The Vegas Golden Knights (32-23-4, 68 points) are in a rough spot currently. Despite bringing in a franchise centerman in Jack Eichel, they have lost seven of their last eleven games. The team is now missing eight players due to injury such as captain Mark Stone, and now starting goalie Robin Lehner.
Call it what you want. Injuries, hot goaltenders, coaching, leadership, depth, etc. But the Golden Knights have a game tonight, and against a very good team in the Pittsburgh Penguins (34-15-9, 77 points).
We seem to be saying this a lot as of late but this is a must-win game for the Golden Knights. They are sinking faster than the Titanic in the Pacific Division standings and need to make up for the losses that they have had against basement NHL teams such as the Sabres, Flyers, and Coyotes.
With this game being the second of a back-to-back it is likely that we will see rookie goaltender Logan Thompson get the start for the Golden Knights. In just two career starts Thompson is 1-1 and has only ever played in three career NHL games.
For the Penguins it will be Tristan Jarry who is having a phenomenal bounce-back season with 27 wins and a .920% save percentage. The Penguins are led in scoring by Jake Guentzel who has 58 points in 52 games. Future Hockey Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby has 19 goals and 37 assists for 56 points in 46 points.
Keys To The Game
During Thursday’s preview for the Buffalo game, I had “score” as a key to the game. I felt as if I had to simplify what that meant as the Golden Knights have struggled to do so as of late. But the chances are there. The Hockey Gods are cursing them and there doesn’t seem to be any escape.
The only goal the VGK scored on Thursday was a floating wrist shot from Ben Hutton of all people. Throw puck to the net and good things will happen. The Golden Knights need more of this, more garbage goals. Maybe then the offense will start to flow once more.
Better Breakout Passes
One thing that I saw a lot of in Buffalo Thursday night was weak passes from the Golden Knights defenseman coming out of their own zone. They are trying too hard to make the perfect passes. Instead, the Golden Knights need to simplify their game with their breakout passes and zone entries.
Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore particularly need to be more defensively aware of their surroundings. The more the Golden Knights struggle offensively, the more Theodore and Pietrangelo look to jump up on the play and are then caught pinching.
Embrace the Adversity
Speaking of Pietrangelo, remember in 2019 when the St. Louis Blues were last in the standings and then went on to win the Stanley Cup? I am not saying this will happen this season with the Vegas Golden Knights but anything can happen.
If there is one positive thing all of these losses have given the Golden Knights is that it gives them something to play for. The Golden Knights are in a position, for the first time in their history, where they will have to truly fight to make the playoffs during the stretch run.
Every team goes through its struggles, and we will find out in these coming months what the Vegas Golden Knights are made of as they push for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Projected Vegas Golden Knights Line Combinations
Max Pacioretty- Jack Eichel- Jonathan Marchessault
Michael Amadio- William Karlsson- Evgenii Dadonov
William Carrier- Chandler Stephenson- Nicolas Roy
Jonas Rondbjerg- Jake Leschyshyn- Keegan Kolesar
Nicolas Hague- Alex Pietrangelo
Shea Theodore- Zach Whitecloud
Ben Hutton- Dylan Coghlan
Logan Thompson/Laurent Brossoit
Vegas Golden Knights Special Teams
17.65% Powerplay (26th) and 79.50% Penalty Kill (17th)
PP1: Pacioretty, Eichel, Dadonov, Marchessault, Theodore
PP2: Roy, Karlsson, Stephenson, Pietrangelo, Coghlan
PK1: Karlsson, Roy, Hague, Pietrangelo
PK2: Stephenson, Leschyshyn, Hutton, Whitecloud
Injured Reserve/COVID-19 Protocols/Scratches/Taxi Squad
Mark Stone (back), Alec Martinez (face), Nolan Patrick (head), Brayden McNabb (hand), Mattias Janmark (unknown), Brett Howden (lower-body), Robin Lehner (lower-body), Reilly Smith (knee)
Projected Pittsburgh Penguins Line Combinations
Jake Guentzel- Sidney Crosby- Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen- Evgeni Malkin- Evan Rodrigues
Dominik Simon- Jeff Carter- Brock McGinn
Brian Boyle- Teddy Blueger- Zach Aston-Reese
Brian Dumoulin- Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson- John Marino
Mark Friedman- Chad Ruhwedel
Tristan Jarry/Casey DeSmith
Pittsburgh Penguins Special Teams
21.59% Powerplay (14th) and 85% Penalty Kill (4th)
PP1- Rust, Malkin, Guentzel, Crosby, Letang
PP2- Carter, Rodrigues, Heinen, Marino, Pettersson
PK1- Blueger, Aston-Reese, Dumoulin, Marino
PK2- Carter, McGinn, Ruhwedel, Letang
Injured Reserve/COVID-19 Protocols/Scratches
Jason Zucker, Mike Matheson, Kasperi Kapanen (scratched), Valtteri Puustinen (scratched), Pierre-Olivier Joseph (scratched)
How to Watch/Listen
4:00 pm on At&t Sportsnet, ESPN+, and Fox Sports 98.9 FM Radio.