HOW TO WATCH
Game Time: 5:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Knights on Ice
An Elusive Win
The Kings are still searching for a winning streak of more than two games. Twice this season, they’ve hit the two-game streak (which is less of a streak and more of a … happening, I suppose) but were unable to continue it. Is the third time a charm? The Kings played one of their better full-team efforts against the Golden Knights when they met last, and have had a bit more of a visible compete level since their dud of an outing in Columbus. A win over the best team in the West (Winnipeg) followed by a somewhat-lucky-but-still-a-win over their northern California rivals (San Jose) has to have the Kings feeling good.
With both teams playing the second night of a back-to-back, it will be interesting to see if this is a slow start for one or both teams. Vegas at least has the advantage of not having traveled, though the Kings didn’t exactly have to go that far.
A Welcome Return
Ilya Kovalchuk’s return to the lineup after missing 10 games with injury could have come with a whimper — diminished ice time, no special teams work, a checking role assignment. Instead, Kovalchuk made sure to make some noise with his return. Sure, neither of his goals came at even strength — the game opener was on the power play, and the game winner was during three-on-three play — so there’s still some questions about what Kovalchuk can accomplish while playing alongside less skilled linemates. But he’s certainly put a pause on critics, particularly his own coach, by showing off exactly why the Kings signed him. On the second night of a back-to-back, coming off of surgery, at the age of 35, it’s fair to lower the expectations we may have for Kovalchuk tonight.
But then again, it’s really fun to dream big.
Presume no Austin Wagner for tonight, although he traveled with the team to Vegas rather than being sent back home to LA. There haven’t been any updates on his condition so far. Presume Nikita Scherbak draws back into the lineup in Wagner’s place.
For what it’s worth, Erik Karlsson has been suspended for two games for his hit on Wagner. Player Safety felt that the primary point of contact was to Wagner’s head, hence the suspension.
San Jose’s Erik Karlsson has been suspended for two games for an illegal check to the head on Los Angeles’ Austin Wagner. https://t.co/Z0rvka0KQf— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 23, 2018
Cal Petersen is expected to start tonight. Petersen’s last game was on December 11, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Petersen gave the Kings the chance to win, but the team was just not able to hold back Buffalo, who came from behind to secure the win.
The Golden Knights haven’t forgotten their defeat at the hands of the Kings just around two weeks ago. The Kings haven’t forgotten the hit by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare that took out Kyle Clifford when the teams met. No one’s forgotten the playoffs, either. And with the Golden Knights playing this one on home turf, we can be sure that the game — pre-game festivities, in particular — is going to be full of reminders of that four-game sweep.
So, you know, just be prepared to be annoyed.
On the ice, the Golden Knights are 4-2-2 dating from their last meeting with the Kings until today. In their game yesterday, the Golden Knights led for most of the game until allowing a tying goal by Montreal’s Phil Danault with less than two minutes left in regulation time. Montreal completed the comeback in overtime in a game that saw some old-school Marc-Andre Fleury acrobatic saves, Danault’s first career hat trick, and two goals from Vegas’ Brandon Pirri.
Pirri was called up from the Chicago Wolves, Vegas’ AHL affiliate, largely because of the injury to Max Pacioretty that’s kept him out of the lineup, but also because Pirri was absolutely destroying the AHL. He put up 41 points in 28 AHL games, leading the league in scoring before his call-up. The Golden Knights will be Pirri’s fifth NHL team, after stints in Chicago, Florida, Anaheim, and the New York Rangers. He’s a pure scorer who has had trouble showing the consistency needed to stay in an NHL lineup, but he’s reunited here with Gerard Gallant, who coached Pirri for parts of three seasons in Florida and seems to be able to get the best out of him. Pirri’s playing with confidence, though, so he’s not one for the Kings to overlook, no matter what line he slots onto.
Gallant wouldn’t outright confirm his starting goaltender, but it in all likelihood will be Malcolm Subban. Subban is still looking for his first win of the season. He’s only made five starts, though, as the Golden Knights have been relying heavily on Fleury in net. A pretty stark contrast to last year, when the Golden Knights cycled through five goalies, including both of their AHL goalies and an emergency recall of Dylan Ferguson, signed to a player contract but still in the midst of his major junior career.
Anyhow, Subban hasn’t looked great this season, but his numbers are also a product of the team in front of him. In the six games Subban has played (one game was in relief of Fleury), Vegas has scored eight goals total. His most recent appearance was a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. So it’s not as though he’s getting lit up in every game; he’s just getting no goal support.