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Gameday: Golden Knights head to Florida to end back-to-back

After a bad loss against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Golden Knights need a strong response against the Panthers.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Florida Panthers
Golden Knights right wing Alex Tuch and defenseman Deryk Engelland battle Florida Panthers left wing Jamie McGinn
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights returned from their bye week only to lose badly to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Golden Knights now head to Sunrise for the second game of a back-to-back, looking to battle a Florida Panthers team that, at the moment, is not contending for a playoff spot.

In fact, the Panthers are 11 points out of the second wild card. Perhaps that’s why they recently traded Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan (along with a bunch of draft picks). That new-look lineup will likely take its first spin against the Golden Knights.

Responding defensively

In the second leg of back-to-backs this season, the Golden Knights are 3-4-1. Two of their three wins have come after dominant wins the night before. Only one has come after a loss like the one the Golden Knights just experienced — a 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Dec. 9 after a 5-1 defeat against the Los Angeles Kings.

What lessons can be gleaned from that December victory? Well, the first is to play better (pretty obvious), but specifically in terms of high-danger chances. The Golden Knights were much better in the second game against the Stars at controlling where shots came from while continuing to get to the high-percentage area, amounting to a 5-2 differential at 5-on-5.

In addition, the Golden Knights stepped up their defensive game overall, allowing just 15 shots against at even strength. Against the Hurricanes, the Golden Knights allowed 27. They’ll need to be significantly better defensively in this next game.

A rested Marc-Andre Fleury

The Golden Knights will get a rested Marc-Andre Fleury, fresh off a third-place finish in this year’s save streak All-Star contest. Fleury has not gotten much time to rest this season, but he just got eight days (well, minus the All-Star festivities). Fleury is 6-1 in games after missing a start, which is just further indication that Malcolm Subban should perhaps be playing more when he returns from injury.

It’s also an indication that when Fleury is allowed to get some rest, he becomes a much better player. Two of his six shutouts this season have come after Subban starts. Fleury’s lone loss when skipping a game came all the way back on Nov. 1.

The first line

The Golden Knights are a combined 16-8-3 when at least one of the members of the first line — Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and William Karlsson — scores a goal. When multiple members score in the same game, the Golden Knights are 6-1.

Perhaps that’s why it’s so concerning that the Golden Knights’ top one line hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 19 and only had five goals in the month of January. The return of a healthy Reilly Smith was supposed to have helped, but against Carolina, the first line was lackluster.

Something needs to be done to kickstart the top line. This game against Florida, a revenge game for both Marchessault and Smith, would be the ideal time to do so.

Without the first line, and even with the success of the second group of Alex Tuch, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, the Golden Knights have been lost. The team is 13-12-3 when zero members of the first line score.


How to watch

Time: 4 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM