The Vegas Golden Knights will get a big boost on the injury front when they open a seven-game homestand on Thursday night against the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins in Las Vegas.
Center Jack Eichel, who has missed the last 11 games with a lower-body injury, took part in a full practice on Wednesday and head coach Bruce Cassidy said he would be back in the lineup barring any setbacks following the workout.
Despite playing in just 27 of the team’s 40 games, Eichel is third in scoring with 29 points, including 13 goals.
Vegas, which doesn’t play another road game until Jan. 22 at Arizona, has won two in a row after defeating Colorado 3-2 on Monday in Denver, but has struggled at home this season, winning just 11 of 20 contests (11-9-0). The Golden Knights have won their last three at T-Mobile Arena, but they weren’t easy, with one being a 5-4 win over Nashville in overtime and another a 5-4 victory over St. Louis via a shootout.
Before the current home win streak, Vegas had gone 1-6-0 over a seven-game home stretch with the lone 2-1 win coming in overtime over Philadelphia. Still, the Golden Knights, who are 15-3-2 on the road, lead the Western Conference with 54 points.
“(The homestand) is a big one,” Eichel said. “It’s an opportunity for us to establish ourself on home ice. I think we were really good early in the year. We’ve let it slip, but then, we’ve been playing at home the last little bit.”
After the Penguins, who have lost five straight (0-3-2), the Golden Knights host Los Angeles Kings in a Pacific Division showdown on Saturday. Florida, Edmonton, Dallas, Detroit and Washington also visit during the homestand.
“We have such a good fan base and it’s such a great environment at T-Mobile,” Eichel said. “You want it to be hard for other teams to come in here and play us.”
Pittsburgh is just 1-4-2 over its last seven games and will be without starting goalie Tristan Jarry, who left the team’s 2-1 loss to Boston in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park on Monday in the first period with a lower-body injury. Star defenseman Kris Letang, who was placed on the non-roster list following his father’s death, also will miss the contest.
“It obviously was a real competitive game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said of the loss to the Bruins. “It was a pretty even game. There’s a fine line between winning and losing, and we ended up on the wrong side of it.”
Backup Casey DeSmith, who is 4-7-2 with a 2.99 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, replaced Jarry and stopped 19 of 21 shots but yielded a pair of third-period goals to Jake DeBrusk.
“Looking back on some past years, I feel like I’ve played my best hockey — or at least some of my best hockey — when I’ve been in this situation before,” DeSmith said.
Dustin Tokarski, who went 10-12-5 with a 3.27 GAA last season with the Buffalo Sabres, has been called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL to back DeSmith up.
“Dustin, he brings a lot of experience. He’s got a significant amount of time in the NHL,” Sullivan said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think his experience level as that third goalie is invaluable for us for this very situation. So we feel confident that he’s a guy that we know we can put in the net, and he’s going to give us a chance to win.”
–Field Level Media