The Vegas Golden Knights will go head to head against the Los Angeles Kings for the second time this weekend after securing a 4-2 victory Friday night at STAPLES Center. The win improved the Knights’ season record against the Kings to 3-0-0.
The win also was Vegas’ fifth straight, and it helped the Knights maintain their lead in the West Division, which is now three points over Colorado and six over Minnesota (the two teams played yesterday, with the Avs coming away with a 6-0 win).
The Knights have won 21 times through the first half of the shortened 56-game season and currently sit at 21-6-1. The Kings (12-11-6) haven’t been as successful, though they are now seven points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand over St. Louis.
In Friday’s game, Robin Lehner made his first start since Feb. 7 (also against the Kings) after missing just under six weeks due to a concussion. It’s unclear if he’ll patrol the crease again today. He has started (and won) two out of three games against the Kings this year but is coming off the third concussion of his career.
Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, this back-to-back will be split between the two netminders. However, it remains to be seen how Pete DeBoer will handle crease duties in general moving forward. Marc-Andre Fleury has carried the workload for most of the season out of necessity, though he has been nothing short of stellar and has been critical to Vegas’ early success.
As for Lehner, he picked up his fourth win of the year the other night. He gave up two goals on 25 shots, one of which was a deflection. He came up with some key saves, including a cross-crease stop on Tobias Bjornfot early in the second period. Giving up a goal in the final 20 seconds of the first period off a rough rebound was not ideal, but he was otherwise solid. He now sits at 4-1-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .894 save percentage on the year.
Today’s game is the first half of a back-to-back, as the Knights will head home to host the Blues tomorrow at T-Mobile Arena to make up the postponed game from Jan. 28. Though the Blues may be considered a more immediate threat given their perennial playoff status and current elevated ranking in the standings, every game must be treated as essential. With this season’s scheduling format keeping all competition within the division, every game could be a four-point swing.
Now that the Avalanche have pulled within three, today’s contest is significant as the Knights look to remain at the top of the standings. They will run into a Kings team vying for a playoff spot and looking to bounce back from Friday’s defeat. The Knights can’t take their eyes off the prize by looking ahead to what is sure to be another wild game against St. Louis.
One game at a time. One period at a time.
What to watch for
- The Golden Knights will look to get on the board first today. After all, the Knights have been incredible when scoring first this season. In fact, they’ve been the best in the league. The Knights improved that statistic with the 4-2 win against the Kings on Friday, improving their season record to 17-0-1 when opening the scoring. That’s good for a .944 win percentage. Ironically, the other two teams at the top of the list are Colorado and Minnesota, who also are second and third in the standings, respectively. By contrast, the Kings are 9-1-0 when scoring first; that’s still a strong winning percentage, but it demonstrates that scoring first hasn’t been a trend for the Kings this year. Neither team has convincing numbers when giving up the first goal; Vegas is 4-6-0 (.400), while Los Angeles is 3-10-6 (.158). There are six teams with lower winning percentages when trailing first, five of which are not currently in a playoff spot and three of which are in the bottom two seeds in their respective divisions. In other words, only some of the worst teams in the league have performed more poorly when trailing first than the Kings. That’s because 75 percent of Los Angeles’ wins this season have come when scoring first. The first goal never truly determines the outcome, but it has been a significant factor for both clubs this season.
- But the Knights didn’t just score first the other night, they set the tone in the opening frame. Alex Iafallo’s late goal was deflating, but Vegas established confidence in the first period, and it largely came from the top line. Max Pacioretty scored two goals, improving his team lead to 16 on the year. He and Mark Stone extended their individual point streaks to five and 10 games, respectively, and it was obvious very early on that having Chandler Stephenson back in the lineup was a major boost for the unit. Their numbers at the end of the night were solid, though other lines performed better from a possession standpoint (the fourth, especially). However, the line was all over the ice in the first two periods, which is impressive considering they did so against the Kopitar line. The Knights will take all the secondary scoring they can get, but this line should continue to generate chances at a high clip.
- The name of the game Friday night was “deflection.” Three of the six goals scored in the game came off deflection shots, two of which were scored by the Golden Knights. This includes William Karlsson’s game-winning goal late in the second period as well as William Carrier’s third-period goal that cushioned the lead. The Karlsson goal was a set play, but otherwise only a handful of NHL players can truly “plan” deflection goals on a regular basis. But both Vegas and Los Angeles generated plenty of high-danger chances around the crease in Friday’s game, so expect both teams to get bodies to the net once again.
- The Golden Knights have been getting steady production from the back line. In fact, in 11 games in March, the Knights have seen the defense produce nine goals and 32 points. That includes Dylan Coghlan’s memorable hat trick as well as the 10 points courtesy of Shea Theodore, who is currently on a career-best six-game point streak. Other than Theodore, Alec Martinez and Nicolas Hague make up the majority of the rest of the scoring; Martinez has two goals and seven points, while Hague has two goals and six points. Though Vegas’ defense has struggled on and off this year, the back end has been helping push the pace offensively and playing a major role in Vegas’ 9-2-0 record. By contrast, the only other team in the division with similar numbers is Colorado, which has gotten 29 points from defensemen in 10 games this month. The Kings have gotten 19 in nine games, while the Blues have produced 16 in 10, including three in the last night’s game against San Jose, a 5-2 win. Throughout the league, other teams with comparable numbers include Florida (30 in 10), the Islanders (27 in 11), Tampa Bay (28 in 11, with Victor Hedman picking up 13 of those) and Washington and Edmonton (25 in 10). Though Florida has produced a higher average per game (3.0 compared to Vegas’ 2.91), no other team has gotten as much of a boost on the scoresheet from its defensemen. That should be key for Vegas moving forward, including in both of these back-to-back games.
How to watch
Time: 3 p.m.
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM
Note: Tomorrow night’s Blues-Knights game is at 7 p.m. and will be on AT&T SportsNet and ESPN+.