After sweeping a tough five-game homestand, the Vegas Golden Knights take a quick road trip to Anaheim to face the Ducks on Sunday night.
The Golden Knights’ run included wins over defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis and Metropolitan Division co-leader Washington, while also snapping Tampa Bay’s NHL-best 11-game winning streak.
It will be a swift turnaround for Vegas, which leads the tight Pacific Division by two points over Vancouver. It will be the third game in four nights for the Golden Knights, who will put a season-best five-game winning streak on the line.
Vegas defeated Florida, 5-3, on Saturday night before hopping a plane for the short one-hour flight to Orange County. Anaheim, which is in seventh place in the Pacific, last played on Friday night, when it was blanked at home by Pavel Francouz and the Colorado Avalanche, 1-0.
“Tomorrow is a tough game,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said following the win over the Panthers. “Three (games) in four (nights) and travel and a back-to-back, so that’s a tough game.”
Considering just six points separate first place Vegas and fifth place Calgary in the Pacific, the Golden Knights can ill afford a letdown against the struggling Ducks.
“Just try and build on this momentum,” said forward Reilly Smith, who scored two third-period goals that proved to be the difference Saturday. “Luckily, Anaheim is a short flight. Just try and get some rest and try and get some legs for tomorrow.”
After the game with the Ducks, Vegas returns home to begin a four-game homestand Wednesday against Edmonton, which is just three points behind in the standings with two games in hand.
“Everyone we play right now is trying to fight for a (playoff) spot,” forward William Carrier said. “We’re trying to fight for a spot. I feel like every game we win (and) we can’t get a stretch from the other teams.”
Vegas is 8-2-1 since its bye week break after the win over Florida and improved to 9-3-2 under DeBoer, who replaced Gerard Gallant as head coach on Jan. 15. The five-game homestand sweep, which also included a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders, was — on paper — the team’s toughest stretch of games this season.
“We just took it one game at a time,” Carrier said. “We knew it was a big stretch for us right now, and I think the team responded. Now we’ve got to get back on the road and try and win there.”
Anaheim has lost its last three games and four of its last five and is just five points in front of the last-place Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks have also lost their last three games at the Honda Center, getting outscored 11-1 in the process.
Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins thought his team played well in the loss to Colorado but ran into a hot goaltender in Francouz.
“I thought we were way better tonight with our compete level,” Eakins said. “I thought we were more physical, which was good. We were structurally good, but we couldn’t get one past that goalie.”
This is the fourth of four meetings between the two teams, with Vegas holding a 2-1-0 edge. However, the Ducks, behind a goal and an assist from Cam Fowler, won the only previous contest in Anaheim, 4-3, on Dec. 27.
–Field Level Media