The Vegas Golden Knights just took an incredibly important game against a division rival in the Edmonton Oilers. They did so in convincing fashion, winning 6-3. A three-goal second period, usually a torment for the Golden Knights, helped transform the game after a bad first period that included two goals against.
The Calgary Flames are toward the top of the Pacific Division, just two points behind the San Jose Sharks for the division lead with a game in hand. The Flames have gotten here with excellent performances from Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk (each of whom have 21 points in 20 games) as well as Johnny Gaudreau (20 in 20). Mark Giordano also paces the Calgary blue line with 18 points.
Here’s what to look for.
Malcolm Subban’s save percentage is a .885 across all strengths. This is 57th in the league and is far away from being good enough. Against a highly-offensive team like the Flames, Subban will be important to keeping the Golden Knights afloat. His .833 save percentage against high-danger shots is a better mark, 22nd in the league, and he needs to keep up that trend.
If he’s able to play a better game, that could mean bigger things for him in the future. With Marc-Andre Fleury not in the form he was last season, playing Subban in more games down the road could significantly help the Golden Knights. To do that, though, Subban needs to start helping the team win.
Tonight would be a solid start.
Kneel before Neal
James Neal had a significant role on the Vegas roster last season. He helped win the first few games, scoring two goals against the Dallas Stars in the first game of the season and the two game-winning goals in each of the following two games. In total, Neal had 25 goals and 44 points for the Golden Knights in the regular season before adding six goals in the playoffs.
Now, Neal is a struggling member of the Flames’ roster after getting a large payday in the offseason. He has three goals and four points in 20 games and is playing less time than he has across 10 straight 20-goal seasons. His career-low 5.9 shooting percentage almost makes it look like he’s still a member of the cursed Golden Knights’ roster.
The Golden Knights will need to make sure Neal doesn’t get the revenge on the scoreboard that David Perron failed to get, and shut down the player they let go in free agency. He’s going to try and join the ranks of Brendan Leipsic and Tomas Tatar who have actually gotten their revenge in terms of points, and Vegas should like him to join the other category.
When each of the five Flames mentioned above — Giordano, Monahan, Lindholm, Gaudreau and Tkachuk — fail to score, Calgary is 1-2 (that lone win coming in a 1-0 contest against the Los Angeles Kings). When at least one of those players score, the team is 10-6-1. The Golden Knights stand a significantly better chance if they’re able to shut down those five.
With the return of Nate Schmidt, that should be easier than it would have been before he came back. However, this will mean a change of roles. Schmidt and his defensive partner Shea Theodore played less than 20 minutes apiece against the Edmonton Oilers. They both got heavy offensive usage, as Schmidt was eased back into the NHL.
To truly show what they can do as a pairing, however, they’re going to need to be used in all situations and against more than just the middle six. This could be an ideal test of Theodore and Schmidt as a unit. If they’re able to compete with a scary Flames first line and shut them down, that’s clearly a defensive pairing worth keeping around. If not, well, it’s not the end of the world, but there’s more pressure going forward.
In addition, the should-be second pairing of Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb will need to focus on taking away a second line that doesn’t have much past Tkachuk. If they’re able to take away the tenacious young forward and allow Subban to focus on a player like Backlund, that could mean great things for Vegas.
Where is the third line?
Not talking about the Ryan Reaves-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-William Carrier unit, which, for all intents and purposes, has become the third line after starting the season as the fourth group. Instead, where the hell is the unit that started the season as the third group?
The line of Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, Tomas Hyka and sometimes Tomas Nosek hasn’t been great. Nosek was once highly thought of this season, and Hyka still has value as a speedy winger, but neither has shown much on the scoreboard. Lindberg and Carpenter have been less than stellar as well.
Although the second line is hot and the first line proved themselves against Edmonton, the Golden Knights need depth scoring they’re currently not receiving. Relying on the Bellemare line can only get the Golden Knights so far.
Four of the five lowest PDO’s at even strength on the Golden Knights’ roster are the members of this group. They’re just not lucky this season, and Nosek and Carpenter have two of the ten worst on-ice shooting percentages at even strength this season. Not that Hyka is much better off.
This could mean that the third line is due for a significant upturn soon, especially with good amounts of high-danger chances across the board. Like with Hyka scoring against Anaheim, it could be just a matter of time until the third line is back on track, but that’s a big hypothetical.
How to watch
Time: 6 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet - Rocky Mountain
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM