It seems like forever ago since the Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning played in the game of the year. Dec. 19, to be exact, was when Shea Theodore’s game-winning goal with 2.3 seconds gave Vegas a 4-3 win over the best team in the NHL. The Golden Knights continue to have a solid grasp on the top spot in the Western Conference, while the Lightning are the Lightning.
This time, it is the Golden Knights visiting Amalie Arena to face the Lightning. Vegas enters play still first in the Pacific Division at 29-11-3, whereas the Lightning also sit first place but in the Atlantic Division with a record of 31-10-3.
Vegas is coming off a brutal 1-0 loss against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday in the Golden Knights’ second straight loss coming out of the bye week. Kevin Fiala scored with 12 minutes remaining in the third period, which would turn out to be the game’s only goal and 22-year-old back-up goaltender Juuse Saros made 43 saves to complete the shutout.
The Lightning, much to the likes of the Golden Knights are struggling as of late. Tampa is coming off a tough 5-1 loss against the Calgary Flames a week ago today and have lost three out of their last five games.
Here’s what to look for in this game:
Can Vegas find their game again and snap a mini two game losing streak?
The Golden Knights entered the bye-week winning 10 out of their last 11 games and being the hottest team in the NHL while doing so but since returning from the five days off, Vegas has went 0-1-1 and only scored two goals within that time.
We’re not sure if the Golden Knights left their sea legs in Cabo, but the two games out of the bye have not reflected the play of Vegas in the first half of the season. Sure, there was Connor McDavid wanting to play well on his birthday and Saros playing out of his mind, but that’s what winning does. The Golden Knights have a tough test in front of them in Tampa Bay, and you don’t want to call this a must win, but it almost feels like it. Which, again, is weird to say.
One way to get back into the groove, because we continue to beat the dead horse here, is the power play. Vegas has gone 0-for-10 since returning from the bye and 1-for-27 since Dec. 23. Ironically enough, Vegas’ last outstanding performance on the power play was against Tampa Bay, who has the 21st-ranked penalty kill in the league. With how explosive the Lightning’s offense is, capitalizing on those opportunities is crucial.
How will Vegas control the well rested Tampa Bay team?
The Lightning are coming off their bye-week, which could be good or bad pending how you look at it. But if the Golden Knights can take anything they learned from their week off, they will have to control the pace early on. The forechecking game is going to be crucial, as evidenced from the Edmonton game.
Vegas will need to take the crowd out early. It seems cliche, but we’re talking about a game where Tampa Bay has revenge on the brain. That crowd can get loud. They’ll surely show up for this game. It’s not an easy environment to play in, and Vegas will need to be at its best. Asking the Golden Knights to slow down Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov is a lot, but alas.
How to watch
Time: 4:30 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM