Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the “Wednesday Night Hockey” games on NBCSN in his Weekes on the Web blog.
The Vegas Golden Knights seek to gain ground on the first-place Colorado Avalanche in the Honda West Division when they visit the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1).
Vegas (28-11-2) trails Colorado by four points in the Honda West Division. It has defeated Los Angeles (16-19-6) five of seven times heading into the final game of the season series, including 4-2 on Monday.
Here’s my breakdown of the game.
Pluses: The Golden Knights have depth at every position. They are stocked at forward with five players who have scored double-digit goals: Max Pacioretty (20), Alex Tuch (14), Mark Stone (13), Jonathan Marchessault (11) and William Karlsson (10). They’re deep at defenseman with Alex Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez and Shea Theodore, and have two ace goalies in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. Fleury is climbing the NHL wins list and will pass Hockey Hall of Famer Ed Belfour for sole possession of fourth place with his next victory (485). Lehner is 6-0-1 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .931 save percentage since returning from a concussion.
Because of their excellent defense and goaltending, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are one of the best penalty-killing teams in the NHL at 85.2 percent, second behind the Boston Bruins (85.7 percent). It’s why they are 16-2-0 when leading after the first period and 21-2-2 when scoring first.
Vegas acquired forward Mattias Janmark-Nylen in a three-team trade with the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks on Monday. Janmark, who can also play center, scored 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 41 games for the Blackhawks. Let’s not forget how valuable he was to the Dallas Stars last season on their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Minuses: Ideally, they would like a No. 1 center, which is why I believe they were trying to trade for Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. Chandler Stephenson has played that role for most of the season and Karlsson is capable as well. But if they have one weakness, it would be the lack of a true No. 1 center.
The Golden Knights have scored 3.22 goals per game but are struggling on the power play (24th, 17.7 percent). With Pacioretty, Theodore and Stone, that number shouldn’t be that low.
Pluses: Center Anze Kopitar, defenseman Drew Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick are leading by example. Kopitar, 33, leads the Kings with 43 points (nine goals, 34 assists) and Doughty, 31, is second (30 points; eight goals, 22 assists). Quick, 35, is 8-8-2 with a 2.93 goals-against average, .894 save percentage and two shutouts.
They have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. Forwards Gabriel Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Blake Lizotte, and defenseman Mikey Anderson, are several young players who have made an impact this season. Then there’s defensemen Kale Clague and Tobias Bjornfot, and forward Arthur Kaliyev, who have gotten their feet wet. And it won’t be long before we see center prospects Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte playing in Los Angeles.
The Kings have made big strides and are six points behind the fourth-place St. Louis Blues in the eight-team West, where the top four teams will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That has to be exciting for them this late in the season.
Minuses: They have been very inconsistent. I know you could say that about many teams, but they haven’t won consecutive games since Feb. 22 and 24. And the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Following this game, the Kings play two games at the Avalanche on Friday and Sunday.
Losing Jeff Carter is a big blow. The center was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday and will have a shot to win the Stanley Cup for the third time. Carter played a big role in the Kings winning the Cup twice in three seasons (2012, 2014) and was a part of their core, but trading him does give younger players a chance in the lineup.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How does Janmark fare if he makes his Vegas debut?
2. Do the Kings come out with intensity?
3. Can the Golden Knights’ power play contribute?