The Golden Knights (9-2-1) are in first place in the Western Division with a four-point lead over the third-place Avalanche (7-3-1), though Colorado has a game in hand.
That’s in part because the Avalanche have not played a game since Feb. 2 due to several players landing on the COVID-19 protocol list; Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Jost and Sam Girard are not expected to play today.
However, the Avs are expected to welcome a few centers back into the lineup, including Nathan MacKinnon as well as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare; defenseman Devon Toews also returned to practice yesterday and likely will suit up in today’s matchup.
Though Oscar Dansk has served as the backup in the last two games, Pete DeBoer stated the other day that he would be comfortable rolling Marc-Andre Fleury in the back-to-back. If that’s the case, it’ll be Fleury’s fourth straight start and second in two games. He has been outstanding in the last two, suffering a 1-0 loss to Anaheim despite a heroic effort and earning a 3-1 win against San Jose yesterday afternoon.
The last time these teams met was in the round-robin tournament when Alex Tuch’s overtime goal helped Vegas clinch the top seed in the Western Conference.
However, the Knights lost twice to Colorado in the two regular-season games last season, and they lost badly. Colorado outscored Vegas 13-4, scoring at least six in each tilt.
Bellemare had three goals and five points in those two games. Not one of those goals was scored by MacKinnon, which is a testament to the team’s depth, though both sides will be missing key players today.
The fact that Vegas likely won’t have Shea Theodore in the lineup again means it could be another installment of Fleury Fest. Fleury has stopped 155 of 166 shots in seven games this year, giving him a .934 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.58.
But Philipp Grubauer has been plenty impressive. He also has a .934 save percentage and is 7-2-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average.
This will be Vegas’ toughest matchup this year.
Three things to watch for
- The Avalanche haven’t played in almost two weeks, and several players are coming off injuries. Though the Knights played yesterday, they should have their legs in the first period, and that will be an opportune time to take advantage of any potential rust. The Avs have a lot of talent and a lot of skill, and taking an early lead could help the Knights contain some of their speed. Vegas has struggled in the first but has scored the fewest goals in the second period this year (9); Colorado’s offense has been relatively spread out, though the Avs have a slight edge in the middle frame. No matter what, though, Vegas needs a complete 60-minute effort in order to compete with an Avs team that dominated in last season’s non-bubble contests.
- Vegas was able to hold MacKinnon without a goal in the two regular-season meetings last season, though Colorado still scored 13 times in two games. However, not containing him or giving him time and/or space is not an option. He is one of the best players in the league and is elite in just about every category. He is a true game-changer, and it will take a team-wide effort to slow him down. Alex Pietrangelo hasn’t lived up to his billing yet, but this could be a great spot for him to step up. It’s obvious the Knights are a very different team without Theodore, but the rest of the blue line, led (today) by Pietrangelo, needs to be better.
- Special teams will be important. Working in Vegas’ favor is the fact that the Knights’ penalty kill has been excellent this year, operating at 84.2 percent effectiveness. It has struggled this season, but the power play had its best game of the season yesterday with three goals. However, Colorado’s penalty kill is second overall in the league (89.7), so Vegas will have to be much better at 5-on-5 to keep up.
These teams will meet twice in Vegas before taking the game outdoors at Lake Tahoe Feb. 20. The four-game set will conclude in Ball Arena (formerly Pepsi Center) on Feb. 22.
How to Watch
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: NBCSN, SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM