This is the biggest game of the season.
The stage is set for quite a battle as the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers go head to head for the rights to stand atop the Pacific Division standings.
Vegas took care of business last night in Calgary, though things didn’t quite go according to plan.
After jumping out to a 3-0 lead on a power-play strike by Max Pacioretty in the second period, Vegas proceeded to blow said three-goal lead, with Matthew Tkachuk knotting things up with just three minutes left in the third period. The Knights scored from a weird angle with just under 70 seconds left in the contest and went on to win 5-3, but it wasn’t pretty.
That being said, the two points put Vegas in the lead in the standings once again. The Knights are two points ahead of Edmonton with 84 points and are now tied with the Oilers in the ROW tiebreaker thanks to last night’s regulation win. But the Oilers have a game in hand, which makes tonight’s game all the more significant.
If the Golden Knights lose tonight’s game, it’s not the end of the world. But there’s no denying that it sort of feels like everything that has happened this season has all been leading up to tonight’s game.
It’s not the final game of the season, and it’s not a winner-take-all scenario, but the Knights have a chance to make a statement with a strong performance.
In order to do that, they are going to need to have another strong start. That doesn’t mean they must go up 3-0 (though that would be fine), but they can’t afford to give up a few quick goals like they did against Los Angeles and Winnipeg.
They also have to play disciplined hockey.
The Oilers have the best power play in the league, operating at a 29.6 percent success rate. That number jumps to 32 percent on home ice, so giving Edmonton power-play opportunities will not end well.
The Knights were very effective against Edmonton when these teams played in T-Mobile Arena 12 days ago, but Marc-Andre Fleury had to stand on his head throughout the night.
Speaking of Fleury, he needs to be great again tonight. Even if Vegas’ defensemen and forwards step up their defensive game, the Oilers have so much skill that Fleury will have to come through as the last line of defense. A mediocre performance will make it tough for Vegas to come away with the critical two points.
It should go without saying, but Vegas also needs to contain Connor McDavid. He was all over the ice in the Feb. 26 matchup and was only held off the scoresheet because of the play of Fleury. The Knights will have their hands full, as the Oilers are currently rolling four lines, with talent and skill on each.
The Knights will need to do the same.
Edmonton recently changed up its lines, moving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the top line to play with McDavid and Zack Kassian, and moving Tyler Ennis to the second line to skate with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. The third line features the speedy and skilled Andreas Athanasiou, and James Neal and Alex Chiasson are on the fourth line, giving the Oilers depth they haven’t had in a long time (and certainly not in the McDavid era).
UPDATE: Alex Tuch is not expected to return from injury tonight.
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
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian
Tyler Ennis — Leon Draisaitl — Kailer Yamamoto
Andreas Athanasiou — Riley Sheahan — Josh Archibald
James Neal — Jujhar Khaira — Alex Chiasson
Oscar Klefbom — Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse — Ethan Bear
Caleb Jones — Kris Russell
How to watch
Time: 6 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9/1340 AM