The Vegas Golden Knights, hot off a victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins as Marc-Andre Fleury earned his first shutout of the season, will head to the other side of Pennsylvania to take on the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time this season.
Vegas enters this game 6-3-0.
Vegas is, fundamentally, a good team, and while they have competition in the surprise Edmonton Oilers, they’re perhaps the best squad in the Pacific Division, and one of the best in the West. They’re seeking to extend a winning streak to three games, which would mean winning seven of their first ten games, without the aid of Nate Schmidt.
Philadelphia enters this contest in a very different way. They’re fresh off four losses in a row (albeit they lost the first game in the streak in overtime) and will be looking to get back on even footing against Vegas. Philly’s problem has been on offense; the Flyers’ 15 goals for ranks last in the Metropolitan Division, and their 2.5 goals per game is sixth.
Philadelphia’s proclaimed goaltending savior, Carter Hart, started the year off strong, but the 21-year-old now has an .890 save percentage through five games. Backup Brian Elliott has a much better mark at .911.
The Flyers’ defense has been decent in front of Hart, but if the Knights continue their possession-driving ways (Vegas is top five in Corsi, shot share, and expected goal share at 5-on-5), they’ll be able to put pucks in the net. That’ll be hard to do against the most possession-dominant team in the league, however, as Philadelphia is first in Corsi, third in shot share, and first in expected goal share.
Here are three other things to watch for in tonight’s game against the Flyers.
Keep the power play going
The Golden Knights currently have the fifth-best power play in the league, as their man-advantage units are clicking at a 30 percent success rate. Vegas will be going up against the 24th-best penalty kill, so any power-play opportunities the Golden Knights receive must be taken advantage of.
If Vegas is able to score a goal, or several, on the power play, the game will be much easier to manage. The top unit of Paul Stastny, Cody Glass, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Shea Theodore has been doing most of the heavy lifting recently.
William Karlsson‘s unit, by contrast, has not been nearly as good so far. However, tonight could present an opportunity for that second unit to get going. At the very least, Vegas just needs to make sure to extend the power play’s momentum.
Remain vigilant on the penalty kill
On the other side of the special teams battle, the Knights need to maintain their league-best penalty kill, which is operating at a 94.6 percent success rate. Though that may be unsustainable in the long run, sustaining that level of dominance will be key tonight as the Knights take on Philadelphia’s 10th-ranked power play, which has been converting on a quarter of its man-advantage opportunities.
The Flyers have outshot their opponents in back-to-back games by a combined margin of 53 shots (91-38), so Vegas will have to be disciplined and will have to keep Philadelphia away from the high-danger areas.
The Knights have yet to give up a goal while short-handed on the road this season, but tonight will be an important test.
Can the Golden Knights get the rest of the first line going?
In the first nine games of the season, Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault have combined for just two goals. While Reilly Smith is tied for the team lead in goal scoring (6), the rest of the top line can’t seem to catch a break. It took a shorthanded goal for Karlsson to finally get his first, and Marchessault hasn’t scored since the second game of the season, 17 days ago.
Philadelphia remains a tough defensive team that can move the puck with the best of them, but Vegas’ first line can out-possess anyone. They’ve already proven they can do so this season by maintaining a 70.59 percent high-danger share and 68.65 percent expected goal share.
The thing is, Vegas just needs to get the top-line trio scoring as a unit. It’s not like they haven’t generated chances. At even strength, Karlsson lead the Knights with 2.48 individual expected goals, and Marchessault is fourth with 1.8 (Smith is sixth with 1.54). The Golden Knights just need Karlsson and Marchessault’s shot percentages to catch up to how well they’re been playing.
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL Network
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM