The Golden Knights are coming off a disappointing 4-2 loss against the Buffalo Sabres Monday afternoon, which brings Vegas’ record to 1-2-0 on the season. Needless to say, this is not the start the Knights were expecting, but there’s a reason there are 82 games in the regular season. Expectations are high after a record-shattering inaugural campaign that resulted in a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, but there’s no reason to believe the limitations Vegas has exhibited out of the gate cannot be addressed and resolved moving forward.
While it may be disappointing to see the Knights stumble out of the gate and sit in an unfamiliar place with a winning percentage below .500, there’s no need for real concern at this point in the season. Therefore, as they say across the pond, everyone needs to keep calm and carry on and just let the boys play Golden Knights hockey.
Tonight’s matchup against the Washington Capitals will be an emotional one since it’s the first time these teams are meeting since Washington eliminated Vegas in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final back on June 7.
Washington has looked extremely impressive through two games. The Caps dominated the Bruins in a 7-0 win on home ice in the team’s season opener following the Stanley Cup Champions banner ceremony; while Washington proceeded to lose to Pittsburgh the following night, they still managed to get a point with an overtime loss after T.J. Oshie scored two late goals in quick succession to send the game to extra time.
Through two games, the Capitals have scored 13 goals and have picked up three out of a possible four points. They have not played since last Thursday, so the team should be well-rested.
While Vegas will have to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins the following night, the mentality has to be to focus on each shift, each period and each game at a time. The Knights need to get back to playing Knights hockey, regardless of the opponent. After all, adversity is something this Golden Knights team has been able to thrive on throughout its entire existence.
Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s matchup against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals:
Righting the ship
While adversity has never been a true adversary of the Golden Knights, there is certainly room for improvement in Vegas’ game. If last season taught us anything, it’s that this team, led by the inimitable Gerard Gallant, will not take the slow start lightly.
Therefore, look for the top line to get more involved offensively. It has been the Jonathan Marchessault show early on, as Marchessault has points in all three games this season (two goals, two assists). But William Karlsson has just two assists and Reilly Smith has yet to find the scoresheet; getting to the bottom of that is an easy way to patch up the struggling Knights’ offense, which has scored just five total goals in three games.
From there, the rest of the lineup needs to pitch in. Max Pacioretty and Erik Haula have a goal apiece, and fourth-liner Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had a beauty of a short-handed tally against the Flyers in the season opener. But that’s it. There are 11 Knights skaters who have zero points; when Jon Merrill has more points than some of the top-six forwards, you know something’s not right. Vegas needs to build up some confidence and get back to its quick-strike offense.
Dee-fense!! (dun dun) Dee-fense!!
The game on the other side of the puck is the aspect of Vegas’ game that needs the most work, though. The Knights have surrendered 10 goals in three games, and some of the defensive lapses in coverage have been ugly.
Ironically, Washington was the first team that truly exposed the flaws and breakdowns in Vegas’ defense throughout the Stanley Cup series, and it would appear that those gaping holes in Vegas’ defensive schemes have not only not been plugged, but they may have even stretched. On the wholVegas’ defense through three games this season has been abhorrent, but missing Nate Schmidt can’t be an excuse. The struggles of the third pairing featuring Merrill and Nick Holden have been covered ad nauseam, but everyone on the team needs to be better. It’s as simple as that.
Slowing down the Caps
That will be challenging tonight considering the Capitals have been explosive offensively so far this season, scoring 13 goals in a set of back-to-back games before getting five days off before tonight’s matchup. It hasn’t just been the top line, either. In fact, one could argue the team’s second line has looked much better at even strength, with Oshie leading the way with a team-high five points through two games. Nicklas Backstrom seems to be in good health and Jakub Vrana is picking up where he left off in the postseason. Washington’s top six has a combined 17 points through two games, which presents quite a disparity from Vegas’ eight through one extra contest.
One area of particular importance is to try to shut down Washington’s man advantage, which has been on fire. In fact, the Capitals have the best power play in the league thus far, operating at a success rate of 50 percent. John Carlson has been particularly effective as the top unit’s quarterback, grabbing two of his four points this season on the power play.
On the flip side, Vegas has yet to score on the power play, giving them a 0 percent conversion rate. In order for Vegas to improves its chances of winning tonight, one of those trends will have to change.
The reunion of former teammates and buddies Tom Wilson and Schmidt...just kidding
Wilson was issued a 20-game suspension for a check delivered during a preseason game against St. Louis. While he is currently appealing the suspension, he remains out of the Capitals’ lineup for the time being. The same is true for Schmidt, a former Capital, whose presence has been and will continue to be missed in Vegas.
But the Knights will also be without Paul Stastny, who sustained a lower-body injury the other day in Buffalo and will miss at least the remainder of this road trip. Making his season debut is Cody Eakin, who will slot back in on the third line. That means that Tomas Nosek will get bumped to a top-six role to play with Pacioretty and Haula. Nosek has been one of Vegas’ more noticeable forwards so far, so it’s possible that could be a nice spark plug for the Knights’ offense. After all, he was the best Knights player in the Stanley Cup Final series against Washington, so he could be due for his first point of the campaign.
For Washington, Michal Kempny will make his regular season debut while Madison Bowey takes a seat; Dmitrij Jaskin, whom the Capitals claimed off waivers from St. Louis, will make his Capitals debut on the fourth line in place of Aussie Nathan Walker.
How to Watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM