Islanders at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas looks to end skid
The Golden Knights have a 3-2-1 all-time record against the Islanders.
It has only been four games. That’s the good news for Vegas.
The Golden Knights are off to a 1-3-0 start and continue to lose key players to injury, game after game.
The latest victim in the injury saga is Zach Whitecloud, who is considered week-to-week after blocking a shot with his hand in Friday’s 5-3 loss to Edmonton. Whitecloud left the game in the second period and did not return.
He joins Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez, all of whom remain out of commission. Vegas is also without Alex Tuch following offseason shoulder surgery.
With Whitecloud out of the mix, Daniil Miromanov will make his NHL debut in tonight’s contest.
The Golden Knights signed Miromanov to a one-year entry-level contract in March after the Russian forward-turned-defenseman scored 29 points in 58 games with HK Sochi of the KHL. He spent several seasons in the QMJHL and ECHL, so he’s not new to the North American game.
That was evident in preseason when he showcased his offensive abilities, including a two-goal performance against the Kings. That being said, his defensive game is a work in progress. That’s likely why he was paired with Brayden McNabb in yesterday’s practice.
Vegas has a 3-2-1 all-time record against the Islanders heading into tonight’s contest.
Like Vegas, the Islanders reached the third round of the playoffs last season but were unable to get over the final hurdle. However, the Islanders made it to Game 7 against a significantly more difficult opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Also like Vegas, the Islanders’ 2021-22 campaign has gotten off to a rough start. New York currently sits in last place in the Metropolitan Division with a 2-2-1 record. They shut out Arizona last night to reach .500 on the year, but things haven’t gone according to plan.
Semyon Varlamov is on injured reserve, and Ilya Sorokin, the other half of the Islanders’ formidable tandem from last season, has struggled early. Sorokin has started every game for the Islanders and could very well get the nod tonight; New York’s backup is Cory Schneider.
Sorokin has a 2.80 goals-against average and .916 save percentage through five games; after giving up five goals in each of his first two starts, he has held the opposing team to four total across the last three contests.
The Golden Knights will look to exploit the Islanders’ early and uncharacteristic defensive deficiencies in order to get a much-needed win.
Robin Lehner will face his former team for just the second time since winning the William M. Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss back in 2018-19.
He finished that season with a 25-13-5 record along with a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. So far this year, Lehner is 1-3-0 with a 3.59 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.
The sample size is too small to evaluate, especially given how the Knights have played early on.
But Lehner’s only win came after Vegas blew a three-goal lead back in the season opener against Seattle. Lehner had his best performance of the season against St. Louis but was not nearly as strong against Edmonton.
To be fair, since the blowout loss to Los Angeles, the Knights have faced the two highest-scoring teams in the NHL. St. Louis leads the way with 5.5 goals per game, and Edmonton is tied with Pittsburgh for second overall with 4.6.
That doesn’t change the fact that Vegas is second in goals allowed with an average of 4.25 goals against per game, trailing only the winless Arizona Coyotes.
However, even if he made a few mistakes the other night, Lehner has not been the reason Vegas has lost the last two games.
He was by far the best player on the ice against the Blues, and he helped keep the Knights in the game against the Oilers. Vegas blew two one-goal leads, but the game-winning goal came on a breakaway by Zack Kassian after a brutal turnover by Nic Hague.
Tonight will be a very different kind of matchup. But at the end of the day, the Knights just need to find a way to win.
Keys to the game
Lehner has to be much better, particularly given the state of the current lineup. Blowing leads will not be a luxury the Knights can afford to entertain. The Islanders are capable of being quite stingy defensively, so there is very little room for error.
The Misfits Line also has to be better. The Knights have scored four goals since Stone and Pacioretty went down. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith were responsible for only one of them. They have to take over, lead the way and get it done for Vegas.
Another aspect of Vegas’ game that must improve is special teams play. The Knights have the eighth-worst penalty kill (72.7 percent) and rank 32nd on the power play. In fact, Vegas is the only team that has not scored a power-play goal in 2021-22.
In other words, the power play is operating at zero percent.
That cannot continue.
That has been a mantra since the beginning of last year, but Vegas has to start by ending the current streak, as the Knights are 0-9 to start the year.
Vegas’ shot suppression was much improved against Edmonton. The Knights held the Oilers to 58 shot attempts, but only 41 of those came at 5-on-5. The Islanders may not have the same elite skill as Edmonton, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of talent up and down this lineup. New York is a very deep team with four lines that can take over a game; the Knights can’t allow that to happen.
That starts with better neutral-zone play, which took a big hit in Friday’s game and was particularly noticeable against Edmonton’s speed.
The Islanders play a more physical and tightly-checked game, so the Knights will need to be especially mindful against a much better defensive club.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: NHL Network, AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM
Will the Golden Knights end their losing streak tonight?
|Yes, Vegas is due||5|
|Yes, I like the matchup||2|
|No, they’re not playing well enough||10|
|No, too many injuries||10|