The Washington Capitals host the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night for the first meeting of the season between the two teams. The clubs split the season series last year with the Capitals winning 5-2 on October 10, 2018, before the Golden Knights returned the favor with a 5-3 victory on December 4 at T-Mobile Arena. The Capitals beat the Golden Knights in five games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final to clinch their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Golden Knights begin the second half of a four-game road-trip, on which they have gone 1-0-1 so far, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Tuesday before falling 2-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime on Thursday. Immediately after Saturday night’s game, they will head to Motown to face the Detroit Red Wings 22 hours later. The Golden Knights have been solid on the road this season, going 5-2-1 away from T-Mobile Arena.
Forward Mark Stone, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators in arguably the biggest deal of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline and who signed an eight-year contract extension that carries a $9.5 million cap hit, leads the Golden Knights with 18 points. Stone’s 10 assists are second behind center William Karlsson’s 12, and his eight goals are second behind forward Reilly Smith (nine) for the team lead in goals.
After falling to the San Jose Sharks in a devastating Game 7 loss in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season (which Vegas led 3-0 in the third period before falling 5-4 in overtime), the Golden Knights are tied with the Vancouver Canucks for third in the Pacific Division and occupy the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. They have earned points in five straight games (2-0-3) and in 10 of their last 13 (7-3-3).
The Golden Knights were forced to deal some of their key contributors over the summer after giving big contract extensions to players like Stone, Karlsson, forward Max Pacioretty, center Paul Stastny, and defenseman Nate Schmidt. They traded center Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes and defenseman Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres for little return due to salary cap constraints and let center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (signed with Colorado Avalanche) walk in free agency.
The Golden Knights’ average of 2.82 goals-against per game and 21.7% power-play efficiency are both currently tied for 10th in the NHL this season while their 89.2% penalty-kill efficiency is second only behind the Sharks (90.6%). The Golden Knights are a team that shoots a lot as their average of 34.3 shots-per-game is tied with the Canucks for fifth in the league. They also give up a lot of shots as their average of 32.9 shots-against per game is tied with the Avalanche for the eighth-most.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 9-3-1 with a .924 save percentage, a 2.40 goals-against average, and a shutout this season, is expected to be in the Golden Knights’ crease on Saturday. In 40 career regular-season games against the Capitals dating back to his days with the Penguins, the 34-year old is 23-13-2 with a .912 save percentage, a 2.59 goals-against average, and four shutouts.
The Capitals return home after a 5-4 overtime win at the Florida Panthers on Thursday and continue a stretch where they play four of five games and nine of 13 games at home. They have only played seven of their 17 games this season at home. After losing their first three home games (0-1-2), they have won their past four while outscoring opponents 19-7. The Capitals enter Saturday’s game with a league-leading 27 points and are one of the league’s hottest teams, with five consecutive wins and a 10-game point-streak (9-0-1).
After going without a point in three of his previous four games, defenseman John Carlson got back on track with a three-point performance against the Panthers. His 18 assists are tied with Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid for the league-lead while his 26 points are tied with McDavid for fourth in the NHL. Captain Alex Ovechkin, who recorded two goals and three points against the Panthers, leads the Capitals with 13 goals, which is tied with Oilers forward James Neal and center Leon Draisaitl for second-best in the league (Pastrnak, 15).
The Capitals’ 68 goals this season are first in the NHL while their average of 4.00 goals-per-game is tied with the Nashville Predators for first. Their 25.9% power-play efficiency is tied with the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues for third in the league while their 85.7% penalty-killing rate is eighth. They have scored at least four goals in each of their last five games and at least three in all but two of their contests this season.
Center Nic Dowd, who missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, could return as he was held out against the Panthers despite feeling well enough to play. Forward Chandler Stephenson will likely be the odd-man-out of the lineup even though he has two goals in his last five games. The play of the Capitals’ fourth-line lately has forced head coach Todd Reirden to make some tough decisions. Center Travis Boyd started the season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears but it’s tough to imagine him coming out of the lineup after he posted three assists in four games since getting recalled.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 7-1-3 with an .895 save percentage and a 3.36 goals-against average this season, will likely get the nod against the Golden Knights on Saturday night. In three career regular season games against the Golden Knights, the 30-year old is 1-2-0 with an .895 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average. He made 29 saves in the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Golden Knights at home last season.
- The Capitals are currently on their 24th winning-streak of at least five games since the 2009-10 season, a league-high
- The Capitals have blocked 267 shots this season, which ranks second in the NHL
- Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler ranks first among defensemen this season in minor penalties drawn (nine)
By Harrison Brown