Much like their inaugural campaign has gone, the Vegas Golden Knights are charmed. They can call up a player for his season debut, fly him halfway across North America and he performs like he’s been around all season.
The surging Golden Knights go for their fourth straight win Thursday night when they face league scoring leader Connor McDavid and the skidding Edmonton Oilers.
Vegas (51-22-7) recalled center Brandon Pirri from the AHL’s Chicago Wolves on Monday. After taking a commercial flight — and sitting in a middle seat — the center collected his first two-goal game since Oct. 26, 2016, and helped lift the Golden Knights to a 5-4 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
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“A little character-building,” Pirri said of his trek to the Pacific Northwest. “This is where I want to be, and I was happy to get the opportunity.”
The Golden Knights, who are headed to the postseason as Pacific Division champions, haven’t had many eyebrow-raising losses this season. One was an 8-2 setback to the Oilers on Nov. 14 at Rogers Place. Maxime Lagace stopped 22 of 29 shots before being replaced by Dylan Ferguson, who yielded one goal over the final nine-plus minutes.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who was given the night off Monday, is 8-0-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and a shutout in his last nine games in Edmonton.
Coach Gerard Gallant has been behind benches long enough to know nights like the first visit to Edmonton will happen. Neither his confidence nor that in the team is shaken.
“There’s no team that we come in and say ‘uh oh, it’s going to be a tough night tonight,'” he told the team’s official website. “When we play our game at the top of our game, when we’re playing well, there’s no team that we can’t beat. I think anyone in the NHL could say the same thing. We’re not intimidated by anybody.”
Vegas is 1-1-1 against the Oilers this season, and center William Karlsson has scored two of his 43 goals in the season series. Karlsson, who totaled 18 goals coming into this season, trails only Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets (44 goals) and Alex Ovechkin (46) for the Maurice Richard Trophy.
The Knights are expected to have center Erik Haula back in the lineup after sitting out against the Canucks, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Haula needs one goal to reach 30 and ranks fifth on the team with 55 points.
Heading into the season, Edmonton (34-40-6) was expected not just to contend for a division crown, but for the Stanley Cup. Instead, the Oilers are mired in an 0-4-1 skid after being blanked for the ninth time this season 3-0 to the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild on Monday.
After facing the Knights, Edmonton wraps up its season on Saturday night against the Canucks — and in the final NHL game for future Hall of Famers Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin.
“We want to win. Every team wants to finish off the season good,” Edmonton defenseman Adam Larsson said. “We should be really hungry coming into these two games, finish off strong, especially at home too.”
A strong finish should give McDavid his second straight Art Ross Trophy after putting up a 100-point campaign in 2016-17. The reigning NHL Player of the Month has 103 points — a five-point lead over Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning and six more than Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers. All three players have two games remaining.
McDavid, who has failed to register a point in each of his last two games, has five points (two goals, three assists) in three games versus Vegas.
Cam Talbot has started all five games during Edmonton’s skid, but has been pulled early in two of them. He’s allowed eight goals while winning two of three from the Golden Knights. Al Montoya is 1-2-2 with a 3.50 GAA in his last seven games (five starts) with the Oilers.
“It’s important that we give each other everything we have and give the fans a deserving effort and deserving performance,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “We’ll continue to push the team. We’ll prepare them the same way.”