Following a rare three-day midseason break, the Vegas Golden Knights begin a brief two-game road trip on Wednesday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
The injury-plagued Golden Knights enter the contest in fifth place in the Pacific Division, three points behind the third-place Ducks, who come in off a 5-4 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
It’s quite a role reversal for the two teams. Last season, second-place Vegas finished 39 points above last-place Anaheim in the West Division and had 23 more wins than the Ducks during the pandemic-shortened, 56-game regular-season.
“Much better team,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said of the Ducks. “Those teams that missed the playoffs last year, like Anaheim, like L.A. … are hungry teams. They don’t want to go through what they went through last year.
“(Anaheim) is a dangerous team and their game is real. They’ve beaten some good teams. Should be a good test.”
The Golden Knights look to get back on track Wednesday after going 3-3-0 over their past six games.
“Division games are huge,” Vegas forward Keegan Kolesar said. “Basically four points. Anaheim has been playing really well this year to start. They’re a lethal team. They’ve got a lot of offense up front and on their defense as well and (they have) one of the best goaltenders in the league in (John) Gibson. For us, it’s always about what we can do, and getting off to a good start on the road is huge.”
Golden Knights defenseman Nicolas Hague added, “Every game is important here going forward. We’ve got a lot of games in our division coming up. Those are obviously huge games to try and separate ourselves a little bit. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”
Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone, the team’s two top scorers last season, both are healthy again after missing more than a month with injuries. However, second-line center William Karlsson, who broke his foot in a 5-4 shootout win over the Ducks on Oct. 29, is still out after entering COVID protocol on Monday — just a few days after center Jonathan Marchessault and forward William Carrier both returned from protocol.
“It’s something that we’re dealing with,” DeBoer said. “I’m thankful that this hasn’t become a runaway train like it has in some other cities and with some other teams, but it’s definitely something that’s still hanging around.”
Anaheim won for just the second time in six games on Tuesday in the front end of its back-to-back despite blowing a 4-1 lead in the third period. Kevin Shattenkirk had a goal and an assist and scored the deciding goal in the third round of the shootout while Gibson finished with 30 saves.
“It’s big for us,” Shattenkirk said. “We look at our schedule and we have a tough schedule coming up here. Any time we can get two points it’s huge, especially against a divisional opponent.”
The Ducks won despite losing captain and second-leading scorer Ryan Getzlaf in the first period to a lower left leg injury as he threw a check along the boards.
“It’s never good when a guy doesn’t come back into a game — especially him, because he’s as tough as they come,” said Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins, whose team won for just the second time in six games.