The Vegas Golden Knights are back.
There’s still a chance tonight’s game will be postponed, and it could be a particularly depleted Vegas roster that takes the ice, but the matchup between the Pacific Division rivals is one of three games that remains on tonight’s schedule.
The National Hockey League has postponed a total of 70 games this season. The majority of those have come in the last few weeks as a result of the considerable uptick in COVID-19 cases around the league.
In addition to postponing games, the NHL recently announced that it has reintroduced taxi squads on a temporary basis in order to help teams manage roster limitations due to the outbreak.
The taxi squads will be active through the end of January, dissolving just before the All-Star Game break. Teams can add a maximum of six players to the taxi squad; no player can spend more than 20 cumulative days on the taxi squad, and waivers will be in effect.
The Golden Knights added four players — forwards Jake Leschyshyn and Jonas Rondbjerg, defenseman Daniil Miromanov and goaltender Logan Thompson — ahead of yesterday’s practice.
Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Robin Lehner were absent from that practice and are all considered game-time decisions for tonight.
Nicolas Hague is expected to be back in the lineup. Former Los Angeles defenseman Alec Martinez, however, remains out indefinitely; he was moved to long-term injured reserve yesterday, according to CapFriendly.
Notably, Nolan Patrick shed the red non-contact jersey and instead donned the fourth-line yellow Knights sweater in yesterday’s practice. He could return to the lineup tonight, which would be a key addition for the Knights, who have been without his services in all but four games this season.
Patrick was one of four players to skate on the fourth line in practice; he was joined by Leschyshyn, Rondbjerg and Michael Amadio. If Amadio comes away with one of those slots, this will be his first chance to face his former team since getting traded in March 2021. Los Angeles selected Amadio in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Alex Pietrangelo and Evgenii Dadonov remain in COVID-19 protocol; they should be eligible to return for the Dec. 31 game against Anaheim. Brett Howden was added to the protocol list yesterday, as was Pete DeBoer.
The CDC announced yesterday that it has adjusted its recommended isolation period following a positive test from 10 days to five days. It remains to be seen if this will stick, but it will be interesting to see if the NHL adopts it in any capacity. How that would work with the Canadian teams and cross-border travel is far from clear; this is especially true since Canada has maintained stricter laws and policies in most pandemic-related matters.
The Knights are 11-9-2 all-time against the Kings but won six of eight meetings last year.
Los Angeles (14-11-5) has gone 5-3-2 in its last 10 games and is coming off a 3-2 win against Washington. The Kings are currently in fifth place in the division with 33 points; Vegas (20-12-0) remains at the top with 40 points, though the Kings have two games in hand.
Not surprisingly, Anze Kopitar leads the Kings with 27 points in 30 games. Drew Doughty has 13 points in 11 games, three of which came against the Knights when these clubs met in early October.
It was an ugly outing for the Knights, who had no answer for Kopitar’s five-point performance. The 6-2 defeat kickstarted a four-game losing streak, leaving Vegas with a 1-4-0 record to start the season.
The Knights turned things around in December, though, stringing together winning streaks of three and five games, sweeping a four-game road trip and going 8-3-0 overall to propel the Knights to the top of the division standings.
The top line played a huge role in the success, combining for 41 points in that stretch. The Knights could be without two-thirds of that line tonight, which would significantly alter the dynamic of the game.
That could be somewhat mitigated by the fact that the Kings will be without top-six center Philipp Danault (COVID), though it’s not truly comparable given how significant Stone and Pacioretty are to the Knights. However, Danault’s absence could leave the door open for Alex Turcotte’s NHL debut.
The other Kings roster players in COVID-19 protocol are Dustin Brown, Quinton Byfield, Olli Maatta and Cal Petersen.
Kopitar leads all players in this series with 26 points in 22 games; Vegas’ scoring is more evenly distributed, though Pacioretty has 16 points in 14 games, while Stone has 11 points in 12 games. Interestingly, Keegan Kolesar has four assists in four games against Los Angeles.
Kolesar said yesterday after practice that he is not concerned about the Knights’ ability to get back up to speed after the break.
As he put it, “Rest is a weapon.”
Even so, there are many unknowns ahead of tonight’s contest, particularly with so many moving pieces and both lineups in flux.
But it’s safe to say that special teams will be a factor for the Knights once again. It certainly was when these teams met in October, as the Kings went 2-for-2 on the power play and killed off Vegas’ lone opportunity.
In recent weeks, the Knights’ power play and penalty kill have gone through a Freaky Friday-esque transition. All of a sudden, the Knights are thriving on the power play and struggling on the penalty kill.
Vegas’ recent power-play success has resulted in a bump to 15th place (19.2 percent) on the year. In fact, Vegas has had the fourth-best power play in the NHL in December, operating at 32.3 percent.
The Kings rank 24th on the power play (17.4 percent) on the year but have seen a decline in production in December, resulting in a drop to 14.8 percent efficacy.
On the penalty kill, the two clubs are separated by just 0.5 percent, with Los Angeles ranking 24th (77.4 percent) and the Knights coming in at No. 25 (76.9 percent).
The Kings have improved of late and sit at 14th with a 78.8 percent kill rate in December. The Knights, meanwhile, have killed off just 67.7 percent of opposing power plays in the last four weeks. That’s good for 28th in the NHL, a far cry from last year’s top-rated penalty kill.
Vegas (12/27 practice)
William Carrier — Stephenson — Mattias Janmark
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Adam Brooks — Nicolas Roy — Kolesar
Rondbjerg — Patrick — Amadio — Leschyshyn
Shea Theodore — Zach Whitecloud
Brayden McNabb — Dylan Coghlan
Ben Hutton — Miromanov
Los Angeles (12/27 practice)
Alex Iafallo — Kopitar — Adrian Kempe
Trevor Moore — Turcotte — Viktor Arvidsson
Brendan Lemieux — Blake Lizotte — Arthur Kaliyev
Lias Andersson — Rasmus Kupari — Carl Grundstrom
Mikey Anderson — Doughty
Christian Wolanin — Matt Roy
Tobias Bjornfot — Sean Durzi
How to watch
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM