After a road trip that saw them take four of a possible six points, the Vegas Golden Knights get some much-needed home cooking.
Vegas starts a four-game homestand tonight, on Nevada Day (which really isn’t Nevada Day because it should be observed on Oct. 31 and no other date, you evil people), against the Colorado Avalanche in what could be a Western Conference Final preview.
Yes, that was said when Vegas faced Nashville and that didn’t go very well, but the Avalanche (7-1-1) are, dare I say, scarier than the Predators. Colorado invested a ton of money on their depth beyond the top line, and it’s paying off; trading for Nazem Kadri, signing Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky and old Vegas buddy Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (who will face Vegas for the first time since signing with Colorado on July 1).
Depth was the only thing holding Colorado back during its improbable playoff run last year, coming within one game of making the Western Conference Final. Despite that, the Avalanche still made it that far with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen carrying them. The big difference tonight will be the absence of Rantanen, who is week-to-week with a lower-body injury. J.T. Compher will replace him on the top line.
The Golden Knights (7-4-0) come in winners of five of their past seven and coming off a 2-1 shootout victory at the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Here’s what to watch for.
Slowing down Colorado’s top line
Even without Rantanen, the Avalanche are still dangerous at the top, and it starts with MacKinnon.
The 24-year-old superstar is on a nine-game point streak to start the season. A point tonight will make MacKinnon only the fifth player in NHL history to start a season with a 10-game point streak, joining Guy Lafleur, Charlie Simmer, Rod Gilbert and some guy named Wayne Gretzky (who had a 51-game point streak, one time, what the hell).
Landeskog has seven points (three goals, four assists) to start the season, and Compher has three assists in his past three games.
“When I’m playing well, I’m playing with speed and playing hard. I think I can bring that to this line,” Compher said. “They already play with a ton of speed, so I’m hoping to complement them as best I can.”
MacKinnon’s speed can change the game in an instant. The Golden Knights will need to counter with their speed and precision, especially if the Karlsson line is up against his line, which is to be expected.
“Make them play defense, make them turn around,” said Vegas center Paul Stastny. “When we’re successful, I think we get the puck deep behind them and we grind and play a heavy game. If it doesn’t work right away, we’ve got to stick to that game plan.”
Can Fleury stay hot?
Marc-Andre Fleury might be the best goaltender in the league at this moment.
If anything, it’s a three-man race between Fleury, Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton. But what Fleury has been able to do in the event of Malcolm Subban sustaining a lower-body injury that is keeping him out longer than anticipated, has been remarkable. Fleury has won his past three starts while keeping a 0.95 goals-against average and a .970 save percentage.
Throw a shutout at Pittsburgh in there, and Fleury has been off the charts. He’s allowed three goals in those three starts since allowing five against the Predators on Oct. 15.
With Vegas calling up Garret Sparks from AHL Chicago on Wednesday, the Golden Knights might be inclined to give Fleury more rest than they would by, say, playing Oscar Dansk and him giving up six goals the other night. This homestand might not be the time for that, as Fleury will get plenty of rest between now and Nov. 2.
Colorado will present many challenges for Fleury and the defense in front of him, but Fleury has been red-hot against Colorado, going 3-0-1 against the Avalanche since coming to Vegas and allowing only three goals in those contests. He plays well against this team no matter the matchups.
The return of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Called the heart and soul of the Vegas fourth line, Bellemare faces Vegas for the first time ever. He was picked from the Flyers in the expansion draft, once considered a throwaway pick but turning out to be one of the more valuable players Vegas had the past two seasons.
Bellemare has three points through nine games so far, which is a really good start for him. He got a deserving payday and term in his new deal with Colorado.
Pretty sure he’s going to get one hell of an ovation during the game.
How to watch
Time: 3 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV
Radio: 98.9 FM/1340 AM