Slumping Golden Knights visit revamped Rangers

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights spent most of the first half of the season leading the Pacific Division. Now their slump is creating a logjam at the top of the division.

Tied for first in the Pacific with 61 points, the Golden Knights hope two days of practice can help them avoid a third straight loss Friday night when they visit the New York Rangers.

Vegas is 2-5-1 in its past eight games and 0-1-1 on its six-game road trip. After opening the trip with a 4-1 loss to the lottery-bound Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, the Golden Knights suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

Coupled with the Seattle Kraken’s 6-1 rout of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, Vegas is tied at the top of the Pacific with the second-year team, and the Kraken have played two fewer games (47). Vegas is one point ahead of the third-place Los Angeles Kings, who have played one more game and are visiting Florida on Friday night.

The Golden Knights were 66 seconds away from a regulation victory over the Devils when Dougie Hamilton’s tying goal caromed in off defenseman Brayden McNabb.

Hamilton’s power-play goal 3:54 into overtime won the game for New Jersey, and capped a loss in which the Golden Knights allowed two regulation goals off their own defensemen.

“We played a responsible hockey game,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Guys were trying to play the right way, but unfortunately two went off our guys into the net. We weren’t able to overcome that.”

Tuesday’s loss is part of a wider slump for the Golden Knights. Buoyed by a nine-game winning streak Oct. 24-Nov. 10, they raced to a 13-2-0 start to the season but are 16-15-3 since then.

Goaltender Logan Thompson hasn’t been sharp during the slump — 8-10-1 with a .901 save percentage since mid-November.

New York is playing with a revamped lineup featuring stars Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin on the top line with Chris Kreider and a reunion of “Kid Line” of youngsters Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.

The Rangers have split their two games with the revamped lines, although in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss at Toronto, Kreider switched at times with Jimmy Vesey to the line with Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck. In the four games before changing the lines, the Rangers scored just seven goals.

After Zibanejad scored twice and Panarin collected three assists in Monday’s 6-2 home win over the Florida Panthers, the Rangers could not protect a one-goal lead going into the third period against the Maple Leafs.

“I liked our game (against the Maple Leafs),” Gallant said. “I thought we played real well in a tough building against a real good team. I want the two points, but we’ll take the one and run.”

The Rangers are 15-4-3 in their past 22 games, including 8-3-0 at home since a 5-2 home loss to the league-worst Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 3.

— Field Level Media

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