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Oilers at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas looks to avoid third straight loss

That won’t be easy with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in town.

Edmonton Oilers v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights continue their three-game homestand tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, who are undefeated (4-0-0) to start the season after securing a 5-1 win last night in Arizona.

Vegas (1-2-0) holds a 6-4-1 lifetime record against the Oilers.

The last time these teams met was March 9, 2020, and it was a significant game for many reasons.

For one thing, it was the final game of the regular season prior to the pause. Also, it proved to be an important win for the Knights, as the 3-2 overtime victory was the difference between competing in the round-robin tournament and having to face elimination in a best-of-five qualifying-round matchup.

The Oilers ended up losing to Chicago in that qualifying round; while the Knights disposed of the Blackhawks in five games, the round-robin tournament allowed the Knights to finish first in the division and avoid the threat of early elimination. Connor McDavid was a late scratch in the game; the last team he lined up against the Knights was a few weeks prior (Feb. 26, 2020), a 3-0 win for Vegas.

McDavid is up to his old tricks so far this season. He passed the 200-goal mark last night and leads the league in goals (8) and points (11). He has four multi-point efforts in four games, scoring three points in each of the last three.

He has seven goals and 15 points in 10 career games against the Knights, while Leon Draisaitl has three goals and 13 points in 11.

The Oilers have scored 18 goals, including five-plus tallies in three straight games. They are tied for third in the league in goals per game (4.50).

Edmonton had a fairly busy offseason, signing versatile winger Zach Hyman, center Derek Ryan, winger Brendan Perlini and defenseman Cody Ceci. The Oilers acquired Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith and Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele, bought out James Neal, re-signed Tyson Barrie and Smith and traded young blueliners Caleb Jones (in the Keith deal) and Ethan Bear (in the Foegele deal). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed a massive eight-year extension, and Adam Larsson left as an unrestricted free agent in the expansion draft.

Though question marks remain on the back end, the Oilers certainly have more depth up front, which has enabled head coach Dave Tippett to mix things up.

To start the season, Edmonton stacked its top line with McDavid and Draisaitl. However, they were split up last night, with Hyman moving up to skate with McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi on the top line and Draisaitl moving down to center the second line between Nugent-Hopkins (who had three assists) and Kailer Yamamoto.

Hyman scored two special-teams goals, one shorthanded and the other on the man advantage. Defenseman and former first-round pick Evan Bouchard has three points in his last two games and is averaging 19:18. Foegele scored his first goal as a member of the Oilers, and the third line had several key shifts throughout the game.

That setup could very well be the plan for tonight against a weakened and thin Vegas lineup, though Tippett always has the option of reuniting the two superstars.

Depth is something the Knights are lacking at this point.

Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone remain sidelined, and Alec Martinez is day-to-day after leaving the St. Louis game in the third period after slamming into the boards. Pete DeBoer did not have an update on Martinez yesterday after practice, leaving his status up in the air at the time of publish.

The Knights recalled defenseman Daniil Miromanov, though Dylan Coghlan likely will step in if Martinez is unable to play.

One player the Knights may get back tonight is Mattias Janmark, who participated in yesterday’s practice after being removed from the COVID protocol list. He was on the fourth line in practice but could move up to skate with Evgenii Dadonov and Nolan Patrick since the trio developed chemistry in preseason.

Peyton Krebs was moved to the top line during Wednesday’s game, and it appears as though DeBoer will stick with that arrangement tonight.

The injury bug reared its head in Edmonton’s 6-5 win over Anaheim earlier this week, leaving goaltender Mike Smith on injured reserve. Mikko Koskinen started last night in Arizona, so it’s possible the Knights could face Stuart Skinner. However, the Oilers don’t play again until Oct. 27, so Koskinen could go back-to-back.

Koskinen stopped 20 of 21 shots in relief of Smith Tuesday night and 27 of 28 last night; he is 1-3-1 all-time against the Knights, posting a 3.00 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

For Vegas, Robin Lehner is coming off his best performance of the season. He was Vegas’ best player in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Blues; without his strong play, the Knights could have been blown out.

Lehner has a career record of 5-2-2 against the Oilers; assuming he gets the nod, this will be his first game against Edmonton as a member of the Golden Knights.

Laurent Brossoit, who has yet to get a start this season, spent the first four seasons of his career in Edmonton; he won seven of 20 starts with the Oilers and has gone 0-2-0 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .909 save percentage against Edmonton since.

Regardless, the Knights will need to generate more offense and provide goal support in order to compete.

Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith lead Vegas in scoring against the Oilers with 10, nine and eight points in 10, 11 and 10 games, respectively. Shea Theodore has seven, including the overtime game-winning goal the last time these teams met.

Here’s what to watch for tonight.

Keys to the game

Discipline, discipline, discipline

The Oilers have the best power play in the NHL.

Though it has only been four games, Edmonton has seven goals on 14 opportunities. It’s not a flash in the pan, either. The Oilers had the best power play in the NHL last season as well.

Considering the amount of talent Vegas is facing on the top unit — McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman and Barrie — the Knights need to be careful. Very careful. That’s particularly true given the plethora of injuries to key defensive players.

The best way to slow down that lethal power play is to not give it a chance to breathe. Discipline will be vital, though it’s easier said than done against two of the best players in the league.

But the Knights’ special teams have struggled across the board.

As of last night, the Golden Knights are one of only two teams yet to score on the power play. The only other team is the Bruins, and they’ve played just two games.

The penalty kill also has been a problem. Vegas is tied for 22nd while shorthanded, operating at 75 percent efficacy.

Edmonton, by contrast, is first on the power play (50 percent) and 10th on the penalty kill (85.7 percent).

Vegas is much better off at 5-on-5.

Shot suppression

The Knights surrendered 67 shot attempts the other night against St. Louis in one of the team’s worst defensive efforts in the last few seasons. It was a back-and-forth game, and the Knights ran into a hot goaltender, but giving up that many chances — many of which were high-danger — is not sustainable. It’s a big reason why the Knights have lost two of three.

In fact, Vegas has been out-attempted in all three games this season.

The Knights are giving up more shot attempts per 60 (40.15) than any other team and have averaged 38.7 shots against per game, the highest in the league.

Vegas has the third-lowest Corsi share (44.1 percent) at 5-on-5 and the lowest (43.68 percent) at all strengths.

The Knights have given up an average of four goals per game, the fifth-highest mark in the league; they are giving up the most scoring chances, shots, high-danger chances and 5-on-5 high-danger goals per 60.

That is not conducive to winning.

It’s early in the season, and the Knights are missing key players, but there’s no excuse for such a strong possession team to see its numbers plummet so drastically.

Vegas, as a team, has to make a much more concerted effort to force the Oilers to the perimeter, clear lanes and the crease so Lehner can see and play the puck and be more diligent in the neutral zone. Neutral-zone play could be especially important given the speed and skill throughout Edmonton’s lineup.

The Knights have a long way to go offensively if they want to keep up with the high-flying Oilers; Vegas’ depth was put to the test on Wednesday and got exposed all night by the Blues’ offense. But the least the Knights can do is try not to give Edmonton any freebies.

Panda power

Lehner was the Knights’ best player Wednesday against St. Louis. It was a promising performance after a few suspect outings, and while it wasn’t enough for the win, he kept the Knights in the game early and prevented it from being a blowout. He stopped 16 pucks in the first period alone and ended the night with 35 saves on 37 shots.

Vegas needs a similar effort tonight.

Lehner was able to erase most of the mistakes made by Vegas’ lackluster defensive play the other night, but he faced a ton of point-blank high-danger chances. Players like McDavid and Draisaitl don’t miss those very often; Lehner will need help in the defensive zone, but he has to bring his best.

If he doesn’t, the Knights could be looking at a 1-3-0 record to start the year.


How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM