The Minnesota Wild, in the midst of a four-game winning streak, will try to keep the good times rolling in Sin City as they hop a flight to take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the second game of yet another back-to-back on the road. Coming off a dominant performance against the worst team in the NHL in the Arizona Coyotes, the Golden Knights may give the Wild a little tougher time, but currently sitting in sixth in the Pacific division at 7-6-0, Vegas is not quite the team that made it to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
Much of Vegas’ struggles can be chalked up to injury, as the Golden Knights are currently without the services of Nolan Patrick, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and William Karlsson. Wild fans remember from last season’s first-round playoff series what a difference those guys make, so the fact that Vegas has somehow found ways to win three of their last four (even in ugly fashion like they did in a 4-2 win against the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday) is remarkable.
Chandler Stephenson has continued to succeed despite a merry-go-round of linemates, currently leading the team in points with 13. Johnathan Marchessault holds the team lead in goals with six on a Vegas squad whose scoring has only starting coming along lately. Having started the season going 1-4 and while only netting 2.0 goals per game, Vegas as turned things around on the scoresheet and in the standings, winning six of their last eight on the strength of 3.4 goals per contest.
But while the offense has seemingly turned the corner, defense remain a concern for Vegas. The Golden Knights currently rank fourth from the bottom of the league in shots allowed, and are dead last as a team in expected goals against with 31.89. The fact that they continue to win games is a testament to the play of Robin Lehner, who has been standing on his head despite being shelled on a nightly basis.
Vegas’ special teams isn’t doing them any favors either, as they currently rank 28th in power play efficiency and 23rd on the penalty kill.
For the Wild, coming off last night’s win, Minnesota did not hold practice ahead of tonight’s matchup with Vegas, so expect the same lines as last night:
Foligno - Eriksson Ek - Fiala
Kaprizov - Gaudreau - Zuccarello
Duhaime - Sturm - Hartman
Greenway - Bjugstad - Pitlick
Goligoski - Spurgeon
Brodin - Dumba
Merrill - Kulikov
Cam Talbot will get the start for the Wild after Kaapo Kahkonen held things down for Minnesota against Arizona. Robin Lehner has started 11 of Vegas’ 13 games, so imagine he’ll get the call again tonight.
Another late start, another back-to-back, and another West coast swing this season. When will the NHL schedule makers just admit they hate the Wild? Russo agrees...
No morning skate for #mnwild, but Cam Talbot is expected to start and unless somebody’s banged up, I’d assume same lineup vs #goldenknights.— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) November 11, 2021
On an aside, it’s unfair (to the beat writers) that the NHL EVER schedules second of back to backs IN Vegas, let alone 2 in one season
Puck drops at 9 p.m. Get that coffee ready.
Can the special teams keep it up?
Against Arizona (so take it with a grain of salt), the power play converted twice on three opportunities and the penalty kill was perfect for the third game in a row. The Golden Knights are beatable on both sides of the man advantage coin, so there should be opportunities to be had. Can the Wild take advantage?
Can Minnesota slow down Vegas’ scoring?
The Golden Knights have 16 goals in their last four games, led by Marchessault (4) and Alex Pietrangelo (3) over that span. Mark Stone practiced prior to the Seattle game but didn’t play, so if he goes against the Wild the Golden Knights will welcome what he brings to the top line, having scored 61 points in 55 games last season. Talbot has allowed four goals per game over his last two starts - both wins - but did so with a save percentage of .880 over those games. Minnesota’s defensive pairings have been doing their job, as all three pairings rank amongst the best teams in preventing expected goals per 60 (as seen in the tweet below). The Wild will want more of that against a rested (and perhaps healthier) Golden Knights squad.