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3 things to watch for as the Golden Knights face the Coyotes

Things have changed greatly since the last time these two rivals faced each other.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas Golden Knights’ goalie Malcolm Subban (30) makes a save in overtime
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights don’t have much time to celebrate their Friday night overtime victory. They complete the second half of a back-to-back Saturday when they take on the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale.

Vegas is coming off a 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks, and while that should normally be cause for celebration, the Golden Knights blew a 4-1 lead and nearly gave the game away. To make things worse, David Perron is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and Maxime Lagace is “not feeling well,” per coach Gerard Gallant. This could mean we see the starting return of Malcolm Subban, who played the third period and overtime last night in his first appearance since mid-October.

The Golden Knights have two victories over the last-place Coyotes, but this is a different Arizona team taking on Vegas tonight. The Coyotes have won four of their last five games, including a 3-2 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings in Glendale. After an 0-10-1 start, Arizona has gone 6-6-2 since. Considering the start to the season, that’s not bad.

Despite Arizona’s recent surge, the Coyotes have allowed the most goals in the NHL, and they’re in the bottom five in goal scoring. Outside of Clayton Keller, who’s been a bright spot and a Calder Trophy candidate, the Coyotes are still a mystery. They’ve averaged just over three goals a game in the past five.

The Golden Knights are riding a four-game winning streak into Arizona, and have won five of their past six. If that trend is to continue, here’s what to expect tonight.

Malcolm back in the middle?

Y’all, the Knights have a goaltender back. Subban was as cold as can be last night. He hadn’t played in more than a month, and there he was, sitting out the first 40 minutes.

Subban stopped every shot he faced: all three of them. But it was Subban who got the win for the Golden Knights, his third in four games. Although, Subban should have four. After all, it was Oscar Dansk coming in in relief who allowed the tying goal to the St. Louis Blues.

But barring any last-minute circumstances, Subban should start and it will feel good to see Subban in net against the Coyotes. After all, Lagace was in Vegas as an emergency starter. His 11 starts had some bright spots, but his success still lies in the future. Subban posted a .936 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average before getting hurt.

Defense needs to be solid

Vegas’ defense in the second period Friday was too loose. It was unlike what it’s been for most of the year. It’s easy looking at this team, being tied for 15th in the NHL in fewest goals against and yet having gone through four goaltenders, and recognizing that the Knights truly do have a great defensive system.

Gallant had a system he wanted, implemented it, and found that the players played well within it. A case in point is Shea Theodore, playing the most minutes of any Knights player against the Sharks. He also played shorthanded time, something it would have been hard to predict when Theodore joined the team.

Losing turnovers in their own defensive zone and missing zone exit passes were too common on Friday. But when Subban got in net, the defense in front of him started playing better, and that progress went into overtime.

The defense has also been pivotal in wins over the Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. If that defense continues to show up against the Coyotes, it will be a much more manageable game.

The Golden Knights can’t take the Coyotes lightly

This four-wins-in-five-games streak the Coyotes are on can’t be overlooked. They’re scoring goals and putting up impressive wins in the process. The wins at Toronto and Ottawa, especially, were benchmark wins for them. Then again, it’s nowhere but up for the Coyotes at this rate.

But as of this writing, these aren’t the same Coyotes the Golden Knights opened the season with. While Vegas outscored Arizona 7-3 in the two earlier meetings, understand the circumstances: Vegas played with high emotions, and it was its home opener two nights later.

In short, don’t expect Deryk Engelland to score a goal.

But while the Coyotes are playing better, so are the Golden Knights. Hence why they’re in first place in the Pacific Division. It’s going to be a fun matchup of the hottest team in the league against the worst, yet improving, team in the league.

How to watch

Time: 5 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM