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Golden Knights at Wild — Game 3 Preview: Vegas looks to take series lead in Minnesota

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The Golden Knights are 1-3-0 in St. Paul this season.

Minnesota Wild v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Two
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights blocks a shot from Kevin Fiala of the Minnesota Wild during Game 2 of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights began Game 2 against the Minnesota Wild the same way they ended Game 1: scoreless. The Golden Knights were the lesser team in terms of possession in Game 2 after being the clearly superior team throughout Game 1. It took a Minnesota goal from Matt Dumba to awaken the Golden Knights.

Jonathan Marchessault’s dam-breaking goal, just 18 seconds after Dumba’s, followed by two from Alex Tuch, showed that the Golden Knights do have the ability to finish. Vegas tested Cam Talbot a bit less in Game 2 — 2.41 expected goals versus 2.83 in Game 1 — but with the ability to actually finish on chances, it mattered significantly less.

There’s another important thing about those goals in Game 2: the players who need to get going if the Golden Knights are to outlast the Wild were involved. Reilly Smith and William Karlsson assisted Marchessault’s goal. Mattias Janmark and Alex Pietrangelo had assists on Tuch’s first goal and on the power play, Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone assisted Tuch’s second.

While the return of Max Pacioretty is still highly needed (Stone needs help at 5-on-5, and nobody’s been as good alongside him in Vegas) and desired, Tuch and Marchessault, who should be the ones stepping up in his absence, did so in Game 2.

Now, the series transitions to two games in Minnesota. The Golden Knights’ 1-3-0 record in Minnesota this season (notably including a game in which the Knights were shut out) is not confidence-inspiring. Plus, the Golden Knights’ sole win in Minnesota required overtime.

This series has boiled down, so far, to a battle between Marc-Andre Fleury and Talbot. Talbot was the better goaltender (statistically) for the first game and Fleury for the second. Over the 10 games of the season between these two teams — each goaltender having started eight of those 10 games — Fleury has been the better goaltender.

Fleury has a .932 save percentage and has saved 4.17 goals above expected. Talbot has a .914 save percentage and has allowed 0.86 more goals than expected. This is great news for the Golden Knights, as goaltenders have the power to take their teams far, and what Fleury has shown through the first two games is some of the best hockey of his career.

The Golden Knights need to score to complement his play, however. Marchessault and Tuch in Game 2 was just a start. Stone leads the Golden Knights in points through the first 10 games with 11 points, but has just one in the first two games of the playoffs. Tuch has eight points, Stephenson and Karlsson are both at seven, and Alec Martinez leads Vegas defensemen with five points (Pietrangelo has just two against Minnesota, Theodore four).

Scoring goals — or an inability to do so — cost the Golden Knights a chance at the Stanley Cup last season. Pacioretty may not be a miracle solution, even if he does return for Game 3. But the whole team needs to be better about scoring and doing so consistently.

Hopefully that starts (or continues) with Game 3.

Here’s what to watch for.

What to watch for

  • With this lack of scoring against the Wild, especially on the power play, fixing the man advantage should be a priority. There is a potential solution, or at least aid, that the Golden Knights have available to them, but it would cost a roster spot. Cody Glass has two points in five games against the Wild this season, both primary and on the power play. Glass grew up down the street from Keegan Kolesar — who played well in Game 2 despite his line not quite playing nearly as well — and could help elevate Kolesar’s play as well. He hasn’t entered into the Golden Knights’ lineup recently (his last game was Apr. 5), but could help, especially offensively. With Tomas Nosek leaving Game 2 early with an injury, a roster spot potentially opens for Glass as well. He was recalled from the AHL yesterday, so there’s a chance he plays.
  • Theodore, Vegas’ leading point scorer in last year’s postseason, has been on quite the cold streak. In the month of May, Theodore has just one point (a goal scored on May 3 against... Minnesota) in nine games. Theodore has been near the top for Vegas in points each of the last two seasons, so the fact that he hasn’t gotten off to a hot start is a little alarming. He was the one who solved Thatcher Demko, after all, scoring two goals on Vancouver’s young netminder when no one else could. Theodore is tied for the lead in shots (eight, with Pietrangelo and Tuch) for Vegas, but also has a team lead in giveaways (five). Getting Theodore going could keep Vegas alive and scoring.
  • The Golden Knights have rarely been the better 5-on-5 team when playing against the Wild. In the regular season, Vegas collected more expected goals at 5-on-5 than Minnesota just twice. The Knights won both games. While that hasn’t happened in the playoffs so far — in Game 1, Vegas generated 1.94 expected goals to Minnesota’s 1.59, while in Game 2 Vegas had 2.13 xG to Minnesota’s 2.65 — being the better 5-on-5 team is never a bad strategy. The Golden Knights can be better than they were in Game 2. With Talbot not being at Demko’s level (fortunately for Vegas) of frustration, the Golden Knights should start putting shots back on net. Who knows, maybe they’ll continue to convert expected goals into real ones. They haven’t had trouble with that against Talbot this season (Vegas has generated 22.14 xG against Talbot, who has allowed 23 against the Golden Knights).

How to watch

Time: 6:30 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM