4 things to watch for as the Golden Knights battle the Blues
...in more ways than one.
The Vegas Golden Knights (5-6-1) are on the road again after a brutal loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. Tonight, they face the St. Louis Blues (3-4-3) in hopes of bringing their record back to .500.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: The Knights aren’t doing too hot.
Yes, it’s been less than a month since the season started, and we’ve got some players awaiting their return. Still, the Golden Knights have made the same mistakes over and over this season. The loss against Nashville had perhaps the most obvious examples of the team’s shortcomings. Vegas started strong in the first period, allowing just five shots on goal and scoring a power-play goal for themselves (thank you, Reilly Smith).
But the Predators consistently outsmarted Vegas’ defense. Odd-man rush, 2-on-1 drive, goal Predators. Same old story.
That being said, the Blues are having similar problems right now. They’re blowing leads. They’re allowing too many high-danger scoring chances. This might end up being a very even matchup.
If the Golden Knights want to avoid singing the blues (puns!) on their way home, they’ve got to address some pressing issues and take control where they can. Here are four things to watch for going into the battle in St. Louis.
Addressing the defensive woes
It’s no secret that Vegas’ defense is struggling. Many have pointed to the third pairing of Nick Holden and Jon Merrill as a sore spot on the roster. The stats back it up. Against Nashville, Holden had a 30.77 in Corsi (8-18), and Merrill had a 40.00 (10-15). This is a bad look, and it doesn’t even tell the whole story. Merrill in particular allowed multiple odd-man rushes while he was on the ice.
This defense has to fine-tune itself and stop the silly mistakes. As demonstrated in Tuesday’s game, those add up. Of course, things will be better when Nate Schmidt returns, and that isn’t as far away as it seems (17 days, but who’s counting?!). But the Knights can’t allow their defensive fate to rest in the hands of one absent player.
Head coach Gerard Gallant announced today that Brad Hunt will play in place of Merrill. Hunt has played three games so far this season, with a 72.41 in Corsi overall. Could one roster change be exactly what the Knights need? To be determined.
Getting in front of the net
The high-danger zone may be the Golden Knights’ weakness, but the same can be said for the Blues. Check out this heat map from St. Louis’ most recent loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
You see that pretty blue dot right in front of the net? That’s what the Golden Knights need to take advantage of tonight.
Of course, this is one heat map from one game. And St. Louis even went on to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 7-3 just two days after this matchup. But this is a pattern for the Blues so far. They allow a lot of high-danger shots on goal.
Creating opportunities in front of the net is going to be crucial for the Golden Knights tonight. If they can capitalize on rebounds especially, that could make the difference between a win and another loss.
Putting together a full 60 minutes
Alex Tuch described the game in Nashville best. “There [were] times in the first when we were on the same page and times in the third,” he told reporters. “But we’ve got to put together a full 60 minutes or else it’s not going to work.”
Tuch is right to point out the team’s consistency issues. The Golden Knights can look like one team in one period and a completely different one in the next. When the Knights aren’t working, they really aren’t working. The defense isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Passes don’t connect. They get sloppy.
Dealing with multiple injuries isn’t helping the cause, but this is the lineup Vegas has right now. They have to deal with the situation at hand and play to the best of their ability. Clearly they can — the first period against Nashville was a great indication of that. At this point, it’s up to them to keep that momentum going.
Hello, old friend
There will be a familiar face on the opposing bench tonight as it will be David Perron’s first game against the Golden Knights since signing with St. Louis in the offseason. Perron set career highs in assists (50) and points (66) in Vegas’ inaugural campaign before signing a four-year, $16 million deal with the Blues over the summer. He is off to a strong start with five goals and 10 points in 10 games this season, and he’ll be eager to add to that total against his former team.
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T Sports Net
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM