The Western Conference playoff race is heating up, and Friday night features a game between two teams fighting for spots. The division-leading Vegas Golden Knights (37-23-8) begin a five-game road trip up north when they battle the Winnipeg Jets (34-28-6), a team fighting to stay alive.
Here is a preview for tonight’s matchup, along with odds and a free pick.
By the Numbers
The Golden Knights are surging during the stretch run, winning nine of their last 10 contests. This run has put them in first place in the Pacific, where they hold a two-point lead over the Oilers.
This season, Vegas is 12th with 3.18 goals per game, averaging the most shots on goal in hockey with 34.4. Although their 9.2 shooting percentage is a mediocre 20th, they are a solid eighth in power-play percentage at 21.4 percent.
On the defensive side, the Knights are 13th in the NHL with 2.94 goals allowed. They’re also allowing the fourth-fewest shots at 29.6, but have a 77.7 percent penalty kill rate that is only 22nd in the league.
One of the streakier teams in hockey, the Jets won on Tuesday after dropping four of their last five contests. Although they’re sixth in the Central, they trail the Flames by just three points for the final Wild Card spot.
Heading into tonight, Winnipeg sits 19th in goals per game with 2.96, also averaging the 16th-most shots with 31.5.
Additionally, their 9.4 shooting percentage is 17th, while their 19.9 percentage on the power play is good for 16th as well.
Defensively, the Jets are 12th with 2.9 goals allowed but rank a poor 25th with 32.5 shots allowed. Their penalty kill has also struggled at times this year, ranking only 23rd in the league at 77.1 percent.
Who to Watch
In his second season with Vegas, Max Pacioretty is putting together very strong numbers. After a multi-point outing on Tuesday against the Devils, the former Canadiens captain has scored seven goals and dished out six assists over his last 10 games. That run puts Pacioretty at 31 goals and 34 assists in 68 games, leading his team in goals and points.
William Karlsson and Reilly Smith are two others to watch tonight for the Golden Knights. Karlsson also had a goal and assists on Tuesday, and now has 15 goals and 29 assists on the season.
Meanwhile, Smith had a two-goal performance one week ago against the Sabres, giving him 27 goals to go along with 25 assists.
For Winnipeg, Kyle Connor has been red-hot in the scoring department. After a two-goal, three-point performance on Tuesday, Connor has a four-game goal streak, tallying five goals and two assists during that stretch. The 23-year old now has 35 goals and 35 assists during his breakout season.
Teammate Blake Wheeler has been setting up Connor’s goals a bit lately, registering four assists during his three-game point streak. The longtime Jet is now up 40 assists and 61 points.
There’s also Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg’s leading point man. The center has points in seven of their last eight games, scoring 43 goals and dishing out a team-high 43 helpers.
In net for Vegas, you can expect to see Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is 26-15-5 with a 2.76 GAA and .906 save percentage.
Winnipeg will likely send Connor Hellebuyck to their goal. Hellebuyck is 28-21-5 with a 2.64 GAA and .920 save percentage.
Odds and Pick
For tonight’s battle, it’s the road team that is listed as the favorites. The Golden Knights, who are -140, have a 15-12-4 road record, while the Jets are 18-14-3 at home.
Tonight, I’m going with the underdog. Vegas has been playing great hockey, but the Jets have a very deep team that can also create havoc on the offensive end.
They’ll need to stay out of the box as often as possible, but I think they have a skilled enough team and a good enough goaltender to upset one of the league’s top teams. So all that being said, give me the Jets +120.