Preview: Golden Knights look to sweep season series against Coyotes to kick off four-game road swing
The Vegas Golden Knights will hit the road for the first time since Jan. 2 when they take on the Arizona Coyotes tonight at Mullett Arena.
Vegas is coming off last night’s dominant 6-2 victory against the Washington Capitals at the tail end of a long — and challenging — seven-game homestand (3-4-0). The win put an end to Vegas’ first three-game losing streak of the season and leaves Vegas with some momentum heading into tonight’s contest.
Saturday’s win was an outstanding team effort from start to finish, which is something the Golden Knights will look to replicate tonight as they wrap up the season series against the Coyotes. The Golden Knights won both previous meetings this season, outscoring the Coyotes 9-3.
Vegas is 18-7-0 all-time against Arizona, including 7-4-0 on the road.
Clayton Keller leads the Coyotes in scoring with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists), and Lawson Crouse has a team-high 16 goals (16-11—27). Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere trails Keller with 28 points on the year (9-19—28), and Jakob Chychrun has 23 points in just 30 games, good for fourth on the team.
However, Arizona’s leading goal-scorer (Crouse) has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury and is questionable for tonight. The Coyotes have not scored a goal in his absence, suffering back-to-back 4-0 shutout defeats against Washington and Dallas.
The Golden Knights have seven players with 30-plus points on the season, including Chandler Stephenson (42), Mark Stone (38), Jack Eichel (34), Reilly Smith (31), William Karlsson (31), Alex Pietrangelo (31) and Jonathan Marchessault (30).
Tonight’s goalie matchup likely will feature Karel Vejmelka for Arizona and Adin Hill for Vegas. Vejmelka is 11-17-4 with a 3.36 goals-against average, .902 save percentage and two shutouts. He is 0-2-0 with a 4.50 goals-against average and .877 save percentage in two starts against Vegas this season.
Hill is 10-4-1 with a 2.65 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 16 starts. If he gets the nod, it will be his first career appearance against the Coyotes.
Arizona has scored an average of 2.54 goals per game while surrendering 3.63, good for 30th and 27th in the NHL, respectively. The Coyotes have the 25th-ranked power play (18.4 percent) and rank 28th on the penalty kill (73.3 percent).
Vegas has gone a combined 3-for-9 on the man-advantage against Arizona this season and has yet to yield a power-play goal against, killing off all six of the Coyotes’ opportunities.
Saturday night’s offensive outburst bumped the Golden Knights’ offense up to 13th overall with an average of 3.23 goals per game; the Golden Knights have given up an average of 2.85, which ranks 12th. Vegas’ power play is clicking at 24.6 percent (good for eighth overall), while the penalty kill is operating at 79 percent (16th).
Keys to the game
- Bring the energy: The Golden Knights got off to a great start last night against the Capitals, scoring in the first four minutes of all three periods (2:17 of the first, 2:15 of the second and 3:59 of the third). It’s difficult to say how much of last night’s blowout was a result of Washington’s failures versus Vegas’ success, but the momentum the win created is something the Golden Knights cannot afford to waste as they embark on a four-game road trip through the end of the month. The Golden Knights did almost everything right last night, winning puck battles and races, defending well, playing a strong transition game and capitalizing on scoring opportunities. They need to do the same tonight as they look to rebound from their worst stretch of the season.
- Score first: The Golden Knights have won five games in a row when scoring the first goal, including last night. It hasn’t happened much of late, but chasing games early has been an ongoing issue for Vegas. The Golden Knights scored the first goal in both previous meetings against Arizona this season. Playing with a lead not only allows Vegas to stick to its game, but it also allows Bruce Cassidy to more evenly distribute ice time, which would be particularly helpful in the second half of a back-to-back. That’s especially true for the newly-reunited top pairing of Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez, who both finished with plus-five ratings against Washington. In last night’s game, all six defensemen played at least 18:04, with no one topping 21:39. Keegan Kolesar played a team-low 10:58, while Stephenson led the way for forwards but still played just 18:53.
- Defend the net: The Coyotes have been shut out in consecutive games and will be eager to avoid making it three in a row tonight against Hill and the Golden Knights. Vegas didn’t allow many chances last night, especially not in the high-danger area. In fact, Washington had just one high-danger chance at 5-on-5 in the first 40 minutes of action (and a total of five for the game). Arizona has won only one of 11 games this month, with the lone win coming in a shootout. The Coyotes have scored just 16 goals in those 11 games and have been held to two or fewer in eight of 11 while being held off the board entirely three times in that stretch. The Golden Knights can’t give a starving offense any freebies; cleaning up rebounds, moving bodies out of Hill’s line of sight and keeping the Coyotes to the perimeter will help keep Arizona at bay.
- Spread the love: The Golden Knights got goals from five different depth players last night: Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy, Michael Amadio, Byron Froese and Paul Cotter (2). A total of 10 players recorded a point in the effort, and three out of four lines (all except the Misfit Line) scored a goal in the win. Given the amount of injuries for which Vegas is compensating, winning by committee and bringing a balanced offense will go a long way towards collecting another two points.
Chandler Stephenson — Jack Eichel — Michael Amadio
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Jonathan Marchessault
Jonas Rondbjerg — Byron Froese — Phil Kessel
Paul Cotter — Nicolas Roy — Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Kaedan Korczak
Ben Hutton — Nicolas Hague
Clayton Keller — Barrett Hayton — Nick Schmaltz
Jack McBain — Nick Bjugstad — Dylan Guenther
Nick Ritchie — Travis Boyd — Christian Fischer
Michael Carcone — Zack Kassian
Jakob Chychrun — Shayne Gostisbehere
Patrik Nemeth — J.J. Moser
Juuso Valimaki — Troy Stecher