The Vegas Golden Knights (4-2-0, second in Pacific) are set to host the Nashville Predators (3-2-0, fourth in Central) in a Western Conference showdown on Tuesday night. Vegas routed the Los Angeles Kings in their most-recent game 5-2, while Nashville fell to those Kings over the weekend 7-4.
This is the first meeting between these two clubs this season, with the Predators winning two of three against the Knights last season. Vegas is -140 to win Tuesday night’s game.
Here is a preview of this game, along with a pick to win.
Predators Offense On Fire
The Predators have long had the reputation of being a defense-oriented club. But after five games, goals are flying around on both sides of the ice. Nashville leads the NHL with 4.6 goals per game. More impressively, 15 of their 23 goals this season have come in the third period, which also leads the league.
But as evidenced against Los Angeles, in their only road game thus far, allowing goals has become an issue as well for the Predators. Nashville’s 4.2 goals allowed per game is 28th in hockey, and they have allowed at least five goals in three of their last four games. They also rank just 25th in penalty-kill percentage (71.4).
In his first season in a Predators sweater, Matt Duchene has been spectacular. The veteran center has recorded at least a point in every game this season, racking up two goals and seven assists.
Filip Forsberg has also had a strong start, leading Nashville with four goals and tying with Ryan Johansen for second place on the team in points with seven. The line of Duchene, Forsberg, and Mikael Granlund has accumulated 20 points total to start the season and is certainly the most dangerous line Nashville is currently skating.
But Vegas will have its hands full with the entire Nashville offense, as well as a blue line that has three defensemen (Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm) with five points each.
In goal, the longtime veteran Pekka Rinne should be getting the start once again. Rinne is a perfect 3-0 but has allowed nine goals, with a save percentage of .894, a far cry from last year’s totals of a 2.42 GAA and .918 save percentage.
Juuse Saros is the other option, but he has struggled to the tune of a 5.10 GAA and .844 save percentage in two games.
Golden Knights Thriving On Balance
As evidenced by a strong 4-2 start, the Golden Knights are finding their stride early in the new season. Last week, Vegas swept the Flames and Kings in a back-to-back weekend, scoring 11 goals total for both games.
The Golden Knights are also a high-scoring team, averaging four goals a game, which is tied for fourth in the league. But unlike Nashville, the defense has been strong on the other side of the ice for Vegas.
The Knights are sixth in the NHL with 2.33 goals allowed per game and have the league’s top penalty kill, with an astonishing 95.5 percent kill rate. It’s even more impressive when you consider that only the Sharks have averaged more penalty minutes per game.
Coach Gerard Gallant reunited wingers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty with center Paul Stastny over the weekend, and it certainly paid dividends. The trio combined for five points against the Flames and eight points against the Kings.
They also played a big role on the power play, where they helped Vegas convert all three chances they had with the extra attacker against Los Angeles. In total, Stone has four goals and five assists this season, while Pacioretty isn’t far behind with eight total points.
The focus will be on that line, but don’t discount William Karlsson, who is still searching for his first goal but has six assists in six games.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been holding it down in net this season, going 4-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .933 save percentage. He has been one of the best goaltenders in hockey, but after playing both Saturday and Sunday, Vegas may turn to Oscar Dansk, who elevates to No. 2 on the depth chart with Malcolm Subban nursing an injury.
The 25-year-old started three games last year and won all three, allowing just five goals on 93 shots.
These are two good teams, each of whom are deep and have at least one dynamic scoring line. However, I’m siding with the Knights. They have been clicking on offense and are a very good home team (24-12-5 at home last season). The Predators also have issues on defense that are being sorted out. I think Vegas jumps on Nashville early and buries it late, winning 5-3 and continuing its solid season.