The Golden Knights are currently first in the NHL’s West division, as they hold a four-point lead on the Minnesota Wild. Both teams have played 27 games.
Vegas comes into this series hot, riding back-to-back set sweeps over the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks. The Golden Knights are looking for their fifth straight win, and scored four goals to overcome a 3-1 lead held by the Sharks at the beginning of the third period in their most recent game.
The Kings have gone 9-4-4 since the last time they played the Golden Knights. They’re three games behind the Blues for fourth place in the West Division with a game in hand. That means the Kings have something to play for halfway through the season, which was not expected by many.
The Kings have played this well in part because Calvin Petersen has been a revelation for the team in net. Through 15 starts and 16 games, Petersen has a .922 save percentage and .861 high-danger save percentage. The Kings also have Jonathan Quick, who has two shutouts so far this season but a .898 save percentage and -5.38 goals saved above expected.
The Kings are not great in terms of possession so far this season. They’re 29th in expected goal share (xGF%) with 45.91 percent and 23rd in shot share (SF%) with 48.3 percent. The Golden Knights are 12th with a 51.3 xGF% and 11th with a 51.02 SF%.
Los Angeles is led by Anze Kopitar, who has eight goals and 34 points in 28 games so far this season. Drew Doughty has 24 points in 28 games and Dustin Brown has 13 goals and 19 points in 26 games this season.
The Kings’ youth movement has also contributed to their success this season, as rookie Gabe Vilardi has six goals and 12 points in 28 games and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, a fellow rookie, has seven points in seven games. The Kings have rookies Kale Clague and Tobias Bjornfot on the blue line as well.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights could see Robin Lehner rejoin the team in net after returning to the bench on Wednesday against the Sharks. With Marc-Andre Fleury posting a .879 save percentage against San Jose Wednesday (three starts in his last five have been below a .900 save percentage), the Golden Knights may finally be able to give Fleury a well-deserved break.
Here’s what to watch for as the Golden Knights face the Kings.
What to watch for
- With two goals in the third period on Wednesday, the Golden Knights have three power-play goals in their last two games and four goals in their last four games. In both games against the Kings so far this season, the Golden Knights scored a power-play goal. Vegas saw goals from Cody Glass and Chandler Stephenson so far this season against the Kings. Glass scored against the Sharks on Wednesday and Alec Martinez also scored. Vegas having a hot power play going into this set against the Kings is very probably good for the team.
- The Golden Knights played two very different games against the Kings at 5-on-5 back in early February. In the first they had a 64.28 percent expected goal share (xGF%). In the second, a 48.8 xGF%. In the first, they had a 48 percent shot share (SF%). In the second, that number rose to 57.45 percent. So in one game they controlled quality and not quantity and in the second game those flipped. The good news: Vegas won the high-danger chance battle both times. With the Golden Knights’ defense struggling — they allowed the Sharks 13 high-danger chances and then 10 at 5-on-5 — a set where they can deny chances from the crease may be just what they need to raise confidence again.
- Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague are fifth in expected goals against per 60 (1.68) among defensive pairs with 200 minutes or more at 5-on-5. With Alex Pietrangelo out for a while, the pair has successfully transitioned their chemistry from the AHL to the NHL. Not bad for two very young defensemen. The Golden Knights will need a shutdown pairing against the Kings, as most of LA’s scoring has come from their veteran trio of Kopitar, Doughty and Brown. Kopitar and Brown play on the same line and play a lot with Doughty. If Whitecloud and Hague can shut down LA’s big three, it’ll be an easier set for Vegas.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM