’ record in these games is 6-0-0.
Vegas vs. Elite talent at both ends
|Team||Date||Result||Top-20 FWD||Top-20 DEF|
|Team||Date||Result||Top-20 FWD||Top-20 DEF|
|Los Angeles||11/19||4-2 W||Kopitar||Muzzin, Doughty|
|San Jose||11/24||5-4 OTW||Thornton||Burns, Vlasic|
|Pittsburgh||12/14||2-1 W||Crosby, Hornqvist||Letang|
|Tampa Bay||12/19||4-3 W||Kucherov, Stamkos||Hedman|
|Washington||12/23||3-0 W||Ovechkin, Oshie||Carlson|
|Anaheim||12/27||4-1 W||Getzlaf||Lindholm, Manson|
|Los Angeles||12/28||???||Kopitar||Muzzin, Doughty|
Notably absent from this criteria is the Stars, who despite having the 14th ranked d-man in John Klingberg do not have a top-20 forward despite rostering Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Even adding them to the mix still gives the Golden Knights an 8-1-0 record against teams with veritable superstars.
A team of no stars beating superstars time and time again? That’s playing the right way, as head coach Gerard Gallant would say.
Okay, maybe a fourth thing
Will Brendan Leipsic ever score?
How to Watch
TV: NBC-SN (Nationally Televised)
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Time: 7 p.m. PT