After a disappointing eight-game homestand that saw them win just three times, the Vegas Golden Knights begin arguably their most daunting road trip of the season Monday night against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
The Golden Knights take a three-point Pacific Division lead with themon a trip that also includes games at Carolina, Florida and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay. Together the four teams are a combined 60-16-9 on home ice.
"It's exciting," said Vegas forward Keegan Kolesar. "You want to play the best teams in the league. You want to play the best players in the league and see where your team matches up and how you play against them. For us to reach our goal, the Stanley Cup, we're going to have to go through teams like this."
The Golden Knights, who are 11-5-0 on the road this season, haven't played away from home since a 6-3 victory at Los Angeles on Dec. 28.
"I think we feel really good about playing on the road," added Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer. "It's been a long homestand so I think everybody's ready to get out and get to work in some of these tough buildings."
The Golden Knights have surprisingly struggled on home ice this season, compiling just a 13-10-2 mark and dropping five of six games before rallying for a 4-3 overtime victory over Montreal on Thursday in the homestand finale.
"I think we kind of let teams come back and close the distance on us," said center Jonathan Marchessault said of a Pacific Division where the top seven teams are separated by just 10 points, including just six points between the top four spots. "We had a really bad stretch there and we let some games slip through our fingers."
Finding a way to rally to beat a Montreal team with the worst record in the NHL at least provides Vegas some momentum for the tough road trip. Left winger Max Pacioretty (wrist surgery) and defenseman Alec Martinez (facial cut, COVID-19 protocol) also will make the trip and are expected to rejoin the team at some point. Forward Mark Stone remains in the protocol.
"We're playing probably four of the top six teams on the East Coast," said Marchessault, whose power play goal midway through the third period tied the game, 3-3, setting the stage for Shea Theodore's overtime game-winner. "It's going to be a great challenge for us. It's going to be huge. We definitely have to be ready for it."
First up is Monday's game against the Capitals, who also have struggled so far in 2022, going just 3-4-2 in their nine games.
That includes a 3-2 overtime victory over visiting Ottawa on Saturday in the opener of a three-game homestand, with Ovechkin scoring twice in the third period to enable Washington to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Nicklas Backstrom then won it for the Caps at 1:13 of overtime with a highlight-reel backhand shot from near the right goal line.
"I just thought we stayed with the game the entire game regardless of the score," said Washington coach Peter Laviolette. "We thought if we could get one, one might lead to two and then we'll figure out how to get a third. Defensively, I thought we were good all night. Offensively, I thought we got better as the game went on."
Ovechkin now has 29 goals, tied with Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers for the league lead. His next goal will give him his 16th 30-goal season, just one off the NHL record of 17 held by Mike Gartner.
--Field Level Media