Golden Knights at Wild Preview: Vegas’ six-game road trip continues in the State of Hockey

The Knights look to extend their winning streak and maintain their division lead.

The Vegas Golden Knights will look to continue their strong play in the month of March with a two-game set against the Minnesota Wild. These teams met last week, with both games going to Vegas (though the first one required overtime). In fact, the Knights didn’t tie the game until the final minute of regulation, and it then took just two minutes for Vegas to complete the comeback.

However, the Wild have controlled the matchup going back to 2017; in fact, Vegas doubled its total franchise wins against the Wild with the two victories last week.

Since those games, the Wild have played two games against Arizona, splitting the series with a 5-1 win and 5-2 loss. The scoring was, as usual, spread out, and Brad Hunt notched his first goal of the season. Jordan Greenway led the way with two goals and three points, giving him a goal in three out of his last four games.

But when speaking about hot streaks, it’s hard not to talk about Alex Tuch.

His strong play from the postseason has carried over into this season, though he is looking more dominant than ever. Putting all the tools together, Tuch has been able to dominate in recent games; he has goals in four straight and in six out of his last seven games, collecting a total of eight in that span. Only Chris Kreider has found twine at that level of late.

Tuch is playing the way he did a few years ago when he put the team on his back; he has a lot more support now, but his play has rejuvenated a third line that has struggled for quite some time.

Reilly Smith broke out of a 10-game goalless drought with a goal in each of the last two games, giving Vegas even more scoring depth among top-nine forwards.

This could be particularly important should Mark Stone be unable to go tonight. His status is uncertain after he left Saturday’s game in the second period and did not return. He has more points in March than anyone else in the league with 10 in his last four games (Max Pacioretty is second with eight, Tuch is sixth with six), so he’d be a significant loss. The top line of Stone, Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson has combined for a ridiculous 23 points in the last four games.

Alex Pietrangelo also may be unable to suit up after taking a shot to the arm at the end of the game the other night. In his press conference following the 4-0 win, Pete DeBoer said he was hopeful neither was a serious injury, but we won’t know more later until later today.

Vegas remains atop the West Division standings with 33 points and a two-point lead over St. Louis with four games in hand (and one against both Colorado and Minnesota). Games in hand don’t equate to points in the standings, however, so it’s quite tight, especially considering Los Angeles and Arizona are not at all far behind the cutoff line (two points, in fact).

That makes tonight’s game all the more important, as two hot teams — Vegas is 8-2-0 in its last 10, Minnesota is 7-2-1 — square off for the third time this season.

The Golden Knights ended Minnesota’s six-game winning streak last week; you can bet the Wild would love to return the favor tonight.

What to watch for

  • Though there were many, one significant improvement the Knights made between the first and second games against San Jose was in the discipline department. Vegas took five penalties in game one and just one in game two, and the lone infraction came in the final four minutes of regulation when Vegas already held a considerable lead. Not only does that keep the opposing team off the power play (duh), but it also allows Vegas to establish and develop a rhythm and momentum during a game. Though Minnesota has the worst power play in the league, discipline remains a key ingredient in the formula for success; considering these teams are much more evenly matched than the Knights and Sharks, it’ll be even more important to stay out of the box.
  • In their two games since facing Vegas last week, the Wild were able to outscore their opponent (Arizona) by a combined five goals (5-0) in the first period. That’s not overly surprising given the fact that the first period is Minnesota’s best; plus, the Wild are one of the best first-period teams in the NHL. Specifically, Minnesota is ranked fourth overall with 27 goals in the opening 20 minutes as well as a goal differential of plus-16 (that number was plus-12 four games ago). The Knights were able to hold Minnesota off the scoresheet in the first period of both games last week, and it’s a feat they need to replicate tonight. This is especially true since Vegas has trailed after one in four out of five losses this season, making a solid start imperative for the Knights in tonight’s battle.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury is in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy this season; he is 12-3-0 and has a 1.60 goals-against average and .942 save percentage. Though his exceptional play has covered up many Vegas mistakes so far this season, he can’t do it alone; or rather, he shouldn’t have to. The Knights need a full 60-minute effort, especially against a team looking to rebound after losing three out of its last four games. Game one against the Wild last week was one of Fleury’s worst efforts of the season. For a change, it was the Knights who bailed out Fleury with the late comeback and overtime win. However, Minnesota can roll four lines, all of which can score, so even if Fleury is at the top of his game, the Knights skaters need to meet him halfway with a sound defensive effort for a full 60 minutes. After all, the Knights’ only road win against Minnesota is a shootout win from two seasons ago.
  • Keep in mind: The next two games have earlier start times./

How to watch

Time: 5 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL Network

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM