After having a five-game winning streak snapped with a lackluster 5-1 home loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Vegas Golden Knights continue their chase for a Western Conference playoff spot on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes at Las Vegas.
The Coyotes (22-44-5, 49 points) have the fewest points of any team in the NHL. For the sixth straight game, Vegas (39-29-4, 82 points) plays against a team below the playoff line.
The schedule gets a whole lot tougher for the Golden Knights the rest of the way, starting with a three-game road trip through Canada. It opens Tuesday with a rematch against the Canucks and continues with games against the two top teams in the Pacific Division standings, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Vegas trails the Dallas Stars by two points for the final playoff spot but the Stars, who host the Golden Knights on April 26, still have two games in hand. Dallas also plays eight of its final 12 games at home where it is 22-9-2 and faces just four teams that currently would make the playoffs.
It means the margin of error is very slim for Peter DeBoer’s Golden Knights squad following Wednesday’s clunker. Vegas has made the playoffs in each of its first four seasons, including a storybook run to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season in 2017-18 where it lost to the Washington Capitals.
“You just want to flush it,” DeBoer said. “We got what we deserved. I didn’t think we gave ourselves a chance to win that game right from the first period the way we started.”
Vegas defeated the Canucks 3-2 in overtime on Sunday at Vancouver, then took a 1-0 lead on Jack Eichel’s 10th goal of the season midway through Wednesday’s first period. But it was all Vancouver after that as the Canucks scored five consecutive goals.
“It’s disappointing,” DeBoer said. “We’ve played some pretty good hockey lately. We’ve got to rebound here quickly. We knew we weren’t going to win every game the rest of the way in. We dropped an opportunity (Wednesday) and we’ve got to make sure we get this back on track on Saturday.”
Vegas might get a big boost on the injury front. Left wing Max Pacioretty, who has 15 goals and 29 points in 29 games, returned to practice on Friday and worked with the first-team power play unit. DeBoer said Pacioretty, who has missed large chunks of the season with a broken foot and a wrist injury, would be a game-time decision.
Arizona is just 2-8-1 over its last 11 games and also comes in off a 5-1 home loss to Vancouver on Thursday. Nick Schmaltz scored his career-high 22nd goal in the loss while Harri Sateri made 27 saves in his Coyotes debut, his first NHL game since Feb. 9, 2018, with Florida.
“I think we did a lot of good things,” said Arizona head coach Andre Tourigny. “The score is frustrating, but I don’t think it’s a reflection of our effort and our performance.”
–Field Level Media