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Gameday: What to watch for as the Golden Knights host the Blackhawks

Vegas has never lost against Chicago. This may be a good time to break the Golden Knights’ recent cold streak

Vegas Golden Knights v Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks skates by Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights in NHL action
Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights have hit a cold streak. They’ve lost five of their last six games and their offense is running on empty. Their defense hasn’t been much better.

The Golden Knights aren’t as bad as they’ve been playing recently, they’ve just lacked consistency and shooting luck and it’s turned games they should and could have won into games they lost. Vegas needs a game to put them on the right path.

And that might come versus the Chicago Blackhawks, a team the Golden Knights are undefeated against (although their most recent game may be the closest the Blackhawks have come). The Blackhawks are near the bottom of the Central division so far this season, and while they’re on a hotter streak (2-0-1 in their last three games), they’ve still not played excellent hockey.

The Blackhawks rely on goaltending above all things, kind of like the Golden Knights. They’ve just been better at it than Vegas so far this season, as Robin Lehner has the second-best save percentage in the league (more than one game played) and Marc-Andre Fleury has the 13th.

Here’s what else to watch for as the Golden Knights host the Blackhawks.

Two low scoring defenses

The two most low-scoring defenses in the league will clash in Vegas as the Golden Knights have the lowest, with just 21 points from their defense, and the Blackhawks have the second-fewest, with 22. There are prominent scorers, of course, but not enough on either side.

This is something that should play into Vegas’s hands, as their forwards have been better two-way players over the initial part of the season. But Chicago’s got a group that are no slouch, with Alex Nylander, Dylan Strome and Brandon Saad all being good in both directions.

If either defense is able to secure a scoring edge in this game, it could determine the game. It would be a nice thing to get Vegas’s defense on the board once more, as they currently have just five goals from their defensemen so far this season, and the leading goal scorer on the blue line is Nick Holden.

The Blackhawks’ weaknesses are Vegas’s strengths

The Blackhawks have the 30th-best defense by expected goals against per 60 at even strength so far this season. The Golden Knights have the eighth best offense by xGF/60. On the flip side, the Golden Knights’ 22nd-best defense goes up against the Blackhawks’ ninth best offense. That matchup more strongly favors the Golden Knights.

So does their possession stats, as the Blackhawks are in the mid-40th percentiles across the board and the Golden Knights are in the 50’s. In fact, the last time these two teams played, those stats (except for high-danger share, where the two sides tied) favored Vegas. This is the kind of opponent the Golden Knights can and need to beat.

Marc-Andre Fleury did a great job in that game, yes, but the Vegas defense did even better. They limited the Chicago offense to just one expected goal at even strength, and if they can do that again, this will be a game they can win. If they do so, it would be nice if they could learn lessons and apply them to further games as well.

Mark Stone is cold, can he deliver a stunner

Over the last three seasons (so 2017-18, 2018-19, and now 2019-20), Mark Stone has eight points in five games against the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s one of the most explosive players against the Blackhawks historically that the Knights have on their roster (Shea Theodore is the other) and he’s killed the current opponent.

And the thing is, Stone isn’t exactly hot right now. In fact, you could say he is Stone Cold. You know what, I should probably be Stunned for that reference but I’m sticking by it. Stone hasn’t scored in each of his last four games, and that’s been a major factor in Vegas losing so much recently, that they’re playing essentially without their MVP.

Even on some bad Ottawa teams over the last few years, Stone has great possession stats against the Blackhawks as well. He’s had a 55.13 percent Corsi, 62.34 percent expected goal share and 68.97 percent high-danger share. Those are all excellent, and he’s coming off one of his best possession games in the most recent game between these two teams.

If there’s a jump in production coming for Stone again, it will likely be this game.

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: NBCSN

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9/1340