Keith Scheessele The Hockey Writers
Golden Knights Grinding up Rival Goalies
The Vegas Golden Knights begin life post-NHL All-Star break with 68 points, tops in the Western Conference and second to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the entire NHL. That means that with more metrics than not, Gerard Gallant’s squad is going to be near the top of the league.
But while the plan before the season began was to pray that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury could get games close enough, late enough, for Vegas to steal a few wins, just the opposite has happened. The Golden Knights are lighting up opposing netminders. And they’re doing it regularly. Against the most elite competition the league has to offer.
Some of the league’s top goaltenders have a loss to Vegas on their resume, and they’re often especially ugly. Of the NHL’s last five Vezina Trophy winners, only Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins has a win against the Golden Knights this season. That was a 2-1 decision on Nov 2. Two weeks earlier Rask and the Bruins were on the wrong side of a 3-1 game.
The post All-Star break slate for Vegas begins with a formidable test. Calgary’s Mike Smith is having a career rejuvenation of sorts. This season with the Calgary Flames he sports a .926 save percentage and a GAA of 2.39, both good for top 10 in the league. If he keeps those numbers up, they will be his most impressive statistical efforts since he posted numbers of .930 and 2.21 with the Arizona Coyotes in 2011-12.
Vegas has gotten to some really good goaltenders, though.
The week before the All-Star break, the Golden Knights hit last season’s Vezina winner for five goals, the most he’s allowed against a Western Conference opponent this season. And it all happened so fast.
The Blue Jackets held a 2-1 lead eight minutes into the second period when Colin Miller struck with his seventh goal of the season to tie the game at two. Less than two minutes later the game was 3-2. Two and a half minutes after that it was 4-2.
The final tally was a 6-3 Vegas decision. A pair of goals came from William Karlsson, Bobrovsky’s teammate last season, who the Golden Knights claimed in last summer’s expansion draft.
It was just the 10th time in the last 139 contests, dating back to 2015, that Bobrovsky had yielded five or more goals in a game. He’ll have his opportunity for revenge when Vegas travels to Columbus on March 6.
Like Bobrovsky, Hellebuyck gave up a five-spot to the Golden Knights. That came in a 5-2 decision on Nov. 10, Vegas’s only win in a four-game stretch. Unlike Bobrovsky, Hellebuyck has a win against the Knights. But it was an ugly one for both netminders, with the Jets bettering the Knights 7-4 on Dec. 1.
It probably won’t be much of a surprise that the 5.42 GAA Hellebuyck holds against Vegas is easily his worst among Western Conference opponents. In the loss on Nov. 10, he only faced 22 shots, his fifth-lowest total of the season. His .773 save percentage in that game is his worst this season, and the second-worst in his career when he’s faced more than 15 shots.
Still, Hellebuyck is among the best in the league. He ranks sixth in GAA and his four shutouts are tied for second in the NHL. His next shot at figuring out the blistering Knights offense will come Feb. 1 when the Jets host Vegas in Winnipeg.
Fleury versus Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final? I’d watch that. I’d watch that on repeat.
If that dream matchup were to come to fruition in June, it would be hard to argue that it’s not the Golden Knights who would have the upper hand. As of Jan. 30, anyway. The Knights swept the Lightning this season, and to this point are the only team to deal Tampa Bay two losses.
And by Vasilevskiy’s standards, they weren’t pretty. In both losses he gave up four goals, accounting for 20 percent of the games he’s hit that number. By comparison, he’s got seven shutouts this season, most in the NHL. He’s blanked the Blues, Wild, Flyers, Maple Leafs, and Blackhawks, who all rank in the top half of the league in goals scored.
Will we be lucky enough to see Tampa Bay and Vegas battling for the Cup? In both games, it was 2018 NHL All-Star James Neal who kicked off the scoring for the Golden Knights. Root for these two to meet in the Final. It would provide all of the entertainment value that hockey fans deserve.
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