The Honda West Division is a strange division indeed. There are more questions than certainties, but it’s time to take a stand. Here’s how the division will finish this season.
Out of the Playoffs
I hate to lump the California teams into this together, but they’re all in trouble this year. I don’t care about claims from the Sharks about how dominant Erik Karlsson has looked at camp. Quinton Byfield isn’t even starting with the LA Kings, just like Trevor Zegras isn’t starting with the Anaheim Ducks. Even if they did they’re not going to resurrect those franchises in their rookie seasons. The Sharks haven’t upgraded in net no matter what they tell you. John Gibson can’t score goals for the Ducks. LA… well… yeah. There’s not a whole lot to get excited about if you’re a California hockey fan.
In this category we have two teams going opposite directions. The Arizona Coyotes are in a rebuilding phase that’s just starting under Bill Armstrong and are going to trend further down this season as Armstrong figures out who he likes and who he doesn’t over the course of the regular season. I’m not saying they can’t turn it around, but they’re going to get worse before they do.
The Minnesota Wild are at least getting better under Bill Guerin, who has wasted no time in remaking this team. Many figured when Guerin took over he’d give it some time to look at his roster, but changes began almost immediately and paid dividends. I like that Guerin has been bold and makes no apologies for doing what he can to realize his vision for the team. That said, they’re going to have to improve on what we saw last year to make the playoffs in the HWD. I believe they will get into the post-season but that’s about it. In another year or two and with a few more moves (and perhaps being rid of either of those massive albatross deals to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise) the Wild will be a team to be reckoned with.
The Cream of the Crop
This leaves the remaining three teams in the division at the top. The St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights are teams that have it together right now. St. Louis still has the bulk of its Stanley Cup winning team on board, except for captain Alex Pietrangelo who is now in Vegas. Torey Krug has come in to try to fill Pietrangelo’s skates and may be able to do just that. One other massive thing in St. Louis’ favor is that they can bang bodies and wear teams down, something I consider a massive key to playoff success.
However, the Blues aren’t sneaking up on anyone. Neither are the Avalanche. Boasting perhaps the best all-around player in the game with Nathan MacKinnon and a future Norris Trophy winner in Cale Makar, the Avs are stacked. But I’m still not on board with the goaltending tandem. I think the Golden Knights are deeper. And if teams figure out how to shut down the top line for Colorado, there’s not quite as much depth scoring as Vegas has.
Yes, I believe the Golden Knights will be the class of the HWD this year. They are simply deeper and more talented than any other squad in the division.
Here’s my predicted order of finish:
- Vegas Golden Knights
- St. Louis Blues
- Colorado Avalanche
- Minnesota Wild
- Arizona Coyotes
- Anaheim Ducks
- LA Kings
- San Jose Sharks
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
A wild night in Vegas: Golden Knights’ comeback one for memory books
It wasn’t the Annexation of Puerto Rico, but it might have been more historic.
As Mark Stone creeped toward the goal line, puck intact, he waited until the last possible moment to find a cutting Max Pacioretty in front of Cam Talbot.
Pacioretty, on the precipice of vomitting after chasing Kirill Kaprizov for nearly a minute, had enough in the tank to finish a 2-on-1 and steal victory from the jaws of defeat for the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s a 5-4 overtime victory that will go on the list of memorable moments for this 4-year-old franchise. On a night where 2,605 fans were allowed in T-Mobile Arena, the first such occurrence in 363 days, the Golden Knights rallied from two goals down in the third for a rare victory against the Minnesota Wild.
It wasn’t the usual 17,500-plus that have been known to pack “The Fortress,” but the impact they brought was more than enough on this night.
“Our fans are, by far, the best in pro sports,” Stone said. “This arena is the best arena in sports. They bring it no matter what. You could feel the energy skating out for warmup.”
You can hardly script nights like this. It’s a game featuring the top two teams in the West Division; the Golden Knights have long struggled against the formidable foe from Minnesota. Coming into Monday, the Golden Knights were 2-6-0 against the Wild and lost five of those matchups by at least two goals.
So, of course, the Golden Knights fell behind two goals entering the third period in one of the wildest second periods this season.
The teams combined for six goals in the middle stanza. Cody Glass got the Golden Knights on the board 7:09 into the frame, but Minnesota got two goals in 1:06 from Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno.
After Pacioretty scored his first of two goals at 13:41, the Wild struck yet again in quick fashion — twice in 19 seconds — from Foligno and Nick Bonino — to take a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Even 12 minutes into the third period, the Golden Knights couldn’t break through Minnesota’s defense. Vegas didn’t have a shot on goal until 11:30 mark of the frame. Then, Nicolas Hague opened the bottle and poured a Haugerbomb from the point at 12:40 of the third to make it 4-3.
It wasn’t a flashy goal, but it woke the Golden Knights up. The crowd, no matter how limited, came to life, and propelled the home team. The Golden Knights outshot the Wild 11-3 in the third period, with six of them coming in the final 7:20 of regulation.
“I think that’s what’s great about our group; we’re never out of a game,” Hague said. “I think we could feel it coming, and for us to be able to keep fighting like that and find a way to get back in that game and get the job done, that’s what we do.”
And yet, despite nine total goals, the best player on the ice didn’t score any of them. Instead, he just had the primary assist on all five on the home side.
Stone waited until the first game with fans, as captain, to put on a performance for the ages. He became the first player since Artemi Panarin, and only the second in 25 years, to record five primary assists in a game.
The only players to have more include some guy named Gretzky (twice), Ron Francis, and Elmer Lach.
Ironically enough, Pete DeBoer joked with Stone at morning skate that he should shoot more. Who needs shooting?
Stone can go from scoring one point in his previous six games to erupting for a career-high out of nowhere. It’s nights like Monday where you can never discount his value.
Look no further than the tying goal from Alex Tuch with 41.6 seconds remaining.
Pacioretty’s bouncing pass from the endboards somehow skipped to Stone. The calm demeanor, from settling the puck down, and finding Tuch in front for the tip in front, is why he wears the ‘C.’
“I think that’s what five primary assists and a bunch of fans gets you,” Tuch said. “That’s why he’s our captain. He comes in every day with that work ethic and that enthusiasm.”
The Wild will remain a thorn in the Golden Knights’ side. They’ll still play each other seven more times, and each meeting likely the equivalent to this slobberknocker.
Wednesday, they’ll do it all again, with fans in the stands yet again, and normalcy somewhat restored.
And for one night, the gold helmets are not cursed. Because even on a night like this, everything is a winner.
“That was the story of the night,” DeBoer said. “What a difference just having them in the building. I thought our players did a great job acknowledging them. Just nice, a sense of normalcy to get people back.”
Vegas Golden Knights Stone Minnesota Wild in OT 5-4
Mark Stone set up every single goal of the game including the game winner for Max Pacioretty in overtime as the Vegas Golden Knights came from behind to top the Minnesota Wild 5-4 at T-Mobile Arena on Monday night.
Stone broke in on the right wing as Pacioretty wove behind him to the left side. After waiting out the sprawling defensive effort from Jared Spurgeon before completing the pas to Pacioretty at the goalmouth. He converted it for his second goal of the game to give the Golden Knights the victory.
Alex Tuch tied the game with a late six-on-five goal to force overtime with just 42 seconds remaining in regulation. He tipped in a pass off the shaft of his stick, beating Alex Staylock over the left shoulder.
Vegas entered the second period trailing 4-2 after a six-goal second period. The Golden Knights scored twice on the power play from Cody Glass and Max Pacioretty. But the Wild capitalized four times on a pair of goals from Marcus Foligno and singled from Jordan Greenway and Nick Bonino to grab the 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves to record his 10th win of the season.
- The 2,600 fans at T-Mobile Arena for the game were not disappointed as the VGK rallied from a two goal deficit to win in OT. You could definitely feel the energy change in the building, even at only 15% capacity. When Nicolas Hauge scored to make it 4-3 in the third period, something just clicked. It’s good to have people back in the building.
- For the second time this season, Marc-Andre Fleury gave up four goals. And for the second time this season, Vegas won when he did. While not his best outing of the season, Fleury still made several key stops along the way to the win. It will be good when Robin Lehner can give him a bit of rest when he’s back in the lineup.
- Every one of the five assists Mark Stone recorded were primary assists, meaning he made the direct pass to set up the goal each time. The five helpers in the game is a career high for Stone as well.
- Vegas is now 9-0-1 when scoring first.
- The Golden Knights scored multiple power play goals in a game for just the second time this season, going 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
- Minnesota extends its unbeaten in regulation streak to seven games at 6-0-1.
Morning Skate Report: Golden Knights welcome back fans with West Division showdown against Wild
The last time the Vegas Golden Knights were supposed to play the Minnesota Wild, the sports world stopped.
Vegas got on a plane March 11, 2020 with the intention of playing a game in St. Paul, Minnesota. The next day, the Golden Knights returned home and wouldn’t play another game until August.
COVID-19 has created challenges far and wide, with many craving even the littlest of normalcy. Sanity returns Monday for 2,600 fans when they enter T-Mobile Arena Monday to watch the Golden Knights take on the Minnesota Wild in a West Division showdown.
“There was a big buzz around the group this morning … about the fact that we’re going to have fans there,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “It’s a great first step on the way back to filling T-Mobile and getting that atmposhere back. Even with the number we’re going to have tonight, it’s a huge boost compared to playing in the empty rink.”
Clark County approved a directive to allow 15 percent of T-Mobile Arena’s capacity, capping at 2,600 fans, to attend Golden Knights games during March. Vegas will play seven times at home this month.
There aren’t many home-ice advantages that rival T-Mobile Arena. Even at its 17,500-seat capacity, the Golden Knights have averaged 18,223 fans during the first three years of their existence.
The Golden Knights’ 75 wins at home since the inaugural season and .676 points percentage at “The Fortress” are top-10 marks since 2017-18.
“Any time you can have your home crowd in the arena and cheering you on, and bring that energy like our fans do, it’s an advantage for us,” said defenseman Zach Whitecloud. “We’re all excited to have them back, and for them to come and watch games in person, we’re excited for them.”
What a treat for fans to come back to, as well. This is a matchup of the top two teams in the West Division; the Golden Knights are atop the division by points percentage (.735) and have a game in hand on Minnesota (.667).
The Wild have been a thorn in the Golden Knights’ collective side since 2017. Minnesota is 6-1-1 in eight all-time meetings with the Golden Knights, with five of those wins coming by at least two goals.
There’s a newfound energy surrounding Minnesota. Normally a grind-it-out, wear-you-down type of team that excels defensively, the Wild have found the scoring touch. They’re 10th in the league in scoring (3.17 per game) with four players with at least five goals.
Leading the way is 23-year-old rookie Kirill Kaprizov, the presumable Calder Trophy favorite at this juncture. Kaprizov, a 2014 fifth-round pick by Minnesota, leads the Wild with 17 points and has registered a point in every game during Minnesota’s six-game winning streak.
“What’s impressive about him is his willingness to do a lot of dirty work, winning battles in the corners, going to the net,” DeBoer said of Kaprizov. “He’s not a big guy, but he’s very strong on his feet. He makes a lot of things happen when he’s on the ice.”
The Golden Knights have already had troubles with Minnesota in the past, but it’s a deeper, more dangerous team this time around. Nevertheless, the fans in attendance tonight will get their money’s worth.
“Their game is real,” DeBoer said. “You look at their lineup, they’ve got a sneaky, deep lineup. It’s a great test for us.”
Vegas Golden Knights projected lineup
Alex Tuch — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Max Pacioretty — Cody Glass — Reilly Smith
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Keegan Kolesar
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Ryan Reaves
Shea Theodore — Alex Pietrangelo
Alec Martinez — Zach Whitecloud
Nicolas Hague — Dylan Coghlan
Nosek in, Roy out
Tomas Nosek will play his first game since Feb. 9 after spending the previous two weeks in COVID-19 protocol.
The fourth-line center will take his place back in the lineup, while Keegan Kolesar will be at third-line right wing with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.
Nicolas Roy will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Nosek said. “It’s been a tough start after COVID, but I’ve been skating for more than a week.”
Nosek’s time away from the team due to COVID did provide a silver lining. His wife Eliska gave birth to their second boy, Matias, on Feb. 20. Their first child, Patrik, last January.
Because of COVID, Nosek said they had to reschedule Eliska’s appointment to induce the labor. They were able to reschedule and Baby Nosek arrived safely and healthy.
“Thank God I was able to be there,” Nosek said. “I was happy so they could reschedule it and I was able to be there. One of the happiest moments of my life. It’s a great feeling to become a dad again.”
Lehner remains out
Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner will not dress for the eighth consecutive game as he continues to deal with an upper-body injury.
Lehner has not played since Feb. 7 with what was considered a “tweak” during morning skate on Feb. 11.
“It’s one of those injuries where, when you get it, you hope it’s a week, but it’s all based on symptoms and becoming symptom-free,” DeBoer said. “There is no timeline on those types of injuries.”
This will be Marc-Andre Fleury’s ninth straight start, and the Golden Knights have gone 5-3-0 with Lehner out. Oscar Dansk is expected to be the backup after winning three consecutive starts last week with the Henderson Silver Knights.
“You’re hopeful that when the injury happens that it’s a quick recovery, but if symptoms persist, it might be a little longer,” DeBoer said. “It’s heading in a positive direction and hopfeully we’ll see him soon.”