When last we saw the Golden Knights, they were playing some of their most dominant hockey of the season in a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.
They now hope to replicate the effort, if not the result.
Vegas will have to do so without center Erik Haula, who will miss at least the next three games after sustaining a rather gruesome-looking injury in the game against the Leafs.
Vegas did just get Max Pacioretty back from injury, but missing two of your top three centers (Haula, Paul Stastny) is incredibly difficult in a center-driven league like the NHL.
As for the Senators... The Senators... Ugh.
Okay, listen, the organization has had no shortage of drama over the last year, and frankly it would take an entire article just to get through everything that has happened recently. You can look it up. Google it and then you’ll understand and can rejoin this article with full clarity as to why I’ve been dreading this preview for a few days now.
For the sake of our preview, we’re just going to stick to the things happening on the ice.
Ottawa has its fair share of injuries (Zack Smith, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Marian Gaborik, etc.), though rookie Brady Tkachuk is expected to return to the lineup tonight. Ottawa’s offense has still been dynamic, though.
Defenseman Thomas Chabot has taken over the role of being Erik Karlsson, leading the Senators in points with 20, including four goals and 16 assists. Behind him are Mark Stone (six goals and 12 assists for 18 points) and Matt Duchene (4-11—15). Chris Tierney, one of the pieces acquired in exchange for the aforementioned Karlsson, has been solid this year (2-12—14).
However, goaltender Craig Anderson has failed to get back to the goalie he was in 2016-17 when he had a .926 save percentage and got the Senators to within a hair of the Stanley Cup Final. He presently sits with a 3.56 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage, which is admittedly better than last season’s .898, but only just.
Anderson hasn’t had much help defensively, but he and the Senators are allowing the most goals against per game (4.13), which is something Vegas will look to exploit.
Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s matchup against the Sens:
could will decide the game
I feel like we just did this, but here we go again with the Golden Knights facing a team with a fantastic power play. Ottawa’s man advantage is humming along at 27 percent, good for sixth in the NHL.
The Knights managed to stay out of the box almost entirely Tuesday in Toronto, and they may have to do so again in this one.
The Sens’ power play is near-elite, and while the Vegas penalty kill is good, as I said last time, why tempt fate?
Also, as has been the case for most of the season, the Knights’ power play is not particularly good (currently tied for last in the league at 11.8 percent). Tonight, however, Vegas plays a team that is very, very bad on the penalty kill, operating at just 70 percent, good for 28th overall. This could be a real chance for the Knights to squeeze out everything they can from their lemon of a power play.
This feels like one of those games that will come down to which team takes the most penalties; for Vegas to win, the Knights had better hope it isn’t them.
Pitfalls of a trap game and the so-called “easy” wins
Part of what makes teams like Ottawa such a problem is that their opponents look at them on paper and assume it will be an easy win. This is especially true when you see your team as some kind of Cup contender, as the Knights and their fans do.
Anderson can’t really stop anything, and if the Golden Knights do indeed manage to stay out of the penalty box, the Senators’ offense might never really get rolling. Ottawa has talent, sure, but so do the Golden Knights.
The issue here is that Vegas has a strange propensity for making goalies look like Vezina candidates.
Vegas has scored two goals or fewer in 10 out of 15 games this season. Six of those games have come against Brian Elliott (.893), twice, Carter Hutton (.909), Braden Holtby (.899), Juuse Saros (.917) and Jacob Markstrom (.902).
Now, granted, it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, especially since the other four games were against goalies having great seasons, but these games tend to stand out in one’s mind.
How to watch
Time: 4:30 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM