Whew. Last week was crazy, huh?
Vegas Golden Knights fans have been on an emotional roller coaster. They’ve probably gone from their most panicked (after the 7–2 loss to the Calgary Flames) to most hopeful (after the 6–0 win to the San Jose Sharks) in such a short span.
That’s the thing about sports, though — one week, or even one game, can get momentum going. The Golden Knights now sit in third in the Pacific Division behind the two teams they just blanked, the Flames and Sharks. Is this a return to form? Are last season’s Knights back? It certainly seems like the beginning of a tear.
Still, a roadblock stands in the way in the form of a road game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Like last season, the Golden Knights are much more successful at home than away. Their away record is currently 5-8-1. Can they turn that 5 into a 6 in the Windy City? If this season has taught us anything, it’s to expect just about anything from these Golden Knights. Here’s what to look for in this Western Conference matchup.
Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Marc-Andre Fleury is very good at hockey!
Fleury has been dominating in the crease lately. He won all three games he played last week. His last two games, which were back-to-back, were both shutouts. His save percentage has creeped up to .910. He’s the NHL’s second star of the week. We are in the age of the Flower Power. What a time to be alive.
Right now, it’s doubtful the Golden Knights would even dream of starting another goalie. Even if it wasn’t Subban (who, depending on who you ask, has been incredible or trash).
“Fleury’s playing really well,” coach Gerard Gallant told reporters Monday. “It’s hard to keep him out of the net right now, and that’s what your team wants. You want to win hockey games, and when a guy’s playing that well, it’s hard to keep him out of the net.”
The veteran goalie is on a hot streak. Is he going to let up against the Blackhawks? Maybe a little, only because this isn’t a division game. Just maybe, though. Chicago has the 8th best Corsi percentage in the league right now with 51.40 percent. Fleury will not let that percentage go any higher without a fight.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes for Chicago
As the famous David Bowie song “Changes” goes, “just gonna have to be some different men on the Blackhawks’ roster.”
What’s that? Those aren’t the lyrics? Maybe we misheard them.
Regardless, Chicago has two new players after trading Nick Schmaltz, the Blackhawks’ 2014 first-round draft pick, to the Arizona Coyotes. Joining the Blackhawks are left winger Brendan Perlini and center Dylan Strome. The trade itself has gotten some mixed reviews, but the Blackhawks are hoping the change will inspire a better performance on the ice.
“The message is we’re just trying to get better,” Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman said of the trade. “We’re trying to make this a stronger group and we’re sitting here today with two players who strengthen our top-nine forwards.”
Indeed, Chicago has had a slow start. With a record of 9-10-5, they stand at 6th in Central Division. It’s early enough in the season that they could, in theory, turn things around. One thing to look for in particular will be Strome’s chemistry with his best friend Alex DeBrincat, who he played with on the OHL’s Erie Otters.
Hey, is this defense working?
If the Golden Knights’ defensive woes kicked up a storm, the dust seems to be settling. Nate Schmidt is back in action, and his presence has impacted the defense already. Better yet, the defense is getting results.
The defensive pairings right now are similar to last season: Schmidt and Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland, and Nick Holden and Colin Miller. What a difference going back to what works has made on the outcomes of the last two games. Schmidt’s return has allowed for more multidisciplinary pairings. Both players serve a function in the pairing: one has the speed, the other has the physicality.
It also doesn’t hurt to see some of Vegas’ defensive players scoring on offense. Colin Miller has scored two goals in the past two games. Considering that the Golden Knights were one of the last teams in the league to even have a defenseman score, this is fantastic progress.
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV: NBCSN, NBCSCH
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM