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Penguins at Golden Knights Preview: In search of consistency, Vegas looks to regroup after rocky stretch

The Penguins are 5-2-0 in January; Vegas is 1-2-2.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

So far, 2022 has not been kind to the Vegas Golden Knights, who have lost four of five games, going 1-2-2 to start the new year.

But the recent extended break as a result of two games getting postponed should have given the Knights some much-needed rest and time to regroup.

The Golden Knights have to right the ship over the course of the next seven games leading up to the All-Star Break (Alex Pietrangelo and Mark Stone will represent the home team in the All-Star festivities).

The Knights’ December hot streak gave them enough of a cushion to withstand the recent skid and maintain first place in the Pacific Division, but that won’t hold for long. Vegas’ overall standing in the Western Conference has taken a hit, as the Knights now sit in fifth place in points percentage.

Vegas is coming off back-to-back losses (0-1-1) against Chicago and Toronto. With two games remaining on this eight-game homestand, the Knights have a chance to hit the reset button.

Tonight’s opponent won’t make that easy.

Vegas will host one of the hottest teams in the league, as the Pittsburgh Penguins return to T-Mobile Arena for the first time since Jan. 7, 2020.

Pittsburgh won 10 games in a row from Dec. 4 to Jan. 6 but is 2-2-0 in its last four games.

Evgeni Malkin had a three-point game when he made his season debut Jan. 11 but has gone pointless in his last two. However, having him back in the lineup is a game-changer, even for a team that has outperformed Vegas this season. Jake Guentzel leads the team in goals (19) and points (37), and Evan Rodrigues is having a notable breakout season with 15 goals and 30 points.

The Penguins could get Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker back for tonight’s game, making an already-dynamic offense even deeper.

Rust had a slow start to the season and has missed more than 20 games, but he exploded for seven goals and 11 points in three games at the start of the month before entering COVID-19 protocol.

Goaltender Tristan Jarry has been in consideration in early Vezina discussions thanks to an 18-7-4 record with a 2.05 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts. He has managed five- and seven-game winning streaks this season but gave up six goals against Los Angeles in his most recent start.

Louis Domingue got the nod the other night in San Jose; he made 40 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory and is expected to ride the bench tonight as Casey DeSmith remains in COVID-19 protocol.

Captain Sidney Crosby has been somewhat snake-bitten this season with just five goals in 25 games, but the ever-reliable center is still producing at a point-per-game pace after missing most of October. He, Guentzel and Rust make for a formidable top-line trio, and the Penguins have plenty of options down the middle with Malkin, Jeff Carter, Rodrigues, etc.

Malkin leads all Penguins skaters with seven career points against the Knights, while Crosby and Guentzel each have four. Jonathan Marchessault has seven for Vegas, with the other members of the Misfit line contributing a combined nine points against Pittsburgh. The Knights are 3-3-0 all-time against Pittsburgh.

The Penguins have the second-best penalty kill (90.3 percent) in the NHL but rank 22nd on the power play; however, a fully-loaded lineup could quickly change that.

Vegas will need to be careful, especially since goals could be few and far between, as Pittsburgh is giving up just 2.51 goals per game (the third-best average in the league). The Kings managed to do it, but beating Jarry hasn’t been an easy feat this season, so the Knights’ recent trend of blowing odd-man rushes and a general lack of finishing ability could be especially costly tonight.

In the six games prior to Domingue’s win against San Jose the other night, the Penguins scored a power-play goal in every win and failed to convert on power play in both losses. There were several occasions in December when the Penguins won without a goal on the man-advantage, but it has been a key distinction in recent contests, making special teams — and discipline — particularly relevant in tonight’s matchup.

Projected lineups*

Vegas

Dadonov — Stephenson — Stone
Marchessault — Karlsson — Smith
Janmark — Roy — Kolesar
Carrier — Patrick — Amadio

McNabb — Pietrangelo
Theodore — Whitecloud
Hutton — Coghlan

Lehner
Brossoit

Pittsburgh

Guentzel — Crosby — Rust
Rodrigues — Malkin — Carter
Zucker — Boyle — Kapanen
Simon — Blueger — McGinn

Dumoulin — Letang
Pettersson — Marino
Matheson — Ruhwedel

Jarry
Domingue

*Subject to change


How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM