By W.G. Ramirez
The Vegas Golden Knights, along with the entire Southern Nevada community, have thought about tonight since Alex Ovechkin skated around T-Mobile with Lord’s Stanley Cup in June. It was a sight many people believed would have been done by the likes of Jonathan Marchessault, Marc-Andre Fleury, William Karlsson and James Neal.
Instead, the Capitals won their first title, and Ovechkin took the Cup on a whirlwind tour all summer.
When the teams met in Vegas’ fourth game of the season, the Golden Knights were lost. They were in the midst of a 1-4 slide to start the season, they didn’t skate with the vigor they’re skating with now, and the game was in Washington, where the Capitals won, 5-2, on Oct. 10.
But heading into Sunday’s lineup, both finalists from last season were the hottest teams in the league. The Caps skated into a home game against Anaheim riding a seven-game win streak, then lost a grueling 6-5 decision to the Ducks. The Golden Knights rolled into Edmonton on a five-game win streak and were stymied in a 2-1 loss.
Now the Golden Knights, and about 18,000-plus frenzied fans, welcome the champs and the two will meet for the final time... in the regular season. Could the two meet again in June? Sure, anything is possible.
But tonight, Vegas — which oddsmakers have made a -140 home favorite — is looking for revenge against the Capitals, who bring back a price of +130.
Value in the Knights
If revenge is a dish best served cold, it must be an incredible feast on ice. Again, the last time the Capitals were inside T-Mobile Arena, they skated out of town with the Stanley Cup, and the memory lingers for the Golden Knights. And while Fleury downplayed tonight’s game, former Capital Nate Schmidt said the sting still resides. Coach Gerard Gallant, usually reserved about isolating regular-season games as “big games,” even said this is a special one that he and the players will be excited to play. Despite the one-goal loss in Edmonton, the team has figured things out offensively and will be looking to light the lamp early and often to electrify the arena.
Value in the Capitals
It took 8 1/2 months, last season, but there was one team that finally laid the blueprint on how to frustrate and stop the Golden Knights’ fast-paced attack. In June, the Caps dominated the neutral zone while goalie Braden Holtby held it down in net. Despite the Ducks becoming the first team in 19 years to overcome a four-goal deficit on the road to win in regulation, as they stunned Washington on Sunday, the champs come into this one having averaged 4.375 goals per game over its last eight. And while it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for everyone else, it’s beginning to look a lot like December in D.C., as the Capitals are 37-10-9 in the final month of the year over the last four seasons. And following true to form, the Caps are heating up. At the dog price being offered, there is value in the champs.
As of 8 a.m. Pacific, the line we’re seeing is 6-under -105.
Fleury spoke confidently Monday after practice, and has been playing well as of late. He was named the third star for November after leading the NHL with nine wins and four shutouts in last month. He compiled a record of 9-4-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He’s allowed three or fewer goals in seven straight starts — and two or less in five of them. Holtby, who just recorded his 10,000th career save against Anaheim, has allowed three or fewer goals in eight of nine starts after giving up all six to the Ducks on Sunday. He’ll be about to avenge that game. We’re going to side with the UNDER here, as this will be a physical game with both netminders bringing their A-game.
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.