Gameday: Golden Knights going for 7th straight win, hosting Rangers

Max Pacioretty moving to the top line in place of Reilly Smith, and Brandon Pirri will take his spot on the second line.

There’s a small sample size to go off of, but it’s always mid-December to early January where the Vegas Golden Knights get it going.

Vegas’ franchise record eight-game winning streak last season went from Dec. 14, 2017 — Jan. 2, 2018. That was the turning point, once Marc-Andre Fleury returned from his concussion, that the Golden Knights were going to be good.

Here we are again, at early January with the Golden Knights on a six-game winning streak. They’ll look to push it to seven tonight when they host the New York Rangers at T-Mobile Arena.

There’s some line shuffling for Vegas tonight; Max Pacioretty will take over on the top line for Reilly Smith (undisclosed, day-to-day). That means Brandon Pirri, who was recalled from AHL Chicago on Monday in accordance with William Carrier being placed on injured reserve (illness), will rejoin Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch on the second line.

Oscar Lindberg is expected to fill Carrier’s role on the fourth line.

Here’s what to watch for.

New York’s uncertainty in net

The Rangers are on a three-game losing streak. If only that was the worst of it.

New York has lost three straight by a combined score of 18-3. But wait, there’s more; Henrik Lundqvist has allowed 11 of those goals. He is not playing tonight. The one who is, Alexandar Georgiev, allowed six goals Jan. 4 against the Colorado Avalanche.

This is just one bad mess for New York.

The Rangers are nine points back of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Any wins they can muster between now and the All-Star break are of the highest importance. But if your all-world goaltender is having trouble stopping the puck, who really can right now?

This could very well be a trap game for the Golden Knights. It could also be something of the 5-1 variety. Sometimes, facing the team that’s more pissed off than you isn’t great.

Welcome to the top line, Max

A couple of things to note:

The top line has been dormant. Smith had two goals since Dec. 23; William Karlsson has four points (2G, 2A) since Dec. 20; Jonathan Marchessault has one goal in 12 games and cannot buy one to save his life.

Fortunately for Vegas, the wins have been coming. The offense has come from the Pirri-Stastny-Tuch line while Pacioretty was dealing with his undisclosed injury.

But here comes the potential spark for the Vegas top line. Pacioretty, now a father of four boys after his wife gave birth Friday, has scored the game-winning goal in back-to-back games for the Golden Knights. While this site might be the biggest proponents of the 67-26-89 fan club, I have heard via eavesdropping lately that some would want to see what Pacioretty can do with 81 and 71.

Any sort of offense is needed from that top line right now. Especially with the unknown of how long Smith could be out for, this could be a vital time for both parties.

Home Cookin’

The Golden Knights are good at home. This is not a surprise unless you emerged from a season-and-a-half-long hibernation.

Vegas is 14-3-3 at home, good for one of the best marks in the league outside Tampa Bay’s 17-4-0 mark at Amalie Arena. But the Golden Knights are on another level at home; earning a point in 11 straight games (9-0-2) outscoring opponents 36-21 dating back to Nov. 16 (their last home loss, 4-1 against St. Louis). Vegas has also outscored opponents 19-7 during its six-game winning streak.

The environment at T-Mobile Arena is no longer a façade; it’s becoming one of the most difficult places to play in the NHL. The Golden Knights can push their home streak to 13 if they hold serve against New York tonight and San Jose on Thursday.

By the way, that Thursday game … oh, man.

Spittin’ Chiclets

If you have not listened to this gold mine yet, do it. You have time to kill before the game. Do it. I have given Marc-Andre Fleury the idea of a three-man sitcom with him, Ryan Reaves and Nate Schmidt for a half-hour every Friday going forward. This is the most typical sitting-at-a-bar hockey conversation you’ll ever hear.

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

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

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM