After an exhausting 6-5 shootout victory against the Florida Panthers, the Vegas Golden Knights head to Orange County, California to face off against the Anaheim Ducks. This will be the second game of a back-to-back for Vegas, who will face a rested Anaheim opponent.
The Ducks, however, enter as the second-to-last-place team in the Pacific Division with a 24-31-9 record. After holding a playoff position early in the season, the Ducks have crashed and burned, leading to the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle. Things have been so bad that general manager Bob Murray is now behind the bench.
The Ducks are 3-7-0 in their last ten games and 3-12-0 in their last 15. In those 15 games, the Ducks have scored just one goal (or less) 10 times, losing all but one of those games. The Ducks are, to put it simply, not a very good team, but that does not mean the Golden Knights can take them lightly.
Here’s what to watch for.
Mark Stone is already due
Two games into his Golden Knights tenure, Mark Stone has yet to add a point. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, as he’s played far from poorly. In his first game, he had a team-high three high-danger chances and three takeaways.
Last night against Florida, Stone had the second-highest amount of playing time of any Knights player (behind just Shea Theodore) and had two high-danger chances and three more takeaways. Fortunately, Stone isn’t a player to go long without recording points (he’s already tied his season-high for most games played without a point).
That means that Stone should be due for something against Anaheim, which would certainly help the Golden Knights. The new second line has been excellent with the addition of Stone, who has already demonstrated great chemistry with Paul Stastny and former rival Max Pacioretty.
If and when Stone starts scoring again (and both he and Gerard Gallant have recognized it could take some time), the second line is going to be even more dangerous.
The second pairing is blossoming
Theodore and Brayden McNabb currently make up the “second” pairing in the same way that Stone, Pacioretty and Stastny are the “second” line — it’s in name more than anything. Against Florida, Theodore had the most ice time and McNabb had the fourth-highest ice time among Vegas defenders.
Both have been better together than they have been apart this season. In 109:36 of 5-on-5 time, Theodore and McNabb have a 58.56 percent Corsi and 60 percent shot share. That’s with a 51.39 percent offensive-zone faceoff percentage. In addition, they have a 59.57 percent high-danger share.
That pairing has been dominant.
Plus, this will be a revenge game for Theodore, who will face off against his former team, the team that gave him away during the expansion draft, for the first time since November. Considering Theodore is coming off a very strong game against Florida, the added narrative has the potential to be a dangerous combination.
The return of Gibson
No player on Anaheim’s roster has had a remotely impressive season this year, except for one. That’s John Gibson, the 25-year-old goaltender for the Ducks. He was in the Vezina conversation for much of the year, pulling his team up, tooth and nail. Coincidentally, Gibson could be returning to the crease tonight after undergoing wisdom-tooth surgery.
Gibson has a .914 save percentage, .845 high-danger save percentage and 7.73 goals saved above average. He is top-10 in each category among goaltenders with more than 2000 minutes played. That is remarkable given how poorly the team in front of him has played.
With the Golden Knights conceding the first star of most games to the opposing goaltender, Gibson will be the biggest obstacle to overcome. But if Vegas can solve Gibson, the rest of the Ducks roster shouldn’t be a problem.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM