It’s a day of game-time decisions for the Vegas Golden Knights. Par the course of playing three games in four nights.
Golden Knights captain Mark Stone, and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Brayden McNabb are GTDs for Monday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.
Stone, who was named the NHL’s first star of the week with 10 points in four games, appeared to take a puck to the leg against the Sharks on Saturday. Stone left the game and did not play the final 27 minutes in Vegas’ 4-0 victory.
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer called keeping Stone out “precautionary.”
It goes without saying not having Stone in the lineup is a detriment, but allow a moment to reiterate. The Vegas captain has a four-game point streak going (two goals, eight assists) and is one of the driving forces during the Golden Knights’ league-best six-game winning streak.
Moreover, Stone’s play has vaulted the Golden Knights to the top of the league in points percentage (.786).
“His importance, hard to measure that,” DeBoer said. “He sets the tone every day with his work ethic and his professionalism. His play on the ice is at a level that really forces everyone around him to show up and try to compete at the same level he’s competing at.”
Along with Stone, Pietrangelo is a game-time decision after taking a puck to the arm late in the third period Saturday.
There’s been plenty of talk, from the Golden Knights on down, that Pietrangelo is turning a corner. He’s played well in recent weeks, playing with Shea Theodore for four games then Nick Holden the previous two.
Pietrangelo leads all Golden Knights defensemen with 1.92 points per 60, 6.4 shots per 60, and 0.29 expected goals per 60 over the past five games.
“I think Petro’s game, for me, is starting to go to an elite level here,” DeBoer said. “Every night he’s getting better and making more of an impact.”
McNabb, on long-term injured reserve since Feb. 1, has not played since Jan. 26. Pietrangelo’s usual defense partner, if McNabb doesn’t go tonight, “it’ll be soon,” DeBoer said. However, it sounds more like McNabb will go Wednesday.
As for the game itself, the Golden Knights return to the scene where COVID halted everything for them. Vegas flew to Minnesota for a March 12 game against the Wild, but returned home that morning.
“One of the strangest days of my hockey career,” DeBoer said.
The Golden Knights, the leaders of the West Division in (33 points) with four games in hand, took the first two of eight meetings against the Wild at T-Mobile Arena.
“We beat them twice, so they’re going to be extra fired up for that,” said center William Karlsson. “They’re a tough team. It’s always tough to come in here and play.”
Vegas Golden Knights projected lineup
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Alex Tuch — Cody Glass — Nicolas Roy
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Ryan Reaves
Nick Holden — Alex Pietrangelo
Alec Martinez — Shea Theodore
Nic Hague — Zach Whitecloud
Red-hot goaltending matchup
If all goes according to plan tonight, Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the Golden Knights. Kaapo Kahkonen will start for Minnesota.
It’s going to be a fun battle of two of the hottest goalies in the league. Fleury is on a five-game winning streak with a .955 save percentage and 1.38 goals-against average.
In addition, Fleury’s 19.15 goals saved above expected is tops in the league ahead of Andrei Vasilevskiy (15.95).
Kahkonen, meanwhile, has been just as good. The former AHL goalie of the year has won his last six starts with a .938 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.
If Alex Tuch were literally engulfed in flames, it’d be one time to not call the fire department.
For instance, Tuch is quite literally playing like he’s on fire. His two-goal game on Saturday was his fourth straight with a goal, topping at eight goals in his past seven games.
Tuch’s 12 goals are tied with Max Pacioretty for the team lead. He never had a stretch longer than three games with a goal in his career.
Above all, he’s spearheading a third line that is dangerous for teams to play against. The third line had a 14-2 edge in attempts against the Sharks on Saturday. In other words, good things happen when Tuch gets in open space.