Gameday: Golden Knights enter halfway mark in need of win against Kings

Vegas has lost both matchups to its red-hot division rival, but are riding high after a huge win Thursday.

The Vegas Golden Knights responded in the best way possible out of the Christmas break.

Shutting down the league’s best top line, coupled with a win against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, temporarily cleansed the bad taste of the past two games out of Vegas’ collective mouth.

Getting the win was one thing. Now, the Golden Knights must do something they’ve dumbfoundingly not been able to do in two tries this season – defeat the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s already the third time this month the Golden Knights and Kings will square off. Including today’s matchup at Staples Center, Vegas and Los Angeles will meet again on New Year’s Day at T-Mobile Arena.

But while the Kings remain at the bottom of the Western Conference (and the overall league) with 33 points, Los Angeles has won four straight; the longest such streak in the West. One of those wins was a 4-3 overtime winner in Vegas on Dec. 23.

The halfway mark is drawing near. This has become an important game for both teams. Here’s what to watch for.

Slowing down the … Kings’ offense?

Los Angeles’ offense hasn’t been the butt of any jokes lately. The Kings have scored at least three goals in four of their past five games while holding their opponents to two or fewer goals in three of the past four.

Vegas has also inconceivably been unable to stop L.A.’s offense in the first two meetings; being outscored by a combined 9-4 (Los Angeles won 5-1 at Staples on Dec. 8).

The Kings have gotten contributions from everyone during their winning streak; Ilya Kovalchuk has a point in two of the past three games; Tyler Toffoli ended a 19-game scoring drought with his game-winner against Vegas six days ago; Dustin Brown scored the winner against Arizona on Thursday.

Notice I didn’t even say the name Anze Kopitar. In typical Kings fashion, they’re getting it done with multiple names and stellar goaltending with Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen.

The Brandon Pirri Show isn’t ready to be cancelled

All he does is score goals, and Thursday’s game-winning goal midway through the third period was another bullet point in Pirri’s successful stint on Vegas’ second line.

Pirri has filled in for Max Pacioretty admirably; he’s on a four-game point streak (six if you include the two games he scored in last season) with four goals and an assist. He’s been a seamless fit on the left wing on a line with playmakers Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch.

“He’s done a good job,” Stastny said about Pirri. “He listens well. I think a couple of games, we’ve just been trying to figure each other out.”

Stastny added that Tuch is the straw who stirs the drink to get those two going. Tuch moved back down to the second line Thursday after a short stint on the top line. He had an assist and was instrumental in setting the screen on Pirri’s winning goal.

“It was just special how we competed for a full 60 [minutes],” Pirri said after Thursday’s win. “If we’re going to be successful, we have to stick with that. I don’t think we played bad those last two games [overtime losses against Montreal and L.A.]; had a couple mental lapses here and there. [Thursday] was a great example; we played a full 60.”

Another Vegas back-to-back

The Golden Knights have a chance to close the 2018 calendar year out strong. It’ll have to come on the heels of, wait for it, another back-to-back for Vegas. This will be their fourth in December.

It’s another instance of an early first game, followed by a late game in the SEGABABA. After a stellar 31-save performance on Thursday, it’d be widely expected to see Marc-Andre Fleury get the start for the Golden Knights. Likely, he wants to redeem himself and get a win against the Kings at some point.

This game is crucial for the Golden Knights for a couple reasons; they need to beat the Kings, but Vegas has a chance to hit their halfway point at 48 points and possibly take over second place in the Pacific Division.

Think back to where Vegas was 20 games ago, to where it is now. It’s incredible.

How to watch

Time: 1 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports West, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM, ESPN Deportes 1460 AM