The Vegas Golden Knights made perhaps the biggest move ahead of the trade deadline, acquiring forward Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators for Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg, and a second-round pick in 2020 (acquired with Dylan Ferguson from Dallas for Marc Methot).
Stone has since been tentatively extended to an eight-year contract, which means he stands to play in Vegas for a long time. In the Golden Knights’ last 10 home games, they have gone 2-7-1, so Stone can’t get on the ice fast enough.
The Dallas Stars come to Vegas having won just three of their last nine games. Neither of these teams are at their hottest, nor their best. It’ll be interesting to see how Vegas plays against a deep Stars team (albeit one missing new acquisition Mats Zuccarello as well as Jamie Benn, who will not be available for tonight’s contest) that has a top-five defense this season.
Vegas’ offense is going to need a pick-me-up against one of the best teams in the league at shutting down opposing scorers. Here’s what to watch for:
A new-look top nine
Stone is officially in the lineup for the Golden Knights tonight. He is set to skate on the second line with Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. It’s possible Gerard Gallant will play around with the lines during the game, but the new second line should be quite a two-way unit as all three forwards are capable of playing in both ends.
Playing with Stastny and Pacioretty should also make the transition easier for Stone since the two forwards have demonstrated such solid chemistry. Together they have managed a 62.8 Corsi For per 60 rate (51.09 CA/60) while maintaining a 55.14 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 this season, so Stone’s strong possession metrics (including a 52.24 CF%) will fit in nicely while he simultaneously provides a strong punch of offensive firepower.
Alex Tuch will move down to the third line to skate with Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter, who will be back in the lineup tonight in place of the recently-traded Lindberg. Tuch and Eakin played very well together earlier in the season when Erik Haula went down, so Vegas should be able to ice three competitive lines in tonight’s matchup.
The Knights now have Reilly Smith, Stone and Tuch on the right side of their top three lines. Not bad.
Vegas’ blue line keeping pace?
With the Stars’ blue line ranking as one of the league’s best, can Vegas keep up? Well, the good news is that Vegas is tied for eighth-best in the NHL in terms of fewest goals against per game this season.
The Golden Knights have allowed a fair amount of shots from the high-crease, the area right around where Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban call home. That hasn’t been ideal, but the wide swaths of blue show how Vegas has suppressed shots well this season, and has controlled, for the most part, where shots are coming from.
The penalty kill has also been excellent this season and has done very similar things, though it has allowed more shots from the circles:
Vegas’ defense is also eighth in terms of fewest shots allowed and sixth in fewest high-danger chances against. That’s better than Dallas in each category.
In other words, as much as Dallas’ defense gives the Stars a chance to win, Vegas’ defense perhaps gives the Knights even more of an opportunity, should their goalie come through.
How to win at home
Winning at home for the Golden Knights has boiled down to basics.
Obviously, it’s better for the Golden Knights to spend more time on the power play than on the penalty kill (12-5-2 when playing more on the man advantage, 5-5-2 when playing more shorthanded). Outscoring the other team at even strength is also obviously much better for Vegas (Vegas is 11-0-1 when outscoring the other team at 5-on-5, 4-1-3 when equal, and 2-9-0 when losing).
The Golden Knights are also better when their even-strength goaltending is better. When Vegas has a 5-on-5 save percentage below .900, the Knights are 5-8-1. Between .900 and .999, Vegas is 4-2-3. With a perfect save percentage at 5-on-5, Vegas is 8-0-0. The problem is, Vegas hasn’t seen perfection since Jan. 1. The best Vegas has gotten recently came against Nashville and was from Subban.
To return to form, the Knights will need to return to basics. Focus on drawing more penalties than they take, find ways to outscore teams at even strength, and get better performances out of their goaltenders. Starting with Dallas would be great.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM