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Blues at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas looks to bounce back in spite of injuries

A shorthanded Vegas squad kicks off a three-game homestand.

St Louis Blues v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights are facing their first real adversity of the season just two games in.

It hasn’t been a great start for the Knights (1-1-0), but things truly went off the rails in the team’s 6-2 loss in Los Angeles last week.

Not only were the Knights wildly outplayed, but Mark Stone needed help getting to the locker room in the second period and did not return. To make matters worse, Max Pacioretty suffered an injury that will keep him out of the lineup for weeks.

The Knights have had five days to rest, regroup and practice, but Vegas has a tough test tonight against the visiting Blues.

St. Louis is 2-0-0 this season and has scored five-plus goals in both games. They handed Colorado a 5-3 loss in the season opener and followed that up with a 7-4 win against Arizona on Monday. At one point in the second period against the Coyotes, St. Louis scored four goals on five shots in the span of just over five minutes.

Winger Jordan Kyrou had a four-point night (two goals, two assists). One of those assists came on Pavel Buchnevich’s first goal as a member of the Blues. However, with just 1:07 remaining in the first period, Buchnevich received a match penalty for head-butting Lawson Crouse.

The “play” came shortly after Buchnevich delivered an elbow to the face of Coyotes forward Andrew Ladd. Buchnevich had a hearing with the league yesterday and was given a two-game suspension for the deed; he will not be available tonight.

Buchnevich was one of many offseason changes for the Blues.

Notable departures include Jaden Schwartz (signed with Seattle), Vince Dunn (taken in the expansion draft), Mike Hoffman (left via free agency), Zach Sanford (traded to Ottawa) and Sammy Blais (traded to the Rangers in the Buchnevich deal), among others. The team signed Buchnevich to a four-year, $23.2 million contract and added Brandon Saad via free agency. James Neal signed a one-year, $750,000 deal after joining the team in training camp on a PTO.

The main storyline out of St. Louis over the summer centered around the soured relationship between Vladimir Tarasenko (who requested a trade) and the Blues; however, he remains with the club, and the tension seems to have subsided.

Kyrou, coming off a career season (14-21—35), leads the team in scoring with six points (2-4—6), and Justin Faulk is second with four (2-2—4). Seven players have two points (David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Buchnevich, Tyler Bozak, Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin). Neal is the only player who has yet to record a point this season.

With Neal scratched earlier this week, Kostin made his season debut against Arizona, scoring two goals on three shots in just 10:58. Jake Neighbours, the Blues’ 2020 first-round pick (No. 26), made his NHL debut in the Blues’ win over Colorado over the weekend.

Neal could draw back into the lineup, and either Tarasenko or Kostin could slide up to take Buchnevich’s spot on the second line. The Blues shuffled all the lines in yesterday’s practice, though that may have been because Perron missed another practice.

O’Reilly leads the way with 13 points in 14 career games against Vegas. With Schwartz and Sanford out of the picture, Tarasenko is second with nine points in 11 games, while Perron has nine points in 14.

Alex Pietrangelo had seven points in nine career games against the Golden Knights; he has four points in five games against St. Louis.

He and the Knights will look to hand St. Louis its first loss of the season, but it will be an uphill battle without Stone and Pacioretty.

That’s especially true since Stone leads the Golden Knights with 16 points in 12 games against the Blues, while Pacioretty is fourth with 12 points in nine games. They are the only two Vegas forwards who have averaged more than a point per game against the Blues (Alec Martinez has eight points in seven games). Both Stone and Pacioretty averaged at least two points per game against the Blues last season; Stone recorded 11 points in five games, while Pacioretty chipped in eight in four.

These games often turn into 5-4 overtime finishes; needless to say, not having the two best offensive threats will make life much more difficult for the Golden Knights tonight and moving forward.

Pete DeBoer announced yesterday that Stone’s injury won’t require surgery; the captain is now considered somewhere between day-to-day and week-to-week.

The Misfits Line will have to step up to the plate.

As a unit, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have a combined 39 points in 48 games against the Blues; the trio managed 20 points in eight games last year, however. The other three forward lines will be affected by the injuries, so it’s especially important for Vegas’ long-time second line to be involved offensively.

One piece of good news for the Knights is that forwards William Carrier, Brett Howden and Nicolas Roy all returned to practice this week and are expected to be in the lineup tonight, with Howden set to make his Golden Knights debut. However, Mattias Janmark remains in COVID protocol and will not be available for tonight’s game.

After making their NHL debuts last week in Los Angeles, Jake Leschyshyn and Jonas Rondbjerg — along with Peyton Krebs — were assigned to Henderson for some AHL action; Krebs and Leschyshyn were recalled yesterday and likely will draw in to the lineup tonight.

But the Knights will need to play well and compete on both sides of the puck to remain competitive, and better goaltending will be imperative.

Robin Lehner didn’t finish the game against Los Angeles after surrendering four goals on 31 shots through 40 minutes. While that decision may have been a message to the team rather than an indictment on Lehner, the 2021-22 starter did not have a strong game. Even on some of his saves, his lateral movement looked strained, leaving the net vulnerable on several occasions.

Through two starts, he has stopped 55 of 62 shots for an .887 save percentage, and he’s sitting with a 4.21 goals-against average through just under 100 minutes of play.

Lehner was not to blame for the team-wide effort against the Kings, but he was far from perfect. The Kings’ first goal of the game, for example, came off a great rebound shot, but Lehner gave up the rebound and proceeded to slide out of position, leaving the cage open for Dustin Brown.

Lehner has made some fantastic saves this season, but he has given up seven goals in five periods of hockey. With Stone and Pacioretty out of the lineup, Lehner will need to be significantly better.

He has twice been part of a William M. Jennings Trophy-winning tandem, but just like his teammates, he is off to a slow start this season, even if he’s 1-1-0.

At the other end of the rink will be either Jordan Binnington or Ville Husso. Binnington gave up four goals in the Blues’ 7-4 win against the Coyotes on Monday, and he has a 3.50 goals-against average and .879 save percentage in two wins.

He went 2-1-2 against the Knights last season and holds an all-time record of 4-1-3, while Husso went 0-3-0 in the season series last year; he has yet to play in 2021-22.

Lehner’s stat line against St. Louis last season featured a 3-0-1 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and .908 save percentage; he is 9-3-2 all-time against the Blues. But he was 4-0-0 against Los Angeles last year, so those numbers merely offer context heading into the game; once the puck drops, all bets are off.

So far, that hasn’t been the case with the power play, which remains stagnant.

It is still very early, and the Knights have had just four opportunities, but it remains an issue going back to the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign. Vegas is one of four teams yet to connect on the man advantage this year. The sample size is way too small to be evaluated legitimately, but it’s something that grows more and more concerning with each passing game.

The Blues won’t make things any easier, as St. Louis ranks ninth on the penalty kill (85.7 percent) this year. St. Louis has killed off six of seven penalties, including three against Colorado and three against Arizona.

The Knights have their work cut out for them; the “next man up” philosophy will have to come through.


How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: TNT

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM

Poll

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