Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021 | 4 p.m.
Officially, coach Pete DeBoer listed center William Karlsson as a game-time decision for the Golden Knights tonight against the Calgary Flames. But all signs point to him playing.
Karlsson took part in morning skate and worked with the power-play units, both strong indicators of his return after missing the last 15 games with a broken foot and COVID-19-related absence. His return will be a welcome sight as the Golden Knights, currently outside the playoff picture, host the Pacific Division-leading Flames at 7 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena.
“When a guy comes back when he hasn’t played with us one game or however many he’s missed, they bring the energy,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “When you’re not playing you miss those moments before the game right? To be in the locker room with the guys, so they energy they bring certainly carries over to the rest of us.”
The Golden Knights will need Karlsson and everyone they can get against the Flames. Most teams have some sort of glaring weakness — if they’re offensively gifted, maybe their goaltending isn’t strong; if they have strong defensive coverages, maybe their power play is weak. The Flames have no such issues.
Calgary leads the NHL with a plus-31 goal differential as a product of allowing the fewest goals in the league and scoring the eighth most. Both the Flames’ goalies have a .939 save percentage, and they have the fifth-best power play and fifth-best penalty kill. They have almost as many shutout victories (7) as they do losses (9), and lead the Golden Knights by nine points in the division.
In short, they’re one of the best teams in the league, one game removed from Vegas facing the Coyotes, one of the worst.
“Coming from Arizona where we found some open ice off the rush, these guys don’t really give that much against the rush,” Pietrangelo said. “So for us it’s trying to create offense against this team that defends in tight.”
The Golden Knights have struggled against the top of Pacific Division this season, with a combined 1-3-0 record against the Oilers and Ducks, the two teams above them that they have played. This will be the first meeting this season with the Flames, and the first game overall since March 8, 2020, the penultimate game of the 2019-20 regular season before Covid shut it down.
The good news is, Vegas has a strong history against the Flames, with an 8-3-0 record. It’s even more impressive at home, as Vegas sports a perfect 6-0-0 mark at T-Mobile Arena with a stunning 27-6 goal differential.
These Flames are different though. Even when they won the Pacific in 2018-19 they weren’t man-handling teams the way they are this season, and tonight will be arguably the Golden Knights’ biggest test yet.
“They’re the best team in the league at getting to their game and their identity quickly and playing to it consistently every night,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “There’s going to be nowhere to hide, no room out there tonight. You’re going to have to physically be involved against a team like this to have success, so I’m excited to see how our group will respond to that.”
TV: AT&T SportsNet (DirecTV 684, Cox 1313, CenturyLink 1760)
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
Betting line: Golden Knights minus-125, Flames plus-105; over/under: 5.5 (minus-135, plus-115)
Golden Knights (13-10-0, 26 points; 5th place, Pacific Division)
Coach: Pete DeBoer (third season)
Points leaders: Chandler Stephenson (21)
Goals leaders: Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith (10)
Assists leader: Chandler Stephenson (12)
Expected goalie: Robin Lehner (3.08 GAA, .909 save percentage)
Flames (15-4-5, 35 points; 1st place, Pacific Division)
Coach: Darryl Sutter (second season)
Points leader: Johnny Gaudreau (27)
Goals leader: Andrew Mangiapane (16)
Assists leaders:Johnny Gaudreau (18)
Expected goalie: Jacob Markstrom (1.76 GAA, .939 save percentage)
Golden Knights projected lineup
Jonathan Marchessault—William Karlsson—Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty—Chandler Stephenson—Mark Stone
Evgenii Dadonov—Nicolas Roy—Keegan Kolesar
William Carrier—Mattias Janmark—Michael Amadio
Nicolas Hague—Alex Pietrangelo
Shea Theodore—Zach Whitecloud
Brayden McNabb—Dylan Coghlan
Robin Lehner, Laurent Brossoit