The Vegas Golden Knights have lost two in a row to open after the All-Star break and the bye. Both losses came against teams they probably should have beaten. Vegas is now on a four-game losing streak, and need a win to regain momentum. The thing is, this game is against the team with the best record in hockey.
The Tampa Bay Lightning enter play with a league-high 80 points; best by a whopping seven (they even have a game in hand on the Calgary Flames). The Lightning only have 11 regulation losses this season, best in the league by three. Their offense is the greatest in the NHL, with 205 goals, and their defense is tied for sixth best with 146 goals against.
The Lightning have three players in the top 20 in scoring this season, two in the top 10. That includes the top point scorer in the NHL, Nikita Kucherov (80 points in 52 games).
It’s not looking good for the Golden Knights. Here’s what to watch for.
Special teams need to shine
The Lightning have the best power play and third best penalty kill in the league this year. The Golden Knights have the second-best penalty kill and the 19th-best power play, but those units will need to shine.
Vegas is 14-4 when the penalty kill doesn’t allow a power-play goal against and the Golden Knights score one themselves. When the penalty kill is perfect, without a power-play goal, Vegas is 19-14-2. When they only have a power-play goal, allowing one as well, Vegas is 18-7-2. The Knights are always better when their special teams are better.
Vegas will need their special teams units to be better against Tampa Bay.
The Schmidt spark
This season, when Nate Schmidt is on ice for a goal for at even strength, the Golden Knights are 15-3-2. When the Golden Knights get shutout with Schmidt on ice, they are 1-7-1. Clearly, the Golden Knights are a better team when their number one defenseman is helping provide offensive spark.
Which is why Schmidt’s current streak — being shutout at even strength in three of the last four games — is so troubling. Until he gets going again, the Golden Knights could be stuck like this.
With two career points against Tampa Bay, and a goal last year, now could be a perfect time for Schmidt to get going again. Especially as Schmidt has yet to face Tampa Bay, and could be instrumental in getting the Golden Knights over the edge — they only lost by one goal in the team’s last contest.
How to beat Tampa Bay
Looking at their 11 regulation losses this season, the Lightning have one clear pattern emerge — high-danger goals for. When Tampa Bay either doesn’t score a high-danger goal for at 5-on-5, or score but one, they are 19-11-1. When they score more than that, they are 20-0-1.
All 11 of their regulation losses come because the other team holds them from scoring up close. They’re still better, with 19 wins, but that’s to be expected — they’re 39-11-2. They’re going to be better no matter what. Still, knowing what it takes to beat Tampa is significant.
Four of their regulation losses have come against Pacific Division teams, the most of any division. This could all be building up towards the perfect storm (pun intended) if the Golden Knights can up their defensive game.
After all, Vegas is tied with Minnesota for 16th-fewest high-danger goals allowed at 5-on-5 (seventh-fewest chances against) and are 23-10-4 when allowing between zero and one high-danger goals against (6-11 when allowing more). If the Golden Knights can better themselves against the Lightning and allow fewer high-danger chances against (seven allowed against both Carolina and Florida), this could be a game Vegas steals.
How to watch
Time: 4:30 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN+, AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM