The Vegas Golden Knights play their first home game in 22 days when they open a three-game homestand with a Super Bowl Sunday matinee contest against the Anaheim Ducks in Las Vegas.
The Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights last played at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 21 when they defeated the Washington Capitals, 6-2. Vegas then played six consecutive road games, losing the first four (0-2-2) entering their bye week and All-Star break before rebounding with back-to-back 5-1 wins at Nashville and Minnesota on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
With four teams — Vegas, Edmonton, Seattle and Los Angeles — all bunched within three points at the top of the Pacific entering play on Saturday, the Golden Knights, who are just 14-13-0 at home, can ill afford to slip up against the last-place Ducks.
“This is the time that the good teams, they don’t let points slip away,” Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “They (the players) have to understand the urgency when you get into the last 30, 25 games, especially the position we’re in. There are very few teams that can cruise home. I think our guys are veteran enough to know that.”
Vegas will have to do it without All-Star goaltender Logan Thompson for at least the near term.
Thompson had to be helped off the ice with a non-contact left leg injury 1:19 into the third period of Thursday’s win over the Wild and is listed as week-to-week. Veteran Laurent Brossoit was called up Saturday from the Henderson Silver Knights of the American Hockey League to take Thompson’s spot and will team up with Adin Hill in net.
“He’s been the backbone of our group all year,” center Jack Eichel said of Thompson. “He’s done a lot of the heavy lifting and made a lot of big saves. It’s really hard to see him go down.”
A big key for Vegas down the stretch could be the play of Eichel.
Eichel, who missed 11 games in December with a lower-body injury, had two goals and four points in his first three games back but tallied just one assist and a minus-eight rating over the next nine games. He broke out of that slump with a goal and an assist against Minnesota.
Cassidy speculated the nine-day break may have played a key part in that.
“It looked like he had his burst back, so I don’t know if the break did him some good in terms of the injury he had earlier in the year or not,” Cassidy said. “No idea, but it sure looked like he had his jump back.”
Anaheim had a five-game point streak (4-0-1) snapped with a 6-3 loss to visiting Pittsburgh on Thursday as goaltender John Gibson set a franchise record with 53 saves.
“It’s tough when you give up (59) shots, to stay in a game,” center Trevor Zegras told the Orange County Register. “That’s the way it goes when you play a heavy veteran team like that.”
“We played a hesitant game,” Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins said. “We were chasing the game. We ran into a desperate team. … For a good part of the game, I thought we stood in awe of some of their players.”
It was the eighth time this season that Gibson has had 40 or more saves in a game. One of the other times was when the Ducks faced Vegas.
Gibson made 49 stops and denied two shootout tries in a 3-2 victory on Dec. 28 in Anaheim to even the season series at one win apiece. The Golden Knights won the first meeting, 4-0, in Las Vegas on Oct. 28 with Thompson making 29 saves.
–Field Level Media