The Vegas Golden Knights are undefeated.
The Knights are hoping the same will be true following tonight’s contest against the Los Angeles Kings.
Vegas hits the road for the first time in Year 5 and will look to start its first winning streak of the season.
Mattias Janmark remains in COVID protocol and did not travel with the team. He’ll have almost a week to get back into the lineup, though, as the Knights don’t play again until next Tuesday.
The Knights are 11-8-2 all-time against the Kings but won six of eight meetings in last year’s shortened campaign.
This is a different Kings team, however.
The Kings had a very active offseason, and this could be the year the club turns things around. After winning two Stanley Cups in the early part of the last decade (2012, 2014), the Kings have failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. Their last playoff series was the four-game sweep by Vegas in 2018.
Los Angeles has been in a rebuild over the last few seasons, slowly stockpiling draft picks and building arguably the deepest farm system in the NHL. A few of those players are ready to make the leap.
Quinton Byfield was supposed to be the main attraction, but he was injured in preseason and is out indefinitely. That being said, Arthur Kaliyev is expected to be in the opening-night lineup. So is recently-signed 26-year-old Russian forward Vladimir Tkachyov. Alex Turcotte could make the jump at some point this season, and Gabe Vilardi will search for more consistency in his second full season in the big leagues.
But the key changes to the team are two top-six additions.
The Kings traded for underrated Predators winger Viktor Arvidsson, who is expected to start the year on Anze Kopitar’s wing. Arvidsson offers 30-goal upside and could benefit greatly from a fresh start.
The other is Phillip Danault, who gives the Kings two of the league’s top shutdown centers. Danault can relieve Kopitar of some of the defensive burden, which could go a long way for a Kings team that finished last season with the fifth-lowest scoring rate, averaging just 2.54 goals per game.
This should be the year Cal Petersen officially takes over the No. 1 job in Los Angeles following several rough seasons for Jonathan Quick, though the Kings will need strong performances from both. Petersen has played some of his best hockey against the Golden Knights, going 4-2-0 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .931 save percentage over the last three years.
For the Knights, tonight will be a very different kind of game than the fast-paced, back-and-forth matchup against the Kraken.
Though it’s an incredibly limited sample size (about as small as you can get), there were several takeaways from Tuesday’s 4-3 win that could be relevant in tonight’s matchup.
For one thing, the Seattle Kraken were the better team for much of the game, finishing the night with a 54.26 percent Corsi share, 55.32 percent shot share and 57.89 percent high-danger Corsi share, holding a very slight edge in expected goal share (51.15 percent).
However, the Knights took care of the most important category and came out on top on the scoreboard.
Vegas was able to take advantage of its opportunities early, making the most out of scoring chances on the rush and scoring on two of the team’s first three shots of the game. But generating 5-on-5 offense on the cycle will be critical, particularly given Los Angeles’ center depth and Petersen’s heightened play against Vegas.
For another thing, it didn’t take long for the top line to get going.
Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson combined for eight points in the season opener. They gave up 17 scoring chances at 5-on-5 but looked to be in mid-season form in the offensive zone and were particularly strong on the rush. Pacioretty scored two goals and hit the post, Stone had two primary assists and was involved in three of four goals, and Stephenson scored the game-winner.
The only goal Stone wasn’t involved with was a full-line goal from the Misfits Line in its fifth season together. That was Vegas’ best line in the game, finishing the contest with a 65.38 percent Corsi share, 70 percent shot share and 64.31 percent expected goal share. The trio was on the ice for a goal against but also gave the Knights an important 2-0 lead when Marchessault made a great one-on-one move to fake out Philipp Grubauer and tuck it in the net.
It’s unclear whether the Kings will hard-match with Kopitar or Danault, but tonight will be a much tougher matchup for both of Vegas’ top two lines either way.
As for the bottom six, Tuesday’s game against Seattle was the first game for the new-look third line (or at least two-thirds of it) featuring Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov.
Patrick recorded three shots and two hits in 13:36 and was effective as a net-front presence at both 5-on-5 and on the power play, while Dadonov played 14:33 and came away with one shot, one hit and a minus-one rating.
Both were brought in over the summer to help Vegas address its Achilles’ heel from last season: the power play. The power play was a problem from day one all the way through the third-round series against Montreal.
Vegas went 0-for-3 on the power play the other night, but there were some promising moments, including one involving Patrick and Dadonov. That unit — playing with Stone and Pacioretty — didn’t get much ice time, but the two newest Knights were involved in a few noticeable plays, one of which was a quick passing play that set up Pacioretty on a one-timer. Pacioretty hit iron, but it was a great scoring chance and perhaps a preview of what is to come.
It’s too soon to evaluate those players or either unit as a whole, but it’s definitely something to watch in tonight’s contest, even if Los Angeles presents a greater defensive challenge.
The Knights went 3-1-0 in four games in Los Angeles last season, but the Kings managed an 88.9 percent penalty kill, meaning Vegas’ man advantage operated at just 11.1 percent. That’s not going to cut it, especially as the season progresses.
The sooner the Knights fix the power play, the better; Vegas can’t allow it to be a dark cloud lingering over the team for another year. Tonight will be Vegas’ second chance to break the cycle.
Pete DeBoer leaned heavily on his top-six forwards the other night, with Pavel Dorofeyev — in his Golden Knights debut — and Dylan Coghlan getting just 4:07 and 4:37, respectively. The Knights were forced to play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Peyton Krebs played 10:52 but just 2:57 at 5-on-5 with Patrick and Dadonov.
With Janmark still out of the lineup and William Carrier day-to-day, the Knights could still be without several key starters.
However, the team recalled Jonas Rondbjerg and Jake Leschyshyn from the Henderson Silver Knights, sending Dorofeyev and Jack Dugan down to the AHL.
Regardless of who is in the lineup, the Knights have to play a better 60-minute game. The Kraken — to their credit — fought back and erased a three-goal deficit. Vegas scored shortly after the equalizer, but the game could have gone either way, particularly given the call on Stephenson’s goal.
Part of the blown lead falls on the shoulders of Robin Lehner. He gave up three goals on 26 shots on the night, with two goals of the high-danger variety. However, the game-tying tally by Morgan Geekie was a low-danger shot and one that should have been stopped. It was a laser, to be fair, but when Seattle had all the momentum, the Knights needed a save.
Obviously, it’s the first game of the season, and Lehner did come up with several top-notch stops earlier in the contest. His lateral movement seemed a bit sluggish at times in the third period; it will be interesting to see what kind of performance he delivers in his second start as the new No. 1.
If last year is any indication, though, he’s in a great spot to succeed. Lehner went 4-0-0 against the Kings last season, giving up just eight goals for a 2.00 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
How to watch
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM