Two teams headed in completely different directions will tangle tonight in Sin City when the Arizona Coyotes will attempt to solve the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time this season.
It's been all Vegas in previous four games
The season finale between the two Pacific Division teams means practically nothing as the Golden Knights have clinched the playoffs and have a five-point lead over the streaking San Jose Sharks who have gained 17 points in their last 10 games.
In the four previous games this season the Golden Knights won two in regulation and two in overtime. They have outscored the Coyotes 14-7 in the process.
- The big guns for the Vegas team in these games has been Jon Marchessault with two goals and three assists. James Neal has had three goals in the first two games the teams met at the beginning of the season in October '17.
Keeping those scorers at bay will not be easy, but is essential in shutting down the Vegas attack.
Then, the Coyotes will need to contend with solving Marc-Andre Fleury (28-11-0, 2.12 GAA) who won two of the four games. He had a stellar .952 save percentage, but didn't play in the last two games due to his concussion injury issues.
The two games won by Fleury were only three days apart to start the season, and 'Flower' only gave up three goals.
Coyotes have been playing well
Since 2018 rang in, the Coyotes have a respectable 17-12-6 record, or a .571 winning percentage. If only they played that well all season, they would be in the realm of making the playoffs.
Lately they have been paced by rookie sensation Clayton Keller who is sporting an eight-game scoring streak with five goals and eight assists.
Their horrendous start of not winning a game in regulation until game 21 was their downfall.
Their 2018 winning percentage is just below that of the New Jersey Devils season-long mark of .579, and they are residing in the last playoff spot in the East.
Keys to a win in Vegas
- Keep Neal, Marchessault (35-G, 47-A), and William Karlsson (40-G, 29-A) off the scoreboard but won't be easy.
- Even without two key defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers who are both injured, the Coyotes managed to beat the team tied for first in the NHL when they bested the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night 4-1. They must try to repeat that performance if they stand a chance against the Golden Knights.
- Continue to get good goaltending from Antti Raanta and bottle up the Vegas forwards before they get started in their own zone. They limited the Lightning to just 20 shots on goal, and that is good defensive awareness.
- Give the puck to Clayton Keller. The first-year center now holds the record for goals (23) and points (61) for a Coyote rookie. Good things usually happen when he has possession of the puck.
- Avoid the boisterous crowd in T-Mobile Arena and silence them with at least a two-goal lead. The thing is the Golden Knights have great comeback ability.
- Hope that the Vegas team will be in a mood to not care about the game much since they have clinched a playoff spot and don't want to risk any injuries before the playoffs.
Road trip record
This will be the fifth game in the Coyotes six-game end-of-season road trip with the last game against their arch-rival Los Angeles Kings tomorrow night in L.A.
They are 2-2 so far and hope to finish the trip with two more wins. They are gaining momentum they hope to bottle up for next season.
Even if they can split the final two games it will be a successful road trip.
Success breeds more success, and this team may be ready to break out of it's playoff drought next season.
This writer is predicting that the Arizona Coyotes will come away with a 3-2 win against the disinterested Vegas Golden Knights.
The Coyotes players have much more to prove than their opponents who are preparing to be the first expansion team in the NHL to make the playoffs since 1979/80.