Golden Knights at Devils Preview: Vegas collides with slumping Devils in front half of back-to-back

The Devils are coming off a 6-1 loss to Philadelphia and have lost three straight.

The Vegas Golden Knights’ four-game road trip continues tonight in Newark as the Knights take on the New Jersey Devils.

The Golden Knights are coming off a dominant 4-1 win against the Bruins for the team’s first-ever win in Boston. Vegas has won two straight and five of its last six.

The Devils have lost three straight and are coming off a lopsided 6-1 loss to Philadelphia, falling to seventh overall in the stacked Metropolitan Division with a 10-12-5 record. New Jersey has gone 1-6-1 over its last eight games.

The opponent

Jesper Bratt leads the team in scoring with eight goals and 24 points in 27 games.

The Devils made a big splash in the offseason by signing free-agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a massive seven-year, $63 million contract. He has 15 points in 24 games but has seen a decline in his production and is pointless in five straight.

More recently, the club inked former first-overall pick Jack Hughes to an eight-year, $64 million extension. It was a risky move for the Devils, though the club elected to bet on the young forward who has shown promise despite not yet demonstrating “No. 1 center” ability.

Hughes has played just 10 games this season but has seven points, three of which have come in his last four games.

Former Golden Knights forward Tomas Tatar is in the first year of a two-year, $9 million contract signed in the offseason; he has five goals and 12 points in 27 games.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been 2020 first-round pick Dawson Mercer, who has seven goals and 15 points on the year. The 20-year-old has gelled nicely with Bratt and Andreas Johnsson (who is tied with Pavel Zacha for the team lead in goals with nine). However, the Devils mixed up their lines ahead of Tuesday’s game and could do the same tonight.

Mercer has drawn Calder consideration, particularly after taking on a top-six role when Hughes suffered an injury early in the season.

The Devils made a trade with St. Louis yesterday, acquiring goaltender Jon Gillies to fill in for the injured Jonathan Bernier, who is out long-term with a hip injury. But MacKenzie Blackwood likely will man the crease tonight for New Jersey.

Blackwood is 5-5-3 with a 3.08 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and two shutouts. He has lost each of his last two starts, surrendering five goals against Philadelphia and three against Nashville.

The history

The Knights have gone 4-1-1 in six meetings against the Devils since 2017.

The last time these teams met was March 2020, just prior to the shutdown; Vegas won 3-0 with goals from Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson and Ryan Reaves.

The Knights won the other game against New Jersey that year, a 4-3 win back on Dec. 3, 2019.

Jonathan Marchessault scored a natural hat trick in the first half of the third period in the win, with Chandler Stephenson accounting for the other Vegas tally.

The two times Vegas has come up short against New Jersey have been memorable losses.

In March 2018, the Knights suffered an ugly 8-3 loss, as New Jersey took a 4-0 lead less than three minutes into the second period and added another four unanswered goals in the third.

For some added context to reflect just how long it has been since these teams played, only one of the 11 combined goals scored in that game was scored by a player still on his respective team (Nico Hischier). The other Devils goals were scored by Blake Coleman (two), Travis Zajac, Stefan Noesen, Michael Grabner, Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall, while the Knights got goals from Erik Haula (two) and Colin Miller. Further, all assists and goals scored by Vegas that night were courtesy of players no longer with the club (i.e., Nate Schmidt, David Perron and Tatar).

The other loss was the infamous Devils rally almost three years ago to the day (Dec. 14, 2018).

Vegas scored three goals in the opening frame and led 4-1 in the second period before giving up four unanswered goals to New Jersey, ultimately losing 5-4 in overtime on a Hischier goal 41 seconds into extra time.

Not surprisingly, Hischier leads the Devils in points against Vegas with four goals and five points in six games. However, he won’t be in the lineup tonight. Karlsson and Marchessault each have five points as well.

The matchup

The Knights will look to take advantage of a Devils team mired in a 1-6-1 stretch.

In addition to Hischier, Devils skaters in COVID-19 protocol include Vegas favorite Ryan Graves as well as Christian Jaros.

The Devils have a slightly better penalty kill (79.5 percent) than Vegas (79 percent) on the year but gave up a league-high fifth shorthanded goal Tuesday against Philadelphia, going 0-for-4 on the power play in the contest.

In fact, New Jersey ranks dead last on the power play with a conversion rate of just 12 percent. Even by Vegas standards, that is low. That number has dropped to 10 percent during the club’s recent eight-game slump.

The Knights have averaged 3.50 goals per game this season, good for fourth overall in the NHL, while New Jersey ranks 21st with just 2.74. Both teams have given up more than three per game.

Not many lines in hockey have been as dominant as the Knights’ top line in recent games.

Pacioretty has 10 goals in his last seven games and 12 goals in 11 games this season after adding two against Boston. He has been on an absolute tear since returning to the lineup.

He and linemates Stephenson and Mark Stone will look to continue their dominance; the trio has combined for 17 points in just the last two games.

There aren’t particular “keys” to tonight’s game aside from the obvious.

That being said, it’s worth noting that there has been plenty of controversy surrounding defenseman P.K. Subban’s reckless play so far this season. He’s been involved in multiple slewfoots and other questionable incidents, one of which led to a season-ending injury for the Rangers’ Sammy Blais.

Needless to say, considering the Knights’ injury luck this season, Subban should be a concern.

But the Knights just need to stick to their game and focus on the details. The Devils have struggled and don’t necessarily pose a specific threat in any one category/department. The team has a lot of talent, but New Jersey just hasn’t performed this season.

The recent stretch has head coach Lindy Ruff in a precarious position, so it will be interesting to see how the team plays tonight against the visiting Knights.

How to watch

Time: 4 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9