Beyond the rose-colored glasses that envelop Lake Tahoe’s beauty will be an important hockey game Saturday for the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s supposed to be a historic moment for this 4-year-old franchise, playing in an outdoor game. The Golden Knights’ first time on the marquee for such an event doesn’t come inside a stadium nor a ballpark, but a frozen pond off the 18th fairway of Edgewood Golf Course in Stateline, Nevada.
It’s going to be a sight to behold. It will also be the most important game the Golden Knights have played in this condensed season.
“For sure, we want to enjoy it. We want to enjoy the experience,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “Part of the message is going to enjoy this. At the same time, the points are critical, and I know the other team is going to play for keeps. There’s a fine line between enjoying the experience but being ready at game time.”
The Golden Knights will try to rebound from Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas rallied twice to tie the game, but Nazem Kadri’s goal with less than a minute to go thwarted the Golden Knights’ chances of at least a point.
Saturday is the third meeting of a four-game slate between the two teams. Vegas is four points clear on Colorado, but the Avalanche — fresh off a five-game postponement due to COVID-19 protocol — has a game in hand.
Points percentage-wise, the Golden Knights still have a comfortable hold on first place, but the Avalanche are bringing reinforcements to Tahoe.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog and forward Tyson Jost were removed from COVID protocol and are practicing with the Avalanche. Young defenseman and Norris favorite Cale Makar (upper body) is also expected back after missing the past two games.
DeBoer said in a game like this, less will be more. Weather calls for 38 degrees and partly cloudy skies. It doesn’t look like precipitation will be a factor.
Wind, however, absolutely could.
“I think absolutely less is more,” DeBoer said. “We’ll get a chance to practice on the ice surface tomorrow and get a feel. Hopefully, we won’t have to change much. The NHL always does a great job with these facilities.”
This game will be important for the Golden Knights, but will also bring back memories of childhood past. A lot of the Golden Knights players grew up with frozen ponds in every other backyard or on every block.
“From September to May, I was on the outdoor rink having fun,” said defenseman Nick Holden. “When I think of growing up during the winter months, it’d be I come home from school and play on the rink.”
It’s going to be a sight to behold, watching the Golden Knights skate near a golf course on national TV. Hopefully, one day, this will turn into a much grander scale at Allegiant Stadium, or something of the like.
For a COVID-ravaged situation, this is the next best thing, even with no fans watching live.
Lehner not traveling
DeBoer said Thursday he doesn’t expect goalie Robin Lehner to make the trip to Tahoe, almost assuring Marc-Andre Fleury will make his sixth consecutive start.
“I don’t expect him to travel,” DeBoer said, “but improving every day and I expect him back sooner than later.”
Lehner has been out since Feb. 11 with an upper-body injury, going away from the rotation that Vegas used to begin the season. Fleury has filled in well in Lehner’s absence, going 2-2-0 and allowing only five goals to the tune of a .954 save percentage.
Unless anything drastic happens between now and Saturday, expect Fleury to face Philipp Grubauer for the third straight game, and likely with the series finale on Monday in Denver.