The Detroit Red Wings play a rare March home game against the Vegas Golden Knights this evening (7:30 PM EST on FSD/ATT Sportsnet/97.1 FM; tonight is “NHL Green Night” at LCA), and the Wings may be catching the 42-19-and-5 Golden Knights at an opportune time.
Neither the Golden Knights nor the Red Wings practiced on Tuesday, so there is some question as to whether Reilly Smith will be in the lineup this evening, and that’s a big concern for the Golden Knights, as the Las Vegas Sun’s Jesse Granger noted:
The Golden Knights’ 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Blue Jackets wasn’t the biggest loss they suffered Tuesday night in Columbus.
Late in the second period forward Reilly Smith was crushed against the boards by Blue Jackets’ defenseman David Savard, and got up favoring his left side. Smith skated to the bench, immediately headed to the locker room and didn’t return in the third period.
Vegas’ first line of Smith, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault leads the NHL with 47 goals together — 10 goals more than the second-highest scoring line in Toronto. The trio have played more minutes with each other than any forward line in the league.
Smith is second on the team with 60 points (22 goals and 38 assists) and if he misses significant time it will be tough to fill his spot in the lineup. Not only does he play big minutes on the first line, but also contributes on the power play and penalty kill units.
As VegasGoldenKnights.com’s Gary Lawless noted, the slightly undermanned Golden Knights need to keep their collective pedal to the metal…
The NHL standings show there are five teams with legitimate claims to wild card spots in the Western Conference including the two currently holding those berths. In the Eastern Conference the number is six. Of the NHL’s 31 NHL teams all but eight clubs have realistic playoff hopes. The jockeying for seeding and home-ice advantage is frenzied.
Vegas has lived above this fray for long stretches this season. But the team is now immersed in the boiling waters of the NHL’s last quarter of schedule.
The Golden Knights have a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division but a stretch which has seen the team lose four of five has seen it fall six points off the pace of the Western Conference leading Nashville Predators.
Injuries have robbed Vegas of as many as seven regulars of late. Certainly, it’s a factor but the standings don’t account for man games lost. It’s part of life in pro hockey and a team either deals with the adversity or it does not.
“We’re missing guys, but that’s no excuse for anything,” said Golden Knights center Erik Haula. “We have a deep team and we’ve been saying that all year, now it’s time to prove it.”
There are obvious points in the NHL schedule where the rate of play changes. Holiday break in December, post-trade deadline and the playoffs are three signal poles in the NHL which players see and respond to with increased effort and desire. The games get more meaningful and teams respond. Or not.
And Tomas Tatar probably didn’t spend his “off day” with his former teammates, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Carp noted:
Wednesday was an off-day for the Golden Knights. But there was no time for Tomas Tatar to relax.
The forward, who was acquired Feb. 26 from the Detroit Red Wings, was busy packing up his belongings to ship to Las Vegas. Tatar left immediately after the trade to join the Knights for their home game Feb. 27 against Los Angeles and hasn’t had a chance to attend to his personal affairs.
“It is a little stressful,” said Tatar, who will join the Knights in taking on the Red Wings on Thursday. “But it’s part of being a professional hockey player. It’s a chance to pack some things and get them to Vegas.”
In four games with the Knights, Tatar has one goal. He played 17:25 Tuesday, his longest stint yet, in a 4-1 loss to Columbus.
“He’s getting more comfortable and we’ve been playing him with different guys,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “But I like what he’s doing. He’s working hard and fitting in with what we do.”
Tatar said he remembered Detroit’s passion for hockey and being part of the team that opened the team’s new rink, Little Caesars Arena.
“It’s a great hockey environment,” Tatar said. “I’m kinda excited to be playing against the guys so soon. But I think our guys will like the new arena. It’s got a lot of good stuff and they’ll enjoy it.”
It’s also a homecoming for Tomas Nosek, who was selected from Detroit in the NHL expansion draft and played parts of two seasons for the Red Wings.
The Golden Knights have lost four of their last five games and are without some of their key players due to injuries. The latest addition to the injury list is right winger Reilly Smith, who was injured late in the second period in the team’s 4-1 road loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night. After taking a hit, Smith — who is tied for second on the squad’s scoring list with 60 points — left the ice holding his left side and did not return.
“I don’t have an update for you,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said after Tuesday night’s game. “Obviously, Reilly is one of our top players and he always plays a good game. I thought the team played well without him in the third period, but he’s a big loss to that line for sure.”
Smith joins defenseman Nate Schmidt (undisclosed), wingers James Neal (upper body), Oscar Lindberg (upper body) and Will Carrier (upper body), goaltender Malcolm Subban (upper body) and defenseman Luca Sbisa (undisclosed) on the injured list.
“We’re missing guys, but that’s no excuse for anything,” said center Erik Haula. “… We have a deep team. We’ve been saying that all year. Now it’s time to prove that.”
But left winger Tomas Tatar is healthy.
He faces his former team, the Red Wings, for the first time since they dealt him to Vegas for three draft choices at the Feb. 26, trading deadline. Tatar, who has 17 goals and 29 points for the season, got his first goal as a Golden Knight — which was the game winner — in Vegas’ 3-2 road win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
“It feels good to contribute and get the monkey off my back,” said Tatar after the game. He has played four games with the Golden Knights.