Preview: Golden Knights open road trip against Canucks

The Golden Knights are 11-2-3 in the all-time matchup against Vancouver.

The Vegas Golden Knights (43-21-6) kick off a three-game road trip through Western Canada with a matchup against the Vancouver Canucks (31-33-5).

These clubs split the first two meetings and will finish the season series tonight.

The Canucks had high aspirations coming into the year after a very strong finish to the 2021-22 campaign despite missing the playoffs by five points.

Vancouver has had a tumultuous season, but the team has been playing much better of late despite settling for lottery status. The Canucks are 7-2-0 in March and 8-2-0 in their last 10.

That’s in large part due to the resurgence of Thatcher Demko, who has been stellar since returning from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for two months.

His recent play has been a far cry from his early-season struggles. On the year, Demko is 9-12-2 with a 3.32 goals-against average and .898 save percentage, both career lows in seasons in which he has gotten more than one start. Among goalies with at least 20 starts, his goals-against average and save percentage rank 43rd.

However, since returning Feb. 27, Demko is 6-2-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. He has won five of six starts this month and has averaged two goals against per game over his last seven. Demko has managed save percentages of .950, .889, .926, .900, .909, .973 and .944 in his last seven starts, respectively.

Vancouver sits 14 points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand over the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets, while the Golden Knights are in first place in the Western Conference with 92 points through 70 games. Los Angeles is even with Vegas at 92 points, though the Golden Knights have a game in hand.

Vegas is coming off back-to-back 7-2 games; the first was an ugly 7-2 loss to Calgary, but the Golden Knights bounced back with a 7-2 win against Columbus on Sunday afternoon.

Eichel’s hat trick leads Golden Knights to 7-2 victory over Blue Jackets

Jack Eichel scored his second hat trick of the season, and Jiri Patera made 35 saves on 37 shots for a .946 save percentage in his second career NHL start.

Patera has since been sent down to Henderson; the Golden Knights will travel with three goalies on this road trip, with Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit joining the team. It’s unclear how Bruce Cassidy will divide the starts, but at least one is expected to get a start during this stretch.

In Sunday’s lopsided victory, the Golden Knights scored six straight goals, four of which came in the span of 6:22 in the second period. Notably, Vegas went 2-for-2 on the power play, with the second unit potting both tallies courtesy of the Phil Kessel-Pavel Dorofeyev connection.

That being said, the power play continues to be an area of concern for the Golden Knights as the end of the season approaches. Vegas went 0-for-4 against Calgary and has had the worst power play in the NHL over the last several months. Prior to Sunday’s tilt, Vegas had gone 6-for-56 since Mark Stone sustained an injury Feb. 12 against Florida.

Vegas now has six power-play goals this month, though four of those goals came against teams competing for Connor Bedard (Flyers, Blue Jackets). The power play is something Vegas needs to continue to work through, and tonight’s game provides another opportunity to do so.

Interestingly, the Canucks have the worst penalty kill on the season (69 percent) but rank in the top-10 this month with an 84.6 percent conversion rate, good for eighth overall. Demko has played a huge role in that turnaround.

So while tonight’s game may not serve as a true litmus test for Vegas’ power play, the Golden Knights only have 12 more games with which to work before a potential postseason run. Vegas needs to establish some consistency on the man-advantage.

Assuming Jonathan Quick gets the nod in tonight’s tilt, he will have his hands full with a high-powered Canucks offense.

Vancouver has four players with more than 60 points this season, including Elias Pettersson (88), J.T. Miller (66), Quinn Hughes (65) and Andrei Kuzmenko (61). The Canucks traded captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders in exchange for a conditional 2023 first-round pick, winger Anthony Beauvillier and prospect Aatu Raty.

Beauvillier has been a great addition and is producing at almost a point-per-game pace with seven goals and 16 points in 20 games.

Vegas is 11-2-3 in the all-time matchup and 6-0-2 at Rogers Arena. The Golden Knights are 8-0-0 when scoring first and 0-2-0 when giving up the first goal this month; lighting the lamp early against a hot Demko could go a long way towards coming away with two points.

Projected lineups

Golden Knights
Ivan Barbashev — Jack Eichel — Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Pavel Dorofeyev
Paul Cotter — Chandler Stephenson — Phil Kessel
Brett Howden — Teddy Blueger — Michael Amadio

Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud

Jonathan Quick
Logan Thompson/Laurent Brossoit

Andrei Kuzmenko — Elias Pettersson — Anthony Beauvillier
Phil Di Giuseppe — J.T. Miller — Brock Boeser
Dakota Joshua — Nils Aman — Conor Garland
Vitali Kravtsov — Sheldon Dries — Vasily Podkolzin

Quinn Hughes — Noah Juulsen
Guillaume Brisebois — Ethan Bear
Christian Wolanin — Tyler Myers

Thatcher Demko
Colin Delia