Thursday was a good start for the Vegas Golden Knights.
It was one game, though.
It was also against the Ottawa Senators.
While there were some good things to take away from Vegas’ 4-2 victory at Ottawa, which turned out to be a good start in the Peter DeBoer Era, the nitty-gritty is about to be reached for this road trip.
The Golden Knights have two games left before the All-Star break and will need all the momentum it can garner. Vegas will try to keep it rolling Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Pacific Division is crowded. It’s going to be crowded until one of these five teams separated by two points can pull away from the pack. With that said, each game — especially on this road trip — is going to be vital for the Golden Knights.
And to that point, Vegas is facing a Montreal team it has struggled heavily against in the past two seasons — more notably struggled heavily since making the trade for former Montreal captain Max Pacioretty last offseason.
The Canadiens have won the past three meetings and four of five all time against Vegas. In the past two seasons, the Golden Knights have lost twice at home in overtime, and a 5-4 loss in November 2018 at Montreal, which was Pacioretty’s first game against his former team.
What’s even more ridiculous is that the Golden Knights have had a third-period lead in the last three meetings against Montreal; lest we forget Vegas had a 4-2 lead in the third period, at T-Mobile Arena on Halloween, before the Canadiens stormed back to win 5-4 in overtime.
So it’s not as if the Golden Knights have been terrible against Montreal; they just haven’t put together an entire 60 minutes against them for whatever reason.
Pacioretty has one point in two meetings against his former team. The All-Star forward has 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in the past 18 games, including an assist on Thursday (his first point in three games).
Meanwhile, linemate Mark Stone has been just as dominant in the past 18 games, putting up 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in that stretch. Stone had a goal and an assist against his former team Thursday, his first game at Ottawa since the trade on Feb. 25 to Vegas.
Those two, along with Paul Stastny averaging a point per game in the past seven games, are going to have to continue to carry the offense now that William Karlsson is week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
Chandler Stephenson played admirably in his first game as the top-line center Thursday, leading all Vegas forwards in ice time with 18:18 and scoring a shorthanded goal in the third period to put the Golden Knights up 3-0. The makeshift top line of Stephenson centering with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault had a Corsi of 63.3 percent (19-11) and generated eight of Vegas’ 32 scoring chances. At some point, Marchessault and Smith will get it going, and if Stephenson can be the stopgap in the immediate, that’s a plus for Vegas.
Speaking of the Pacioretty trade, Tomas Tatar is playing like a guy that is worth a first-, second- and third-round pick. Tatar leads Montreal with 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) and is on pace to shatter his career-high 58 he set last season. Tatar is coming of a three-point night Thursday at Philadelphia.
But the biggest storyline in Montreal at this moment is the resurgence of Ilya Kolvachuk. It’s not New Jersey-like Kovalchuk that has made his way to Montreal, but Kovalchuk is at a point per game (three goals, four assists) in the seven games since signing a two-way deal with the Canadiens on Jan. 3. He had a two-goal game Thursday and has developed chemistry with Tatar and Golden Knights killer Phillip Danault.
After a strong start to their season, the Canadiens have fallen seven points behind the surging Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. There’s still plenty of time for Montreal to get back in the mix, and it plays like a dangerous team against Vegas. This is a big-time matchup for two teams that desperately need a win.
Golden Knights projected lineup
Jonathan Marchessault - Chandler Stephenson - Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty - Paul Stastny - Mark Stone
Tomas Nosek - Cody Eakin - Alex Tuch
William Carrier - Nicolas Roy - Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb - Nate Schmidt
Nick Holden - Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague - Deryk Engelland
Canadiens projected lineup
Tomas Tatar - Phillip Danault - Ilya Kovalchuk
Artturi Lehkonen - Max Domi - Nick Suzuki
Ryan Poehling - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Joel Armia
Nick Cousins - Nate Thompson - Dale Weise
Ben Chiarot - Shea Weber
Marco Scandella - Jeff Petry
Brett Kulak - Victor Mete
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM