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3 things to watch for as the Golden Knights meet up with the Lightning

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“Oh hey Tampa Bay, didn’t see you there.” — Vegas, probably

Tampa Bay Lightning v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Golden Knights’ two games against the Lightning last season were two of the best games of the regular season. A Tampa Bay-Vegas Stanley Cup Final almost happened, and it would have been an exciting matchup. Since Vegas won both meetings in the regular season, the Knights likely would have stood a better chance against Tampa Bay than they did against Washington.

This afternoon, the Knights and Lightning will square off in the first of two meetings this season. Vegas is riding a four-game point streak, going 3-0-1 over its last four games, while the Lightning haven’t lost in regulation since Oct. 11 and have gone 5-0-1 in that stretch. One of these streaks must end, right?

Here’s what to watch for in today’s contest:

Puck unluck

Hey, remember that thing we talked about? That thing about the curse? Well, um... it’s still there.

Despite all the wins, the fact that the Golden Knights are above .500, at least in terms of games in which they earn a point, doesn’t cancel out the lingering effects of the curse.

See, Vegas ranks 28th in the NHL in PDO, which measures shooting percentage and save percentage combined. In other words, it’s a good measure for puck luck. The average is supposed to be around 1.000, but the Golden Knights have just a .958. That has to work itself out eventually, right?

Just five Vegas players have a PDO above 1.000: Jonathan Marchessault, Brad Hunt, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Cody Eakin. It’s maybe not a good sign that two of the guys who haven’t played a full season (Hunt, Eakin) are on that list. At the same time, Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, Tomas Hyka and Max Pacioretty are near the bottom.

Further, 14 players have an on-ice shooting percentage under five percent. The average is usually around 10.

The pucks just have to start bouncing Vegas’ way, and though the Knights benefited from an increased PDO last season, it should recover sometime soon.

Will it happen against a Lightning team that ranks third overall in PDO with a 1.039? Who’s to say? But that would be preferable.

Top six versus top six

Following their 4-1 loss to Vancouver on Oct. 11, the Lightning put the “Triplets” line back together, according to Left Wing Lock. That means that Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov are back on the same line, and Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Yanni Gourde make up the top line. Those two lines have combined for 18 and 20 points, respectively. That’s a scary top six to come up against.

But when the Golden Knights’ best six are struggling — the first line has combined for 23 points, but the second line, including both Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch, has just four — that’s an especially horrifying thought. The Knights are going to need to rely on their first two lines to play excellent defense, something the top line has done throughout the season but something the second has been unable to master.

The Knights also need more from their bottom nine in general if they’re going to start being successful. But now would be an especially good time for Pacioretty, Erik Haula and Tuch to get going.

Goaltender battle(?)

Marc-Andre Fleury will be back in net for the Golden Knights, and Andrei Vasilevskiy will guard the Lightning’s net. Though these teams scored a combined 12 goals in their two games last year (with Fleury and Vasilevskiy in net), this year’s season series is shaping up to be a little less explosive, at least on one side.

It’s no secret that Fleury has had his ups and downs this season. When he struggles, a.k.a. records a save percentage below .900, the team loses. When he has a solid game with a better save percentage, the team wins. That doesn’t fully hold true after Wednesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks since Fleury managed a .923 save percentage in regulation and overtime. However, technically he had a .750 save percentage in the shootout, so it sort of counts.

Either way, Fleury will have his work cut out for him today. In fact, he’ll need to best a goaltender who has a 5.98 goals saved above average, a .941 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average. That’s going to be a very hard thing to do, but an increase in offense should help.

Also, let’s just hope Theodore, who scored one goal and five points in two games against the Lightning last season, goes crazy again. After all, a goal from a Vegas defenseman would be nice.


How to watch

Time: 3 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM