The Vegas Golden Knights will take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the first half of a back-to-back as they look to improve to 2-1-0 on their current five-game road trip.
Vegas is coming off a memorable 4-3 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning that featured a line brawl and 10 game misconducts, a blown two-goal lead followed by an overtime recovery as well as yet another strong performance in net by a Vegas netminder.
It was Jonathan Quick, who stopped 34 of 37 for his second win in two starts as a member of the Golden Knights. Quick likely will get the nod today against a surging Hurricanes team that has won each of its last four games since falling 3-2 in Vegas at the beginning of the month.
Jack Eichel scored two goals in that statement win by the Golden Knights, which helped improve Vegas’ all-time record to 4-2-3 against the Hurricanes.
Carolina is coming off a 1-0 win against Philadelphia and has outscored its opponents 16-4 in its last four games, scoring six goals twice.
The Hurricanes have four players with 50-plus points, including Martin Necas (60), Sebastian Aho (55), Andrei Svechnikov (55) and Brent Burns (51). Newly-acquired defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has four points in four games with his new club. Jesse Puljujarvi, Carolina’s other deadline acquisition, took the ice with his new team for the first time on Thursday after having visa trouble but could make his Hurricanes debut today.
The Hurricanes are the second-best team in the NHL and sit a full 10 points ahead of the Golden Knights in the league standings. Carolina is in first place in the Metropolitan Division but will look to continue to gain ground on the trailing New Jersey Devils, who are just four points back.
There is no margin for error for the Golden Knights considering how tight the Pacific Division standings are. With a 5-2 win against Colorado on Thursday, Los Angeles is now tied with Vegas with 84 points, though Vegas has a game in hand. Seattle and Edmonton are four points behind, though the Kraken have two games in hand over the Oilers.
At this point, one or two rough games for the Golden Knights and Vegas could be in a wildcard slot, which makes today’s contest a critical one as the final stretch approaches.
Several things have been going well for the Golden Knights, who are 10-2-2 since the All-Star break.
For one thing, goaltending has been consistent and reliable. That’s also true of goaltending injuries, with Adin Hill being the latest casualty. In Hill’s stead, Jiri Patera was recalled from Henderson, marking the sixth goaltender to dress for Vegas this season, which sets a new single-season record for the franchise.
Quick is 2-0-0 with Vegas and has stopped 59 of 65 shots for a .910 save percentage. He held Tampa Bay to one goal through the first 57:53 of regulation, but the Lightning scored twice in the final 2:07 to force overtime. Vegas’ end-of-game struggles continue to rear their head, though the Golden Knights have been able to find ways to win games.
That will be important today against a team that loves to control possession and drive play. Capitalizing on opportunities will be crucial for the Golden Knights, who were held to just 20 shots when these teams met earlier this month.
The Golden Knights’ recent simplified strategy on the man-advantage of just letting Shea Theodore shoot has led to power-play goals in back-to-back games for the first time since Vegas’ December surge.
That being said, considering Carolina boasts the second-best penalty kill in the NHL (83.7 percent) and has not surrendered a power-play goal this month, that trend may be difficult for Vegas to replicate in today’s matchup.
On the flip side, the Golden Knights’ penalty kill will have its hands full if Vegas is unable to maintain discipline, as the Hurricanes’ power play has been firing on all cylinders. In fact, Carolina has scored eight goals on its last 15 power-play opportunities this month for a ridiculous 53.3 percent success rate. Discipline will be vital.
Another key to the game for Vegas is getting the first goal. The Golden Knights have done so in four of five games this month; the only game in which Vegas surrendered the first goal was the only game in which Vegas came away with zero points.
While lighting the lamp first is never a guarantee, it could go a long way against a Canes team that is 3-0-0 when scoring first this month and 33-4-4 when doing so this season (compared to 10-8-4 when trailing first). That’s a difference in win percentage of .805 to .455.
For Vegas, the numbers are even more pronounced.
The Golden Knights are 27-4-2 when scoring first and 12-16-4 when giving up the first goal. In other words, Vegas’ win percentage when scoring first is .818; when giving up the first goal, that drops to .375.
While Quick is likely to man the crease for Vegas, Carolina could go with either Frederik Andersen or Pyotr Kochetkov, who recently was recalled on an emergency basis due to the injury to backup Antti Raanta.
Andersen is 16-6-0 with a 2.35 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and one shutout. Kochetkov, who played a significant role earlier this season when Carolina had multiple injuries in net, is coming off a 19-save shutout and is 11-4-5 with a 2.21 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and four shutouts this year.
Ivan Barbashev — Jack Eichel — Jonathan Marchessault
Paul Cotter — William Karlsson — Michael Amadio
Reilly Smith — Chandler Stephenson — Phil Kessel
Brett Howden — Teddy Blueger — Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud
Andrei Svechnikov — Sebastian Aho — Seth Jarvis
Teuvo Teravainen — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Martin Necas
Jordan Martinook — Jordan Staal — Jesper Fast
Stefan Noesen — Paul Stastny — Jesse Puljujarvi
Jaccob Slavin — Brent Burns
Brady Skjei — Brett Pesce
Calvin de Haan — Shayne Gostisbehere