This is likely an important three-game home stretch coming up for the Vegas Golden Knights, starting Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Pacific Division has become a three-team race with Vegas (8-2-0), the San Jose Sharks (8-2-0) and Calgary Flames (8-1-1) all playing well in their past 10 games. But after winning seven straight, the Golden Knights have lost two of three; against the Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. They welcome a Pittsburgh team that has turned the corner.
Pittsburgh is 7-3-0 in its past 10 and won for the first time in three games on Friday; a 3-2 win in overtime at Arizona. The dreaded SEGABABA may come calling for Pittsburgh in this one.
Here’s what to watch for.
Score a power play goal (please)
The Golden Knights had six power-play opportunities Tuesday, They did not convert on one of them in their 4-1 loss in the Western Conference Final rematch. Vegas is 1-for-27 on the power play. It hasn’t been great. Vegas also had 26 shots on goal in the second period, and still lost. It’s puzzling because some of their power plays look absolutely terrible, but then other times, there’s pressure especially in front.
There’s honestly not much that they can do but hope that the law of averages will start to turn the tide in their favor. The missing piece may be Colin Miller, who has been out with an injury for the last month. He’s often the quarterback on the power play, and nine of his 17 points have come with the man advantage. The hope is that he will make his return to the lineup. This will be a tough task; the Penguins have the third best penalty kill in the league with an 85 percent success rate.
Tuch is an American hero
Alex Tuch’s nine-game point streak came to an end Tuesday. Fun fact: Tuch hasn’t recorded a point in just 12 games this season. The Golden Knights have lost 10 of those games. I’m not explicitly saying that Tuch needs to get on the scoresheet for the Knights to get in the win column, but I kind of am.
With Reilly Smith out of the lineup, the first and second lines have been rotating Brandon Pirri and Max Pacioretty on the wing. The injury luck that this team has had throughout this season has been crazy, and the second line has been dealing with the most changes out of all four lines. Pacioretty, Pirri, Paul Stastny, Erik Haula and Cody Eakin have all been regulars on the second line at one point or another, whereas Tuch has been the only constant since he made his season debut late in October. It’s pretty remarkable that despite the rotating cast alongside him he’s been able to put up points at such a consistent pace.
Fleury facing his former team
It’s no secret Marc-Andre Fleury has been the busiest goalie in the League, leading with 26 wins in 42 starts. But in his past eight starts, he’s been spectacular.
Fleury is 6-2-0 with a 1.76 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. He takes these numbers into this matchup against the team he won three Stanley Cups with, and knowing Fleury, he will be up to the task in this one.
With days off inbetween before the All-Star break, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Flower play these last few games, especially at home. He’s going to play the All-Star Game, so maybe some burn for Malcolm Subban (if he returns to the lineup this week, so maybe Max Lagace, who knows?) wouldn’t be a bad idea. But with the way he’s playing, why bother?
It’s not an easy task facing the Penguins, and Fleury knows that. Sidney Crosby has been well over a point per game (10 goals, 21 assists) in the past 24 games; Evgeni Malkin has 11 points in eight games. The Penguins are getting what they need from their top guys. Slowing them down will be imperative in taking the first step to closing this first half of the season strong, and it starts with Fleury against his old mates.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM