Preview: Los Angeles Kings (0-0) @ Vegas Golden Knights (0-0)
Hi. Hello. Welcome. Are you cool? We’re cool. We’re super cool. We’re not at all worried—
Okay. Okay. That’s out of my system now. Just relax. Play it cool. It’s just another game, right? Right.
Okay. We’ve talked about numbers — the Golden Knights have the slight statistical edge going into tonight’s matchup, but it’s not so much of a mismatch as you’d usually think, when looking at a number one seed versus a wild card.
And we’ve talked about rivalries, and how this one got here way quicker than any of us could have imagined.
But let’s talk about tonight, now.
Both of these teams making the playoffs is an accomplishment, first off. Vegas wasn’t expected to be anything, throwing off pretty much every statistical model and prediction made at the start of the season. The Kings were expected to miss the playoffs, under the assumption that the top players were going to continue to decline.
Well, here we are.
The Golden Knights have their core lineup back to full health, with top line winger Reilly Smith sticking in the lineup after missing nearly all of March with an injury. He played in the last regular season game, which was his first return to action. Jonathan Marchessault is in a similar situation, having sat out several games before returning to face Calgary. Some time off for Vegas’ top players to nurse injuries before the playoffs certainly doesn’t hurt their chances.
Absent from the lineup will be pest extraordinaire David Perron, so everyone waiting for the Quick/Perron hatefest to bloom in full is going to have to hang out a little longer.
And as for Ryan Reaves? You know, this guy?
Reaves: "Two bad calls. I would love to see this team in the playoffs. They won't get these calls in the playoffs."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 28, 2018
He’s a healthy scratch. So maybe coach Gerard Gallant has figured out what role Reeves has in the post-season, and that it’s going to involve sitting in the press box. That’s good news for Vegas; bad news for the Kings, who seemed to figure out exactly how to get Reeves off his game and into the penalty box during the last time these teams met.
While the Golden Knights’ defense doesn’t contain a Drew Doughty, someone who can change the game no matter the situation, they’re a group who’s managed to work surprisingly well together. A weaker player like Deryk Engelland, who posted the lowest Corsi of active Vegas defenseman (48.44%) is paired with Shea Theodore, a younger player still settling into his role in the NHL, but who is quick enough in both thinking and movement to be a difference-maker.
For the Kings, the biggest question going into tonight’s game is the blue line. Jake Muzzin is closer to a return appearance, but isn’t quite ready yet. Derek Forbort isn’t expected back any time soon. So the defense stays the same as it did during the season closer against Dallas. Oscar Fantenberg didn’t acquit himself as well as we’d like, but, then again, neither did the rest of the team. So he draws in again, skating opposite of Drew Doughty. The biggest question will be how long will it take for John Stevens to shorten his bench, if things start to go awry.
Alex Iafallo appears set to rejoin the team, after dealing with a minor upper body injury. While Trevor Lewis hasn’t appeared at skate — for good reason — he most likely will be back in the lineup tonight, providing a little more stability on the third line. (He can also possibly bring a scoring touch — he’s due for some New Dad Goals now)
The Golden Knights are a team who like to come at you fast and aggressive. While teams are often more tentative in the first few games of a playoff series, trying to get a feel for how the game is going to flow, I don’t see any indication that Vegas is going to let up. While it’s a completely different team, under very different circumstances, the last time Gallant coached a team to the playoffs, the Florida Panthers opened their first game of the playoffs outshooting the Islanders 16-12 in a first period that included four goals total. Gallant’s not inclined to have his team play any differently in the playoffs. The Kings, notorious for their slow starts, might have to weather an early onslaught from the Golden Knights, and Jonathan Quick is going to have to be extremely sharp.
Buckle up. This team wasn’t predicted to be here, so let’s just enjoy the ride.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Rieder - Carter - Toffoli
Pearson - Kempe - Lewis
Clifford - Thompson - Mitchell
Fantenberg - Doughty
Martinez - Folin
Phaneuf - LaDue
Vegas Golden Knights
Marchessault - Karlsson - Smith
Neal - Haula - Tuch
Tatar - Eakin - Carpenter
Nosek - Bellemare - Carrier
McNabb - Schmidt
Theodore - Engelland
Merrill - Miller
Opposing Preview: Knights on Ice