The primary storyline of tonight’s matchup revolves around head coach Bruce Cassidy, who will make his highly-anticipated return to Boston after an unceremonious dismissal at the conclusion of last season.
Cassidy went 245-108-46 in six seasons behind the bench in Boston. The Bruins made the postseason in every year of Cassidy’s tenure, and the club reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, losing to St. Louis in seven games.
Boston was eliminated by Carolina in seven games in the first round of last year’s playoffs before Cassidy was let go. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney indicated that player feedback contributed to the decision, which he considered to be a very difficult organizational move.
One player believed to be in that group is Jake DeBrusk, who submitted a trade request last year but rescinded it after Cassidy was replaced by Jim Montgomery in the offseason. DeBrusk snapped a four-game goalless drought with the 100th goal of his career in Boston’s 5-1 win against Colorado over the weekend and has said he will be especially motivated against his former bench boss.
Tonight’s battle will pit the best home team against the second-best road team. The Bruins have yet to lose a game on home ice this season, going a perfect 14-0-0 and outscoring opponents 56-22 in the process.
Vegas is 11-2-1 on the road this year (trailing only New Jersey at 11-1-0) but has struggled against the Bruins historically, posting an all-time record of 2-5-1. The two clubs split the season series last year, marking the Golden Knights’ first win against the Bruins since the inaugural campaign.
But the Golden Knights will look to put an exclamation point on this road trip after winning two of the first three games, securing a 4-1 victory Saturday in Detroit.
This will be a very different matchup, however.
Boston is averaging a league-high 4.00 goals per game and a league-low 2.13 against.
The Bruins’ 40 points are second-best in the NHL, trailing only New Jersey; Vegas comes in at No. 3 with 37, though Boston has three games in hand.
Playing spoiler to the Bruins’ home winning streak would be particularly sweet for Cassidy, who will get a taste of classic Golden Misfits revenge tonight; however, coming away with any points against a surging Bruins club should be considered a success.
David Pastrnak is tied for fifth overall in scoring with 34 points through 23 games and is tied for fifth in goals with 16. His 1.48 point-per-game pace ranks sixth in the NHL among players who have played at least 10 games.
Needless to say, Pastrnak is off to a fantastic start in a contract year.
He is not alone.
Patrice Bergeron has nine goals and 20 points in 23 games, while David Krejci — after spending the 2021-22 campaign in the Czech Extraliga — is third on the team with 19 points in 20 games.
Pastrnak and Brad Marchand — who has 19 points in just 15 games — have combined for 29 power-play points. For context, that’s more than half as many as the Golden Knights have recorded collectively (51).
Therefore, discipline will be crucial for the Golden Knights tonight as they face the second-ranked man-advantage in the NHL. Boston has clicked at a 29.6 percent efficacy rate, scoring 26 goals on 88 opportunities. Boston has scored 11 on 29 over the last three weeks, which equates to a 37.9 percent conversion rate.
Boston is equally effective on the penalty kill, shutting down opponents 84.1 percent of the time, which ranks second in the league behind only San Jose. Interestingly, the Bruins have had 88 power plays and 88 penalty kills but have given up just 12 net power-play goals (14 against, two shorthanded goals for).
Vegas, on the other hand, has dropped to 25th overall with a 74.2 percent kill rate, and the Golden Knights have given up a power-play goal in back-to-back games. The power play has managed to light the lamp 17 times on 74 opportunities for a 23-percent conversion rate, which ranks 16th overall.
Goaltender Linus Ullmark is in the second year of a four-year deal he signed prior to last season; after having a largely disappointing effort in 2021-22, Ullmark is off to a Vezina-worthy start this season. He leads the NHL in wins (14), goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.936) among goalies with at least five starts.
Logan Thompson is expected to get the nod tonight; Thompson is 12-5-0 with a 2.54 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and two shutouts in 17 starts. He has lost two out of his last three, surrendering nine goals in those contests. Though Thompson has been excellent this season, he will have a very difficult test against the high-flying Bruins.
That’s especially true since the Golden Knights could be without two core players in tonight’s game.
Alex Pietrangelo will miss his fourth consecutive game while he tends to a personal matter, and Jack Eichel — who sustained a lower-body injury in the third period Saturday against Detroit — is a game-time decision.
Eichel, a native of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, will be particularly eager to suit up for tonight’s tilt.
Cassidy on Eichel: Jack is here this morning getting treatment, so he will be a game time decision… he was really looking forward to it, so hopefully he heals quickly. pic.twitter.com/JeeIx7tJDM— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 5, 2022
The Golden Knights are coming off a solid 60-minute effort against Detroit but will need to bring their “A” game to contend with the red-hot Bruins.
Chandler Stephenson — Jack Eichel — Mark Stone
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Jonathan Marchessault
Paul Cotter — Nicolas Roy — Phil Kessel
William Carrier — Jake Leschyshyn — Keegan Kolesar
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Zach Whitecloud — Alec Martinez
Nicolas Hague — Daniil Miromanov
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Jake DeBrusk
Pavel Zacha — David Krejci — David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall — Charlie Coyle — Trent Frederic
Nick Foligno — Tomas Nosek — A.J. Greer
Hampus Lindholm — Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk — Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort — Connor Clifton