When the Philadelphia Flyers left T-Mobile Arena with a surprising 5-2 win in the Golden Knights’ season opener less than 10 days ago, many thought it was just an unlucky result considering the Knights outplayed Philadelphia for much of the night.
But four games later with only one win (which came in the shootout) to show for it, the Knights enter this afternoon’s rematch against those same Flyers with even more determination to right the wrong that has been the early part of the 2018-19 season.
Here are four things to watch for as the Knights fight to get their season back on track.
Get a lead, hold a lead
It sounds simple, but at this point in the season, the Golden Knights have held a lead for just over five minutes of game action. That’s um... not great.
The Knights have gotten a lead twice this season, once against Philadelphia and again Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Neither game ended well, and both contributed to Vegas’ current 1-4-0 record. Getting a second goal on top of the initial go-ahead strike might be the most important goal the Knights score to this point. Getting (and holding) a lead in today’s game means getting multiple goals. One-goal leads are often fragile and can be easily overcome, and it is often said that the two-goal lead is the most dreaded in hockey. But at this point beggars can’t be choosers; sustaining any type of lead will be key to the outcome of today’s contest, which, in turn, will be critical to Vegas taking a step in the right direction.
The blue line needs to be better... in both zones
In order to hold that lead, Vegas must play defense. Again, it may sound simple, but Vegas’ defensive woes have been discussed at length. From leaving the back-door pass open to allowing players to set up on the doorstep to now yielding costly stretch passes, the Knights do not have a sure-fire defense like they did at times last year. That’s a result of a combination of the absence of Nate Schmidt, the fact that two of Vegas’ best defenders (Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland) are on the same pairing and the overall poor play of the third pairing of Jon Merrill and Nick Holden.
But the Knights’ blue line’s offensive pressure has also been lacking. Both Colin Miller and Theodore are important components of Vegas’ offense. Through five games, they’ve combined for one point, an assist from Miller. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Cody Eakin have combined for more points in fewer games.
The Knights need to get the defense firing on all cylinders. That means getting Theodore and Miller back on track offensively, and it also means getting the other defensemen contributing to the play in both zones.
Empower the power play
The Golden Knights have yet to score a power-play goal this season. Through 305 minutes of hockey, that red light has not gone on when the Knights have been on the man advantage. Vegas is one of six teams without a power-play goal this season, but Vegas is the only team that has gone five games without a power-play strike.
For a team that finished tied for eighth on the power play last year with a 21.4 percent conversion rate, something has to give... right?
Fortunately for Vegas, the Flyers have the third-worst penalty kill in the NHL, operating at just 68.4 percent. Full disclosure: Vegas’ isn’t much better at 69.2 percent. However, a power-play goal could go a long way towards restoring the confidence with which the Golden Knights competed last season. Today presents a juicy opportunity for the Knights to get it done.
Vegas needs to find a way to break its streak of nine games without a regulation win. It’s often better to be lucky than good, so it’s time for the Knights to make their own luck. That means capitalizing on chances that present themselves, keeping a player in front of the net to grab rebounds and making the power play more effective in order to exploit other teams’ weaknesses.
The Golden Knights have been very good to this point. Now it’s time to find a way to be very lucky.
How to Watch
Time: 10 a.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports, AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM