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If There’s Nowhere Else to Run: Blackhawks at Golden Knights Preview

The Blackhawks’ third game in four days comes against the Golden Knights, who have fallen off lately.

Chicago Blackhawks v Vegas Golden Knights
Dylan Strome of the Chicago Blackhawks and Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights talk during warmups
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The last time the Chicago Blackhawks and Vegas Golden Knights faced off, the Blackhawks ended up winning 2-1 on the back of Marc-Andre Fleury making 30 saves while Robin Lehner — then in net for the Golden Knights — made just 19. But each team will look a little different when they meet on Saturday afternoon in Sin City.

Lehner isn’t currently in net for the Golden Knights and much of their roster is hurt. From their best two wings in Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty to top-of-the-lineup players like Reilly Smith and Alec Martinez. Hell, half of Vegas’s defense — including its two best defensive defensemen in Brayden McNabb and Zach Whitecloud — are injured.

Both of their usual goaltenders, Lehner and Laurent Brossoit, are also missing in action recently. While plenty of teams have sustained injuries so far this season, maybe no team is currently as hurt as Vegas is. And that’s without talking about the fact that new first-line center Jack Eichel missed the first half of the season.

The Golden Knights’ injury woes make the Blackhawks’ — down Connor Murphy, Jujhar Khaira and Tyler Johnson — look tame. That could be very good news for Chicago, coming off back-to-back wins against the Ducks and Kings and looking to salvage moral victories from the rest of the season, such as the recent performances of Dylan Strome — once a regular healthy scratch — and Taylor Raddysh, just acquired from the Lightning. Those have been two of the brightest spots in the Blackhawks’ lineup recently.

For a Vegas team that came into the season with Cup aspirations after losing to the Canadiens in the conference finals last season, there aren’t many bright spots. And those aspirations only increased with the addition of Eichel, but this season has been a crapshoot.

Jonathan Marchessault leads the team with 51 points and 25 goals in 61 games. No other Golden Knight has 20 or more goals this season, although Pacioretty and Stone, who would be the others in most seasons, have played just 29 and 28 games, respectively.

Chandler Stephenson is second on the team with 49 points (16 goals) and Smith, recently placed on LTIR, has 38. Two defensemen, Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore, are tied at 37 points, with Pietrangelo at 11 goals and Theodore at eight.

The Golden Knights have scored 211 goals this season, the third most in the Pacific division this year after Edmonton and Calgary. Although there’s not one shining star, the offense is largely not the issue. However, the Golden Knights have allowed 202 goals this season, the eighth-most in the Western Conference.

Part of that is subpar goaltending, including from Lehner, who has played 38 games with a .909 save percentage. Brossoit, who has basically filled Fleury’s spot and cap space, has a .895 save percentage and 24-year-old Logan Thompson, who has started eight games this season, has a .918 save percentage — best on the team.

However, the Golden Knights aren’t playing great team defense this season, allowing the 14th-most expected goals per 60 at 5-on-5 (2.49) and the eighth-most high danger chances per 60 (11.84). While teams aren’t getting tons of shots on net (28.74 per 60 at 5-on-5, seventh in the NHL) the Golden Knights aren’t controlling for quality well.

Despite the injuries to star players, the Golden Knights also continue to be a productive offense at generating opportunities, top 10 in important categories including shots (33.17, ninth), expected goals (2.73, sixth) and high-danger chances (12.4, sixth) per 60 at 5-on-5.

The Golden Knights don’t even have that bad of a shooting percentage at 5-on-5 either, with Vegas’s 7.85% being 19th in the league (above Chicago). However, both of the Golden Knights’ special team units are lackluster this season, with the 19th best power play (converting at 19.3%) and the 18th best penalty kill (78.5%).

It just seems that all the luck has run out in Las Vegas this season.

There’s a reason I’m the one who signed up for this one. If I’m going easy on my babies, think of how hard the others would have gone.

No word on any lineup changes for the Blackhawks after back-to-back wins earlier this week. Considering it’s an afternoon start, expect any changes to be announced when coach Derek King meets with the media a few hours before the game starts.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Golden Knights

46.38% (29th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 52.26% (10th)

45.59% (29th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.32% (11th)

2.63 (26th) — Goals per game — 3.09 (15th)

3.42 (25th) — Goals against per game — 3 (16th)

48.5% (21st) — Faceoffs — 49.1% (18th)

20.6% (16th) — Power play — 19.3% (21st)

76.1% (23rd) — Penalty kill — 78.5% (18th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Lafferty — Toews — Raddysh

Kurashev — Dach — Kubalik

Katchouk — R. Johnson — Entwistle

Stillman — S. Jones

de Haan — C. Jones

Stillman — Gustafsson

Delia/Lankinen

Golden Knights

Dadonov — Eichel — Roy

Marchessault — Karlsson — Kolesar

Carrier — Stephenson — Janmark

Leschyshyn — Patrick — Rondbjerg

Theodore — Coghlan

Hutton — Pietrangelo

Hayes — Miromanov

Thompson/Patera

How to watch

When: 2 p.m. CT

Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

TV: ABC

Webstream: ESPN+