3 things to watch for as the Golden Knights attempt to ground the Jets
Vegas will need a few things to go their way against a talented Winnipeg club.
The Vegas Golden Knights will attempt to redeem themselves after a couple losses as they take on the Winnipeg Jets. After two tough losses to Central division opponents, the Golden Knights will need to get a win against the Jets to start December off on the right track.
Unfortunately, the Jets are entering the last month of 2017 on a run of good form. They lost their most recent game against the Colorado Avalanche in overtime, but throughout that game, the Jets looked like they had the advantage, if it wasn’t for Semyon Varlamov. So, Malcolm Subban — should he get the nod — will have to continue his greatness.
The Jets are second place in the Central division, with a 15-6-4 record. They’ve gotten at least a point in 19 out of 25 contests. That’s not a problem for the Golden Knights, though — an overtime win is still a win and two points in the books.
But to get that win, the Golden Knights defense will have to shut down an offense including Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele. All of these forwards have more than 17 points in 25 games. That is precisely why the defense is the first and foremost factor in this contest.
Over the past two games, the Knights defense has played anything but clean, tight defense. It’s hard to blame Deryk Engelland when he got hurt trying to make a play, but he has been the one sticking out the most. Yes, Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore have both made mistakes over these games as well, but Theodore is still young, and McNabb has made competent plays alongside his occasional mistakes (as well as scoring his first goal as a Golden Knights).
Those three will have to be a lot better against the Jets. Tightening up means clearing the crease while also avoiding mistakes; the kind that were all too prevalent against the Minnesota Wild. The defensemen can’t neglect their positioning. They can’t leave a man alone in front of the net and they have to keep the sides clear.
It’s a lot to ask, but when the Knights have won, that’s how it has happened. The defense plays the simple, great game that has helped four goaltenders (and for 10 minutes, a fifth) make easier saves. Yes, Subban has continued to prove more reliable than Max Lagace. But the defense has to play like they did when Lagace was winning, which could help the athletic Subban limit opposing teams to one goal or even less.
The Golden Knights’ power play has gone six opportunities since they last scored. In their last three games, the Knights are 1-for-10. That is simply not good enough, and if the Knights are going to snap their losing streak, it will likely take at least one power-play goal to do so.
What the Knights’ man-advantage unit showed against Minnesota simply was not good enough. They averaged fewer than two shots per opportunity, and they allowed a shot the other way. The Knights’ power play will need to shoot more and keep the puck in their own zone if they are to be successful.
Whether or not Gerard Gallant will shake up the units will reveal itself when the Knights face the Jets. Gallant has already made one change, putting Nate Schmidt on the second unit instead of Brad Hunt, who was a healthy scratch.
With Engelland taking a bullet of a puck to his hand, perhaps Hunt gets the nod in favor of the veteran. That could be great for the Knights’ power play and offense in general, as four offensive defensemen (Schmidt, Hunt, Theodore, and Colin Miller) would be on the ice.
As was the case against Minnesota, puck luck plays a role in every game. The Knights didn’t get the bounces against Minnesota — the Knights hit three posts in the first two periods, none of which trickled into the net. The Wild hit their first and ‘ping,’ it’s in. That’s just a tough break.
That streak continued as two more goals came about when the shot ricocheted off a Knight or their equipment - one hitting McNabb’s stick, another hitting Engelland’s hand. Yes, the defense needed to be cleaner. But getting that many weird bounces? Well, that’s a run of bad luck anyone familiar with Las Vegas should know.
With a little bit of that same puck luck, Brendan Leipsic scores on one of his three great chances. That goal could have been the difference maker.
Every game is different, especially when factoring in how the puck bounces. But if the Golden Knights get a little more from the hockey gods against the Jets, it could be a superior effort for the team.