Gameday: Golden Knights and Jets meet in battle of struggling squads.
In the snow-filled desert, Vegas hosts Winnipeg in a Western Conference Final rematch
The Vegas Golden Knights are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. They’re on a two-game losing streak, though they got a point out of their game against Boston. Still, they haven’t been nearly good enough recently, but they’re neither gaining nor losing ground in the standings.
Same goes for the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg enters 4-4-2 in their last ten games, are on a three-game losing streak, and have also gotten just one point in their last two games. It’s a far cry from the 2018 Western Conference Final for either of these teams.
Still, they’re both in playoff position. The Jets have gotten here through excellent seasons from Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who continue to be the best duo on the Jets’ roster. Scheifele has 30 goals and 68 points so far this season, and Wheeler has 12-57—69 (nice). Kyle Connor has also been excellent, with 23-22—45. That’s a line that the Golden Knights will need to shutdown.
Alone in a snowy village
Las Vegas has snow. Enough to cause a snow day. This is an odd phenomenon.
The Golden Knights’ situation is equally odd. They’re currently 11 points away from San Jose for second in the Pacific. They’re 10 points ahead of fourth place Arizona. In other words: Vegas is locked in place. Snowed in, as it were.
That means that the Golden Knights can have a two-game losing streak and be okay. They can have the rough patch they’ve had since before the all-star break and be fine. They can experiment with lines and switch defensemen into roles they’ve never played before. They can start Malcolm Subban more often.
It also means expectations should be altered. Instead of every win, the Golden Knights should go for playing the best game they can, regardless of outcome. That’s what happened against Boston, and even though the Knights lost in a shootout, they played an excellent game.
Vegas dominated high-danger chances (15-5 at even strength), and won in every possession stat, including a 50.98 percent shot share and 54.9 percent Corsi.
If that’s how the Golden Knights perform against Winnipeg (and from here on out), that’s a good game.
It should still be Miller time, but it’s not
The Golden Knights playing their best game means bringing back one of their most offensively-proficient defensemen. Colin Miller has 2-21—23 in 48 games so far this season.
Across all strengths, Miller has the second-most points per 60, behind just Nate Schmidt. Miller has the most primary assists per 60 of anyone on the Golden Knights’ blue line.
In addition, Miller totally changes how the Golden Knights play defense, as well as the penalty kill. Miller has actually been one of the better Knights’ defensemen defensively this season.
Miller has been excellent at taking away close shots this season, and makes the royal road a dearth of shot opportunities. Bringing him back means a better power play, as he changed the way Vegas played on the man advantage once he was healthy again in January, as well as the way the penalty kill plays.
With Miller on ice, the Golden Knights’ penalty kill takes away so many opportunities that it is 45 percent better than league average. That’s somebody worth having on the ice, not in the press box, even if Miller’s mainly used in special teams opportunities.
But alas, coach Gerard Gallant confirmed it will be the same lineup tonight. Nick Holden in for Miller.
Get the power play going
Which leads to perhaps the most important thing for Vegas against Winnipeg and for the rest of the season - the Golden Knights need their power play to be good again. The Golden Knights are 20-6-2 when scoring on the power play, and 12-19-3 without a man-advantage tally.
That’s a night and day difference. It’s also how some of Vegas’s most important players have scored - four of Reilly Smith’s 10 goals this season are on the power play, five each for William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, and three each for Brandon Pirri, Alex Tuch, and Max Pacioretty.
One of the keys to the power play is high-danger opportunities. When Vegas has three or more, which has happened seventeen times, they have nine power-play goals. High-danger goals have accounted for under half of all Vegas’s power play goals. Of their 32, 15 have been high danger.
Against Boston, Vegas had zero chances from the high-danger area. In their last ten games, they’ve had zero six times. They haven’t had three high-danger chances on the power play since Jan. 23.
Getting back to the high-percentage area will be crucial moving forward.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM