Prior to the season, the expectations for the Vegas Golden Knights probably ranked somewhere between this:
Since then, they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league. Even when they went through eleventy-billion starting goaltenders in their first 20 games (ok, it may have been more like five or six - that’s still more than most teams use in an entire season), most thought they were going to finally be slowed.
Instead, they find themselves sitting in first place tonight in the Pacific Division, having collected 31 points and a 15-6-1 record.
Much like the Dallas Stars, Vegas has been nearly perfect on home ice. They’ve won all but one game at T-Mobile Arena to date (9-1-0 record). They’ll be tough competition for anyone, but may seem nearly impossible to beat for a team that is sporting a disastrous 3-8-1 away from the friendly confines of home ice.
The Stars will roll the same lineup as they had when they entertainingly beat the Edmonton Oilers at the American Airlines on Saturday. They’ll be looking to try to get some kind of run going and start to separate themselves from the bottom of the Central Division, where the bottom four teams are separated by just one point. Maybe the yellow skate laces from Jere Lehtinen’s retirement night will become their good luck charm — the team was wearing them at practice yesterday, according to the always fantastic Mark Stepneski.
Stephen Johns, who left the game on Saturday because of injury, is expected to be cleared to play tonight. That means that the defensive pairings will include Julius Honka once again. It’s possible that Ken Hitchcock is slowly coming around to what most Stars fans believed in the summer, and that is that Honka would be a key part of the transition game. Along with John Klingberg, Honka could provide a different element that allows the Stars to have more than one pairing that can move the puck.
After the game on Saturday, Hitchcock seemed to indicate that Honka may get more playing time in the future. “The way the league is right now we are going to have to find more mobility back there. Whether it is by moving the puck quicker or by skating more. For us to get to another level we will have to look at playing him a little bit."
With additional experience and some confidence, maybe Honka can be part of the turnaround of the Stars season.
The expected lineup for tonight is:
Devin Shore - Jamie Benn - Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark - Tyler Seguin - Jason Spezza
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Gemel Smith - Martin Hanzal - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn
Stephen Johns - Julius Honka
Ben Bishop will get the start in net.
The Stars will have added motivation to win, as they’re doing their annual dad’s trip. (I mean, of course they’re going to take them to Vegas. What other city would you want to go to for a guy’s (or girl’s) trip?) If they don’t put in a good effort, not only will they hear it from the coaches they’ll also have to hear it from the same mentors that often took them to hockey practices as a youth. Better to just win and play the right way, right? We agree.
They’ll match up against a Vegas lineup that does not include Marc-Andre Fleury quite yet (at least, that’s the assumption since he just recently returned to practice with the team from his time out with injury). Vegas lines are expected to look something like this:
Brendan Leipsic - James Neal - Derek Haula
Reilly Smith - William Karlsson - Johnathan Marchessault
Alex Tuch - Cody Eakin - Tomas Nosek
Oscar Lindberg - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Stefan Matteau
Brayden McNabb - Nate Schmidt
Shea Theodore - Deryk Engelland
Colin Miller - Brad Hunt
Malcom Subban will likely start in net.