The Vegas Golden Knights’ first game against the Arizona Coyotes didn’t go the Golden Knights’ way until the third period. That’s when Vegas seemed to flip the switch and dominate the game, which led to three goals for and zero against in the frame.
Now, the only potential lineup changes may come in net. Arizona has Antti Raanta in its battery and may turn to the Finnish netminder here. Meanwhile, after a one-goal game against the Anaheim Ducks, Marc-Andre Fleury could get his second start of the season.
Vegas has never gone 4-0-0 to start the season. Their victory on Monday tied their best start to a season at 3-0-0. A victory on Wednesday would ensure a hot start, and that would mean a lot in a shortened season. No other team in the Pacific division has remained undefeated, as the Minnesota Wild, the only other team to go 2-0-0, lost on Monday.
The Knights need a full 60-minute effort to remain undefeated in the 2020-21 season. Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s contest.
In Monday’s game, Pete DeBoer finally made the decision to switch back to 12 forwards and six defensemen. In doing so, he brought Nicolas Hague up from the taxi squad and sent Cody Glass down, as Glass is waiver-exempt. The first part of the decision turned out to be smart, as Hague played 15:45 and looked good at both 5-on-5 play and on the power play.
Zach Whitecloud continued to look impressive as well, as the Chicago Wolves’ go-to pairing from last season transitioned effectively in its first game. Together for 10:37 at 5-on-5, Hague and Whitecloud combined for a 71.43 percent shot share and 74.8 percent expected goal share Monday night. They limited Arizona to just 0.18 expected goals in those 10-plus minutes.
But the question remains: can they do this consistently? If so, the Golden Knights’ ability to roll three defensive pairings may be better than ever. It helps that Whitecloud and Hague have experience playing together, but who knew that essentially a rookie pairing could perhaps be Vegas’ best?
Although the Golden Knights mixed up their bottom six partway through the game on Monday, that bottom six still didn’t compare to the success the first two lines found, especially the Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson and Max Pacioretty line.
The top six added up to 17:21 at 5-on-5 on Monday. The bottom six added up to 14:10. The top six had a 58.33 percent shot share and 88.79 percent expected goal share while scoring all four of the Golden Knights’ goals. The bottom six had a 30.77 percent shot share and 43.59 percent expected goal share. They scored zero goals.
Vegas needs that bottom six to be better in game two of this four-game series. For much of the game, they were trapped in their own zone despite having talent like Alex Tuch, Nicolas Roy and William Carrier, who should have been able to beat the system the Coyotes were playing.
The power play has now had seven opportunities. It has yet to score a goal, and it has looked awful at times. The best it has looked was Monday against the Coyotes when Shea Theodore and Hague were quarterbacking the second unit. The first unit allowed a goal against and has yet to score one.
Considering Alex Pietrangelo was brought in especially to address the man advantage, the power play sure has been, well, absent. That needs to change, and quickly, because the Coyotes’ penalty-kill style has always been aggressive under head coach Rick Tocchet. If the Golden Knights continue to make lazy plays on the power play, they will pay for it.
The Golden Knights have already been given four power-play opportunities against the Coyotes, including a 5-on-3 chance, but they never capitalized. Going without a power-play goal for much longer would likely be a bad omen.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NBCSN (for those outside region)
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM
Opponent’s blog: Five For Howling