The temporary realignment of the NHL divisions this season, where each team will only play within their division, gives Vegas Golden Knights fans some interesting matchups to look forward to. The Golden Knights will face their seven opponents in the West Division eight times during the 2020-21 regular season, a season that will be very different from a regular 82-game schedule.
When asked what he thought about the schedule in an interview in the Vegas Golden Knights insider show, Golden Knights’ coach Pete DeBoer expressed enthusiasm about playing the teams in the division so many times. “For me, it’s playoff-type hockey, and I think all coaches like coaching in that type of environment,” DeBoer said in the podcast.
The fans should be excited too. Here are three Golden Knights matchups in the 2020-21 season that fans shouldn’t miss.
Alex Pietrangelo vs. St. Louis Blues
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo played 12 seasons with the St. Louis Blues before signing a seven-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12. Pietrangelo, who won the Stanley Cup as team captain for St. Louis in 2019, will now be up against his former teammates no less than eight times. And there will be tough games against St. Louis. The Blues have never lost in regulation against the Golden Knights during the regular season and have a record of 5-0-4 since Vegas’ first NHL season in 2017-18.
Will that change this season? St. Louis is, even though they lost in the first round against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2020 Playoffs, still a team to count on. In Torey Krug, they have found a replacement for Pietrangelo, and the team looks strong even without the former captain. The question is what the lack of a solid backup to first-choice goaltender Jordan Binnington will mean for the team after they traded Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens.
Vegas has a clear advantage there, with a much stronger goalie tandem where the pressure on one of the goaltenders is not as great. Another question is where the offense will come from since it’s uncertain when Vladimir Tarasenko is back after his shoulder surgery. Players like Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Brayden Schenn must keep producing. Mike Hoffman, who signed a professional tryout contract with St. Louis, can also be an offensive asset for the team if he stays in St. Louis after the team’s training camp.
Hopefully, Pietrangelo and his teammates on defense can be able to stop St. Louis going forward. That together, with a strong offensive group that consists of Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and Jonathan Marchessault, can hopefully tip the games in Vegas’ favor. The fact that Pietrangelo has been a teammate with most of the Blues’ players and knows how they play can certainly give an edge to Vegas in the games against St. Louis. There will be many tough battles between Pietrangelo’s Vegas and his former teammates in St. Louis to look forward to for Golden Knights fans this season.
Pete DeBoer vs. San Jose Sharks
After a poor start to the 2019-20 season and a 15-16-2 record, which left the team only in sixth place in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks fired head coach Pete DeBoer on Dec. 11, 2019. A big disappointment for a team that in 2019 reached the Western Conference Final after eliminating Vegas in the first round of the playoffs. But DeBoer soon got a new coaching job when he took over after Gerard Gallant as the Golden Knights’ head coach on Jan. 15, 2020.
But while DeBoer was successful in Vegas and took the team to the top of the Pacific Division and the Western Conference Final, the poor results for the Sharks continued. San Jose was last in the Pacific Division when the 2019-20 season was interrupted on Mar. 12 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Since San Jose did not make it to the 2020 Playoffs, the team has not played a competitive game in 10 months. The question is whether it is just a disadvantage or if there are advantages to it as well.
Sharks fans hope that a player like veteran defenseman Erik Karlsson got a much-needed rest from hockey and that the Sharks can once again play as well as they did when they made it to the Western Conference Final in 2019. To start winning again, the Sharks must score more goals. They were 27th in the NHL in goals per game last season and had only two players who scored over 20 goals.
It remains to be seen what the exit of veteran forward Joe Thornton will mean for the team. But players like Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Timo Meier must take a step forward this season. The old rivalry between San Jose and Vegas will be extra intense this season, as the teams will face each other so many times. That the Golden Knights have a coach who has led San Jose for four full seasons and knows a lot about the players, as well as how the team prefers to play, will be a great advantage for Vegas. And let’s not forget that the Golden Knights still have a score to settle for that overtime loss in Game 7 in the 2019 Playoffs.
Nathan MacKinnon vs. Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury
When the NHL starts again on Jan. 13, the Colorado Avalanche are one of the favorites to win not only the West Division but the Stanley Cup as well. An important reason for this is the man with number 29 on his back, Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon is one of the hottest candidates to win the Hart Trophy, which goes to the most valuable player in the regular season, and his importance to Colorado in recent seasons cannot be overemphasized.
MacKinnon was fifth in scoring during the 2019-20 regular season with 93 points and contributed greatly to Colorado being one of the best teams in the Western Conference. But perhaps his performance in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was even more impressive, as he scored points in all of the first 14 games, which tied the second-longest, postseason-opening point streak in NHL history.
If Vegas is to win the important games against Colorado, which may well decide who wins the West Division and gets the easiest opponent in the first playoff round, they must limit MacKinnon’s point production. For that to happen, Vegas’ two goalies must be on top of their game. How these games end remains to be seen. But one thing is certain. There will be some interesting matchups for Golden Knights fans to look forward to this season.
Journalist and NHL fanatic. I’m writing about the Edmonton Oilers. Twitter @jonerik77