The Golden Knights are coming out of Christmas break in first place in the Pacific Division and eight points ahead of tonight’s opponent, the Anaheim Ducks. Last time the two teams faced was on December 5th, when Vegas won in a shootout. After the loss, Anaheim players or coaches didn’t seem to be upset. In fact, that’s when Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle joked about the Golden Knights fortunate luck.
"What are the Golden Knights doing to beat you?" -SinBin
"They get lucky." -Randy Carlyle
"They played us much better in Anaheim than they did tonight. Ask me that question again at the end of the year." -Carlyle
(He was kidding, but kinda not really)
— SinBin.vegas (@SinBinVegas) December 6, 2017
At the time, I sensed a satisfied head coach leaving the toughest arena in hockey with one point. Carlyle knew his team wasn’t complete and things could be different the next time they faced the Golden Knights. Since Captain Ryan Getzlaf returned on December 11th, the Ducks have earned nine points in seven games. Also, after trading for Adam Henrique, Anaheim has a point in nine of the twelve games he’s played in. Not to mention, Henrique executed this season’s most amazing goal.
When you add a center like Getzlaf back in the mix, the Ducks immediately become a playoff contender. The prototypical center is big, strong, plays all three zones, and has one of a kind ice vision. In limited action, Getzlaf leads the league with 1.08 assists per game. His career average over 13 seasons is 0.68 assists per game. To compare, David Perron leads Vegas with 0.71 assists per game.
Getzlaf allows Anaheim to spread out and become a multi-line team again. However, the Ducks are far from a healthy squad. Selke winner Ryan Kesler remains on the injured list, as well as former Hart trophy winner Corey Perry. Both are highly valuable, but Kesler’s shut down ability is one of the league’s best. Golden Knights centers William Karlsson and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare have have done well in that role season, but believe me, they are nothing compared to Kesler.
Which brings up an interested key to watch for tonight. The Bellemare line covered the top line a bit more then usual against Tampa and Washington. How often will Bellemare’s line take on Getzlaf and the Ducks top line, and how successful will they be in doing it? The “fourth” line shutting down the opposing top line allows the Golden Knights to play a much more offensive game when their three scoring lines on our the ice. If Bellemare, Nosek, and Lindberg (we’re assuming no lineup changes) can get the job done, Vegas should have no problem controlling the game for the 50 minutes or so the other three lines are out there. However, without the last change, it’ll be a bit more difficult for Gallant to get those matchups.
Carlyle, Getzlaf and the Ducks desperately need to win tonight to keep pace in the Pacific race. We’ll find out if Anaheim is that same team that lost to Vegas twice (and badly on their own ice in November), or a healthy team ready for a second half push.
Or it could be just more expansion luck.