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What to watch for as the Golden Knights take on the Canadiens

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Pacioretty makes his big return to Montreal, where the underperforming Knights meet the overachieving Habs.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a matchup that many Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights fans circled heading into the season as a can’t miss game. Max Pacioretty makes his return to Montreal. Things aren’t going as expected for Patches and the Knights so far this season, and the Habs are exceeding all expectations and playing extremely well. The Golden Knights are two points out of a playoff spot with a 7-8-1 record, while the Habs are sitting at third place in the Atlantic Division with an 8-5-3 record. The Knights faced the Habs twice last season, splitting the two games.

Pacioretty’s return

He was captain of one of the league’s most historic teams for three seasons. He scored 30+ goals for them five times. He was a fan favorite, and his return will surely be emotional. If there’s one thing that the Habs do right, it’s putting together touching ceremonies and epic tribute videos. When P.K. Subban returned to Montreal for the first time after his trade, he couldn’t help but let some tears flow while on the ice.

Tributes aside, the trade hasn’t looked great for Vegas so far. It’s way too early to actually assess it, but let’s just look at the numbers up until now. Pacioretty has struggled early on with just two goals in 12 games. His lack of goal scoring isn’t worrisome yet, though. It’s not an easy task to switch conferences, learn a new team’s system, and get right into the groove straight away. He’s also dealt with an injury, and his supposed linemate Paul Stastny has been out of action for the majority of the season.

On the other side of the trade, Tomas Tatar has been great for the Canadiens with six goals and 14 points in 16 games. Tatar was acquired by the Golden Knights at the trade deadline last season but saw the writing on the wall when he spent a majority of the postseason in the press box, putting up two points in eight games during their trip to the Stanley Cup Final. The other piece of the deal, prospect Nick Suzuki, has 13 goals and 25 points in 16 contests in the OHL, putting him on track for a second straight 100-point season.

The battle of the struggling goaltenders

The Golden Knights don’t have to face Carey Price tonight, as backup goaltender Antti Niemi will man the crease. Normally, that would be music to the Golden Knights’ ears, but Price hasn’t looked great this season. He has given up at least four goals in his last four starts and just hasn’t looked himself. He had one of his worst games in recent memory on Thursday, letting in six goals against the Buffalo Sabres in a 6-5 loss at home. Price has a 5-4-3 record alongside a 3.07 GAA and .892 save percentage. Niemi’s 3-1-0 with a 3.13 GAA and .893 save percentage.

Carolina Hurricanes v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

While the goalies in red, blue and white aren’t faring too well, the same can be said for the ones rocking black and gold. Marc-Andre Fleury’s record is 7-6-1, and he has a 2.51 GAA paired with a .901 save percentage. Malcolm Subban is 0-2-0 with a 2.83 GAA and .881 save percentage. Since the Golden Knights are taking on the Boston Bruins tomorrow in a back-to-back, it’s likely we’ll see Subban in net against Boston with Fleury starting in Montreal. If they want to pick up some points in the final two games of the road trip, both goaltenders will have to be sharp.

Keep an eye on these two players

Shea Theodore is starting to heat up, with a point in each of his last five games. He’s now up to two goals and seven points in 16 games so far this season.

Max Domi has four goals and eight points in his last five games and has been red hot for the Canadiens since he arrived this summer. He already has nine goals and 19 points on the season, matching his goal total from each of his last two seasons.

How to watch

Time: 4 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM