Just get through this unscathed.
That’s the normal mindset of any road trip; whether it be three games in four nights, or even four in five.
But six games in nine nights? All on the road? Regardless of the opponent, it’s going to be the most strenuous road trip of the season for the Vegas Golden Knights.
“We have to take our recovery very seriously,” said forward Alex Tuch. “I think the coaching staff and our leadership group has made sure we plan it out and we have that off time and downtime to rest and recover, and we’re not over practicing, because we do have to play a lot of hockey.”
The Golden Knights’ longest road trip of the season starts Friday against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.
Vegas will try to extend its winning streak to five games, which would be a new season-high. This will be the Golden Knights’ first matchup with their heated rivals since Feb. 13, a 3-1 win in San Jose.
The Feb. 25 meeting was postponed due to Sharks forward Tomas Hertl entering COVID-19 protocol
Even though it’s almost been a month since they last played, per usual with this rivalry, there won’t any love lost. Between Jonathan Marchessault cross-checking Sharks defenseman Radim Simek and his teammates not retaliating, to Evander Kane taking a run at Reilly Smith, fireworks might happen.
Tuch even went so far as to say on the AT&T SportsNet postgame show following that game that Kane needed to “look over his shoulder” the next time they meet up.
“It doesn’t matter if nothing happened last game, or something big happened last game. Both teams are going to come out hard and play physical,” Tuch said. “The further down the season, the more games we play, it’s going to get more heated. Play a team eight times, especially San Jose, it’s going to be a pretty physical game tonight.”
But more than the physicality of it all, this is going to test the Golden Knights’ depth. Coach Pete DeBoer has talked about footing the bill when the time comes regarding the postponements and cancelations.
This is the first step in paying it forward.
“You’re asking players to do impossible by showing up every night with the type of energy we need to expend, to play the way we want to play, without rotating fresh people in those spots,” DeBoer said.
DeBoer said the plan is to test the depth and put it to use on this road trip. The goalies, however, were not confirmed. Marc-Andre Fleury is likely to make his 11th consecutive start with Oscar Dansk as the backup.
Robin Lehner did not travel with the team to San Jose, but DeBoer said there is “talk” of him rejoining at the tail-end of the road trip.
“Obviously not optimal, but because of the situation, I think he’s handled it exceptionally well and held up really well,” DeBoer said. “We are getting to a point where we’ve got to look at managing that, or I think we’re risking play falling off, or injury.”
Vegas Golden Knights projected lineup
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Alex Tuch — Cody Glass — Keegan Kolesar
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Ryan Reaves
Shea Theodore — Alex Pietrangelo
Alec Martinez — Zach Whitecloud
Nicolas Hague — Dylan Coghlan
McNabb nearing return
Defenseman Brayden McNabb skated with his teammates at morning skate and is nearing his return to the lineup.
“He is on the trip, getting close to reintegrating with the group,” DeBoer said.
McNabb’s return to the lineup, as noted on VHN last week, is going to be intriguing. There’s no immediate desire to break up the new top pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore, seeing how McNabb has been a top-pair guy since the beginning.
I’d still expect Dylan Coghlan as the odd-man out and McNabb, for the time being, moving to the third pair with Nic Hague.