The Vegas Golden Knights will take on the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday, as Vegas continues to push for first place in the Pacific Division and the Wild continue to make a push for the playoffs.
However, the Wild traded one of their best forwards and goal scorers in Jason Zucker on Monday, as he headed to Pittsburgh in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk, a first-round pick and defensive prospect Calen Addison. Zucker had 14 goals and 29 points in 45 games for the Wild this season. The trade comes after a recent three-game winning streak for the Wild was broken by a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
The Wild are led by Eric Staal, who has 40 points in 55 games, as well as Zach Parise with 20 goals and Ryan Suter with 38 points from the blue line. Mats Zuccarello, the Wild’s big offseason addition before this season, has 30 points in 51 games.
Vegas is coming off of a disappointing finish Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, and a Wild team looking more towards the draft than perhaps the playoffs could be just what they need to right the ship. Oh, and William Karlsson is back, so there’s that.
Penalty kill must return to form
The Golden Knights’ penalty kill has allowed a goal in each of their last two games. While each of those were drastically different outcomes, a 7-2 win against the Panthers and a 6-5 loss to the Hurricanes, it’s the same result, and it’s not a good one.
Vegas’s penalty kill was in the top 10 in the league for most of the season so far this year, but they’ve fallen recently, to just a 79 percent kill rate, and that’s 19th in the league. Against a top-10 power play, which Minnesota possesses, the Golden Knights will need their shorthanded units to step up, and while they’ve also scored shorthanded goals in both games, killing off penalties will be the priority.
They can’t afford another two-goal performance, which the Hurricanes power play saw.
Minnesota and Vegas are two of the finest teams in the league at controlling quality of chance at even strength. They get quality chances and they don’t give up as much against, and that’s key to them being good possession teams as well. But this game will be decided, likely, by the number of high-danger chances each team gets.
Minnesota has been the best team in the league at expected goals against per 60 at even strength (just 2.06), as well as high-danger chances allowed/60 (8.32). Vegas is right there with them, however, near the top in both categories (2.40 xGA/60, 10.41 HDCA/60). Vegas has a better expected goal share than Minnesota, and is right there with them in high-danger share.
Minnesota has the lowest save percentage at even strength high danger, however, and while Vegas hasn’t been great in that category this season (.811), they have been better. Minnesota is shooting better than Vegas (19.27 percent to 16.49), which is again why this may come down to a battle of opportunities from the most dangerous areas.
The key to the Golden Knights’ scoring in recent games has been defensemen. Well, more realistically, two defensemen: Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt. Theodore has six points in his last five games, including four in his last two (including two goals) and Schmidt has five points in his last five games, also including four in his last two.
But the Golden Knights’ blue line stumbling into production also includes more than just those two. Jon Merrill is on a two-game point streak, including a goal against Carolina; Nick Holden is on the same two-game point streak, with two assists; and Brayden McNabb had two assists against the Lightning.
If Vegas is going to defeat Minnesota, they may need their newly empowered blue line to continue to be newly empowered.
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — Paul Stastny — Reilly Smith
Cody Eakin — William Karlsson — Alex Tuch
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt
Nick Holden — Shea Theodore
Jon Merrill — Zach Whitecloud
Zach Parise — Eric Staal — Kevin Fiala
Ryan Donato — Luke Kunin — Mats Zuccarello
Alex Galchenyuk — Mikko Koivu — Ryan Hartman
Marcus Foligno — Joel Eriksson-Ek — Jordan Greenway
Ryan Suter — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Carson Soucy — Greg Pateryn
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM