The Vegas Golden Knights played one of the better games they’ve played against the Minnesota Wild this season in Thursday’s matchup. In the second game of a back-to-back. With 16 skaters. The Golden Knights ended that game in a shootout loss, their second straight game without a win, but they’ll look to bounce back tonight as they host the Wild at T-Mobile Arena for game two of the series.
In Thursday’s game, the Golden Knights had a 53.85 percent shot share at 5-on-5 (their best mark of the season against Minnesota) and a 49.94 percent expected goal share (shockingly, second-best). Minnesota has long been Vegas’ kryptonite, but with two goals at full strength to just one against, the Golden Knights were the better club on Thursday.
Vegas won’t be at 16 skaters in Saturday’s game, as Cody Glass was recalled from the Henderson Silver Knights on Friday. That may mean the Knights stand a better chance of beating Minnesota to split the series.
Still, the corresponding demotion of Nicolas Hague — who leads the Golden Knights’ blue line with seven expected goals above replacement (16th among all defensemen) — is not great news. Nick Holden was promoted in Hague’s place. Zach Whitecloud should also be back after missing game one with an injury.
Minnesota’s leading scorer against the Golden Knights this season is Marcus Foligno, though he remains out of the lineup. Next up is Jonas Brodin with four points as well as Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, who have three points each.
Vegas has Mark Stone with eight points — remember that five primary-assist game back at the start of March? — and Max Pacioretty has four points. The Knights will be without Stephenson, who has four points against the Wild, as he serves the second game of his suspension, and if Hague does miss the game, he has three points, tied for the lead on Vegas’ blue line (with Shea Theodore).
Vegas is hoping to rebound after its shootout loss on Thursday. To do so, the Knights will need to get a scoring surge from the team; Cam Talbot was excellent on Thursday, but in both of their wins against Minnesota, the Knights scored five goals (Talbot started both).
What to watch for
- The Golden Knights’ power play was bad in regulation on Thursday. They took just three shots in six minutes, had zero high-danger chances and generated just 0.32 expected goals (to 0.25 against). The Wild got some quality chances the other way on their penalty kill. To win against Minnesota, Vegas will need the power play firing on all cylinders. The Knights’ two goals on the man advantage are tied for third-most this season against Minnesota, and Vegas’ 4.65 per 60 rate is fourth-highest. Part of that is the quality of chances the Golden Knights have gotten on the power play; Vegas is second in shots per 60 (55.78) against Minnesota’s penalty kill but sixth in expected goals per 60 (4.79). That has to change.
- Vegas allowed a goal on the penalty kill in each of the last two games. The Wild saw a crucial 4-on-3 goal from Jared Spurgeon in Thursday’s game, which served as the last goal of regulation. The Golden Knights have allowed the most shots per 60 to Minnesota’s power play this season (75.43) and the most expected goals per 60 (7.77), which has allowed the Wild to cash in. Vegas’ two goals allowed on the penalty kill are tied for second-most with the Colorado Avalanche, who have played one more game against Minnesota than has Vegas, and the San Jose Sharks. The penalty kill needs to be better, and it isn’t really the goaltending that needs to improve; Vegas’ penalty kill has seen a .909 save percentage against the Wild this season.
- Robin Lehner’s .942 save percentage since March 1 is the sixth-best in the NHL (among goaltenders with more than 100 minutes). Marc-Andre Fleury’s .909 is 34th among the same group. Vegas’ rotation has been a little unpredictable recently, like when for some reason Lehner missed both games against Colorado, and goaltenders for Vegas can contribute a lot to the outcome. While Lehner still has struggles with shootouts, his ability to get Vegas to that point is key, and he made 35 saves on 37 shots against Minnesota on Thursday while facing 3.42 expected goals against. He should get the second start against Minnesota as well.
How to watch
Time: 6 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM