The Chicago Blackhawks are in Sin City on Saturday night to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time since the two teams squared off in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Vegas owns a 23-13-1 record entering Saturday’s game, good for 47 points and the top spot in the Western Conference. The Golden Knights have the No. 4 scoring rate in the league (3.54 goals per game) and do a significant portion of their during 5-on-5 hockey. According to Natural Stat Trick, Vegas has a league-high 93 goals during 5-on-5 play — Chicago is 31st with 48 (/tugs collar). The Golden Knights have been piling up wins in the last month, posting an 11-3-1 record in their last 15 games, including a 5-1 throttling of the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
Chandler Stephenson is the breakout player for Vegas this season, notching 10 goals with 25 assists for a team-high 35 points — already matching his career-high through just 36 games of this season. Vegas fixtures like Reilly Smith (11 G, 17 A), Jonathan Marchessault (18 G, 8 A), Shea Theodore (7 G, 18 A) and Mark Stone (7 G, 17A) are also off to strong starts, making the Golden Knights’ offensive attack a multi-pronged weapon. In net, Robin Lehner’s numbers (15-9-0 record, .906 save percentage, 2.95 goals-against average) have been decent in the No. 1 spot left vacant by Marc-Andre Fleury but not that much better than backup Laurent Brossoit’s: 8-3-1, .900, 2.78. Even if those numbers are average (or probably slightly below it), the Vegas offense has been so good it hasn’t mattered during the regular season.
As for the Blackhawks, Thursday night’s loss to the Arizona Coyotes could serve as the rock-bottom moment of the season but only if the team starts to trend upwards after it. Reports of a players-only meeting after that defeat suggest the players understand the depths to which they have sunk and suggest their could be an extra spring in the Blackhawks step after the latest debacle. But the problems with this team extend well beyond the players in that room.
Fleury is the expected starter in his return to Vegas, while the rest of lineup is anyone’s guess do the recent COVID issues with the team that hit just before Thursday’s game. Friday’s practice in Vegas saw lineups that were jumbled a bit by Jonathan Toews’ absence (maintenance day), but Brett Connolly’s return from suspension suggests Chicago will be back to a more traditional lineup of 12 forwards and six defensemen:
Blackhawks lines in practice. Still only 11F/7D so Strome is double-shifting.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 7, 2022
And, hey, maybe Nicolas Beaudin will get more than two shifts if he plays!
Blackhawks — Statistic — Golden Knights
47.16% (26th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 52.05% (9th)
46.02% (27th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.14% (9th)
2.29 (30th) — Goals per game — 3.54 (4th)
3.47 (26th) — Goals against per game — 3.00 (18th)
48.7% (21st) — Faceoffs — 46.6% (29th)
18.9% (19th) — Power play — 19.0% (17th)
74.8% (26th) — Penalty kill — 77.5% (23rd)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Kubalik — Toews(?) — Kane
Kurashev — Dach — Entwistle
DeBrincat — Strome — Connolly
Khaira — Borgstrom — Carpenter
McCabe — S. Jones
de Haan — Murphy
C. Jones — Beaudin
Marchessault — Karlsson — Smith
Dadonov — Stephenson — Stone
Janmark — Roy — Kolesar
Carrier — Howden — Patrick
McNabb — Pietrangelo
Theodore — Whitecloud
Hutton — Coghlan
How to watch
When: 9 p.m. CT
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
TV: NBC Sports Chicago