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Golden Knights at Flames Preview: Part one of a mighty important back-to-back

The Knights look to go 3-0-0 against Calgary this season.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The next two games will be pivotal for the Vegas Golden Knights in their fight for playoff positioning. First up is tonight’s matchup against the Calgary Flames, with a meeting in Edmonton on tap for tomorrow.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Knights held a six-point lead in the Pacific Division standings.

Those days are over.

The Knights have gone 1-2-0 in March and now trail the Oilers in the standings despite having the same number of points (82); the Oilers have the edge in ROW (regulation or overtime wins, a.k.a. non-shootout wins), which makes Edmonton the top seed following its 4-1 win against Columbus last night.

This is a crucial moment for Vegas, especially considering division matchups in the final stretch of the regular season are four-point contests.

The Flames (36-26-7) are in third place in the Pacific, trailing Vegas by just three points. Calgary is 3-0-0 in March and 6-3-1 over its last 10 games.

Johnny Gaudreau is really starting to heat up after a slow start to the season; in fact, he has been a point-per-game player in 2020 and has points in four straight and in nine out of his last 10.

However, the second-line trio of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane has been the most effective unit for Calgary of late. The Flames got Mark Giordano back in the lineup a few games ago, so the top power-play unit is intact. Vegas has given up two power-play goals in each of its last two losses, going 0-for-2 on the penalty kill in both games. Needless to say, discipline will be key tonight.

After all, the Knights are coming off a disappointing 4-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in a rough start to the team’s five-game road trip. Vegas gave up three goals in the first period, one of which came just 32 seconds into the game. The Knights were down by two goals within the first five minutes of the first period, much like the recent loss to Los Angeles in which Vegas trailed by two at the 7:39 mark.

Simply put, the Knights cannot allow the poor starts to continue.

It’s been an ongoing issue, even during the team’s eight-game winning streak, but it is not going to cut it in either of the next two games (or moving forward, for that matter). Clawing back from early deficits is exhausting and unsustainable, so a strong start will be key to Vegas’ game plan tonight.

One thing the Knights have going for them, though, is that they are 2-0-0 against Calgary this season, outscoring the Flames 12-2 and lighting the lamp six times in both games. That’s an unlikely (albeit possible) scenario for tonight’s game, but Vegas will need to take advantage of opportunities, especially since it could be a tight game between two teams desperate for points.

The Knights need to figure out how to play on the road after achieving so much success on home ice. There are only a handful of home games left this season, so the Knights need to make the transition quickly. Tonight is as good a time as any.

Here are the projected lineups for both clubs (subject to change):

Golden Knights

Jonathan MarchessaultPaul StastnyReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyWilliam KarlssonNicolas Roy
Brandon PirriChandler StephensonNick Cousins
William CarrierTomas NosekRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt
Alec MartinezShea Theodore
Nick HoldenZach Whitecloud

Robin Lehner
Marc-Andre Fleury

Flames

Johnny Gaudreau — Sean MonahanElias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk — Mikael Backlund — Andrew Mangiapane
Milan LucicDerek RyanDillon Dube
Sam BennettMark JankowskiTobias Rieder

T.J. Brodie — Mark Giordano
Noah HanifinRasmus Andersson
Erik GustafssonDerek Forbort

David Rittich
Cam Talbot


How to watch

Time: 4 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM