Perhaps no NHL team is facing greater pressure post-All-Star break than the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Knights made the biggest knee-jerk coaching decision of all seven that have happened to this point by firing Gerard Gallant. Not only did Vegas fire Gallant; it did so before the bye week.
In hindsight, it makes sense to make the coaching change at that point rather than do it after the long layoff and leave Peter DeBoer scrambling to make some magic happen with a new team in little time.
So far, the results are paying off entering Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Golden Knights have earned points in four of five games since DeBoer took over on Jan. 15, including sweeping a road back-to-back at Carolina and Nashville this past weekend. That’s two quality wins that Vegas needed, and responded in kind.
But the final stretch of this season will not be easy for the Golden Knights. According to NHL.com, Vegas has the ninth toughest schedule in terms of opponents via points percentage. The good news, is if Vegas finishes strong in the final two games of this road trip, they’ll have 14 home games vs. 12 road games if it hopes to make a run at the Pacific Division.
The bad news? This is a gauntlet of a schedule that would make many Golden Knights fans near queasy.
When the Golden Knights return home this Saturday against the Hurricanes, 17 of their final 26 games will be against teams already in a playoff spot. If you count two meetings against the Winnipeg Jets, who are not that far behind in the wild card race, that’s 19 games against teams that have playoff aspirations to this point.
That also includes eight games against Pacific Division teams in the playoff hunt; Arizona, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
No game will be easy by any stretch when the calendar turns to March. But before the Knights can even think about the home stretch of the regular season, they have home games to worry about against Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington, the New York Islanders and Edmonton all before March 3.
And normally being at home for the bulk of this stretch would be a good thing, but T-Mobile Arena has not been the dominant home-ice advantage for Vegas it was the past two seasons. The Golden Knights are 14-10-3 at home, a bizarre, pedestrian stint than the combined 53 it won the past two years.
All of those factors are why the pressure on DeBoer in these final games will be unfair and unjust. That’s why it’s widely expected the Golden Knights will make a move at the trade deadline in some capacity. It may not be Earth-shattering like Mark Stone, but it’s going to have to be something.
The Knights are right where they want to be, but it will not be easy going forward.
Avalanche at Senators: Another team that’s jockeying for position in these final 30-plus games is Colorado. The Avs are third in the Central. You do not want to go to Dallas four times out of seven in a playoff series. Every game is crucial for Colorado. AVALANCHE
Red Wings at Blue Jackets: If you’re not on the Columbus bandwagon yet, I’d highly suggest watching some games and getting on board. Even still ravaged by injuries, the Jackets are in a wild card spot. When fully healthy, they’re a team no one should want to play. BLUE JACKETS
Flames at Canucks: Not only has Vancouver’s recent play been impressive, but Rogers Arena has become a spot no one wants to play at. People forget that’s a crazy playoff atmosphere. In an important game for both teams, this is a chance for the young Canucks to make a statement. CANUCKS
Last week: 2-1