The Vegas Golden Knights (5-5-1), coming off a dramatic overtime win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday, now look to pull themselves above .500 for the first time this season as they head to Nashville to play the Predators.
Vegas presently sits sixth in the Pacific Division but is just three points behind the San Jose Sharks for the top spot. Meanwhile, the Predators (8-3-0) currently sit atop the Central Division with 16 points.
As a team, Nashville is tied for seventh in goals for (38) and tied for eighth in goals per game (3.45) while allowing the seventh-least goals against per game (2.55) on the season.
Filip Forsberg leads the team in goals (10) and points (14), followed by Ryan Johansen with 13 points (two goals, 11 assits) and Viktor Arvidsson’s 11 points (seven goals, four assists).
Forsberg and Arviddson are also the proud owners of matching 25-percent shooting percentages, which is totally sustainable and will in no way drop over the course of the season. Just like Cody Eakin’s 42.9 percent. In cased you missed it, that was what they call sarcasm.
On the back end, it is Norris Trophy finalist P.K. Subban who leads the blue line in points (2-7—9), immediately followed by Mattias Ekholm (2-6—8). With Pekka Rinne on injured reserve, Juuse Saros has taken over the starter’s crease for the Predators. He has a 5-2-0 record with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. However, the Predators have given up 13 goals in their last three games.
Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s game:
Goaltending needs to step up
In his last two starts, Marc-Andre Fleury has managed an .866 save percentage. This is not good enough. Not if the Golden Knights want to start gaining ground on San Jose and pull themselves free of the cluster of Pacific Division teams.
But tonight it will be Malcolm Subban’s chance to shine as he takes on his brother, P.K., in Music City. Malcolm has a 2.71 goals-against average and an .871 save percentage in two appearances this season, which is also not nearly good enough. That being said, he made 41 saves on 44 shots in last year’s tilt in Nashville, coming away victorious with a 4-3 win in a shootout. He hasn’t really had a chance to get his feet wet this year, making tonight an important opportunity for him; the Knights need him to take full advantage of it.
Secondary scoring, please?
The Golden Knights have just one player with four or more goals through 11 games this season. William Karlsson has just three to follow his 43-goal breakout performance last season, and the other two players matching his production this year are...Cody Eakin and Ryan Reaves.
When Ryan Reaves has the second-most goals for your team, you know something is terribly, terribly wrong.
I’ve used this as a point in a previous “things to watch” this season, and it demands to be repeated: the secondary scoring must get going.
Yes, there have been injuries. Injuries to key players. And yes, it would be unfair to expect similar production as last season. However, the Knights presently rank second-to-last in the league in goals per game (2.27), which is unacceptable for a team spending as though it is supposed to be contending.
Things should improve when the Knights get their roster healthy again, but that does little for them right now. Someone needs to step up. They can’t expect Reaves to do the heavy lifting for long.
Special teams not so special
If there is a flaw in the Predators’ game it is their rather pedestrian special teams. The power play sits at No. 25 in the NHL at 14.6 percent, while the penalty kill ranks 23rd at 75 percent.
But both teams are shades of terrible on special teams and sit in the bottom six of teams in power play efficiency. They also have average-to-below penalty kills. The Knights’ power play may not be the worst in the NHL anymore, but it’s still 29th in the league with just a 10.8 percent conversion rate. The penalty kill is better but still merely average, sitting 15th overall at 79.3 percent.
So, interestingly enough, whichever team manages to be just slightly less awful than the other will hold a decided advantage in the game.
Listen, it’s not exactly the way you want to think going into a game; no one wants to try to be less awful than the other team. But in this case, it could very well be true.
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM