It wasn’t too long ago that the Golden Knights were 1-4-0.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Knights had yet to score a power-play goal.
It wasn’t too long ago that William Karlsson was sitting at zero goals on the year.
But a lot can happen in a short period of time, and the Knights find themselves in a completely different position just a few weeks later after winning three straight games, connecting on the man advantage and seeing Wild Bill light the lamp.
Tonight gives Vegas an opportunity to hold a record above .500 for the first time this season. One thing working in the Golden Knights’ favor is the fact that they went 4-0-0 against the Canucks last season.
But Vancouver has performed pretty well so far this year, with goaltenders Anders Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom pulling off some surprising upsets against teams like Tampa Bay, Florida, Pittsburgh and Boston to help the Canucks reach a 5-4-0 record on the season.
That being said, the Canucks will be without the services of rookie Elias Pettersson, and it’s possible the same could be true of sophomore sniper Brock Boeser, who missed yesterday’s practice with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. That would be a major loss, especially since Pettersson still leads the team in scoring despite missing the last four games.
But the lineups won’t be finalized until later. In the mean time, here are four things to watch for in tonight’s tilt against the Canucks.
The daily specials
So far this season, the reality has been quite simple for the Golden Knights: kill off penalties and win, or give up power-play goals and lose.
In every game in which Vegas’ opponent has had at least two power plays, the difference between winning and losing has, in part, come down to the Golden Knights’ penalty kill. In each of the team’s three losses, Vegas surrendered at least one power-play goal; in each of the four wins, Vegas was perfect on the penalty kill. The Knights have not won a game in which they have surrendered a goal while short-handed.
Hockey is too complicated and involves too many variables for this black-and-white explanation to stick long-term; this is especially true since the Knights went 1-for-1 on the penalty kill against the Penguins but still suffered a 4-2 loss. But at the very least, the pattern suggests that the effectiveness of Vegas’ special teams, particularly its penalty kill, has been significant thus far.
The same can be said of the Canucks, who are 5-0-0 when shutting down their opponents’ power plays. If Vancouver’s recent 5-2 loss to the Capitals is any indication, timely kills are of the utmost importance. Vancouver had a chance to get back in the game when Sven Baertschi made it 3-2 early in the third, but an Alex Ovechkin power-play marker five minutes later put the game out of reach.
So, what does this all mean for tonight?
Vancouver’s road penalty kill is operating at 76.2 percent, while Vegas’ penalty kill on home ice ranks fifth in the NHL with a 91.7 percent success rate. Advantage: Vegas.
But since the penalty kill has played such a major role in early-season success for both clubs, then an emphasis must also be placed on the power play.
Vancouver’s power play on the road (25 percent) ranks 10th in the league, while Vegas’ power play on home ice (18.2 percent) is good for 21st overall. Advantage: Vancouver.
At the end of the day, any number of factors can and will determine the outcome of tonight’s game, but it’s worth noting how much both teams have relied on special teams so far this season.
Check the score
Vegas and Vancouver have won a combined five games when those games have been determined by one goal. In fact, neither team has lost a one-goal game this season, which means that it would behoove Vegas to get a couple on the board as early as possible. The Canucks may be without several top players, but they have won close games against difficult opponents and have done so on the road.
While Vegas has played much better in recent games, this team still doesn’t have the swagger last year’s roster did. Not yet, at least. So capitalizing on early chances and getting an early lead could go a long way. This is especially true since the Canucks are 3-0-0 in games in which they have the lead after the first period. On the other hand, Vancouver and Vegas are both 1-3-0 in games in which they have not held a first-period lead, which means the opening frame could strongly influence the outcome of tonight’s contest.
Now that Karlsson took care of that pesky monkey on his back by scoring his first (and second) of the season, everyone is patiently waiting to see if an offensive explosion will emerge or if Karlsson will run into the regression many predicted he’d experience in Year 2. Of course, that breakout performance may not come, or if it does it may be unsustainable, for it seems almost inevitable that the Swedish cowboy will see at least a slight drop in production. However, Wild Bill really enjoyed playing these Canucks last season.
Specifically, he scored four goals and nine points in four games against Vancouver last year. Karlsson finished the season series with a 1.8 points-per-game rate and a plus-eight rating. He tallied at least a point in all four games, three of which were multi-point efforts. In fact, he scored more points against Vancouver than against any other team last season, so tonight’s matchup could provide the spark for which Karlsson has been waiting.
Tonight could very well mark the return of Alex Tuch to the Golden Knights’ lineup. Tuch has not suited up in a game this season due to a lower-body injury, but he is expected to make his season debut tonight after being activated from injured reserve earlier today. The 22-year-old power forward recently signed a seven-year, $33.25 million extension and is coming off a 15-goal, 37-point rookie campaign. Tuch skated on the second line with Max Pacioretty and Erik Haula in morning skate; his presence would provide a much-needed scoring boost to Vegas’ offense and could help get Pacioretty get back on track.
How to Watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM