With 11 games left in the National Hockey League regular season, the Vegas Golden Knights are moving closer to clinching a postseason berth. However, they have lost two games in a row at T-Mobile Arena, and their closest pursuers in the Pacific Division—the San Jose Sharks—have won three straight now to make things more interesting.
The Golden Knights (45-21-5) lead the Sharks (39-23-9) by eight points, and if San Jose was to win all its 11 remaining games, Vegas would have to win eight of its last 11 matchups to clinch the division title. With that accomplishment comes a guarantee of home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The two teams play each other twice more, as well: March 22 in San Jose and March 31 in Las Vegas. Chances are the Sharks will not win all of their remaining games, so in reality, the Golden Knights probably need three more victories to clinch the division title. If two of those wins come head-to-head against San Jose, that would be ideal for Vegas.
The Golden Knights have struggled lately, winning just four of their last 10 games. They gave up eight goals against the New Jersey Devils on March 14, matching a season-worst defensive effort. Vegas now ranks 11th in the NHL overall in terms of goals allowed, despite the usually great presence of Marc-Andre Fleury in net.
From top to bottom, the roster has experienced some injury challenges. However, No. 2 goaltender Malcolm Subban has returned from injury, so expect to see him in goal more often in the final 11 games, in order to give Fleury some well-needed rest and recovery time. Also, left wing James Neal has returned from injury as well: He has missed 11 contests overall this season.
However, right wing Reilly Smith still has a shoulder problem, and his status for the Sunday game in Sin City against the Calgary Flames (36-24-12) is unknown right now. He has missed the last five games.
In the end, the Golden Knights probably win the division despite these challenges. After all, the team survived earlier in the season when it was down to its No. 4 and No. 5 goalies. But while making the playoffs by winning the division is an amazing accomplishment for an expansion team, clearly the Vegas organization knows more than that is on the line right now.
Wouldn't it be something to see a healthy and strong Golden Knights team win the Stanley Cup itself?
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