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3 things to watch as the Golden Knights face the Panthers

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Vegas forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith (and coach Gerard Gallant) are out to prove Florida made a mistake.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Vegas Golden Knights
Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith (19) celebrates with left wing Jonathan Marchessault (81)
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights look to stay at the top of their game against the Florida Panthers, who aren’t at the top of theirs. The Golden Knights enter the contest fresh off a 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with Marc-Andre Fleury making 24 saves in the victory against his former team.

The Panthers have lost two straight. Florida has kept games close, but have yet to find consistent success. The Panthers have a 12-15-5 record and are seventh in the Atlantic Division. Their season hasn’t turned out as they’d hoped.

But the Panthers are still not a team to take for granted. Florida has three players with over 30 points — Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov. Trocheck leads the team with 13 goals, while Huberdeau is tops in assists with 23. The trio play together on Florida’s first unit power play, a unit which can be dangerous.

But this season, it’s a tale of two quite opposite teams. That’s bad news for the Panthers, as two of the most important Vegas players, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, came from Sunrise, Florida in the expansion draft. Oh, and this is Gerard Gallant’s first game against his former team and he subtly, probably, wants to win this game. Just saying.

Gallant, Smith and Marchessault revenge game

The storyline of the revenge game has been a constant for the Golden Knights this season. In almost every game, a Vegas player is getting a chance for revenge on a team that gave them up in the expansion draft. This tends to make the players play better, i.e., Malcolm Subban, James Neal, William Carrier, etc.

When players have scored on their former team, the Golden Knights are 5-2-0 (goaltenders are 2-0-0 against their former teams). That’s great news, considering this is the first time that first-line forwards are playing their former team. It’s also great because Smith and Marchessault give the Knights two chances to accomplish the feat.

Marchessault has scored just one point in his last five games and hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 3 against the Arizona Coyotes. Smith went scoreless against the Penguins, but before that had a two-game goal scoring streak. He hasn’t added an assist since Dec. 1 against the Winnipeg Jets. A revenge game likely couldn’t have come at a better time to set them both on the right track.

Gallant likely knows some of the players in Florida, including Barkov, Huberdeau, and Trocheck, quite well having coached them for two years. Even though it might be a different system in Florida, the personnel is primarily the same. Great news, considering Gallant hasn’t been outclassed as a coach much this season, which means that extra edge could mean a more dominant game.

Avoiding turnovers

In the last five regulation wins for the Golden Knights, Vegas has limited themselves to less than five turnovers four times. The one exception was a crazy game against the Los Angeles Kings where the Golden Knights gave up 15 turnovers but still had six fewer than L.A.

Controlling the puck is something the Golden Knights haven’t done consistently in recent games. They’ve given up the puck 41 times in the past five, with some of those leading to goals, like this costly tally against the Carolina Hurricanes:

The Golden Knights can’t afford to turn over the puck against a team that’s capable of scoring like Florida. That happened against Pittsburgh, it happened against the Dallas Stars, and it certainly happened in the Nov. 25 game against the Coyotes, when the Golden Knights only gave the puck up once.

Getting the power play back on track

The Golden Knights have not scored a power-play goal in their past five chances. Over the last five games, the Knights have just two goals in 14 opportunities. The Golden Knights have to be better than that if they want to continue this stretch of winning they’re on.

The Knights can’t go on long goalless streaks on the man-advantage. That’s haunted them in the past, including in the three-game losing skid to end November and start December.

This would be a great game in which to grab a power-play goal (or two). The Panthers have the 25th best penalty kill in the NHL and have taken the sixth-most penalties. There will be plenty of chances for the Golden Knights to score. It’s just a matter of whether they can capitalize.

If they do, this could be an embarrassment of riches for the Golden Knights. The Colorado Avalanche put up seven against Florida on Dec 9. The Golden Knights could score upwards of five goals with some help from the power play.

How to watch

Time: 5 p.m. PT

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

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM