How much stock can we really put into the Vegas Golden Knights’ start to the season?
Eight games is too small a sample size, but Vegas is 5-3-0. Vegas is also 5-3-0 without Nate Schmidt and Alex Tuch, so silver linings somewhere, or something.
Now comes the fun test: Saturday marks the beginning of the Golden Knights’ first real road trip of the new campaign, and Vegas starts things off with a matchup against Sidney Crosby and the banged-up, yet still dangerous, Pittsburgh Penguins.
After losing two of their first three games, the Penguins (6-2-0) have won five in a row with notable home wins against the Ducks and Avalanche. Pittsburgh is coming off a 4-2 win at home Friday against the Dallas Stars. What’s more impressive is this winning streak has come minus the services of Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Alex Galchenyuk (lower body) and Bryan Rust (upper body).
Matt Murray made 22 saves in the victory on Friday, but at time of pub there hasn’t been a decision on a starting goaltender for Pittsburgh; either Murray or Tristan Jarry. For Vegas, barring unforeseen and bizarre circumstances, Marc-Andre Fleury will make his fifth consecutive start for the Golden Knights and only his second appearance at Pittsburgh since being selected in the expansion draft from the Penguins in 2017. Fleury played 13 years with the Penguins, in case you didn’t know.
Here’s what you need to watch for.
Mark Stone continues to dominate
Never has a Golden Knights player eclipsed double digit points in fewer than 10 games until Mark Stone.
The Golden Knights’ star has 11 points (five goals, six assists) to start the season. He’s on a four-game point streak and has scored a point in all but one game. Four of those games have also been multi-point games.
Stone continues to be everything as advertised for the Golden Knights since acquiring him in February from Ottawa. He’s been a near-point-per-game since the trade (22 points in 26 games); a much-needed model of consistency in the forward department that hasn’t been a thing in Vegas.
This is the first time the Penguins are facing the Golden Knights with Stone in the lineup, and Stone has dominated Pittsburgh. Through 12 games, Stone has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists). Safe to say he has a great chance to extend that point streak tonight.
Slowing down Sidney Crosby
Not to be outdone, however, Crosby continues to do Crosby things for Pittsburgh.
Crosby opened the season with a point in the first seven games (he was held without a point on Friday for the first time this season) and comfortably leads the Penguins with 12 points (four goals, eight assists).
Again, this production comes without Malkin in the lineup. Crosby has centered a line with Jake Guentzel and Dominik Simon, and it’s worked; six of Crosby’s assists have come at even strength, and Guentzel leads the Penguins with five goals. It appears he’s the one to pick up the load from the departed Phil Kessel.
Not that the world needed a reminder of how good Crosby is, but he’s still capable of being the most dangerous player in the league when he’s given space to operate.
I mean, how?
Third line needs to stay afloat
Tuch should be returning to skating activities in the next week or so. Until then, the third line needs to just not die.
Brandon Pirri is the left wing of the immediate future with the suspension of Valentin Zykov. His knack for scoring should make life easier for Cody Eakin and Cody Glass (petition to call this C-Squared, or some stupid ‘90s sounding BS). Alas, life has not been easy for No. 73. He just isn’t close to the guy he was when called up last December.
Pirri did score a goal in the shootout victory Thursday against Ottawa, so there is that, but they need to start counting on the score sheet. The line has been too easy to neutralize since Eakin returned, but it’s not that it’s Eakin’s fault. Paul Stastny couldn’t even get anything out of Pirri and Zykov when they skated with the veteran.
Pirri has one assist, Eakin has yet to score a point, and Glass is not effective at 5-on-5 with this group. Just stay afloat a little while longer, boys. Help is on the way with 89 back soon.
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM