**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
Give the NHL this — it is willing to think outside the box when it comes to staging these outdoor hockey events.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature, like the coronavirus, doesn’t give a damn about aesthetic beauty, the NHL, or NBC. The sun was determined to shine and thus destroyed what was going to be an uplifting occasion for hockey fans everywhere.
So the Golden Knights and Avalanche started, stopped, then started again well into Saturday night in an attempt to complete a game and hand out the two points that came with it to the winner, which was Colorado, 3-2. Let’s not forget that amid the fabulous scenery of Lake Tahoe, these are two teams that are battling for the top spot in the West Division and are among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup come July. The outcome mattered. Just like Monday’s outcome at Ball Arena in Denver will matter.
When the Knights show up in Colorado Monday night, they do so with their first taste of adversity this year as they are dealing with their first losing streak of the season. It’s only two games, but they don’t want it to manifest itself beyond that.
Points have been garnering my attention since this four-game series between the Knights and the Nordiques, er, Avalanche was announced. Everyone has had their eyes on this matchup and the fact that the Knights had won Tuesday and should’ve come away with a point Thursday tells you how closely matched these teams are and how likely they are on a collision course to meet in the playoffs.
These are games that are easy for players to get up for. It’s best vs. best in the division and when the sheet is fast, as was the case at the Fortress earlier in the week and will likely be quick in Denver on Monday, the quality of play goes up a few notches.
Right now, Colorado is the better team.
The Avalanche are faster, more balanced, and have their best player starting to play at his best. The Knights better figure out how to contain Nathan MacKinnon and quickly. No. 29 is dominating. He was involved in all of the Avs’ scoring Saturday with a goal and a pair of assists and he scored in the 3-2 win Tuesday in Vegas.
Fortunately, no one was hurt Saturday as the switch from day to night outdoor hockey turned out to be the right call. The ice was far superior and I thought it looked cool playing at night. And how about that sweet Spin-o-Rama goal scored by Alex Tuch in the 3rd period?
But health remains a concern going forward. The Avalanche pretty much have everyone back. The Knights are still without a key piece in goaltender Robin Lehner and a good penalty killer in Tomas Nosek. We’ll likely have to wait until late March when the Knights and Colorado meet again where they can contribute to Vegas’ cause. By then, maybe Vegas figures out a way to either play faster or slow the Avs down a little. Right now, they’re a step behind and that’s being kind to the Knights.
If you want to assign blame to the NHL for the way Saturday turned out, feel free. In the end, it worked out. But it’s also important to move on because the schedule is going to come fast and furious.
As I discussed a week ago, there aren’t going to be many opportunities for the Knights to have full-blown practices to work on things. But the points aren’t any less important following Monday. The games later this week at San Jose Thursday and Saturday at Anaheim matter. Again, this isn’t about worrying about securing a playoff spot more than it is putting yourself in the best possible position to make a run at the Cup.
The Knights are going to get to know the Minnesota Wild really well in the next few weeks too. They’re scheduled to face each other four times between March 1 and March 10. The Wild is the only team Vegas has yet to play in the division and while Minnesota has had its early struggles, the Wild are playing better of late and are only one point out of a playoff spot this morning. If you go by points percentage, Minnesota, at .571, is in ahead of Los Angeles (.531) and Arizona (.500).
And if you know your Knights history, you know beating the Wild has not been easy. Minnesota is 6-2 all-time vs. Vegas, with both of the Knights’ wins coming by one goal, one of which was in a shootout as Erik Haula (remember him?) delivered the game-winner against his former team.
But first things first. A win Monday in Denver gives the Knights a split of the first four games with the Avalanche. Given all that has gone on, I’m sure Peter DeBoer will gladly take that. He knows his team can compete with the Avalanche, especially when the ice isn’t mushy and slushy. Each of the three meetings so far have been decided by one goal.
He likely gets Nosek back in the coming days and congrats to Nosek on the birth of his son Saturday. Hopefully, Lehner is back playing soon. Fleury can use a couple days off this week. He has played well during this stretch and MacKinnon can make any goalie look bad.
All in all, these first 15 games have been what we expected. In building their 10-4-1 record, the second-place Knights are beating the bad teams, they’re hanging with the good teams and the losses have not been embarrassing — save for perhaps the 5-2 defeat to the Coyotes on Jan. 22 in Glendale.
Given all the weirdness going on, you shouldn’t be too disappointed.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**