Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2021

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Top seed at stake as Golden Knights try to figure out the Avalanche

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Steve Marcus

Vegas Golden Knights center Nicolas Roy (10) passes in the third period of a preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.

The Golden Knights have put themselves in position to claim the Western Conference's top seed for the playoffs when the officially begin next week. All that's left to do is the one thing they've struggled to do the last two seasons: beat the Avalanche.

Vegas has lost the last four meetings against Colorado by a combined 13 goals, so it will be no easy task. But with the top seed on the line and the Golden Knights coming off a commanding effort, they feel good about making sure past is not prologue. Puck drop is scheduled for noon at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

"Yeah, we didn't have our best games against Colorado, there's no doubt about that," forward Reilly Smith said. "They caught us on some bad nights. We expect that to change. Just one of those teams that really got us this year, and the best thing we can do against a team like that is defend smartly and defend quickly."

No team manhandled the Golden Knights quote like the Avalanche this season, with two victories over Vegas by a combined score of 13-4. That including surrendering a season-high seven goals in December when they last met.

Plenty of things are different from their last meeting. The Golden Knights didn't have expected starter Robin Lehner. They didn't have Nick Cousins or Alec Martinez, as all three came over near the trade deadline in February. Vegas also didn't have coach Peter DeBoer, whose San Jose Sharks beat the Avalanche in the playoffs last year. From what he's seen, the Golden Knights are facing a challenge they are ready for.

"The've got it all — they've got depth, they've got superstars at different positions, they can score, they defend better than people give them credit for," DeBoer said. "They're loaded and it's going to be a great test for us."

Those superstars are finalists for the Hart Trophy as MVP and Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Nathan MacKinnon finished fifth in the league with 93 points and Cale Makar led all rookies in points per game as a defenseman.

The scary thing about Colorado is in the regular season, it wasn't the superstars who beat the Golden Knights. MacKinnon had four points, sure, but former Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had five points, and J.T. Compher and Nazem Kadri each had three points. There's plenty of ways that Colorado scores, and that doesn't even factor in Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, who were both 75-plus-point players two years ago.

But the Golden Knights will need to overcome their recent history against the Avalanche in order to secure the top seed. Until Monday they had never overcome a multiple-goal in the third period. Until Thursday they had never beaten the Blues in regulation. This postseason has already shown us that the Golden Knights don't care about the trends, they just want to win hockey games and stake a claim as the best team in the Western Conference.

"I think we have a lot to gain with these extra games before the series starts, and we came in with the mindset that we want to win every one of them," Smith said. "We're focused, we're ready and we're excited about the challenge. It's nice to be able to play hockey again."

TV: AT&T SportsNet (DirecTV 684, Cox 1313, CenturyLink 1760)

Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM

Betting line: Golden Knights minus-105, Avalanche minus-110; over/under: 5.5 (minus-110, minus-110)

Western Conference Round-Robin standings:

Colorado Avalanche: 4 points, 2 games played

Vegas Golden Knights: 4 points, 2 games played

St. Louis Blues: 0 points, 2 game played

Dallas Stars: 0 points, 2 games played

Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points), t-first place, Western Conference Round-Robin

Coach: Peter DeBoer (first season)

Points leaders: Mark Stone (4)

Goals leaders: Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch (2)

Assists leaders: Nick Cousins (3)

Expected goalie: Robin Lehner (3.02 GAA, .889 save percentage)

Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points), t-first place, Western Conference Round-Robin

Coach: Jared Bednar (fourth season)

Points leaders: Seven players (2)

Goals leader: Six players (1)

Assists leaders: Samuel Girard, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen (2)

Expected goalie: Philipp Grubauer (1.01 GAA, .969 save percentage)

Golden Knights projected lineup

Forwards

Chandler Stephenson—William Karlsson—Mark Stone

Jonathan Marchessault—Paul Stastny—Reilly Smith

Nick Cousins—Nicolas Roy—Alex Tuch

William Carrier—Tomas Nosek—Ryan Reaves

Defensemen

Brayden McNabb—Nate Schmidt

Alec Martinez—Shea Theodore

Nick Holden—Zach Whitecloud

Goalies

Robin Lehner, Marc-Andre Fleury

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