The Vegas Golden Knights enter tonight’s contest on the heels of back-to-back wins and in search of a third straight victory.
We’ve been here before.
The all-elusive three-game winning streak has been a foreign concept to the Golden Knights in Year 3, but Vegas has a chance to erase that trend and start anew with tonight’s matchup against the New York Rangers.
The Knights are coming off consecutive wins in extra time, the first a riveting overtime victory in Nashville and the second a shootout win against Arizona. It was a positive way to conclude a tumultuous month that saw the Knights go 5-6-3, but the current road trip, which starts tonight at Madison Square Garden, presents an opportunity to wipe the slate clean.
For the Rangers, the offseason acquisitions of Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba (and Adam Fox, for that matter) along with the addition of second-overall pick Kaapo Kakko have generated a lot of excitement in the Big Apple, especially considering the moves abruptly halted what many thought would be a long-term rebuild.
With Mika Zibanejad back in the fold after missing a month of action, the Rangers are in the midst of a season-best five-game point streak (4-0-1) and will look to extend that success on home ice, where they are 8-4-2. New York is three points out of the second wildcard slot but has two games in hand, so tonight’s contest is an important one. It will be a tough test, however, as Vegas holds a 3-1-0 edge in the all-time series between these two clubs.
The last time the Knights were in the world’s most famous arena, Paul Stastny scored his first goal as a Knight and Alex Tuch netted the game-winning goal in overtime after out-waiting Henrik Lundqvist to lift the Knights to victory.
GOAL. Alex Tuch wins it in over time. Nice feed from Stastny. pic.twitter.com/r4AtJOg5MU— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 16, 2018
Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s tilt.
Cody Eakin left Saturday’s game against the Coyotes after taking a high hit from Brad Richardson. He is currently considered week-to-week, according to Gerard Gallant.
With Eakin out of commission, Cody Glass will center the third line in his stead. Glass skated with Tuch and William Carrier in practice yesterday, while Nicolas Roy centered the fourth line between Tomas Nosek and Ryan Reaves.
The injury to Eakin comes at a particularly unfortunate time as he was finally starting to turn things around, but the Knights will have to manage without him.
Glass has just three points in his last 19 games but should be more comfortable as he shifts to his natural position. He won’t have the elite linemates with which he started the season (Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty), but he’s shown enough skill and hockey sense this year to play a key role for the Knights in the upcoming weeks.
Tuch and Carrier skated with Eakin for part of Saturday’s game against Arizona as Gallant shuffled the bottom six, and Tuch and Glass have played together for a while now, so there is some familiarity within the trio. If Vegas’ third line, which has struggled all year, could find some momentum with the new arrangement, that would be huge.
December has been good to the Golden Knights. In fact, the Knights hold an all-time record of 20-4-4 in the final month of the year, collecting 23 points in 2017 and 21 in 2018. This would be a fantastic time for the Knights to catch fire.
After all, the Knights have yet to solidify any sense of consistency this season.
They’re dominant one night, blowing two-goal leads the next and then holding on for dear life as they rely on Marc-Andre Fleury to make ridiculous saves.
That’s not sustainable, and Vegas’ record of 13-11-4, good for fifth in the Pacific Division, reflects that. Even so, Vegas is just one point out of a division playoff slot and seven points behind the division-leading Oilers, so every point moving forward is crucial.
Fleury won’t be available for tonight’s game as he tends to a serious family matter, but he is expected to join the team at some point during the road trip. Malcolm Subban has won back-to-back starts and likely will earn his fourth consecutive nod in the first half of the back-to-back, as Vegas takes on New Jersey tomorrow evening.
The Golden Knights need to get off to a strong start in tonight’s game. Is it absolutely imperative? Not necessarily; after all, the Knights know more than most that leads can be fleeting.
But it’s significant.
For one thing, the Knights are 11-3-1 when scoring first, while they are 2-8-3 when giving up the first goal, which is the fifth-worst record in the league. The Rangers have similar numbers as they’re 11-4-2 when lighting the lamp first and 2-5-1 when trailing.
Secondly, the Knights have only won one game when trailing after the first period with a 1-7-0 record under those circumstances, and they’re 1-9-1 when trailing after 40 minutes. Even though the two-goal leads have been problematic, comeback wins have been few and far between, so it’s critical that the Knights are ready for this one as soon as the puck drops.
Lemieux (#48) — Zibanejad (#93) — Buchnevich (#89)
Panarin (#10) — Strome (#16) — Kakko (#24)
Kreider (#20) — Chytil (#72) — Fast (#17)
Smith (#42) — Howden (#21) — Haley (#38)
Skjei (#76) — Trouba (#8)
Lindgren (#55) — Fox (#23)
Hajek (#25) — DeAngelo (#77)
Marchessault — Karlsson — Smith
Pacioretty — Stastny — Stone
Carrier — Glass — Tuch
Nosek — Roy — Reaves
McNabb — Schmidt
Hague — Theodore
Merrill — Engelland
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM