Golden Knights Weekly Wraparound: Closing in on Pacific Division title

With just 14 games left in the regular season, the Vegas Golden Knights have a 12-point lead in the Pacific Division standings, and in all likelihood, the team needs just a few more wins to sew up home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After tonight’s game in Philadelphia, the Golden Knights return home to T-Mobile Arena for four straight games where they may be able to clinch the division title and raise a banner in front of the home crowd.

It’s an enviable spot Vegas finds itself in, as beneath them in the division, four teams are within three points of each other. The top three teams in the division clinch a playoff berth, and after all, it depends on the conference standings with teams in the Central Division that didn’t finish in the top three there. Only a major disaster would prevent the Golden Knights from making the postseason at this point.

What Happened Last Week?

Vegas played three games on the road last week, as the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament was held at T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights dropped a 4-1 decision in Columbus against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday before recovering to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 4-0, on Thursday and the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, in a shootout on Saturday. This is pretty much the way we expected the week to go, as we predicted in last week’s Weekly Wraparound.

Detroit and Buffalo are struggling teams this year, so it was very important for Vegas to secure wins in those games, even if on the road. This year, the Golden Knights have posted 20 road victories: That is a new record for an expansion team, and it is also the second-highest road win total in the National Hockey League this season.

Three Stars

1. G Marc-Andre Fleury: He allowed just five goals in the three games combined last week, to bring his season numbers now to a career-best status at age 33. The shutout in Hockeytown was his third of the season and the 47th of his regular-season career. Fleury also stands at 399 victories currently, so his next win will be his landmark 400th win. That’s an amazing accomplishment for the Golden Knights to be able to experience together.

2. RW Alex Tuch: He will turn 22 in May, so the Golden Knights have to be thrilled with what he’s doing this season. He posted three points last week, including scoring twice against the Red Wings. Overall, he has 30 points this year in 64 games, while averaging just under 15 minutes of ice time per game. As he gains experience and more minutes, Tuch is going to be a very good player for Vegas.

3. (tie) C Cody Eakin and LW Erik Haula: Eakin has had a solid season on the third line, and his two goals against Detroit included a short-handed score that broke the Red Wings in the second period. Haula, meanwhile, scored the team’s only goal against Columbus and then won the game in Buffalo with his shootout tally. The Vegas depth never ceases to amaze those who follow this team; you never know which skater is going to step up and do the job.

Highlight of the Week

Left wing David Perron got the Golden Knights off on the right skate in the shootout against the Sabres with a nice piece of stick work against Buffalo goaltender Robin Lehner. You need quick wrists to pull this kind of move off, while keeping your feet as well to close in on the crease effectively. Haula may have won the game a few minutes later, but Perron set that situation up most nicely with this piece of ice artistry. 

What’s Next for the Golden Knights?

It’s four games in the next seven days for the Golden Knights. Tonight’s game against the Flyers (35-23-11) might be a smart time for Vegas to rest Fleury, so he can be at his best on the upcoming four-game home stand.

On Wednesday, the Golden Knights return to Sin City to host the New Jersey Devils (35-26-8), just ten days after beating them on the road. On Friday, it’s the Minnesota Wild (39-23-7) coming to town, trying to avoid the Vegas Flu. Next Sunday, the Calgary Flames (34-26-10) make their final visit to T-Mobile this season. 

All four of these teams are playoff contenders, so this will be a stiff challenge for the Golden Knights, even with the three games at home spaced out with rest between each matchup. Vegas has several challenges to juggle despite the comfy position it is in, but ensuring Fleury can win his 400th game at home is important. Look for the team to drop Monday night’s game in Philadelphia and then win two of three once they return to Vegas.

The March 20 game against Vancouver may be the one where the Golden Knights get to clinch the Pacific Division title if all goes well from now until then.

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