The Chicago Blackhawks have nothing left to play for this season and are in a position where they can’t move up in the standings — although the New Jersey Devils could leap ahead of them in these final two games.
Arguably, the Vegas Golden Knights are in the same position. After losses to the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars — both in shootouts — the Golden Knights are likely on the outside looking in on the postseason this year.
Those are the two teams meeting at the United Center on Wednesday night for the Blackhawks final home game this season.
The Golden Knights are in desperation mode, but they’ve been in desperation mode for some time. Before this current two-game losing streak at exactly the wrong time, the Golden Knights were on an 11-game winning streak. Still, this remains a must-win for Vegas, although their fate is no longer in their own hands but in Arizona and Anaheim’s. Those two teams need to beat the Stars in regulation this week while Vegas must also win its two remaining games to qualify for the postseason.
Arguably the largest part of Vegas’ problem has been injuries. The Golden Knights lost Robin Lehner for the remainder of the season as the goaltender opted for surgeries on existing injuries. Lehner played just 44 games this season for Vegas.
Even when Lehner was in net for Vegas, he didn’t have his greatest season, posting just a .907 save percentage, while Laurent Brossoit posted a .895 save percentage in 21 starts and Logan Thompson, a rookie, has posted a team-best .917 save percentage in 14 starts. Jiri Patera may make his NHL debut in net for the Golden Knights.
It’s not just in net where the Golden Knights dealt with injuries this season, as the entirety of their roster missed games at some point. Alex Pietrangelo and Keegan Kolesar lead the team with 78 games played each. Crucial pieces like Alec Martinez (23 games), Max Pacioretty (36 games), Mark Stone (34 games) and now Jack Eichel (31 games) missed wide swaths of the season.
Vegas also traded first-ever franchise draft pick Cody Glass in the offseason for Nolan Patrick, and Patrick played just 25 games this season, continuing Patrick’s career trend of injuries.
Perhaps because of these injuries, Vegas’s power play has suffered this season, with an 18.2% conversion rate that is ranked 24th in the NHL. However, Vegas has scored the 13th-most goals per game so far this season and on the opposite side has allowed the 14th-fewest goals per game.
Vegas is a top possession team this season, sixth in shot share (53.58%) and 10th in expected goal share (52.54%) at 5-on-5. Vegas is 21st in PDO across all strengths this season, however, with a .993 mark, in part because of the team’s 19th-best team save percentage of .901.
Vegas has been led in scoring this year by Jonathan Marchessault with 64 points in 73 games, with Chandler Stephenson at 60 points in 76 games. Shea Theodore leads Vegas defensemen with 50 points in 75 games.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming off a late-season win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday and will face the Buffalo Sabres on Friday with a chance to end the season on a relative high note of a three-game winning streak. Lineup changes were minimal, per the morning skate:
#Blackhawks look like they will ice the same lineup tonight as they did on Monday night but with Caleb Jones in for Erik Gustafsson as the only change— Mario Tirabassi (@Mario_Tirabassi) April 27, 2022
Lankinen is the first goalie off and will start for the Blackhawks against the Golden Knights. A Hawks win would eliminate Vegas from playoff contention.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 27, 2022
Moral victories, at least for teams expecting rough seasons and rebuilds ahead, are still victories.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Golden Knights
46.08% (28th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 52.36% (9th)
45.3% (30th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.54% (10th)
2.6 (28th) — Goals per game — 3.15 (13th)
3.54 (26th) — Goals against per game — 2.96 (14th)
49.6% (16th) — Faceoffs — 49.3% (19th)
19.4% (21st) — Power play — 18.2% (24th)
75.8% (25th) — Penalty kill — 77.8% (21st)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Strome — Kane
Kubalik — Toews — T. Johnson
Kurashev — Lafferty — Raddysh
Borgstrom — R. Johnson — Katchouk
Vlasic — S. Jones
McCabe — Regula
C. Jones — Gustafsson
Janmark — Eichel — Dadonov
Pacioretty — Stephenson — Stone
Marchessault — Karlsson — Roy
Carrier — Amadio
McNabb — Theodore
Martinez — Pietrangelo
Hutton — Whitecloud
How to watch
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago