By W.G. Ramirez
The Vegas Golden Knights return home for a pair of games, before leaving again, and they’ll do so without a key member of the second line. Erik Haula is out “month-to-month” according to coach Gerard Gallant.
Haula was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a lower body injury, retroactive to Nov. 6 when he was driven into the boards near center ice by Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau.
And, so, the beat goes on.
The beat, being, the same tune Vegas has been humming all season. The injuries have played a huge role in the Golden Knights failing to find any kind of rhythm offensively, outside the first and fourth lines. The second line has seen the most damage, with injuries to Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch and now Haula.
Tonight the Golden Knights (7-10-1) welcome the Anaheim Ducks, who have played four of their last eight games into overtime. Anaheim (8-8-3) responded to a seven-game losing streak by winning three of five. But one of the losses came at the hands of the Western Conference’s worst team, the Los Angeles Kings.
Tonight, the second-worst team in the West — Vegas — will take a crack at the Ducks, who will avoid a letdown after knocking off the Nashville Predators in overtime on Monday.
As of noon Pacific, the Golden Knights are laying -175. And anytime you’re considering playing a favorite that is laying -160 or higher, the question is always whether or not there is value in the puck line.
Value in the Knights
The problem with Vegas’ offense may not be so much on the team as it is on its opponents. Last year the Golden Knights were a surprise with their fast play and knack for scoring with ease. This year teams are feeding off the blueprint the Washington Capitals laid in the Stanley Cup Final, dominating in the neutral zone, filling passing lanes and getting in the way of Marc-Andre Fleury’s view. Now, against a divisional opponent, and the Golden Knights back home — where they’re 4-2-1 — and you can expect to see them playing with better enthusiasm, which would help on the puck line.
”We gotta start stringing wins together, because we’re not where we wanna be in the standings,” Ryan Reeves said. “We’ve got a lot of big game divisional games coming up, so we gotta start getting those points. You have to take care of the division points, those are big games. These are the teams you gotta start catching up to.”
Value in the Ducks
Vegas’ offense, or lack thereof, couples nicely with how well the Ducks are playing on defense. Winners in two of their last three games (2-1-0) and three of their last five (3-2-0), the Ducks have stymied foes to two goals or less in 10 games this season, which is tied for the second most in the NHL, just behind Boston with 11.
Another advantage for the Ducks will be special teams. Vegas has progressed since having the league’s worst power play last month, but it’s still in the bottom half of the NHL’s rankings. And since Anaheim has successfully killed 19 of its last 21 opponent power-play opportunities (90.5 percent), the Ducks have the edge, even shorthanded. Anaheim’s defense — full-strength or on the PK — make the underdog price very attractive.
Four straight totals have cashed in from our Betting Spotlight, as we last told you to play the Under in the game against Boston. Tonight, with some of the lineup changes, and Vegas returning to the ice after a long road trip, and Anaheim’s aforementioned defensive ways, the best bet on an Under looks enticing at 5 1/2 goals. The talk in the Vegas locker room since returning home was getting back to playing fast.
But the fact is, the Golden Knights have stayed low in 10 of their last 14, while the Ducks have played Under in six of seven. Add in that Anaheim netminder John Gibson earned his 99th career NHL victory in the win against Nashville, and is now one regular-season win of becoming the fourth Ducks goaltender to record at least 100, and a goalie duel against Fleury seems plausible. Play this one low.
W.G. Ramirez is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas who covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez.