The Golden Knights’ stellar start to the season has come mostly against weak competition.
The Knights (9-2-1) have played one team in the top half of the West Division standings by points percentage and lost in a shootout to the St. Louis Blues, who are the only team they’ve faced with a positive goal differential.
That changes Sunday. The Knights’ 4 p.m. game at T-Mobile Arena begins a series of four straight against the Colorado Avalanche in a matchup of two division and Stanley Cup favorites. The Avalanche are tied for the third-best goal differential in the NHL at plus-14.
“I know our guys are excited,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. “This is a chance to see a real good team up close and personal. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Colorado is one of the few teams that can match the Knights in star power and depth. Center Nathan MacKinnon has 14 points in 10 games after finishing runner-up for the Hart Trophy last season. Defenseman Cale Makar, the Calder Trophy winner last season, now looks like a Norris contender with 12 points in 11 games.
Both teams will be trying to find their legs early in the series. The Avalanche haven’t played since Feb. 2 because they had three players enter the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. The Knights will be playing on consecutive days for the first time after defeating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Saturday in California.
It’s the first of nine back-to-back games for the Knights this season and one of five they will play against two opponents. The challenge of playing two teams in two days is something the team hasn’t encountered yet, but DeBoer noted it would be a “typical turnaround” in a normal regular season.
“From a coaching perspective, we’ve done this before,” he said. “We’ve had the luxury of not having to do it (this season).”
Stephenson the “shooter”
The Knights’ best shooter this season isn’t even taking that many shots.
Center Chandler Stephenson has five goals in 12 games after a pass from left wing Alex Tuch went off his skate and into the net Saturday. Stephenson also scored Jan. 18 when a puck went off his back and in against the Arizona Coyotes, and picked up another goal when a pass to Tuch went through Los Angeles Kings goaltender Calvin Petersen’s legs Feb. 7.
Those “shots” are why the 26-year-old leads the team in shooting percentage at 38.5 percent (5 of 13).
“I’ll take it,” Stephenson said.