The Vegas Golden Knights are riding their five-game winning streak into Edmonton for their second game against the Oilers in as many weeks. Here are your game day notes.
1. After a slow start to the season, the Golden Knights have hit their stride. They’re riding a five-game winning streak and they’ve won six of their past seven games. All of that started a couple weeks ago with that big 6-3 win over the Oilers in Edmonton. During this hot stretch, Vegas put up commanding 2-0, 6-0, and 8-3 wins over Calgary, San Jose, and Chicago.
2. Beating Vegas is very important for the Oilers. The Golden Knights are going to be one of those teams the Oilers need to jump over in order to earn a playoff spot in the Pacific Division. Right now, it looks like Calgary, San Jose, Vegas, Anaheim, and Edmonton are the teams in that mix as the Canucks have predictably collapsed and the Coyotes haven’t taken the step forward many expected.
3. Speaking of success within the division, the Golden Knights have been Pacific killers so far this year. They’re 7-1-1 against Pacific teams with their only losses coming in a shelling by Calgary and a shootout loss to the Flames. The Oilers, on the other hand, are 2-3-1 against the Pacific. That’s a tiny sample size, but they need to be beating teams like Vegas and Anaheim who they’re trying to jump over to get into the playoffs.
4. It isn’t overly surprising to see the Golden Knights pull themselves together. I think we all expected a regression from last year’s shocking, magical season, but Vegas’ roster was always good enough to fight for the playoffs this year. The last time I did Game Day Notes for Vegas and Edmonton, the Golden Knights were 8-11-1. A big part of that was their poor team shooting percentage of 7.2 percent. Again, they weren’t going to score on every tenth shot like they did last year, but they also weren’t going to shoot at 7.2 percent all year either.
5. The Golden Knights weren’t as bad as their record indicated over the first quarter of the season. As I said, their percentages were poor and they were inevitably going to regress back to normal. All season the Golden Knights have been one of the better teams in the league in terms of shot differential and that generally tends to tell us who the good and bad teams are as time goes along. At this stage, only one Golden Knight has a shot attempt differential below 50 percent, and it’s shutdown centre, Cody Eakin.
6. I have a feeling that getting Nate Schmidt back was a big boost for the Golden Knights. He was their No. 1 defender last season and he had to sit out the first 20 games of the season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension. Though he only has one point since returning, Schmidt has logged a team-leading 21:25 minutes per game with a strong 56.5 percent shot attempt differential. Getting a key player back in the mix can do wonders for a team’s morale.
7. Another big driving factor behind Vegas’ turnaround has been Max Pacioretty returning to form. After scoring two goals and four points in his first 16 games with the Golden Knights this year, Pacioretty has found himself in his new home. He has eight goals and 11 points in his last seven games dating back to that win in Edmonton when he busted a seven-game goal drought. After a slow start, he’s now tied for the team lead in goals with 10.
8. Heading into the game against the Oilers a couple weeks ago, Marc-Andre Fleury owned a .901 save percentage. He started all six of Vegas’ wins in their past seven games (their only loss in that stretch came when Malcolm Subban got slammed in Calgary) and posted a .937 save percentage in that stretch. Fleury is now up to a .911 save percentage on the season and he looks much more like the goalie he did last season.
9. I wonder where Valentin Zykov best fits into the Oilers lineup. The top-six looks good right now, with Alex Chiasson scoring on every second shot on the top line and Drake Caggiula and Jesse Puljujarvi providing speed on the second line. The Identity Line obviously isn’t going to be touched, so that would leave Zykov on the fourth line with some combination of him, Ty Rattie, JJ Khaira, and Ryan Spooner. I imagine Zykov will battle Rattie for minutes and Khaira will be the centre on that line. Once Tobias Rieder comes back, though, it’s anyone’s guess.
10. Mikko Koskinen will start his third game in a row for the Oilers. Since he replaced Cam Talbot in net mid-way through that loss to Colorado in November, Koskinen owns a .931 save percentage. There’s no doubt he has the net for now as the Oilers will (and should) ride his hot hand. While Talbot has had a rough go, I certainly wouldn’t just throw him to the wayside. He’s still a good goalie and, as he demonstrated from the bench on Thursday, he’s a great teammate. When Oscar Klefbom scored the go-ahead goal, Talbot was extremely fired up on the bench. He isn’t sitting there pouting that he’s lost his starter’s gig. That’s exactly the type of player you want for your goalie tandem.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/01/2018 – 7:00 am MT