The 2020-21 season was put on hold for the Vegas Golden Knights last week due to COVID-19 protocols. Three games, including a two-game set against San Jose, were postponed. After more than a week, the Knights will resume their season at T-Mobile Arena tonight as they host the Los Angeles Kings. This will be the Knights’ first game against the Kings this season.
Before the pause, Vegas (5-1-1) sat atop the Western Division standings, but now the Knights are in fourth place. They’re only four points behind the teams tied for first place (St. Louis, Colorado) with at least three games in hand, though, so the gap is somewhat artificial at this point.
The Golden Knights returned to practice on Wednesday but were not joined by alternate captain Alex Pietrangelo or head coach Pete DeBoer. Pietrangelo remains on the COVID-19 protocol list; the status for both remains unclear as of this morning.
The Kings, meanwhile, have yet to have a game postponed but have played just nine so far this season and are 3-4-2. The team is led by Anze Kopitar (12 points), who has racked up plenty of assists so far this season with 11, tied for fifth in the league. The Kings’ next-best scorer is Drew Doughty, who has seven points, including the same number of goals as Shea Theodore.
The Kings have had a parade of rookies and young players join the squad throughout this season. So far, Arthur Kaliyev, Kale Clague, Gabriel Vilardi and Michael Anderson have played games toward their rookie season. Each has at least one point, and Kaliyev scored a goal in his NHL debut.
The team also has Quinton Byfield, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari and Akil Thomas, who could all make their NHL debuts at some point this season. But don’t be fooled by this youth movement; the core of Los Angeles’ roster remains over the age of 31, including Kopitar (33) and Doughty (31), Jeff Carter (36, six points), Dustin Brown (36, six points) and Jonathan Quick (35, .885 save percentage in five starts).
The better goaltender for the Kings so far this season has been 26-year-old Cal Peterson, who is 2-0-0 against Vegas; he has a .930 save percentage in four starts, only one of which has been a win.
The Knights, coming off a 5-4 shootout loss to the Blues, will need to come out strong and break through any rust that may have accumulated during the pause. This is especially true for the team’s power play, which has been a mess all season; goaltending will be key as well. Marc-Andre Fleury was expected to start last Thursday, though it’s unclear if the rotation Vegas was employing has changed after the pause; Fleury has been excellent this season, posting a 3-0-0 record with a 1.00 goals-against average and .951 save percentage. Robin Lehner is 2-1-1 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.
This is a game that can’t be taken for granted. The Kings have problems defending; their 3.22 goals against per game is eighth-worst in the league. But their offense can produce when it needs to; the Kings are 15th in goals per game with 2.89.
Three things to watch for
- With Pietrangelo and Brayden McNabb (placed on LTIR) out of the lineup, the rest of the defense will need to pick up the slack. Pietrangelo was averaging 25:37 so far this season, his highest average ice time since 2017-18 and the highest on the team. Theodore is already averaging a career-high 23 minutes, but he (and Alec Martinez) likely will take on a heavier workload tonight. Expect to see a lot more of Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague. Nick Holden is expected to make his season debut tonight, and Dylan Coghlan and Kaeden Korczak are the most likely candidates to fill the final slot on the third pairing.
- DeBoer remaining out could signify another head coach behind the bench in his stead. Kelly McCrimmon, who last coached the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015-16, was behind the bench during Vegas’ last game on Jan. 26. He could be back behind the bench in this game, although Steve Spott, Ryan Craig and Ryan McGill, DeBoer’s assistants, were all at practice on Thursday.
- The line of Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson and Max Pacioretty was rolling before the pause, collecting nine of Vegas’ 23 goals, seven of 15 at 5-on-5. They had a 67.2 percent expected goal share according to MoneyPuck.com, (66.49 percent according to NaturalStatTrick.com). Vegas getting back on track quickly will depend a lot on that line regaining form.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL Network
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM