The Vegas Golden Knights are riding high on a four-game winning streak. Things are really coming along on offense in particular. Max Pacioretty is expected to return tonight (not confirmed at time of publish), Brandon Pirri is still here, Ryan Reaves can hurdle on skates apparently, and Valentin Zykov finally got a number. Lucky No. 7! Sort of a surprise no one else in Vegas had claimed it yet, huh?
Tonight, they face a team with a very different outlook on the game. The Anaheim Ducks are not riding high — they are trying to claw themselves out of a hole.
The Ducks have lost their last six games, twice in overtime. Their recent defeats have put the team behind the Golden Knights in the standings. Anaheim was second in the Pacific Division not too long ago. Now, Vegas has taken their place, sitting at 52 points to their 45. The Ducks are clinging to the second wild card in the West — one point behind Colorado and one ahead of the surging Canucks.
This game is where the Ducks can show they deserve a Top 3 spot in the division. Given how much higher the stakes are for them right now, they may come into this home game with the determination to win. The Golden Knights have fought hard to get to that No. 2 spot in the Pacific. They aren’t just going to let up now.
The Patch is (probably) back
For what seems like the hundredth time this season, Pacioretty is coming back from an injury. Rejoice!
No one knows what happened to the forward. “Lower body” was the most specific detail we got. He was out, then he wasn’t, and then he was out again. He was taken off injured reserve for practically five seconds right before Christmas, then promptly put back on.
If that’s what it took to keep Pirri on the team at the time, so be it. Now, it’s like we’re still getting Christmas presents. Pacioretty and Pirri both skated Thursday. Pirri stuck with his second line, where he’s found a lot of success so far. Meanwhile, Pacioretty was reunited with his old linemate Cody Eakin on the third. Ryan Carpenter was also skating in that line.
So, that’s probably your third line today. Pacioretty, Eakin, and Carpenter. No one would have ever put this line together, say, five weeks ago. But right now, it makes so much sense. Pacioretty and Eakin’s chemistry on the second line (which included Alex Tuch) in November was undeniable. That line’s productivity kept Vegas going. Let’s see what kind of magic they can make tonight.
We do have to keep in mind that if Pacioretty comes off IR today, there’s still the matter of waiving one more player in the event that Zykov stays on the roster. All signs, however, point to Pacioretty making his return.
A wall named John Gibson
Make no mistake in all this talk about offense ... tonight will be a goalie battle for the ages. We all know and love Marc-Andre Fleury, so let’s discuss his opposition.
John Gibson is a force to be reckoned with. He has the fifth best save percentage in the NHL. And the 10th most wins. And he was named to the All-Star Game this week. It cannot be stressed enough, Gibson is a powerhouse.
Still, the Golden Knights have found their way past him twice already this season. Normally, the recommended advice for Vegas toward the beginning of the season was to find more scoring opportunities in the high danger zone. Turns out, that’s the not the advice you want against Gibson.
Gibson’s save percentage on high danger shot attempts is insane at .883. Among starters, he’s third best in the league. That’s not where he struggles. Lately, he’s been allowing more goals from the low or mid danger zone.
Notice how far away all of Arizona’s goals are from the crease? This is a pattern in the last four games for Gibson. Lots of shot attempts up close, but the ones that go in are the ones that aren’t directly in front of him. This might be why Vegas was able to win the first two games against the Ducks despite their early struggles. They were just shooting more from afar.
It’s a little unorthodox, but if the Golden Knights can find lanes to shoot further back, they should absolutely take them. Apparently, it gets results.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports West, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM