The Vegas Golden Knights have suffered two losses in a row, allowing four goals to both the Boston Bruins and Arizona Coyotes after monumentally outplaying the San Jose Sharks twice to open the season. Now, the Golden Knights gear up for another in-division clash against the Calgary Flames, who are coming in hot off a shootout victory against the Dallas Stars and a 2-1-1 overall record.
As the Golden Knights look to get back in the win column against the Flames, here are three important things to watch for.
So... the top of the lineup works
The first line and the first pairing have been great through the first four games. Despite going against the top competition night in and night out, including matching up with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron in the Boston game and Clayton Keller, Derek Stepan and Phil Kessel against Arizona, Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb have played incredibly well. They have a 50.65 percent Corsi mark and 55.04 percent expected goal share mark in more than 53 minutes at 5-on-5. They’ve only allowed two goals, and they allowed zero in their most recent matchup against the Coyotes.
William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have been similarly excellent, managing a 64.6 percent Corsi and 73 percent expected goal share in 41 5-on-5 minutes. That’s despite matching up against opposing teams’ best pairings (including Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy against Boston as well as facing the top four in Arizona). They’re easily Vegas’ best play-driving line and, despite the fact that Karlsson can’t take faceoffs, he’s clearly able to do plenty.
Those five will need to continue their excellence against Calgary, as they’ll likely line up against a similarly talented top five in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm as well as Travis Hamonic and Noah Hanifin (who are oddly Calgary’s top defensive pairing in terms of minutes this season).
Cody Glass should stay on the second line
Since that’s the first pairing for Calgary, that means Vegas’ second line will go up against the defending Norris winner in Mark Giordano. Cody Eakin is expected to make his season debut tonight, and Paul Stastny was moved back to the second line in yesterday’s practice. However, the Knights should take a long look at sticking with Cody Glass as the second-line center.
While Stastny has 0.2 more expected goals than Glass, they’ve been otherwise similar at 5-on-5 in terms of individual production. But it’s their play with the second-line winger duo of Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone that shows the true difference between the two centers at the moment; it’s also why Glass deserves a more extended look at that position, despite the third line’s struggles with Stastny.
The second line with Glass has a 51.6 percent Corsi, 52.6 percent shot share and 53.3 percent expected goal share. The line’s numbers with Stastny: 33.3 percent Corsi, 33.3 percent shot share, 50 percent expected goal share.
Stone and Pacioretty are simply playing better with Glass. They’re trying to elevate the rookie’s play, and it’s working. While the line could be more explosive offensively, and though it hasn’t had a true impact since the first game (despite playing well against Boston), there’s more hope for that line with Glass in the middle.
That being said, this probably won’t happen, especially since Gerard Gallant discussed possibly moving Glass to wing.
Gallant said it's possible, should Eakin return tomorrow, that Glass would move to the wing. "He's played a couple of exhibition games there. We haven't thought that far yet, but it's definitely a possibility." #VegasBorn— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) October 11, 2019
However, it’s certainly something the Knights should consider.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how the new lines shape up.
Different defensive looks
No matter how bad the Golden Knights’ defense (apart from Theodore and McNabb) has looked in the past two games, there’s worse in the league (trust me).
This is where the offseason loss of Colin Miller and the in-season loss of Nate Schmidt hurt. As much as Theodore and McNabb should stick together, the Golden Knights need another top defenseman behind them able to do the work Theodore would otherwise be doing. Somebody who can move the puck, drive offense and play good defense as well. That’s Schmidt, but that’s also Miller.
I’ll tell you who it’s not: Deryk Engelland and Nick Holden. Neither is particularly proficient at the whole “driving possession” thing, although Holden’s numbers when paired with Jon Merrill, who can drive possession but could use a more... nimble partner, are not bad at all (59.6 percent expected goal share and 51.61 percent Corsi). In the eight minutes they’ve played together, neither has been particularly notable, and Engelland’s numbers with Nic Hague have been downright ugly.
So... as much as this is going to sound not great, maybe its time to break up the Golden Knights’ second best defensive pairing at the moment in Holden and Merrill, and it’s certainly time to break up Hague and Engelland. The Golden Knights just called up another defenseman, after all. That’s right. Jake Bischoff should get a shot this weekend.
Something like Merrill-Bischoff and Holden-Hague could work better for a deeper Golden Knights defense while Schmidt continues to heal. Hague isn’t bad, after all, although he’s seen a few bad bounces, and Bischoff can be the more steady defensive hand while Merrill focuses on getting the puck back up ice. Bischoff would also help the penalty kill, where Engelland hasn’t been the same guy he was last season.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM