Two much-improved teams go head-to-head on Sunday as the Vegas Golden Knights travel to the Detroit Red Wings for the first meeting between the pair this season.
Despite losing their last two, the Red Wings are 11-6-5 and sit fourth in the competitive Atlantic Division.
The Golden Knights are also looking to bounce back from defeat after losing 4-3 to Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. The defeat was their third in four games, but their 17-7-1 record still tops the Pacific Division.
Detroit are 7-3-3 at home and Vegas 10-2-1 on the road.
With a new coach in Derek Lalonde and a significantly bolstered line-up, the Red Wings are currently 53/20 to end a six-year drought from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Early signs have been promising with former assistant Tampa Bay Lightning coach Lalonde leading Detroit to their best start through 20 games since 2010/11 (14-4-2 and 30 points) making him 14/1 odds to win the Jack Adams coach of the year award.
The Red Wings enter the game with Vegas 16th in goal-scoring (3.23 per-game) which is a solid improvement over last season's 2.80 average which was 25th in the league.
Their goals against have also improved dramatically going from 3.80 (30th) last season to 3.09 in the current campaign (14th).
Detroit relied too heaving on rookie Lucas Raymond for offence last season, but Detroit’s off-season additions have lessened the load on him and significantly deepened the Red Wings’ line-up.
Dominik Kubalík, signed as a free agent from the Chicago Blackhawk, sits second on the team for points with 22 (nine goals, 13 assists) and David Perron, 34, signed from St. Louis Blues is fourth with 17 (seven goals, 10 assists).
Raymond, just 20, is fifth with 14 points (six goals, eight assists).
Detroit’s improved depth will face a stern test as they come up against one of the NHL’s early powerhouses, the Golden Knights.
With much improved health, Vegas have put last season’s disappointment of missing the playoffs for the first time in their short history behind them and quickly re-established themselves as a serious contender for the Stanley Cup, which they are 17/2 to win.
The Golden Knights have eight players with 16 points or more in comparison to the Red Wings who have just four players with as many.
Vegas are averaging 3.42 goals-per-game (ninth) and 2.63 goals-against (seventh).
An intriguing battle will commence between two captains and centremen who are at the top of their game.
Both 26 years-old, Jack Eichel leads Vegas with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) and Dylan Larkin has the most points for Detroit with 25 (nine goals, 16 assists).
The pair will likely meet a lot on the face-off dot where Larkin holds an advantage with a 57.9%-win rate compared to Eichel’s 42.8%.
Overall, though, Vegas go into the game faring better with a 53.1%-win team rate (7th in the NHL) and Detroit 47.5% (24th).
Logan Thompson made an NHL career-high 43 saves in Vegas’ last game against the Penguins on Friday, which was just his 34th start in the league.
With number-one Robin Lehner ruled out for the season, Thompson and 26-year-old Aidan Hill, acquired from the San Jose Sharks, have provided solid goaltending and whoever starts against the Red Wings will give them a chance to win.
Thompson - 6/1 to win the Calder Trophy - is 12-4-0 with a .921 save-percentage and 2.44 goals-against-average (GAA), while Hill is 5-2-1 with a .903 save-percentage and 2.74 GAA.
The Red Wings have also enjoyed consistency in net with Ville Husso, 27, acquired from St. Louis Blues, going 9-3-3 with a .912 save-percentage and 2.58 GAA.
His addition has been an important one with Alex Nedeljkovic, 26, who started the majority of games last season (20-24-9, .901 save percentage) struggling early with a 2-3-1 record, .880 save percentage and 3.97 GAA.
Nedeljkovic started in Detroit’s last outing and made 30 saves in a 5-4 shoot-out defeat to the Buffalo Sabres, indicating Husso will get the nod against the Golden Knights.
Golden Knights’ superstar defenceman Alex Pietrangelo has missed the last two games due to personal reasons, but they are hopeful of his return on Sunday.
It would be a major boost to Vegas as Pietrangelo has excelled in his third season with the team sitting second for points with 21 (three goals, 18 assists) and tied for seventh in scoring among NHL defencemen.
To the contrary, the Red Wings suffered a major blow when they were forced to put top-line forward Tyler Bertuzzi on injured reserve due to a hand injury following their last game against the Sabres.
It’s the second injury that Bertuzzi has sustained this season which has limited him to nine games and four points (one goal, three assists).
The 27-year-old was second on the Red Wings for points (62) and goals (30) last season and will be a significant miss for Lalonde’s side.