The holiday break is over. Food was eaten. Presents were given. Hangovers were had. And if your hangovers weren’t from alcohol, then certainly you had one from the two overtime losses the Vegas Golden Knights had at home before Christmas.
Coming off a loss isn’t easy. Coming off two overtime losses, one to the worst team in the NHL is another story. The Golden Knights fell off the horse, and that’s fine. But tonight, they have to get back on.
What better team to face tonight than the Colorado Avalanche? There couldn’t be a more evenly-matched game. Both the Golden Knights and Avalanche have 44 points at the moment. The Avalanche have also lost their last two games, one of them at home. They are third in the Central Division, and Vegas is third in the Pacific. It’s uncanny.
Still, the teams have different keys to success. Here’s what to look for as the Golden Knights face the Avalanche.
The first line coming to crash down on the Knights
The story of the Avalanche this season has been the ridiculous play of the first line. Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen make up the best line in the NHL. There isn’t even a debate around this. It’s simply accepted as fact.
Up against the Golden Knights, there is no comparison. All have above 43 points. Rantanen has the most in the NHL with a whopping 59. To put that in perspective, William Karlsson and Jonathan Machessault both have 29... and they have the most points out of all the players in Vegas.
This first Avalanche line values offense more than defense — all players have Corsi For percentages hovering around 51 — but when players are scoring like they are, it’s hard to complain. Landeskog has scored the third-most goals in the NHL (24!), MacKinnon has 22 of his own, and Rantanen is an assist machine.
Is this line human? Probably not. Regardless, the Vegas defense is in for a hell of a challenge.
About that defense...
What’s there to say about the Golden Knights’ defense that hasn’t already been said? They are struggling. They have improved since the beginning of the season, but their biggest issues remain. One of those issues is the odd-man rush.
In many instances, Vegas defensemen have simply put themselves in a place where they’re unable to defend. Take the overtime loss to the Kings, for instance. Tyler Toffoli was able to break away and score the winning goal because no one was there to stop him. Nick Holden in particular has been criticized for his poor positioning.
Colorado’s defense has also been its own worst enemy lately. The team’s allowing an average of 3.1 goals per game. In three of their last five games, they’ve allowed at least four goals. The Arizona Coyotes scored six against them on Saturday. Tonight’s game might be determined by who’s defense isn’t necessarily better, just less bad than the other.
The Pacioretty-Pirri problem
Depending on who you ask, this isn’t really a “problem” so much as a source of confusion.
After super scorer Brandon Pirri played his third game for the Golden Knights against the Kings, the Golden Knights’ official website showed that Pirri was no longer on the roster. Max Pacioretty suddenly appeared without an asterisk next to his name, though. He had finally been taken off of injured reserve again. Great, right?
Not so fast, sport. Christmas Eve rolled around, and suddenly the asterisk was back next to Pacioretty’s name. Also, Pirri was not in the lineup for the Chicago Wolves’ game yesterday against the Milwaukee Admirals.
This is looking good for Pirri. The 27-year-old forward has yet to find solid footing on the Golden Knights, likely due to the fact that he is largely an offensive player when they’re in dire need of people that can play the full 200 feet.
Every game he plays in Vegas now is a proving ground. He has to show Gerard Gallant that he’s improving on defense enough that he’s worth keeping. Perhaps tonight he gets another shot at it.
How to Watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, Altitude Sports, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM