Golden Knights vs. Coyotes Preview: Vegas looking to avoid losing streak against red-hot Arizona

Vegas faces Arizona for the first time since Jan. 24

The last time the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes played against each other was the end of a four-game stint on Jan. 24. Now, both teams will look to climb in the standings against each other as the Golden Knights are second in the West, four points behind the Colorado Avalanche with a game in hand. The Coyotes are fourth in the West, three points ahead of the St. Louis Blues who have a game in hand on them.

The Coyotes are 17-13-4 since the last time they played Vegas, 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. The Golden Knights are 3-1-0 against the Coyotes this season.

Arizona is led by Nick Schmaltz, who has four points in the four games against Vegas. Christian Dvorak, Drake Caggiula and Conor Garland all have three points in this series. On Vegas’s side, Shea Theodore has five points and both Mark Stone and Alex Tuch have four.

The Golden Knights have a 52.94 percent shot share and 53.6 percent expected goal share against the Coyotes at 5-on-5 this season. The Coyotes are 30th in shot share (46.27 percent) and 23rd in expected goal share (47.23 percent) so it’s perhaps not as impressive. Still, Vegas was playing sloppier hockey when the four-game stint occurred than they are now.

Vegas’s power play has scored two goals in 32:10 against the Coyotes and the penalty kill has allowed three goals in 28:24. Both units can be better against Arizona, especially as the Coyotes’ power play has fallen to 20th in the league. Their penalty kill is ninth, however, so Vegas’s 25th-ranked power play may continue to struggle.

Garland leads the team with 30 points in 39 games this season. Phil Kessel has 15 goals, a team high, and 29 points in 40 games. Jakob Chychrun leads the Coyotes’ blue line with 29 points (including 12 goals) in 40 games. Chychrun has never played more than 70 games in a season so his health has been surprising.

The Golden Knights will play the Coyotes again at the end of April with a back-to-back set on April 30 and May 1.

What to watch for

  • The Coyotes’ Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta are two of the better goaltenders in the league. In 11 games this season, Raanta has a .913 save percentage. In 18 games, Kuemper has a .914 save percentage and 1.17 goals saved above expected. Which is why it’s so hard for Arizona to have them both on injured reserve. Kuemper hasn’t played a game since March 8. Raanta last played on March 22. The Coyotes are currently led by Adin Hill and Ivan Prosvetov, both less than 25 years old. Hill has a .909 save percentage in 13 games and Prosvetov has a .821 save percentage in one game. The Golden Knights’ goaltenders have been very different against the Coyotes — Marc-Andre Fleury has a .949 save percentage including a shutout against Arizona while Robin Lehner has a .895 save percentage. The expectations for both goaltenders have flipped recently as Lehner has the second-best mark in the NHL since March 1 (among goaltenders playing more than 300 minutes) with a .948 save percentage. Fleury has fallen to a .910. Lehner will likely get the first start.
  • Remember three months ago, when the Golden Knights were experimenting with 13 forwards and five defensemen, overusing those defensemen (they say a game after Alex Pietrangelo played 29 minutes and Theodore 27)? That really stopped with the Arizona set, the first time the Golden Knights used Nicolas Hague this season and that turned out to be smart. Hague and Zach Whitecloud have turned out to be arguably Vegas’s best defensive defensemen, especially when playing together — which is saying something, as the Golden Knights have allowed the fewest goals against per game in the NHL. This will be a matchup between two good defensive groups (although the Coyotes are also missing defensive stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson) and using the defensemen the Golden Knights have available to them will be critical. Give Pietrangelo and Theodore some time to rest.
  • The Golden Knights have struggled to produce high-danger chances against the Coyotes, generating just 36 at 5-on-5 in four games. It’s the lowest total among the West division against Arizona, and the Sharks, who have also played just four games, have 39. The Golden Knights have the third-lowest rate, ahead of just St. Louis and the Anaheim Ducks. The Golden Knights have been excellent at converting on the very few chances they’ve generated, however, with 1.7 high-danger goals per 60 at 5-on-5, second-most in the division (behind the Los Angeles Kings). If the Golden Knights can generate more high-danger chances in these two games, they could find ways to beat a motivated Arizona club. /

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.7 FM/1340 AM