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Rangers at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas eyes bounceback performance as Gallant, Reaves return to Sin City

The Golden Knights defeated the Blueshirts in a shootout last month.

NHL: New York Rangers at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights and New York Rangers will wrap up their season series tonight at T-Mobile Arena as Gerard Gallant and Ryan Reaves return to Vegas for the first time since getting fired and traded, respectively.

Gallant is sure to get a warm reception after all he did for the Golden Knights, the city of Las Vegas and the fanbase, even if his contributions weren’t reflected in the organization’s handling of his dismissal. Tonight’s game falls just 10 days shy of the two-year anniversary of the coaching change back in Year 3.

Reaves’ support could be more raucous. He was a fan-favorite throughout his time with the Golden Knights, revitalizing his career and endearing himself to the Vegas faithful with his physical play and character. Reaves recorded 42 points and 158 penalty minutes while averaging 10:22 in 209 regular-season contests with Vegas.

He suited up in 48 postseason games, most notably scoring the series-clinching goal against Winnipeg in the Western Conference Final to lift the Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in the inaugural campaign.

Reaves recorded six hits and a minus-one rating in 10:33 when these teams met at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17, but he may be inspired to drop the gloves or take things to another level once he hits the familiar ice. That being said, he’s only been involved in two fights this season and has just 22 penalty minutes in 30 games.

But both teams will be focused on the two points on the table.

The Knights pulled off a 3-2 shootout victory back in December, though the circumstances surrounding tonight’s game are a bit different.

The Knights are the top team in the Western Conference with 45 points but have yet to win a game in 2022, going 0-1-1. Plus, the Knights are coming off one of the more listless performances of the campaign, a 3-2 loss to Nashville.

The Rangers, however, are coming in hot.

The Blueshirts have further solidified their positioning near the top of the Eastern Conference standings and currently occupy the top slot in the Metropolitan Division with 48 points in 34 games.

The club has won three games in a row, two of which were against Tampa Bay. The last two — a back-to-back set against Tampa and Edmonton that resulted in 4-0 and 4-1 victories, respectively — were particularly impressive.

Tonight will be a difficult test for the Knights, who will be without several core players this time around.

But especially for that reason, the Knights have to remain patient, particularly if tonight’s game is anything like the previous meeting.

The Knights had a strong first-period effort in that game, with Brett Howden scoring the lone goal of the opening frame against his former team. However, the Rangers were absolutely, unequivocally dominant for the entirety of the second period, and it was a miracle the Knights trailed by just one goal heading into the third.

Both teams sat back until Dylan Coghlan evened things up with 5:16 remaining in regulation. Following a dull final frame was one of the better overtime periods you will see. There was nonstop action at both ends, with both goalies coming up with clutch saves. In the end, the Knights prevailed in a shootout, but it was far from a convincing, 60-minute effort.

The same was true, albeit on a different scale, the other night against Nashville.

Once again, Vegas gave up a quick-strike goal, as Filip Forsberg made it 2-0 just 2:42 into the second period. Vegas gave up a goal to Mika Zibanejad just 17 seconds into the second period in the December meeting, and it is starting to become a recurring issue for the Knights. Early goals don’t spell disaster, but it’s a trend the Knights would be wise to avoid, especially against such a confident bunch that has gotten complete efforts from up and down the lineup in recent games.

The Rangers’ new-look second line is coming off a fantastic performance in which all three players — Alexis Lafrenière, Ryan Strome and Barclay Goodrow — scored a goal. Strome had a three-point night even without Artemi Panarin, who will miss tonight’s game. Lafrenière is seizing the opportunity in his absence, even if a long-term top-six role may not be in the cards.

Panarin, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider and Zibanejad lead the team in scoring with 36, 35, 31 and 30 points, respectively. With two lines clicking, the Knights will have their hands full.

The Knights will have to do a better job of taking advantage of opportunities as they come. They were hesitant on multiple odd-man rushes the other night, and it cost them.

The Rangers are giving up 2.47 goals per game, the fourth-lowest average in the NHL this season. However, that’s primarily thanks to the play of goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Alexandar Georgiev got the nod and rose to the occasion the other night, making a particularly memorable save on Connor McDavid, but Vegas may get its first crack at Shesterkin (15-4-2 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .936 save percentage).

The Knights have recorded 40-plus shots in recent games, but Tuesday’s loss was a perfect example to demonstrate how quantity does not equal quality with regard to shot selection. That’s even true against a Rangers team that’s historically guilty of taking the foot off the gas late in games, leaving the goaltenders under siege during a third-period shell.

The Knights can’t — or shouldn’t, at the very least — wait until the third period to wake up and push the pace. Patience is one thing, but showing up and playing for 60 minutes is a must. Comeback wins are exciting and always in the realm of possibility, but pulling them off consistently becomes more and more difficult with so many dynamic players out of the lineup, and it’s a dangerous game to play against top teams like the Rangers.

Vegas needs to get back to a 60-minute effort, fight to get to the high-danger areas rather than shooting from the perimeter and get traffic to the net. Not to mention the fact that the Knights — particularly Alex Pietrangelo, who will be tasked with heavy minutes tonight — can’t allow the Rangers to get behind the defense and set up shop around the crease uncontested, especially with players like Kreider in the mix.

Vegas will look to snap its two-game losing streak and improve on its all-time record of 5-2-0 against the Rangers.


How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM