The Vegas Golden Knights are back on the road.
After a challenging and unsuccessful eight-game homestand that saw the Knights deliver one of their best performances and several of their worst, the Knights will play four games this week against top Eastern Conference clubs.
It will not be an easy stretch.
It starts with a back-to-back against the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes and ends with games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
These matchups — particularly the final three — have the potential to prevent Vegas from overcoming its recent struggles.
It’s a critical time of the season as teams make a final push leading up to the All-Star Game. The Knights remain in first in the Pacific Division but have lost ground, or at least have been unable to build a more substantial or secure lead.
Coming away with any points could be considered a success, even if the Knights are aiming higher.
While Mark Stone remains in COVID-19 protocol, three key players could join the team at some point during this road trip, including Max Pacioretty, Alec Martinez and Zach Whitecloud. However, it doesn’t appear they will be available for tonight’s contest against the Caps.
But no matter what, the Knights have to win by committee, as they did the other night against Montreal.
Vegas will look to do so while improving its 11-5-0 record away from T-Mobile Arena (compared to 13-10-2 at home).
Clearly, these teams have history, but it has been a while since they’ve gone to battle.
This is the first meeting between the clubs since Feb. 17, 2020, just a few weeks prior to the shutdown. The Knights scored three unanswered goals before T.J. Oshie made things interesting with a two-goal performance in the third period; however, Vegas survived the late push for the win.
The Knights are 4-2-0 all-time against Washington in the regular season.
Alex Ovechkin leads the Capitals across the board with 29 goals and 29 assists for 58 points in 42 games. Evgeny Kuznetsov is second on the team with 41.
It should be an interesting night for Vegas’ leading scorer, as Chandler Stephenson began his career with the Capitals. With a much more prominent role in Vegas, Stephenson has thrived since his arrival, and he is seeing the results pay off with 38 points in 40 games this season.
Like the Knights, the Capitals have dealt with injuries to key players all season.
Nicklas Backstrom only recently joined the team (and has been in and out several times since), but Oshie remains out, and Anthony Mantha was shut down in early November. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov will be back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for kneeing Nikolaj Ehlers. John Carlson has been in COVID-19 protocol, making his status questionable for tonight.
The Capitals have had to rely on a plethora of young prospects.
It hadn’t slowed them down earlier in the year, though the Capitals have struggled in 2022, much like the Knights. Washington is 3-4-2 so far this month, which has resulted in a drop to fourth place in the Metropolitan Division with 55 points.
The two teams have produced at roughly the same rate, with Vegas averaging 3.46 goals per game and Washington managing 3.26. The Knights give up more goals per game, however, averaging over three (3.02) compared to the Capitals’ 2.74.
As for special teams, it has been a particularly rough season for the Capitals’ power play, which currently ranks 29th with a 14.8 percent efficacy rate.
But if the Golden Knights don’t defend the power play correctly, those numbers won’t be relevant. The Capitals’ power play is often one-dimensional, as it relies heavily on Ovechkin’s one-timers. The Knights have to force the Capitals to make poor feeds (which is not uncommon) and take away his shooting lane whenever possible.
That being said, of Ovechkin’s 58 points this season, only 13 have come on the power play.
The Knights, however, continue to have success on the power play; they have jumped up to 12th (21.9 percent) and scored twice on the man advantage the other night against the Canadiens.
Neither penalty kill is particularly noteworthy; the Capitals rank 15th at 80 percent, while the Knights occupy the 22nd slot (77.5 percent).
Goaltending has been inconsistent for both teams as well; the Caps are rolling two, both of whom have gotten roughly 20 starts. Vitek Vanecek is 9-5-5 with a 2.54 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and one shutout, while Ilya Samsonov is 13-4-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average, .903 save percentage and three shutouts.
Since the Knights play tomorrow night in Carolina, it’s unclear how Pete DeBoer will deploy his options in the crease. The Knights have not gotten strong goaltending for a while, but it will be important throughout this stretch.
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: NHL Network, AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM