Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Vegas Golden Knights arrive in Raleigh with a relatively new head coach in tow and still in the thick of the Pacific Division playoff race. Gerard Gallant doesn’t have to worry about hailing a cab from PNC Arena after his firing this time, as the Golden Knights showed him the door before the All-Star break. Then the Golden Knights brought in Peter DeBoer, who himself was fired earlier this season by the San Jose Sharks.
Coaching changes aside, Vegas also enters play on Friday having not been in action since January 21st. The break could not have come at a better time for a team that has lost six of their previous seven contests (1-5-1). The issues for the Golden Knights have not necessarily been injury related, however they are currently without William Karlsson, who is dealing with an upper body issue. They have dropped into the middle of the pack in the NHL in both offense and defense, despite a roster that features significant depth.
Eight different players are still above 20 points on the roster, but the seamless, fast game that pushed the Knights to unprecedented success in their first two seasons has been less evident during this campaign. Perhaps the best development has been the resurgence of Max Pacioretty as an offensive force. Leading the team in points with 47, Pacioretty has already surpassed the point total for each of his previous two seasons, and is on pace to set a career-high in points.
Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be the bell cow in net. His 35 starts are in the top-10 in the NHL and his numbers have been decent throughout the year. Expect Vegas to ride him down the stretch, as they have been unable to get reliable work from Malcolm Subban in reserve. If the Golden Knights are to make the playoffs, expect an uptick from Fleury in net, as his .907 save percentage would be his worst since 2009-10.
In order for Carolina to jump out on the right foot following the extended break, they need to play the fast and physical game that they possess to shake off the rust early. Cheeky, delicate plays are unlikely to be available as the rhythm of the season has been broken. A hard-nosed effort is in order for each team as they try to make their first steps in the “second half” towards another playoff berth.
Sunday, 2:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Vancouver Canucks have thus far pulled off a spectacular return to prominence in the Pacific Division. Winners of six of their last seven, including their first two post-break, the Canucks have vaulted to the top of the Pacific Division standings with 62 points (29-18-4). Elias Pettersson is the superstar who leads the Canucks, while also pacing the team in points with 52.
One of the players who has had the biggest impact on the success of the team has been J.T. Miller. On pace to shatter his career highs in goals and assists, Miller has added in 50 points and provided the additional front-line scorer to compliment Pettersson, Brock Boeser (44 points) and Bo Horvat (44 points). With those performers, as well as the depth provided by a resurgent Tanner Pearson (39 points) and the young Quinn Hughes (36 points), the Canucks have become a very dangerous team offensively as they attempt to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2014-15.
In goal, Jacob Markstrom has produced his best season through 35 starts. His .917 save percentage is a career high, and his 2.69 goals against average would be his lowest since 2016-17. The improving quality across the roster has allowed the Canucks to be in the top half of the league both offensively and defensively, and the stability in net from the All-Star Markstrom has given the Canucks a balanced and dangerous team.
The Canes will look to take advantage of the Canucks as they are on a back-to-back when they enter Raleigh for the matinee on Super Sunday. One additional note, former Hurricane Micheal Ferland has been plagued by injury all season for the Canucks. He is currently out with an upper body injury and has only seen the ice for 14 games this season.