The Vegas Golden Knights are two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche (who have a game in hand) for the West division lead. After blowing a 5-3 lead against the Minnesota Wild late on Monday, losing 6-5 in regulation, the Golden Knights shrunk to just a four-point lead on Minnesota.
If Monday’s game was a critical game late in the season, that does not change Wednesday. Max Pacioretty will not play for the second straight game due to an undisclosed injury he sustained Saturday in Arizona. It’s likely Mattias Janmark will take his place at first-line left wing yet again.
Another welcome addition — Peyton Krebs debuted on Monday, as the rookie scored his first NHL point as an assist on Alex Tuch’s goal. Krebs finished with a 77.78 shots for percentage in a team-low 9:05 at 5-on-5. Hopefully he’ll see more playing time on Wednesday, as Krebs was impressive with a primary assist, a takeaway and four faceoff wins.
What wasn’t impressive on Monday: Robin Lehner’s .813 save percentage. Lehner now has a .884 mark in two games against the Wild this season. Marc-Andre Fleury is currently at a .917 against Vegas’ kryptonite, and since it’s his turn in the rotation, he will likely start tonight. With Colorado closing in on Vegas, this could be the last glimpse of a first-round matchup. Seeing how Fleury performs just a couple of weeks prior could be critical.
The Wild were able to see their biggest surge of offense against the Golden Knights this season on Monday. That’s in part because 10 members of the Wild’s roster finished with at least a point — everyone from Marcus Foligno, who leads Minnesota in points (seven) against the Golden Knights, to Matt Dumba who scored his first point against the Golden Knights this season.
The Golden Knights are led by Mark Stone, who has 10 points in seven games against the Wild this season. William Karlsson, Tuch and Chandler Stephenson all have five points. Stone and Karlsson both added two on Monday, while Alec Martinez doubled his season production against Minnesota with two points.
Vegas’s offense was also great for much of the game against the Wild on Monday. Cam Talbot, who now has five games against the Golden Knights, has a .896 save percentage against Vegas. Kaapo Kahkonen, who could start Wednesday’s game, has a .943 save percentage against the Golden Knights this season, including a 26-save shutout.
The Golden Knights have always struggled to move the puck against the Wild, and Monday’s game was no different. Vegas finished with a 25 percent high-danger share at 5-on-5 and a 36.82 percent expected goal share. To put it plain: the Golden Knights got rolled. In franchise history, the Golden Knights are 15th in the NHL with a 47.86 xGF% against the Wild and are 16th with 44.35 HDCF%.
The Golden Knights will have to be better at 5-on-5 Wednesday, especially late in the game, to beat the Wild. They’ve already lost the season set against the Wild, losing their fifth game, but if the Golden Knights avoid losing more ground in the West, that could make up for it.
What to watch for
- The Golden Knights’ man advantage worked on Monday, as the power play picked up their third goal of the season against the Wild. Vegas had it’s second best expected goals total on the power play against the Wild this season — 0.64 — in 5:36, getting four shots on net and two high-danger chances. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said of Vegas’s penalty kill, which, despite allowing just 0.04 expected goals against at 4-on-5, gave up a goal in just 24 seconds of 3-on-5 time. Vegas’s penalty kill has given up four goals to the Wild this season.
- Playing 17 skaters again on Monday, the Golden Knights stuck mainly to the same lines, although William Carrier and Keegan Kolesar played 6:34 with Tuch and 2:28 with Nic Roy — having nearly identical stats with both, although with Tuch the expected goal share rose from 21.5 percent to 40.36. In a game where the Golden Knights were trampled at 5-on-5, that line with Tuch was actually Vegas’s best. With a hopeful Pacioretty return, that line could look to stick together and give Vegas a better chance at knocking off the Wild.
- The Shea Theodore — Brayden McNabb defensive pairing can be a lot better against the Wild — in fact, they need to be. On Monday, the pairing gave up the most expected goals at 5-on-5 (McNabb finished with a team-high 1.31 and Theodore wasn’t far behind with 1.2). That’s the second-most expected goals Theodore has given up against Minnesota this season (sixth-most against anybody) and it’s the second-most McNabb has allowed all season. That pairing should improve Wednesday, which could lead to good things for Vegas./
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.7 FM/1340 AM