The Vegas Golden Knights will look to turn one win—the first in a while, and the first in regulation this season—into a mini winning streak as they host the Buffalo Sabres tonight. The Sabres and Knights have already faced off once this season, which resulted in a 4-2 loss for Vegas. The Knights are hoping to return the favor, hosting the team’s first home game since the season opener.
The Golden Knights need to do a few things to improve their record. They need to get better puck luck, need to put more pucks in the net and they need to prevent more pucks from going into their own net. It’s not rocket science.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s game.
Only as strong as the goaltender behind you
The Knights’ goaltending this season has been... problematic. In four out of six games, Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban have been under a .900 save percentage. All four times that happened, the Golden Knights lost the game.
It’s not fair, and the Knights’ defense needs to be better. But when the goaltender steps up, the Golden Knights win. That was the pattern last year, as Fleury dragged the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final. That’s the pattern this year, and it will remain the pattern until the Knights’ defense (or defensive system) changes.
The other trend with goaltending is high-danger opportunities. Anything below a 1.000 right now means the Golden Knights lose. In both the Minnesota victory and the win against Philadelphia, Fleury stopped every shot that came at him from home plate. To be fair, every time the goaltenders fell below 1.000, they fell at or below .800. But .900 or above will likely do the trick.
It appears as though Fleury will have to steal another win for the Golden Knights, but if he falls in the .900 range again, they’ll likely lose. It’s hard to ask more of him after his stellar performance against Philadelphia, but he’ll need a similar effort tonight.
A huge factor in the Knights’ early-season struggles has been the team’s performance on special teams.
Whenever the Knights have killed all of their penalties (three games out of the six), they’ve won or have at least come close (yes, the Pittsburgh game was likely Vegas’ closest loss). Against the Flyers in Philadelphia and against the Wild, the Golden Knights went a combined 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. The results speak for themselves.
That doesn’t mean that if the Knights give up a power-play goal then they’ll automatically lose the game, but limiting penalties and killing off the ones they do take will be critical moving forward.
On the flip side, the Knights could really use a power-play strike. Vegas is one of three teams that has yet to score on the man advantage this season; the longer this goes on, the more pressure it will put on the entire team.
But the Knights need more offense at all strengths. They are tied with the Oilers for 29th in the league in goals per game, averaging just 1.67 thus far. By comparison, Vegas ranked fifth in the NHL last year with an average of 3.27 goals per game. No one is expecting the Knights to suddenly rediscover last year’s fire, but it would go a long way to reach some sort of middle ground.
Gerard Gallant revealed yesterday that second-line center Paul Stastny could miss up to two months with a lower-body injury. This means Erik Haula will become the full-time second-line center for the foreseeable future, a role in which he found great success last season. The return of Cody Eakin and his unexpected offensive success has been key, and the two pivots (along with William Karlsson) will need to do more to help jump-start this offense.
Deryk Engelland also will be out of the lineup tonight. Brad Hunt will take his place and is expected to skate on the third pairing with Jon Merrill, with Nick Holden set to play with Shea Theodore. Fortunately, Engelland’s injury is not expected to keep him out long-term.
How to Watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM