Golden Knights, Avalanche in heated battle for West division title
Most expected the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche to duke it out for the West division crown in 2021, and neither team has failed to deliver on their potential.
The Golden Knights (+135) are 10-3-1 as of Wednesday morning, good for a one-point lead over the St. Louis Blues (+385), who have played two more games than them. The Avalanche (+140) are 8-4-1 through 13 games, trailing Vegas by only four points.
So who will emerge as the best in the West? Let’s dig into the cases for the top two contenders below to reveal our best bet.
West Division Winner 2020/2021
Tue, May 11 2021, 4:00 AM
Vegas Golden Knights
St Louis Blues
Los Angeles Kings
San José Sharks
COVID can’t slow Vegas down
The Golden Knights had three games postponed due to a COVID outbreak on their team, and were off from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4. They could have let that interruption ruin them, but instead Vegas has vaulted into the West division lead.
The Golden Knights have won five of their first seven games following their COVID pause, by an aggregate score of 20-13. Centers Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson have had hot hands in this stretch, combining for eight goals and four assists.
Avalanche managed split of first two in four-game series with Golden Knights
Colorado’s first two meetings with Vegas occurred immediately following a near-two week pause to their season necessitated by the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. The Avs looked leg-weary during a 1-0 loss on Sunday.
But they bounced back on Tuesday with a 3-2 victory over the Golden Knights. Preseason Hart Trophy contender Nathan MacKinnon managed to score a goal, just his third of the year.
The Avalanche All-Star has 12 assists on the campaign, but fans are hoping that his scoring touch will return. Tuesday’s tally was an encouraging sign that the former 40-goal scorer is rounding back into form.
Can’t knock either squad’s defense
Though Colorado is regarded as an offensive dynamo, it’s their defensive prowess that has caught the eye this season. They allow the third-fewest shots on goal in the NHL (26.4), and their penalty kill (88.6%) is the best in the business.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer has been holding up his end of the bargain in net – he sports a .936 save % and a 1.64 GAA.
Vegas is defensively solid too, allowing the second-fewest shots on goal (25.6) in the NHL while sporting the league’s third-best penalty kill (85.7%). Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury boasts a .937 save % and a 1.56 GAA.
Unfortunately for the Avs, they’ll be dealing with the results of their COVID outbreak a bit longer.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog is only just coming back on Saturday after being on the COVID list. Defenseman Samuel Girard hasn’t returned from the pause yet and isn’t expected to suit up on Saturday. Fellow blueliner Cale Makar is dealing with an upper body injury, to make matters worse.
Right now, the healthier Golden Knights look like the better bet to win the West.