The Vegas Golden Knights have reached the stretch run, entering the final quarter of the season on Friday night with a 4-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks. Vegas Hockey Now’s Tom Callahan takes a look at how the remainder of the schedule breaks down for the VGK and what to expect with the playoffs a month away. Can the VGK win the Honda West Division, or are they playing for second place?
What remains for the Golden Knights is three games against the San Jose Sharks, and two each against the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche. Colorado, Minnesota and St. Louis currently have a win percentage over .500, and the Coyotes are dead-on .500 heading into Sunday.
That leaves five games against teams with a record under .500 in San Jose and Anaheim, with four of those slated for this week. It goes without saying this is the week where the Golden Knights can get themselves in a good position for the stretch run, perhaps even regaining first place in the Honda West Division before the first of two critical games against the Avalanche on April 26.
But don’t for one minute think the Ducks and Sharks are a cake walk. San Jose has suddenly found itself in the middle of a five-game losing streak after seeming to figure some things out, and that makes them dangerous and frustrated. Anaheim has given the Golden Knights fits at various points this season and if John Gibson is in net, the Ducks always have a chance.
Last time out against Anaheim, Vegas seemed to play one of its more complete games of the season at even strength. They dominated the Ducks in the offensive end, setting up chance after chance. Gibson did as much as he could but in the end the VGK were too much. If The Golden Knights are able to take all of the elements that were successful in that game and continue forward with them, they could indeed end up winning the HWD. And in this division, facing the fourth seed will likely make a huge difference.
Projecting the rest of the Vegas Golden Knights schedule, I see it breaking down with a mark of 9-4, meaning 18 more points and finishing with 80 on the season. Colorado, which is two points ahead with the same amount of games remaining, has an easier schedule the rest of the way. They have a total of eight games against the Sharks and LA Kings, three with St. Louis, and the two with Vegas. They could easily pick up 16 points against the Sharks and Kings and really need only two more to shut the door on a VGK team that goes 9-4.
In order to change the math, Vegas must go 5-1 against the Avalanche, Blues and Wild. That’s no easy task, as they’ve struggled with all three of those teams at one point or another this season. St. Louis might be the best matchup, but Minnesota is actually the one that worries me most because they work hard every game. It will take complete efforts to go 3-1 or 4-0 against the Wild and Avalanche.
Changing the record to a 5-1 mark in that stretch could give the Golden Knights another four to six points on the season total, and beating the Avalanche twice (in regulation) would take away four points from them. Then the pressure shifts to Colorado to indeed sweep those eight remaining games against the California teams and take two-out-of-three from the Blues. That would give them 20 more points for a total of 84.
Now, Vegas needs to go 11-2 to force a tie at the top (and the teams are tied currently in ROW) or 12-1 to outright win. Not impossible, and playing that kind of hockey heading into the playoffs would be incredible. But being realistic, it’s going to take Vegas sharpening its game to look much more like Friday night’s Ducks game every single outing to accomplish.
Vegas Golden Knights fans need to buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish, and every single game matters in the chase for this year’s HWD crown.