The next two games will be pivotal for the Vegas Golden Knights in their fight for playoff positioning. First up is tonight’s matchup against the Calgary Flames, with a meeting in Edmonton on tap for tomorrow.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Knights held a six-point lead in the Pacific Division standings.
Those days are over.
The Knights have gone 1-2-0 in March and now trail the Oilers in the standings despite having the same number of points (82); the Oilers have the edge in ROW (regulation or overtime wins, a.k.a. non-shootout wins), which makes Edmonton the top seed following its 4-1 win against Columbus last night.
This is a crucial moment for Vegas, especially considering division matchups in the final stretch of the regular season are four-point contests.
The Flames (36-26-7) are in third place in the Pacific, trailing Vegas by just three points. Calgary is 3-0-0 in March and 6-3-1 over its last 10 games.
Johnny Gaudreau is really starting to heat up after a slow start to the season; in fact, he has been a point-per-game player in 2020 and has points in four straight and in nine out of his last 10.
However, the second-line trio of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane has been the most effective unit for Calgary of late. The Flames got Mark Giordano back in the lineup a few games ago, so the top power-play unit is intact. Vegas has given up two power-play goals in each of its last two losses, going 0-for-2 on the penalty kill in both games. Needless to say, discipline will be key tonight.
After all, the Knights are coming off a disappointing 4-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in a rough start to the team’s five-game road trip. Vegas gave up three goals in the first period, one of which came just 32 seconds into the game. The Knights were down by two goals within the first five minutes of the first period, much like the recent loss to Los Angeles in which Vegas trailed by two at the 7:39 mark.
Simply put, the Knights cannot allow the poor starts to continue.
It’s been an ongoing issue, even during the team’s eight-game winning streak, but it is not going to cut it in either of the next two games (or moving forward, for that matter). Clawing back from early deficits is exhausting and unsustainable, so a strong start will be key to Vegas’ game plan tonight.
One thing the Knights have going for them, though, is that they are 2-0-0 against Calgary this season, outscoring the Flames 12-2 and lighting the lamp six times in both games. That’s an unlikely (albeit possible) scenario for tonight’s game, but Vegas will need to take advantage of opportunities, especially since it could be a tight game between two teams desperate for points.
The Knights need to figure out how to play on the road after achieving so much success on home ice. There are only a handful of home games left this season, so the Knights need to make the transition quickly. Tonight is as good a time as any.
Here are the projected lineups for both clubs (subject to change):
Jonathan Marchessault — Paul Stastny — Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty — William Karlsson — Nicolas Roy
Brandon Pirri — Chandler Stephenson — Nick Cousins
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt
Alec Martinez — Shea Theodore
Nick Holden — Zach Whitecloud
Johnny Gaudreau — Sean Monahan — Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk — Mikael Backlund — Andrew Mangiapane
Milan Lucic — Derek Ryan — Dillon Dube
Sam Bennett — Mark Jankowski — Tobias Rieder
T.J. Brodie — Mark Giordano
Noah Hanifin — Rasmus Andersson
Erik Gustafsson — Derek Forbort
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM