There have been plenty of positives for the Vegas Golden Knights while building a 10-point lead in the Pacific Division during their inaugural season.
Wednesday night’s 8-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils wasn’t one of them.
It was the worst home loss in franchise history for the Golden Knights (45-20-5, 95 points), who will attempt to snap a three-game losing streak at T-Mobile Arena when it hosts the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.
Vegas entered Wednesday’s blowout loss after an impressive 4-1 East Coast road trip and is still a glossy 24-8-2 on home ice. And coach Gerard Gallant, who actually thought his team played well for much of the game but was the victim of some bad “puck luck,” said he didn’t dwell on the lopsided loss at practice on Thursday.
“We’ve (forgotten) about it,” Gallant said. “I was pissed off last night. I got home last night at 12 o’clock, had a baloney sandwich, went to bed, and I feel real good today.
“You forget about it. It’s like when we’re winning five in a row, it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, we get ready for the next game. That’s the bottom line.”
Vegas is expected to get two key players back Friday night in left winger James Neal and backup goalie Malcolm Subban.
Neal, who ranks third on the team with 24 goals, hasn’t played since leaving a 3-2 overtime loss at Los Angeles on Feb. 26 because of a hand injury. Subban was injured in a Feb. 7 practice in San Jose and hasn’t played since a 5-2 loss at Minnesota on Feb. 2.
“I’m assuming they’ll both be ready (Friday),” Gallant said. “They both had good practices today. Assuming everything goes good the rest of the day, they’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
To make room for the duo, Vegas assigned forward Tomas Hyka and goalie Max Lagace to Chicago of the AHL on Thursday afternoon.
“Never happy when you’re sitting out with an injury,” Neal said. “It sucks, especially when the guys go out on the road and you’re at home skating by yourself. You want to get back with the guys as quick as you can.”
Subban, who is 11-3-1 with a 2.59 goals-against average, could give starter Marc-Andre Fleury a much-needed break in net. Fleury, who has started 18 of the last 19 games, was yanked early in the second period against the Devils after allowing four goals on 11 shots, angrily slamming his stick on top of the goal after the final one.
“It was nothing to do with Fleury, the way he played,” Gallant said when asked if maybe his goalie should have been given a night off. “Our team was flat last night. We played real good at times and we played real poor at times. It just wasn’t a good game for us.”
Minnesota (39-24-7, 85), which has won both of the previous meetings with Vegas in Saint Paul (4-2 on Nov. 30 and 5-2 on Feb. 2) and is in third place in the Central Division, comes in off back-to-back losses at Edmonton (4-1) and Tuesday at home to Colorado (5-1).
The latter was particularly costly because defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who leads the team in blocked shots (127) and is second in TOI (time on ice) at 24:37, suffered a partially torn right hamstring while sliding into the boards and is expected to miss at least four weeks.
The game is a homecoming for Wild left winger Jason Zucker, who grew up just minutes from T-Mobile Arena and is the only Nevada-raised player to play in the NHL.
“It’s something I never thought would happen so it’s pretty cool,” Zucker, who has 28 goals and 54 points, told NHL.com.
Zucker said he expects to have about 40 friends and family at the game, including his parents, Scott and Natalie, and brothers Evan and Adam, all of whom are Vegas season ticket-holders. His wife, Carly, daughter Sophia, and son, Hendrix, also made the trip from the Twin Cities to watch the game.
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