Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s close 2017 with some hockey. More importantly, let’s close 2017 with some first-place Vegas Golden Knights hockey.
Because alas, we are here on the doorstep of 2018 and the Golden Knights are still doing the dang thing on the hockey side. Vegas looks to close 2017 with a seven-game winning streak when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday.
The Golden Knights return home after winning a division-rival-laden back-to-back on the road against the Anaheim Ducks (4-1) and Los Angeles Kings (3-2, overtime). They’re on an 11-game point streak and have gone 10-0-1 in that time, which is still some weird tomfoolery. Vegas, regardless of Sunday’s outcome, will be in first place in the Pacific Division heading into the new year with two games in hand over the Kings, who won Saturday in Vancouver.
Much has changed since the last time Toronto and Vegas met at Air Canada Centre on Nov. 6, when the Golden Knights lost 4-3 in their first ever shootout. Maxime Lagace was the goaltender for the Golden Knights. Vegas was in the midst of a six-game road trip with its fourth-string goaltender and the world was in topsy-turvy mode. The Leafs have gone 15-7-2 since that win in Toronto, while Vegas has gone 16-4-2 in that stretch.
In short, this will be a game of good hockey teams and we shall ring in the new year with such excitement. Here’s what we’re watching for this afternoon.
Golden Knights could use another strong bottom-six effort
Vegas’ top-six has been the catalyst during this stretch of winning, and rightfully so. The past three games, however, the Golden Knights have benefitted from the bottom six at the right time.
This ranges from the play of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin, Brendan Leipsic (!!!) and Oscar Lindberg, who have each scored in the wins over Washington, Anaheim and Los Angeles. The balance that the Golden Knights have preached throughout the course of the season is starting to turn the corner.
The top two lines are going to do what they do. Jonathan Marchessault is on a five-game point streak, Erik Haula has scored 11 points in the past 10 games and David Perron has 21 points in the past 18 games. Look for the Eakin line with Tuch and Leipsic, however, to make another strong impact today.
Slowing down Auston Matthews is an obvious must
If it were not for the fact that the Maple Leafs were winning so much without their 40-goal scorer in the lineup, this point might not be as worrisome. But with Matthews back after missing two weeks with an upper-body injury, the dynamic Toronto offense is back at the right time for Leafs fans.
Matthews has three points in three games since returning from injury, albeit two of those points came against the Arizona Coyotes in the epic homecoming that it was. While Matthews didn’t score a point in Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas defense has to be keen on Matthews because, well, he’s Auston freaking Matthews and can score goals from the Bellagio.
Vegas defenseman Luca Sbisa, noted defensive stalwart and dominant blue-liner, is questionable to play. The Golden Knights could use him in this matchup if the winning streak is to continue.
Let’s talk about this Vegas Flu
We haven’t talked about it enough on this site, mainly because what the Golden Knights are playing good hockey and it has nothing to do with the fact the visiting teams are on the Strip for the entire night before.
We’ll have a longer discussion about this at some point, but there comes a time where we need to just throw our hands in the air and accept the fact that the Vegas Golden Knights are a good hockey team. Yes, they’re 15-2-1 at T-Mobile Arena, but how come we’re not discussing the Disney Flu in Anaheim or the Hollywood Flu in L.A.? Vegas is winning games no matter where they are. They’re a good hockey team. The Vegas Flu is a myth.
Toronto stayed at the Red Rock hotel last night. Far away from the Strip. There’s no excuse today.
How to watch
Time: 12:30 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, TSN, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM