The Vegas Golden Knights face the Columbus Blue Jackets after the last two Golden Knights games ended in overtime disappointment. Vegas needs to establish a lead that they don’t give up, as the Golden Knights went from four points in the last two third periods to two in the standings.
Luckily, neither of the Golden Knights’ games were against Pacific division opponents, but they were two teams in the Montreal Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets that Vegas should have beaten. Their goaltending should have been up to the task in both games as well, so this has been a problem with the skaters.
The Blue Jackets enter this game on a four game losing streak (although that includes a point in the standings from a game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues). One of the problems has been their offense — only one player has hit the double-digit mark in points through the first 14 games of the season (PIerre-Luc Dubois has 10). Dubois is also the only player with more than five goals on the season.
The goaltending, despite a superior defense, has also been a problem. Both Columbus goaltenders are under a .900 save percentage so far this season, with Joonas Korpisalo at .890 and Elvis Merzlikins at .882. Therefore, if the Golden Knights are able to generate their usual pressure, they should be able to secure more than a few goals.
Here’s what to watch for as Vegas attempts to get back in the win column.
How not to give up the lead
The past two games, the same thing has happened to the Golden Knights. The team they were facing, who they had the lead against for most of the game, came back in the third period and won in overtime. So, a quick reminder on how Vegas can not do that.
First, possession needs to remain in Vegas’s hands. In the first and second periods of the last two games, while at even strength, the Golden Knights have had a combined 52.08 percent Corsi, 52.63 percent shot share and 51.63 percent expected goal share. In the third and overtime, that number has fallen to 38.24 percent Corsi, 36.84 percent shot share and 47.88 percent expected goal share. In other words, Vegas has tended to sit on their lead and get out played late in the last two games. That’s a trend that needs to be avoided.
Next, the Golden Knights need to be more disciplined as the game continues. Against Montreal and Winnipeg, the Golden Knights had 5:33 combined time shorthanded in the third period. Wouldn’t you know it, both teams scored on their respective power plays. Against Montreal, the discipline was missing all game (Vegas had 3:49 in the second period) but against Winnipeg those minutes racked up in the third, and the Golden Knights had just 1:10 between the first and second.
So if the Golden Knights would only continue to play their game and play in a more disciplined fashion, they could have avoided those two overtime defeats. Now they need to step up their game against Columbus in the third period to avoid it happening again.
The other line
According to MoneyPuck, three of the best lines in hockey to this point this season have been Vegas’s:
The first, second and fourth have all had great seasons to this point, and part of that is line chemistry between three players who truly fit each other’s games and who can drive play together. Even William Carrier, Tomas Nosek and Ryan Reaves have experience playing together from last season and thus are able to drive possession and generate chances better than even a lot of first lines. The William Karlsson and Mark Stone lines were expected to be great coming into this season.
It’s the third line of the Golden Knights that’s lagging behind. Especially now with Alex Tuch potentially missing (more) time, the third line needs to improve. It’s not like the Golden Knights don’t have talent there. Cody Glass has definitely earned a spot in the NHL this season, and Cody Eakin had one of his best seasons in his career last year. But they’ve not been good together (41.4 percent Corsi, 41.51 percent shot share), and Glass has a 55.56 percent Corsi and 54.55 percent shot share without Eakin.
Those numbers need to improve if Vegas will drive play across all four lines, or else face very few minutes without Tuch. Nicolas Roy, who could slot in on the third or fourth line after being recalled from the Chicago Wolves, could help, but that remains to be seen.
The first pairing needs to be better
At even strength, Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb have a 51.85 percent Corsi, 45.45 percent shot share, 37.50 percent goal share and 45.13 percent expected goal share. Sure, you might think, but they faced the best competition the last three games and did so with a defensive zone start.
Except here’s the thing: Shea Theodore and McNabb had better possession stats across the board against similar competition with a defensive zone start percentage of 57.89, versus McNabb and Schmidt, who have 33.33 percent of their starts coming in the defensive zone.
It’s hard to put all of this on the reappearance of Schmidt. While he hasn’t been able to drive play as well as Theodore so far this season, Nate’s not the one the puck is bouncing off of and into the net. They’ve been rusty together, but there’s hope for them to be better.
After all, last season Schmidt and McNabb had a 49 percent Corsi, 52.34 percent shot share, 52.60 percent expected goal share, and 54.92 percent high danger share. Even if the two fail to reclaim their magic, the Golden Knights still have Theodore, who clearly worked well with McNabb so far this season, and they can see what Schmidt can do with Jon Merrill against lesser competition.
This will be a game where the Golden Knights will be able to see if it was just a rough start for the pairing or if they need to turn back to one that worked better.
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV
Radio: 98.9 FM/1340 AM