Game Day Preview #30, Vegas Golden Knights @ Los Angeles Kings
Do we have to?
HOW TO WATCH
Game Time: 1:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Knights on Ice
Anyone Else Dreading This One?
We all could probably write the script to the pre-game broadcast for this one in our sleep. But do we really need the broadcast to shove last year’s playoffs debacle in our faces? I remember those games quite well, thank you very much. I don’t need long, lingering shots of pucks fluttering past Jonathan Quick as a reminder of exactly how lost the Kings looked when the playoffs rolled around.
I mean, at least it’s a home game, I guess. The real test is going to be when the Kings roll into Vegas (December 23, but who’s counting). Maybe just skip the pre-game for that one.
But no, no matter how hard we try, the narrative of this game is coming in hot and heavy. So long, “it was three to zero” narrative with Sharks games. That’s so 2014. Now we’re going to be reminded of the Kings’ inglorious defeat in last season’s playoffs, the team going out with a whimper. Three goals over four games in a low-scoring affair that didn’t exactly bring in any new casual fans to the fold.
The warning signs of what was to come this season were on display for us during that four game spread. And here we are.
As it goes in hockey, when you have a team where the only thing you can really come up with to complain about your team is who the fourth line left wing is, or who mostly sits as your healthy-scratch seventh defenseman, then you’ve probably actually got a very good hockey team. A luxury of riches, really, when you’re focusing on the thirteenth forward, a journeyman winger usually, maybe not being as good as your pet prospect in the AHL or something.
The flip side of that coin, I suppose, is being excited about waiver wire pickups of players who’ve yet to prove themselves at the NHL level and who their previous organizations essentially gave up on.
And so it goes for the Kings. What have we been most excited about lately? The performance of Brendan Leipsic, a player who is now on his fifth NHL organization since beginning his pro career in 2014, who couldn’t find a fit on a rebuilding Canucks squad. We’ve been waiting to see Nikita Scherbak, a former first rounder whose work ethic has been questioned and whose former coach didn’t mince words, saying that his game wasn’t where it should be.
Yes, Leipsic has been fun to watch, especially if you, like me, are a fan of the “small guy plays big game” sorts of players. Yes, he’s been one of the few players on the team who has looked like he has any life left in him. And yes, seeing if Scherbak can use this as an opportunity to get his career back on track after Montreal gave up on him will be an interesting storyline.
But it doesn’t mean this team is any good. Players go on waivers for a reason. And for every Pontus Aberg in a season — picked up on waivers by the Ducks from the Oilers, Aberg has 15 points in 25 NHL games, a career high — there’s dozens of other players who make no impact whatsoever.
Anyway. Leipsic’s been fine. His first goal as a King was pretty nice, and he’s given some life to that second line. (Sorry, Kyle Clifford, but you’re not a second rounder.) Austin Wagner was returned to Ontario in order to make room to Nikita Scherbak, who will probably debut tonight on the third line alongside Adrian Kempe.
Get excited about the new kids, I guess, because there’s not much else on this team to keep one’s attention.
The Golden Knights struggled out of the gate this year, taking until their sixth game to collect a regulation win. New acquisition Max Pacioretty was injured, and then struggled, and now appears to be back to his regular self. Other new acquisition Paul Stastny was injured in early October and has yet to return to the lineup. Erik Haula’s knee injury last month has thrown the highly regarded depth scoring for the Knights all out of whack. And I’m not very good at math, but William Karlsson (nine goals in 30 games) is still going to have a very good season but probably is not going to suddenly heat up and match his 43-goal outburst from last year.
But any rumors of the Golden Knights regressing to what everyone thought an expansion team should look like are greatly exaggerated. They’ve been putting up a ton of goals lately: in seven of their past ten games, they’ve scored three or more goals. They hung eight goals on a hapless Chicago team after Thanksgiving. Six against the Oilers and the Sharks. Five against the Capitals, in a wild affair that saw Nate Schmidt score the game winning goal.
Now that they seem to have found their footing, the Golden Knights are good and fast and scary and I’m reasonably certain Willie Desjardins isn’t going to have an answer for them.