Tonight will see the recently healed take on the walking wounded as the Vegas Golden Knights faceoff against the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs at T-Mobile Arena.
By recently healed we of course mean the Vegas Golden Knights (10-9-3) who absolutely smoked the Calgary Flames on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, while the Maple Leafs (9-9-4) are the walking wounded.
Toronto haven’t won a game since they beat the Knights in Overtime on Nov, 7, dropping five straight including a 6-1 hammering at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins and going 0-4-1 in that span.
And, not surprisingly given the hotbed that is the Toronto media, Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock is under severe pressure and is facing a plethora of calls for his job.
Granted, the Maple Leafs aren’t living up to expectations given the young talent and firepower they have amassed, with the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner all elite scorers in the NHL.
However, it is important to look at the bigger picture here. First and foremost, every team goes through slumps during the course of the regular season, the Knights should know, while the Leafs have had to deal with a slew of injuries this year with Marner currently out with a lower body injury.
As such, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a wounded animal right now and that could spell disaster for the Golden Knights tonight.
After all, we saw first hand how good this Leafs team can be earlier this month after a Tavares goal won the game in Overtime, while Matthews also got on the board in that contest.
But there is no doubt that they are in a rut right now and their power play, which was meant to be elite, currently ranks 22nd in the NHL (16.7), while their penalty kill is also worse than average with a percentage of 75.0, which is ranked 25th.
They are also currently averaging 3.18 Goals For Per Game, which is ranked 12th, so they can score but it is their defense which is their biggest and most glaring flaw, with the blueline giving up an average of 3.41 Goals Against Per Game (ranked 23rd).
It was reported that Leafs Captain John Tavares along with Rielly had a meeting with Mike Babcock this week in order to try and plot a way out of this rut, so they will be playing with added motivation tonight.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, tonight will be all about building off the 6-0 blowout win over the Calgary Flames and trying to build some momentum after dropping five straight prior to Sunday.
They got a complete team effort against the Flames and Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 34 saves for his second shutout of the year on Sunday, will get the start tonight as he goes in search of an historic 450th win in the NHL.
Nick Holden will remain the only healthy scratch for the Golden Knights, and forward William Karlsson will be looking to continue to ride the hot hand after recording six goals and seven assists in his last 11 games, including three goals and three assists in his last three outings.
Mark Stone and Paul Stastny both broke out of their respective slumps while Nate Schmidt achieved a career-high with four points (four assists) in one game, and the Knights are going to need a big effort from every single player in order to beat the Maple Leafs.
And those sentiments were certainly echoed by Vegas Head Coach Gerard Gallant, who is well aware of the task facing his team as he made clear at his pregame press conference today:
“We need to try our best. It was a good game against them last time, it was two evenly-matched teams and I thought it was a real good hockey game. I expect the same tonight. They are missing (Mitch) Marner who is a really good hockey player so we will see what happens, but they are going to be a hungry team like we were the other night. When you are on a losing streak you want to play better and I’m sure they are going to be real good.”
And forward Jonathan Marchessault, speaking to the Vegas Golden Knights, stressed the need to move on from Sunday night and instead focus on tonight’s task:
“We had a lot of positives in that game (against Calgary) but it is in the past so we need to move on and just focus on tonight. As a team we want to have an identity of playing well defensively and limiting chances from the opponent. And you need to manage the puck well against a team like Toronto because with their top players they are going to make you pay.”
And here are the projected lineups for tonight’s game, per nhl.com.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Andreas Johnsson – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Pierre Engvall – Nicholas Shore – Frederik Gauthier
Morgan Rielly – Cody Ceci
Vegas Golden Knights
Jonathan Marchessault – Cody Eakin – Mark Stone
Brayden McNabb – Nate Schmidt
Jon Merrill – Deryk Engelland
Healthy Scratches: Nick Holden
Here is all the essential information you need to know prior to faceoff…
Time: 7:00 p.m. PT
Where: T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas
TV Broadcast: AT&T Sportsnet
Radio: FOX Sports 98.9/1340 | Deportes Vegas 1460
Live Streaming: ESPN+ has a free 7-day trial that includes live streaming for this game on all your smart devices! Besides NHL games, ESPN+ features a selection of live games from MLB, MLS, Serie A, FA Cup, and EFL. Get in on the action with Live UFC Fight Nights, 30+ Top Rank Boxing cards, Grand Slam tennis from Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open.
The Vegas Golden Knights will be looking for their second win of this four-game homestand, but they will need to play a complete game against a desperate Toronto Maple Leafs team who will be scrapping and battling for every loose puck as they look to snap their own losing streak.
Make sure you stick with us for full analysis and a breakdown of tonight’s game!