The Vegas Golden Knights finally ended their four-game losing streak. All it took was winning in a shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, they head to Michigan to take on the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings aren’t the Lightning. They’re not the Carolina Hurricanes, contending for a playoff spot. They’re not even Florida, still clutching, desperately, to hopes of postseason glory. Detroit is second-to-last in their division, six points ahead of the Ottawa Senators, and firmly entrenched in the race for a lottery pick. After all, even though Quinn Hughes didn’t get selected by the Red Wings doesn’t mean Jack can’t be.
The Red Wings are on a roll, however, winning their last three games, and five of their last seven. That’ll mean that the Red Wings won’t be the pushover 49 points says they should be, and will need to take this game as seriously as any of the others before it.
Here’s what to watch for.
Be my Valentin
Valentin Zykov has taken on the role of first-line forward, playing alongside William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Against Tampa Bay, Zykov scored the game-tying goal in the third period off a spectacular cross-crease pass by Karlsson. The line showed chemistry.
It also showed skill. The modified first line of Marchessault-Karlsson-Zykov has a 63.27 percent Corsi, 62.96 percent shot share, and 55.56 percent high-danger share in 28 minutes of 5-on-5 action. Each of those numbers are higher than Marchessault and Karlsson’s counts without Zykov (though, it should be noted, 28 minutes is a limited sample size).
Against Tampa Bay, the line was responsible for a 68.75 percent Corsi and 66.67 percent shot share. The line has been really good, and while Zykov might not be the long-term solution, as of right now, Zykov has been an improvement over any player not named Reilly Smith.
Jon Merrill is stepping up
Against the Lighting, Jon Merrill’s stretch pass to Cody Eakin helped get the first Golden Knights goal on the board, which sparked the comeback. That offensive output in a key situation is a part of what has been his best season since 2014-15, when Merrill averaged 20:33 over 66 games for the New Jersey Devils.
As the Golden Knights’ seventh defenseman, Merrill has been up and down, but he’s been significantly better of late. Since Merrill started playing consistently again on Dec. 16, after missing the previous month, Merrill has a 57.8 percent Corsi, 57.9 percent shot share, 57.1 percent goal share, and 57.3 percent high-danger share (Merrill must really miss David Perron). He’s also contributed four of his six points in that time.
As the season continues, the Golden Knights will need that type of production up and down their lineup. Right now, Merrill has been earning himself an extended look.
How not to lose
Taking a look at the last six games, including the four-game losing streak and the two wins at the book ends, there are some noticeable trends.
When Vegas gets production out of multiple lines, it wins. Against the Penguins, the Golden Knights had seven goals, and while most of the heavy lifting was done by the first line - Karlsson had a goal, Marchessault had three - not all of it was on their shoulders. Against the Lightning, the third line scored, the first line scored, and Tuch, representing the second line, won the shootout.
In the losing streak, either one line was responsible for all of the offensive output - namely the second - or there was one sole goal scorer. That’s not been the mark of success for these Golden Knights.
Defensive responsibility has also been crucial, especially at even strength. The Golden Knights are significantly better when allowing fewer chances, as they only allowed 17 even-strength shots from Tampa and contained high-danger chances as well as they could.
Finally, when the goaltending has been better, Vegas has been better. In the losing streak, the Golden Knights got a combined save percentage of .868. In the two wins, that rose to .921. If Marc-Andre Fleury plays a prime Flower game against the Red Wings, one would figure that the Golden Knights will be much more likely to succeed.
How to watch
Time: 4:30 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM