The Vegas Golden Knights will compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth straight season after securing a 2021 postseason berth with a 5-2 win against San Jose Wednesday night.
The Golden Knights franchise is a perfect 4-for-4 when it comes to making it to the second season, but there is still a lot to play for in the final 10 games of the regular season.
The Knights remain in a tight race (primarily with Colorado) for the top seed in the West Division, though the Minnesota Wild are not too far behind. Either way, every point is critical. It doesn’t matter how many games in hand one team has over another; at this point, the Knights just need to go out and win.
That starts with the two points on the line tonight as Vegas closes out the season series against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.
The Knights will look to extend their winning streak to nine games; two of the Knights’ last eight victories have come against the Ducks, and the Knights have won six of seven meetings this season. The lone exception was a 1-0 defeat back on Feb. 11.
With Reilly Smith and Keegan Kolesar likely out of the lineup, particularly given the extended break between tonight’s game and Wednesday’s battle against the Avalanche, the Knights could once again go with the 11-7 arrangement with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in the lineup.
Dylan Coghlan has been that seventh defenseman in recent games, though he only got 6:24 of ice time in Vegas’ most recent one.
Anaheim will be without Jakob Silfverberg, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery earlier this week.
As for this matchup, Mark Stone has a team-high nine points against the Ducks this season, and five players — William Karlsson, Max Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson, Shea Theodore and, surprisingly, Nicolas Roy — have five points.
Not surprisingly, however, Max Comtois leads the Ducks with six points against Vegas this season; Rickard Rakell has five, but Comtois has been Vegas’ nemesis in the series.
During the current winning streak, the Knights have outscored opponents 34-14, averaging 4.25 goals per game and 1.75 against. In the seven contests in this series, the Knights have scored twice as many goals as the Ducks (24-12) and have averaged 3.43 goals per game and 1.71 goals against per game.
The Ducks are last in the division with 35 points, but Anaheim has plenty of talented, determined players who would love to pull off an upset.
What to watch for
- This series has been a battle of the penalty kill’s, as the Knights and Ducks have combined for just two power-play goals in the entire seven-game series. The Knights didn’t net their first until Stone scored in the seventh game of the series last Sunday. The Golden Knights’ power play has generated one goal on 15 opportunities, operating at just a 6.7 percent effectiveness rate, which is the Knights’ worst percentage against any team this season. The Knights have mostly shut down Anaheim’s power play, however, going 13-for-14 on the penalty kill. The only goal allowed was a Ryan Getzlaf power-play strike back on Feb. 9, which was the third game of the series. But the Knights are not alone in slowing down Anaheim’s power play, as the Ducks boast the 31st-ranked man advantage in the NHL (10.3 percent). That number drops to just 4.8 percent on home ice, where Anaheim has gone 5-16-4 for a .280 points percentage (the second-worst in the NHL). The Ducks have not scored a power-play goal at home this month (0-for-13). The Knights, who have gone 15-7-0 on the road this season, have gotten by with a mediocre power play (18.6 percent, good for 22nd overall), but it remains a problem. Even though the Knights have scored four power-play goals in their last three games, three of which came against San Jose, the Knights need to finally find some consistency on the man advantage. If Vegas can’t get the power play going against Anaheim, it’s going to be challenging to control special-teams momentum swings in the playoffs. During the Knights’ current winning streak, Vegas has gone a combined 6-for-22 (27.3 percent) on the power play and 17-for-19 (89.5 percent) on the penalty kill. That last mark is even better than the season average of 85.8 percent, as the Knights have the best penalty kill in the league. The Knights need to work on the fact that they present more of a scoring threat on the penalty kill than they do on the power play.
- John Gibson has stood on his head and carried this team for many years, though the numbers aren’t quite as promising this season. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have elite ability, though, and he’s delivered some very strong performances against the Knights. In six starts against Vegas, Gibson has gone 1-3-2 with a 2.84 goals-against average, stopping 171 of 188 shots for a .910 save percentage. One way or another, he has shut out the Knights or forced extra time in half of those games, giving his team a chance to win almost every time. The Knights can’t make it easy for him, so they need to get bodies to the net, set screens, look for deflections and get to the dirty areas. At the other end of the ice, Marc-Andre Fleury has gone 4-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .928 save percentage, while Robin Lehner is 2-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Both have been excellent, especially in recent games (though Lehner has gotten a lot more goal support). Either way, the Knights can’t leave Fleury or Lehner out to dry, and they have to avoid sitting back early.
- It is said that good teams find ways to win, and that’s what the Knights have been doing during this streak. Not every game has been perfect, but the Knights have found different ways to win. One key to the recent success has been a full-team effort. The goal is a 60-minute, team-wide effort; that’s not always on the table, but the Knights have gotten significant contributions from throughout the lineup. The Knights could be missing some top-nine forwards tonight, but Vegas has been able to make personnel changes without derailing chemistry. Though the winning streak was in motion prior to his arrival, Mattias Janmark has been a big part of making that work. He has been a natural fit on multiple lines and has helped to get slumping players going; he’s also managed to contribute to his line’s effectiveness, even when he’s not producing. He’s a versatile player, which is partly why Vegas acquired him at the deadline; the Knights have not lost a game since doing so. Janmark will look to keep that going in a top-six role tonight, assuming he’s back on the second line with Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault.
How to watch
Time: 6 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+
Radio: Fox Sports 98.7 FM/1340 AM