Golden Knights keep rolling with big win over Oilers

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The Vegas Golden Knights look to be hitting their stride at just the right part of the season.

They won for the eighth time in their past nine games on Sunday night with a 6-3 dismantling of the Edmonton Oilers as they continue to look like of the Western Conference’s best teams heading into the stretch run.

For the Oilers, the loss all but crushes their remaining playoff hopes even though Connor McDavid became the first player since 2007 to record eight consecutive multi-point games and Leon Draisaitl scored his 43rd goal of the season, the second-highest total in the league. As has been the case all season (and for three of the past four seasons), their brilliance offensively was not anywhere near enough to make up for the shortcomings elsewhere on the roster, particularly in net, as they were unable to slow down the Golden Knights’ balanced attack.

Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals for Vegas, giving him 22 goals on the season, while Brayden McNabb, Cody Eakin, Alex Tuch, and Mark Stone also found the back of the net in the win.

The Golden Knights have now scored 35 goals in their past nine games and have played at a pretty dominant level during that stretch. Entering play on Sunday they were among the top possession and scoring chance teams during 5-on-5 play in the month of March, a great sign for them with the playoffs just around the corner.

With Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny healthy, and Mark Stone in the mix after his acquisition from the Ottawa Senators, the Golden Knights now have two great scoring lines at the top of their lineup and an outstanding third line.

Their depth is so good right now that their leading scorer entering play on Sunday, second-year forward Alex Tuch, is skating on their third line.

The Golden Knights are pretty much locked into the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division, and will have a game against one of their potential first-round opponents — the San Jose Sharks — on Monday night.

As for the Oilers, well, they are now seven points out of a playoff spot with still four teams ahead of them with only 10 games remaining on their schedule this season. It seems as if they are destined to miss the postseason for the third time in four years in the McDavid era and the 12th time in the past 13 seasons of the salary cap era.

Malcolm Subban picked up the win for Vegas on Sunday in place of the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, stopping 16 of the 19 shots he faced.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Oilers visit Golden Knights on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Edmonton Oilers’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread heading into their game on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights, and if they have any hope of pulling off the impossible and erasing what is a seven-point gap (and jumping over four teams!) over the next 11 games it is going to have to begin with a win tonight.

Standing in their way will be a Vegas Golden Knights team that has won seven of its previous eight games and is pretty much locked in to the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division. At this point it is simply a matter of whether or not they will have to play the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks in their first-round matchup.

The Oilers are led by Connor McDavid who enters the game riding an 11-game point streak, while also recording at least one point in 19 of his previous 20 games. That 20-game stretch for McDavid features 12 multi-point games, including seven in a row.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Where: T Mobile Arena
When: Sunday, March 17, 2019, 10 p.m, ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

Milan Lucic – Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian
Tobias RiederLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsSam Gagner
Joseph Gambardella – Colby CaveJosh Currie

Defense

Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Andrej SekeraMatt Benning

Starting Goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Vegas Golden Knights

Forwards

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyPaul StastnyMark Stone
Tomas NosekCody EakinAlex Tuch
Ryan CarpenterPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Defense

Nate SchmidtDeryk Engelland
Brayden McNabbShea Theodore
Jon Merril – Colin Miller

Starting Goalie: Malcolm Subban

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stone scores first for Golden Knights in goal-fest first period

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Alright, Vegas. You can breathe now.

Mark Stone had six goals in his final six games with the Ottawa Senators prior to his departure to Vegas on trade deadline day.

But heading into Saturday night, he had nothing but a couple of assists in his first five games with his new club, one he will be with for quite some time after signing and eight-year deal to stay with the team.

The goal drought ended early in the first period against the Vancouver Canucks, however, as Stone cleaned up the trash in front of the opposing goal to grab his first market in the black and gold threads.

By the time the period was through, the Golden Knight had fired five past Jacob Markstrom, who was chased at the 14:17 mark of the frame. Stone picked up an assist on Paul Stastny‘s goal for his first multipoint game.

Vegas hasn’t seemed to need Stone scoring lately — they’ve won five straight and are well on their way to No. 6. But with $76 million invested in him now for a long time to come, it’s good to see him get back in the scoring column.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Golden Knights, Capitals quietly on another crash course for Stanley Cup Final

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Everyone is talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning and their record-pace. The Boston Bruins are riding high with an 18-game point streak. The St. Louis Blues started from the bottom and are now in third in the Central. The Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames are all battling for their respective divisional supremacy.

Meanwhile, quietly in the nation’s capital, the Washington Capitals have won five consecutive games and are tied with the New York Islanders in points atop the Metropolitan Division. Even more quietly out in the desert, the Vegas Golden Knights have also won five straight. Does anybody remember that these were the last two teams standing last season? Because that’s what could very well happen again.

The Caps won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies in 2015-16 and 2016-17, only to lose in the second round of the playoffs both years to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Last season, they won the Metropolitan again but finished third in the East before going on to win their first Cup in franchise history. They’re in a similar position this year, just two points behind Toronto for third in the conference. Perhaps being a bit under the radar is where they thrive.

Washington has also shown the ability to flip a switch and turn back into the defending champions at a moment’s notice. Take last week’s game against Ottawa for example. The Capitals found themselves down 2-0 before they could blink against the lowly Senators early in the first period. But by the time the period was over, the score was tied. By the final buzzer, Washington had won 7-2.

With a league-leading 46 goals, Alex Ovechkin is carrying the offensive load for Washington once again this season. But the Capitals’ recent 5-game winning streak has been a demonstration of the depth that carried them to the Cup last year, as 13 different players have scored a goal and 18 players have registered a point in that span. At the trade deadline, general manager Brian MacLellan did well to bolster that depth by adding defenseman Nick Jensen and forward Carl Hagelin, who have both already made contributions during their brief time in D.C.

Of course, the biggest difference between this Washington team and the one that hoisted the Cup is behind the bench. At the moment, former Capitals coach Barry Trotz and his Islanders seem to be the only thing standing between Todd Reirden and the franchise winning a fourth straight division title.

Out west, while Calgary and San Jose jockey for first place in the Pacific, Vegas has a stranglehold on third in the division. That means they’ll play whichever team finishes second between the Flames and the Sharks in the First Round, a tough match up for whichever team comes up short. Vegas has not lost since the trade deadline, Mark Stone seems to be gelling nicely with the now-healthy Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, and Marc-Andre Fleury is playing like the Fleury of last postseason, stopping 109 of the 111 shots he faced during his four straight wins.

Very few expected last year’s expansion Vegas team to make a run to the Cup Final, if not for their lack of star power, then certainly for their lack of postseason experience. Well, they now have that star power and after coming three wins away from the Cup last season, there is no lack of playoff wisdom on this Golden Knights roster. Even their new pieces like Stone (2017 with Ottawa), Pacioretty (2014 with Montreal) and Stastny (2016 with St. Louis & 2018 with Winnipeg) have all played in a Conference Final.

Given the Capitals’ previous failures in the playoffs and the Golden Knights’ infancy as a franchise, it was a bit of a shock to see them both facing off for the Stanley Cup last season. Don’t be so surprised if it happens again this year.

How Mark Stone is fitting in with Golden Knights so far

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With zero goals and just one assist in his first four games in Vegas, many might be tempted to say that Mark Stone hasn’t worked out so well early on for the Golden Knights.

Luckily for Stone (not to mention Golden Knights GM George McPhee), there are plenty of other numbers to suggest that things are going right as planned. More or less.

Most obviously, the Golden Knights are winning. They’re currently on a four-game winning streak, including consecutive 3-0 victories with Marc-Andre Fleury in net.

Piling up wins likely cools would-be hot takes, and Stone also doesn’t have to flinch every time he fails to score a point, as he already essentially agreed to an extension upon being traded to the Golden Knights.

The deeper you look, the more promising things get — at least while acknowledging that four games is an incredibly small sample size.

For one thing, Stone is getting his chances. While that first Vegas goal continues to elude the 26-year-old, Stone’s fired 13 shots on goal in his first four contests. Considering Stone’s robust career shooting percentage of 16 (up to 17.7-percent this season), it’s difficult to imagine this cold streak going much longer.

Stone’s carried his strong possession play to Vegas, a team that already showed proficiency in puck hoggery even before they landed Stone. As TSN’s Travis Yost notes, the Golden Knights have been carrying the play when Stone is on and off the ice so far. Overall, they’ve been in a top three possession team (Corsi and Fenwick percentages) since the trade deadline, according to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers.

Gerard Gallant’s made a logical call early on in placing Stone with Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, while keeping the Reilly SmithWilliam KarlssonJonathan Marchessault line intact.

Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault has shown some strain in trying to duplicate last season’s brilliant work, but the Stone addition could really make life easier. In an ideal situation, the Golden Knights could essentially boast two “top” lines.

From matchups to adjusted roles, the Stone trade is making a positive ripple effect. Pacioretty stated as much, as Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported this past weekend.

“I think Stone coming in and giving us that balance throughout our lineup, I see a lot of similarities in our forwards now compared to when (Nate Schmidt) came back from his (20-game suspension),” Pacioretty said. “It’s not one player that makes a huge difference. I think it’s one player that puts everyone in a position to succeed with a role that they’re comfortable in.”

The Golden Knights have already been a nightmare matchup during their home games in Vegas. Now imagine how much Gallant might be able to exploit different situations with the last change. Stone could be used to shut down an explosive opponent, while Marchessault & Co. might enjoy cushier zone starts.

With Vegas basically locked in to the third spot in the Pacific (see the Playoff Push here), Gallant shouldn’t be afraid to run with different alignments.

Perhaps there would be situation where the Golden Knights would want to load up with Marchessault, Stone, and Karlsson on a top line? Maybe Alex Tuch might find especially strong chemistry with Stone, as they’re both bigger forwards? Which groups of scorers would work best on the power play, and would Gallant be wiser to either go top-heavy or maybe echo Mike Babcock by aiming for two fairly even power-play units?

In most cases, teams that made big trade deadline purchases can only experiment too much. After all, many of those squads either are desperately fighting for a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, or are trying to avoid matchups by securing a better seed.

The Golden Knights have the luxury of basically using the next month as a hockey laboratory to see what works the best, and figure out which wrinkles can be ironed out by April.

If the current combinations work best, that’s a nice problem to have, because from the look of things, the Golden Knights plus Stone equals some serious problems for the rest of the NHL.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.