Gameday: Alex Tuch faces former team as Vegas hosts Minnesota

Afternoon hockey, anyone?

In Vegas’ most recent game, the Golden Knights were able to hold off the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to a second-period rally to pick up their ninth victory in the last 11 games. Vegas has been particularly hot in 2019, going 6-1-1 in January. However, the Knights have an all-time record of 1-3-0 against Minnesota, with the only win coming in a 2-1 shootout victory at the beginning of this season.

That being said, Minnesota enters today’s game having dropped four of its last seven games while getting shut out in two of those four losses. The team recently unloaded the contract of Nino Niederreiter to Carolina in exchange for Victor Rask, who picked up his first point as a member of the Wild Saturday against Columbus.

The Wild’s goaltending has also faltered. Both Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock have maintained save percentages below .900 over the last seven games, and Minnesota was forced to pull the starter on two occasions. That’s despite the fact that Minnesota has allowed the eighth-fewest goals against this season (2.85).

Minnesota (24-21-3) is sitting one point out of a wild card slot with 51 points, while Vegas (29-17-4) and San Jose are separated by just one point in the Pacific Division standings.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s matchup.

Power play resurgence

After going 0-for-6 on the power play in Winnipeg, the Golden Knights bounced back in Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh when Shea Theodore lit the lamp on the man advantage. Both units looked much improved overall, in great deal thanks to the return of Colin Miller to the blue line. Whether or not Saturday’s game is a sign of a real resurgence remains to be seen, though.

If history is any indication, Miller will continue to help the power play. He has nine power-play points so far this season, more than any other Knights defenseman, and is able to play the point on one unit, allowing a lethal combination in Nate Schmidt and Theodore to play on the other.

If the man advantage does get better, as it appeared to against Pittsburgh, expect a power play that recently went 2-for-32 to become a prominent force for Vegas again, even this afternoon against the second-best penalty kill in the league (84.8 percent).

Backchecking the blue liners

The Wild’s defense has accounted for eight points over the past seven games. Though Matt Dumba is out for an extended period of time, having names like Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin on the blue line has led to Minnesota ranking 15th in the league in defensive scoring.

Considering Vegas has allowed 12 points to defensemen in the last 10 games, including three against Pittsburgh, the Golden Knights’ defensive forwards will need to be at the top of their game. It won’t be easy without Reilly Smith in the lineup, but it’s something Vegas can manage;  strong backchecking combined with the Knights’ speed game could make for a good combination in today’s game.

Second line dominance

One player that will be particularly motivated in today’s contest is Alex Tuch, who will face his former team for the first time this season after missing the Oct. 6 meeting between these two clubs. Fortunately for Tuch, he and the rest of Vegas’ All-American Line (Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty) have been excellent together, combining for 32 points (including 10 goals) in the last 11 games. If you throw Brandon Pirri into the mix since he played on the second line prior to Smith’s injury, the second line has combined for 41 points in the last 11 games.

Tuch, who leads the team in scoring with 38 points despite missing eight games, has been a huge part of that. He saw his nine-game point streak come to an end in Winnipeg, though he was right back on the scoresheet against Pittsburgh, giving him points in 10 out of his last 11 games.

The second line has been so strong that it has taken over as Vegas’ best in terms of both possession and scoring. Since Dec. 27, the second line of Tuch, Stastny and Pacioretty has a 61.54 percent Corsi, 62.5 shot share and 55.56 percent goal share at even strength. Dominant.

Even with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson scoring a combined four goals the other night against the Penguins, the second line still left its mark on the game. In fact, one of the more impressive goals of the night was the laser from Pacioretty, which soared into what was essentially an open net thanks to a somewhat accidental set-up by Stastny. The whole line has been the real deal, and it will need to be today for Vegas to compete for the two points on th eline.

How to watch

Time: 3 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM