The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Calgary Flames this afternoon at T-Mobile Arena in a game both teams are eager to claim.
The Flames (10-9-3) are coming off a 3-0 loss to the Coyotes in what was their third straight defeat. It was the first time the Flames have been held off the scoresheet this season.
Meanwhile, the Knights (9-9-3) are on a nice little losing streak of their own as they enter tonight’s tilt on the heels of yet another disappointing loss. In fact, after yesterday’s 4-3 loss to the Kings, Vegas has now officially dropped five games in a row.
That needs to end.
Of course, the Flames have had bigger things on their minds than losing streaks this week after the scare involving defenseman T.J. Brodie, who collapsed during practice and starting convulsing. Fortunately, Brodie was released from the hospital, though he is currently undergoing further testing and remains out of the lineup indefinitely.
But the Flames, like the Knights, are eyeing the big two points up for grabs today. Both seen as pre-season contenders, the Knights and Flames have struggled with consistency early on, and neither team has solidified its footing in the Pacific Division standings so far.
The Knights are currently in seventh place in the division with 21 points, though a win tonight could bump them into fourth. Though it’s only November, American Thanksgiving is often considered a significant cut-off point for playoff contention, and especially with the parity in today’s NHL, every game is important. This one is there for the taking.
Here are three keys to the game for Vegas as the Knights fight to get back in the win column.
Take back home-ice advantage
The Golden Knights have never lost to the Flames at T-Mobile Arena. They are a perfect 5-0-0 when Calgary has been in Sin City.
In fact, home-ice advantage has been critical in this series, as the home team has won each of the last eight meetings between these clubs. That includes Vegas’ 6-2 home victory against the Flames earlier this season.
Vegas needs to keep that going. The Knights are 4-4-2 on home ice this season, which is one of the most surprising aspects of the first quarter of the campaign. Year 3 has been a whirlwind thus far, but re-claiming home-ice advantage would be a great way to steady the ship, and tonight is the perfect opportunity to do so.
The Flames are 4-7-1 on the road and are expected to start Cam Talbot in net. Talbot is 1-4-0 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .907 save percentage, so Vegas needs to pressure him early and often.
Control the fire
The Flames’ star players have not been producing at an elite rate so far this season. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have a combined 10 goals in 22 games, and Mark Giordano, last year’s Norris Trophy winner, has just 13 points on the year.
That’s a trend the Knights need to preserve, especially when it comes to Calgary’s power play.
The Flames have a lot of talent, and their top unit of Gaudreau, Monahan, Giordano, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk can be particularly lethal. It hasn’t been overly successful thus far, operating at 17.8 percent (good for 18th overall), but tonight is not the time for that to change.
Vegas will need to keep an eye on Tkachuk in particular, as he led all skaters with five goals and nine points in last year’s four-game season series.
Containing Calgary’s star players will be difficult but crucial for Vegas.
Play for 60
The Knights haven’t played overly poorly throughout their losing streak, but they’ve failed to take advantage of opportunities and they’ve blown leads. Their inconsistent effort has gotten them into trouble, and it’s something that clearly needs to be rectified.
Teams can’t get away with playing one strong period and then taking their foot off the pedal. But putting forth a complete 60-minute effort will be especially important tonight because the Flames are one of the best third-period teams in the league.
Calgary is fourth in the NHL with 25 goals in the third period, and the Flames led the entire NHL in third-period goals last season with 118. Vegas has 16 goals in the third period this season, which ranks 27th. Though the Knights lead the league in first-period strikes with 28, it has become quite clear in recent games that getting a lead is not enough. If the Knights come out swinging and light the lamp first, they need to protect that lead and continue to drive play until the final horn sounds.
At the end of the day, the Knights just need a win. Desperately. They need to keep things simple, take it one shift at a time and stick to the script for the entire game. From there, they can worry about getting back in the playoff picture with three more home games throughout the week.
How to Watch
Time: 4 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL Network
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9/1340