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Golden Knights at Bruins Preview: Vegas kicks off East Coast road trip with tough test in Beantown

This is the first matchup between these teams in nearly two calendar years.

Vegas Golden Knights v Boston Bruins Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights wrapped up a four-game homestand with a 6-4 win against Minnesota Sunday night. The next four games will be away from T-Mobile Arena, starting tonight against the Boston Bruins.

Boston is 14-8-2 with 30 points in 24 games, good for fourth overall in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games but 3-0-2 in December.

Head coach Bruce Cassidy watched that five-game point streak play out on TV after entering COVID-19 protocol Nov. 29; he missed six games in total but remained in contact with the assistant coaches and players. He will be back behind the bench tonight.

The Bruins have had Vegas’ number over the years. There have only been six meetings between these teams, but Vegas has gone 1-4-1 in those games. That comes out to a .250 points percentage, by far their lowest against any team in the NHL.

The Knights’ only win came back in Year 1. The last time these teams met was in January 2020; Boston won both meetings against Vegas that season, each by one goal (4-3 on Oct. 8, 2019 and 3-2 on Jan. 21, 2020).

But it has been a long time, and the Knights are coming off a win against the Wild, the team that truly gave them fits for years.

The Bruins are led by a formidable top line, nicknamed the Perfection Line, which consists of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

This is widely considered to be one of the best lines in hockey, and it’s effective in all three zones and at all strengths (though Pastrnak does not kill penalties).

They are Boston’s top three scorers, with Marchand leading the way with 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points, followed by Bergeron (9-13—22) and Pastrnak (8-13—21).

Charlie McAvoy leads all Bruins defensemen with four goals and 15 points in 23 games.

The B’s acquired Taylor Hall at last year’s trade deadline, and he re-upped with the club in the offseason, agreeing to terms on a four-year, $24 million deal. He was very good at the end of last season and in the first round of the playoffs but has just five goals and 13 points in 24 games so far this season. That being said, it’s not every day that a former Hart Trophy winner is a team’s fourth most dangerous offensive option.

He is not the only new addition, however. In fact, the Knights could see a few familiar faces tonight.

Boston signed Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek in free agency, though Nosek has been out of the lineup with a non-COVID illness and is listed as a non-roster player. Haula, however, has been centering the third line and has five points in 23 games.

Marchand and Pastrnak each have six points in six games against Vegas, while Jake DeBrusk — who recently requested a trade — has three.

It is a bit of a carousel in net.

Tuukka Rask is considering coming back at some point this season, and he only wants to play for Boston; he filled in as an emergency goalie in practice the other day, so he could be nearing a decision. While he has been recovering from offseason hip surgery, the Bruins have gone with a two-man rotation between Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.

Ullmark signed a four-year, $20 million contract with Boston in the offseason and is finally starting to come into his own. The former teammate of Robin Lehner is 7-4-0 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .921 save percentage; he has given up just two goals in each of his last five starts after giving up a total of 17 in the previous five. Ullmark has won two in a row and four of his last five.

Swayman has similar numbers, posting a 7-4-2 record with a 2.15 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 13 starts.

Swayman got called up at the end of last season and was stellar, going 7-3-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and two shutouts in 10 starts. He has lost each of his last two starts in extra time and has been a little less consistent of late, however.

Ullmark has gotten the last two starts, both of which have been impressive performances; he stopped 81 of 85 combined shots against the Oilers and Flames.

Either will be a tough matchup for the Knights, especially since they have given up a combined 10 goals in the last six games.


Keys to the game

  • Special (P)K: Boston has the personnel and the kind of power play that can flip the script in an instant. The Boston power play is ranked sixth in the NHL, converting on 25 percent of its chances; on home ice that number goes up to 27 percent, good for fifth overall. The Knights are coming off one of their better special-teams efforts, and Vegas had the top penalty kill last season. However, last week’s games poked some holes in the facade. Playing in an emotional game at home against a team you’ve faced 17 times in 2021 is a little different than what Vegas has in store tonight. Playing with more discipline would go a long way, but the Knights have taken 14 penalties in the last four games, so spending time in the box seems like a given. But in doing so, the Knights will be playing with fire; Boston doesn’t need a go-to on the power play with Pastrnak, Marchand, Bergeron and Hall in the mix. Boston’s penalty kill on home ice ranks second in the NHL (90.9 percent); at the very least, Vegas needs to avoid losing momentum or giving up a goal while on the power play.
  • Intermission mission: The Knights gave up two particularly deflating goals very early on in the second and third periods, and the buzzer-beater came with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. While much of that was a goaltending issue, Robin Lehner didn’t leave Zuccarello wide open. Giving up goals so close to either side of intermission can be a game-changer momentum-wise, and there won’t be much leeway against the Bruins.
  • Misfits managed: Given the defensive prowess of Boston’s top line, Vegas will need the Misfits Line to step up to the plate. Sunday was a rare instance in which Vegas’ second line combined for zero points. To be fair, it was the top line’s time to shine, as Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson combined for 10 points. But with the Bruins’ top line likely hard-matching against them, the second line could find itself in a more advantageous position. Reilly Smith hasn’t had much career success against his former team, but he’s second on the Knights in scoring with 20 points, so this could be his time.
  • The best offense...: The Knights have to be better defensively, and that starts in the crease. The Vegas goaltending has been rocky in recent games, which has had magnified consequences since the Knights have given up an average of 25 shots per game over the last four. But since the Bruins have the second-highest average with 36 shots per game, the Knights will have to do a better job neutralizing some of those attempts and stopping the ones that get through. Vegas has given up four goals per game in three straight contests; banking on a five-goal performance in Boston is not a winning strategy.

Poll

What’s *most* important for Vegas in tonight’s matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Slowing down BOS 1
    (2 votes)
  • 23%
    Success on the PK
    (4 votes)
  • 47%
    Better goaltending
    (8 votes)
  • 17%
    Production from the middle six
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (0 votes)
17 votes total Vote Now

How to watch

Time: 4 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9