I’ve taken some time off from my NHL picks lately, but I’m ready to jump back in the saddle and start rattling off some wins to get us into profit territory on the season.
Let’s start with the Golden Knights vs. Wild in a rematch affair tonight from Minnesota!
- Season Record: 18-23
- Units: -5.88
Golden Knights vs. Wild Betting Odds
- Golden Knights (-105)
- Wild (-105)
- Golden Knights -1.5 (+230)
- Wild +1.5 (-275)
- Over 5.5 (+101)
- Under 5.5 (-111)
Golden Knights vs. Wild NHL Pick Breakdown
Following a torrid stretch that saw Vegas average 4.75 goals per game across a four-game span, the Knights were dealt a shutout at the hands of these Wild in the first of two from Minnesota on Monday night.
It was a rare off night for an offense that enters this one ranked 10th with 3.18 goals per game on the season, although their power play remains an area of concern.
The Knights sit 23rd with a 17.4% clip on the power play entering this one tonight, but it’s a group that’s also gone 0 for 11 over its last four games while they’ve scored a power-play goal in just one of their last six contests.
That said, the underlying metrics more or less agrees with the Golden Knights’ work on offense so far this season.
At 5v5, the Knights rank fourth in scoring chances for/60, 11th in high-danger chances for/60 and 13th in expected goals for/60 on the season, as per Natural Stat Trick.
From a personnel standpoint, we’ll have to wait and see on the status of all-world forward Mark Stone. The Vegas captain missed Monday’s loss with what is believed to be a lower-body injury and, like Monday, is listed as a game-time decision for this one tonight. It’s worth noting that Stone didn’t skate on Tuesday as well, so it would be mildly surprising to see him return to the lineup for this one.
Otherwise, the Golden Knights are a healthy group up front.
Where Vegas has won many of their games this season is on defense. They yielded just two goals in Monday’s loss, but have consistently kept teams to two goals or fewer this season.
In fact, the Golden Knights rank second in the NHL with just 2.09 goals against per game on the season while killing penalties at a whopping 88.1% clip to boot, good for second-best in the league behind the Bruins who are just one tick better at 88.2%.
Additionally, the penalty kill is on fire at the moment, having killed penalties at an absurd 95.2% rate (20 for 21) over their last 10 games.
That said, it would appear that the Golden Knights should likely regress some moving forward, and strictly from their 2.09 goals against/game mark, it’s a near certainty.
At 5v5, the Knights rank 18th in scoring chances against/60, 10th in high-danger chances against/60 and 15th in expected goals against/60 on the season. Their 2.01 goals against/60 at 5v5 isn’t outrageously higher than their 2.13 expected mark, but at the rate they have allowed chances, their second-ranked defense might be a big overblown, although the elite penalty kill certainly helps.
While Stone is a game-time decision up front, what we know for sure is that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is out for this one with an upper-body injury. It was announced this afternoon that Pietrangelo was going to return to Vegas for evaluation, with head coach Peter DeBoer saying “he’s out for the foreseeable future.”
They’ve allowed two goals or less in back-to-back games and in three of their last four, so it’s certainly a difficult group to crack, even without their No. 1 blueliner.
With Robin Lehner currently on an AHL conditioning loan as he works his way back from injury, it will once again be the heavily-used Marc-Andre Fleury going for the road side here as he looks to keep his Vezina Trophy bid intact in this one.
Of course, it’s been an unbelievable season for the 36-year-old as he continues to show resiliency after being doubted again following a down 2019-20 campaign.
Fleury enters this one tonight sporting a 1.57 GAA and .943 Sv% on the season, going 12-4-0 in the process in 16 appearances. He’s allowed one goal or less in each of his last three starts and took the tough-luck loss on Monday despite doing his part in turning aside 20 of 21 shots faced.
Fleury ranks second only to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy in Hockey Reference’s goals saved above average (GSAA) metric at 15.66 and ranks first with an .813 quality Sv%, as per Hockey Reference, among netminders with at least five games played this season.
In other words, Fleury has been flat-out elite so far this season, but I mean, how sustainable is this?
The best season of his career included his 2.24 GAA and .927 Sv% from his first season in Vegas as part of the 2017-18 expansion Golden Knights. He’s on another level this season, but keep in mind he also posted a 2.77 GAA and .905 Sv% last season and owns a 2.55 GAA and .913 Sv% for his career.
It’s impossible to imagine a tough stretch not coming this guy’s way, as good as he’s been so far.
Despite largely an uninspiring group up front in Minnesota, the Wild continue to defy offensive expectations.
They’ll enter this one ranked 13th with 3.09 goals per game on the season, but considering their power play has struggled mightily to a 6.8% clip — good for dead-last in the league by a wide margin — it’s clear they have been one of the best even-strength offenses in the game and the underlying metrics agree with that notion.
At 5v5 this season, the Wild rank 10th in scoring chances for/60, but also first in high-danger chances for/60 and second in expected goals for/60. There could certainly be some even-strength regression coming as their 3.04 goals/60 at 5v5 is well above their 2.45 expected mark, however you have to believe that power play starts to find the back of the net moving forward as well, perhaps mitigating the 5v5 regression in the process.
They’ve been cooled off a little bit of a torrid six-game stretch with two goals or fewer in three of their last four, however the Wild did manage four goals against these Golden Knights on the first of March, one of the few teams to solve Vegas to this point.
They’re missing the services of Marcus Johansson at the moment, but otherwise we have a healthy Wild group entering this one tonight.
Minnesota’s calling card this season was always going to be on defense. After finishing first in several advanced defensive metrics last season and receiving awful goaltending, it seemingly would have just taken competent goaltending in front of this excellent top-four to make big-time defensive strides this time around, and it has.
The Wild enter this one ranked eighth with 2.61 goals against per game on the season and sixth with an even 84% penalty kill on the season as well.
It’s no mistake either, as the Wild rank sixth in scoring chances against/60, fifth in high-danger chances against/60 and 10th in expected goals against/60 at 5v5 this season. Their 2.24 goals against/60 at 5v5 is actually a tad higher than their 2.05 expected mark, so this has indeed been among the game’s top defenses this season.
The top-four of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba was always going to put forth good results of their own. However, now Minnesota throws out perhaps the top bottom-pair in the league in Carson Soucy and Ian Cole, the latter of whom is shot-blocking and penalty-killing machine that they were able to add due to the plethora of defensive options the Colorado Avalanche had at the time.
Like Vegas, it’s a tough group to crack with the personnel and numbers adding up in sync.
Enter this season, it was expected that the newly-signed Cam Talbot and veteran backup Alex Stalock would largely handle the goaltending duties with youngster Kaapo Kahkonen either a taxi squad member or AHL call-up option.
As it turns out, Kahkonen is now eating the lunch of Talbot as the team’s 1A option at this point while Stalock was claimed off waivers by the Edmonton Oilers not too long ago.
Talbot has returned from the NHL’s protocol list, but has struggled over his last three starts while Kahkonen continues to deliver results as tonight’s confirmed starter.
The 24-year-old proved he was ready for NHL duties last season when he pitched a 2.07 GAA and .927 Sv% in 34 AHL outings while turning in a solid .913 Sv% in five NHL appearances.
He’s made good on that work so far this season, working to a stout 2.13 GAA and .924 Sv% across 14 appearances (13 starts), going 10-4-0 in the process. He’s been nearly unbeatable over his last two outings, turning aside 50 of 51 shots in that time, good for a .980 Sv%, two wins and a shutout.
Golden Knights vs. Wild NHL Pick
Man, look out for these Wild. Vegas holds a game in hand in first place in the West Division, but the Wild are just four points back while they’re also only three points back of second-place St. Louis with three games in hand.
Vegas is still the cream of the west crop, but this is a big one tonight and the team is already without their No. 1 defenseman and perhaps their best all-round forward as well.
Additionally, there’s just no way Marc-Andre Fleury continues his eye-popping work as the numbers are simply unsustainable. Kahkonen could be running a little hot at the other end as well, but there’s far more regression for a .943 Sv% than there is for a mark of .924.
Right now, I’m a bigger believe in this Wild defense, and with comparable offense outputs this season, my nod here goes to the home side to take the two-game sweep of the Golden Knights and officially put the league on notice in the process.