In what has been one of the more surprising stories in the NHL this year, the Vegas Golden Knights are the best team in the NHL - measured strictly by winning percentage (.875.) They have started out red hot. The strip-in-the-middle-of-July hot.
How are they doing this?
With a GM who was not shy to say “We’re going to be bad for the next 2-3 years”, they have defied even their own expectations. George McPhee, General Manager for the Knights, was gung-ho on passing immediate talent for stockpiling draft picks. McPhee also loaded up with 2018 UFA’s at the expansion draft in hopes of dealing them at the deadline for even more picks.
This team was supposed to be bad.
Compound the fact that the Golden Knights are without their starting and back-up goaltender’s, they are now left with 2 guys who started the year in the AHL. Oscar Dansk is the starting goaltender for the Knights. Who?
For the advanced analytics people out there, the Golden Knights are even defying the ever popular and loved Corsi score, ranking 28 out of 31 teams on 5v5 hockey at 46.64%. The Golden Knights also rank as one of the “luckiest” teams in the NHL with a PDO (sum of teams shooting percentage and save percentage) score of 103.4. Anything above 101 is regarded as playing with house money.
A regression is ultimately coming their way, right? The Corsi truther’s said the same thing about the Avs hot start in the 13/14 season and we ended up winning the division.
It’s in the Golden Knights best interest to start finding it’s way to the median. Or they may choose to let the chips fall where they may.
The Avalanche played a much better game against Dallas than they have the past couple of games. Because of this don’t expect many changes to be made to the lines. That’s unfortunate because the Ghetto/Mack/Rants line got absolutely shellacked on Tuesday.
Gabriel Bourque and A.J. Greer drew into the lineup and played as good of a game as you can expect from those two. A.J. Greer was pesky in front of Bishop and the Avs need some of that grit for a very inexperienced Golden Knights team. Kerfoot is likely to center those two again tonight with some additional time spent on the PP. He’s too good of a player to be holding down the “4th” line.
Colin Wilson will not play. He’s still considered day-to-day.
Who we can expect back in the lineup is Patrik Nemeth. One of the Avalanche’s unsung heroes so far this year. He’s been exactly what the Avs needed on the blue line. Reliable. Smart. Steady. Only if he can stay healthy. Something he’s had trouble with in the past.
We will see a change in the D pairings. It looks as though Big Z will get the night off tonight and sit in the press box with his Russian counterpart Andrei Mironov. Anyone who watched the game on Tuesday could probably see this one coming. He did not look great. Making mental mistakes all over the ice and it cost him this game. We can expect Lindholm, who was paired with EJ late in the game vs Dallas, to take Big Z’s spot on the left side.
Nemeth will be back with Barrie which has been a very dependable and consistent pairing so far this year. Did I mention that Barrie is tied on the team in points with 8?
Barberio had a strong game on Tuesday and looks to be much more comfortable out there after being scratched for the last few games.
Lindholm-EJ— J.J. Jerez (@JJoftheYear) October 26, 2017
Z-Miro aka Murah
Vegas Golden Knights
James Neal has been a big contributor as to why this team is doing so well. He has 8 points in 8 games and leads the team in goals with 6. Their first line of Perron/Eakin/Neal, who on any other roster would be an ok 2 or solid 3, have played fantastic together. They account for 20 points of the 27 goals Vegas has scored.
Though their power play ranks 25th in the league, it has been deadly as of late. Having Jonathan Marchessault back is paying dividends on the first power play unit. He’s found chemistry with former Florida Panther teammate Reilly Smith. The Panthers are probably kicking themselves for letting those 2 go to Vegas.
Who will not be dressing tonight is the highly touted Russian, Vadim Shipachyov. He was one of the first players Vegas signed before the expansion draft in hopes that he’d become their #1 center. On par with how the season has gone so far for Vegas, things haven’t gone as planned and he’s been sent down to their AHL affiliate in Chicago. We recently wrote a piece about the Avalanche possibly exploring options for Shipachyov. You can read that here.
The defensive pairings have been relatively unchanged all season. Luca Sbisa, not known for his offensive prowess, leads all defencemen in points with 5, all assists.
In fact, 5 out of the top 10 leaders in points for the Golden Knights are defencemen. I wouldn’t expect this to continue seeing as they don’t have a #1 offensive defencemen on the blue line.
But what they lack in elite talent on the back end, they make up for in depth. All of the Vegas Golden Knights defenders play a strong game and are tough on the puck. They do however give up 33.8 shots against per game, a few more than the Avalanche average of 31.4
Semyon Varlamov will get the nod between the pipes tonight. It will be Varlamov's fourth start in the span of five games. He has a 4-2-0 record, 2.34 GAA, and .929 save percentage in six contests this season.
Vegas hasn’t announced a starting goaltender for tonight but we can expect to see Oscar Dansk across the ice from Varly. He’s riding a 2 game win streak in his first 2 NHL appearances beating both the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Not the easiest first wins of a young goaltenders career.
On paper, this is a game the Avalanche should win handily. But so far Vegas has flipped the script on handily this year and have won 7 of their first 8 games. The honeymoon period might be coming to end for the Golden Knights and it will be up to the Avalanche to bring them back to reality.
How to Watch/Listen
As always the game will be on Altitude, puck drop at 4:00 pm MDT.
You can also listen to the game with our friend Marc Moser on Altitude Sports Radio 950AM.