Such a euphoric time in Winnipeg on May 20. The Vegas Golden Knights won the Western Conference championship nearly eight months ago at Bell MTS Place. Back then, Paul Stastny was a Winnipeg Jet. He’s now a Golden Knight. These two teams are still atop the Western Conference.
A lot has changed, but not really, if you catch my drift. Nonetheless, the Golden Knights return to Winnipeg for the first time Tuesday since winning the West last season.
Vegas enters play winners of eight of nine and third place in the Pacific Division. That’s pretty much gravy until someone slips up in the top three.
Meanwhile, the Jets have won four of five and conclude a three-game homestand against Vegas. Winnipeg is 16-6-0 in its past 22 games. Quietly, even without Dustin Byfuglien in the lineup, the Jets are putting the puck in the back of the net (sixth most in the league).
Here’s what to watch for.
Controlling Winnipeg’s offensive monster
Twenty-four goals for Mark Scheifele. Twenty-five goals for Patrik Laine. Forty-nine assists for Blake Wheeler.
Sure, it’s not quite Alex Ovechkin status, but the Jets are balanced and dangerous at the same time. Winnipeg has six players in double figures in goals; Kyle Connor is having a stellar sophomore campaign with 16 goals (third most on the team).
Winnipeg can strike from anywhere at any time. Looking back on the Western Conference Final, the Golden Knights kept the Jets offense quiet with the exception of Game 1. It can be done. No one said it was easy, though.
We’re talking about Alex Tuch again
Brace yourself: Another game, another day of shine for 89.
It’s hard not to talk about Tuch, considering he’s scored a point in nine straight games (now a Golden Knights record) and continues to produce no matter who he’s lined up with.
The offense flows through the Vegas second line at this time. If the Stastny line flanked with Tuch and Brandon Pirri can’t get anything going, it’s hard for Vegas to replicate that on the other three lines right now. It’s 73-26-89 doing work.
These past nine games (three goals, eight assists) for Tuch doesn’t even feel like the cusp of what he can do. Until he has an off night, Tuch is going to be the engine that could for a Golden Knights team down Reilly Smith.
Avoid the slow start
It’s not playoff time yet. That doesn’t mean Winnipeg won’t be a madhouse for this game. One of the most difficult environments in the NHL, the Jets are one of the top home teams in the League at 17-6-2 at Bell MTS Place.
The Golden Knights overcame a two-goal deficit twice Saturday in their 4-3 win against the Blackhawks. That was against a standings cellar dweller, not a team expected to challenge for a Stanley Cup this season.
Vegas needs to avoid a slow start in an expected hostile environment, should it want to win for the ninth time in 10 games and get a nice rest until Saturday.
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM