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3 things to watch for as the Golden Knights square off against the Sabres

The Vegas Golden Knights are coming off their first win of the season, a 2-1 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild, but one can be forgiven for not feeling entirely convinced that the Knights are back on track following their rather disastrous season opener.

Yes, a win is a win is a win. The Knights outshot the Wild 42-30 and held the Corsi advantage (65-39) at even strength. They had 27 scoring chances to Minnesota’s 13, and they were plus-four in high-danger chances in a game in which Marc-Andre Fleury looked mostly good and Wild goaltender Devin Dubnyk simply stole a point for his over-matched team.

That is all fair to say.

However, while the Golden Knights technically got their first win of the season, let’s be honest and admit that shootout victories just aren’t as convincing as regulation wins. Or even overtime wins. Any win where hockey is played to decide the winner. Sure, the shootouts count, but no one says, “Wow, the team looked great last night! They squeaked out a win in a glorified skills competition!”

More importantly than my personal disdain for the shootout (seriously, ten minutes of 3-on-3 overtime would be far more exciting and would almost always end in a victory for one side or the other), two games into the season and the Golden Knights have scored just three goals. Last season’s breakout star William Karlsson does not have a point. The team’s big free-agent acquisition Paul Stastny also has zero points.

In fact, Fleury has more points (one assist) than all of Karlsson, Stastny, Reilly Smith, Erik Haula and Shea Theodore combined.

Call me crazy but I don’t believe that will continue much longer, and yet still the early season offensive struggles, at least in terms of production, have been concerning and will need to be corrected.

In Vegas’ third test of the season, the Knights will take on the Buffalo Sabres (1-1-0), a team on the rise trying to put an end to a run of seven straight seasons without playoff hockey, four of which involved being one of the worst teams in the NHL.

Buffalo appears to be headed in the right direction. Finally.

Team captain and franchise star Jack Eichel leads the way with two points in the team’s first two games, while Conor Sheary, who was essentially given away by the Pittsburgh Penguins in order to get out from under Matt Hunwick’s contract, has two points (both goals) as well.

Rasmus Dahlin, the 2018 first overall pick, has so far been unable to crack the scoresheet, but if his first two games are any indication, the Knights will be seeing close to 20 minutes of him in this one.

Meanwhile, like Vegas, the Sabres’ key offseason acquisition has yet to make a difference offensively as Jeff Skinner remains pointless through two games.

In goal, Carter Hutton (the presumed starter) has looked very good through two games, sporting a 2.09 goals-against average to go with a .942 save percentage, aided heavily by his 43-save performance against the New York Rangers, which resulted in a 3-1 victory for the Sabres.

Here are three things to watch for in this afternoon’s matchup.

Could someone get the Hockey Gods some coffee? The top line needs its luck back, please

As mentioned earlier, the top line has, for the most part, been held off the scoresheet this season, though there has been some redemption courtesy of Jonathan Marchessault’s two points.

But the line hasn’t been bad. Not by any stretch.

All three members sport Corsi-For percentages above 62 percent (which is amazing considering anything over 50 percent is considered good), and with possession metrics that sky-high, one could make the logical jump that most of the line’s inability to score can be broken down to simply being a bout of bad luck.

Considering Vegas seemed to have nothing but good luck ever since the puck first dropped on opening night last season, maybe this should have been somewhat expected, but it’s time to see the big guns put up some offense.

When everyone predicted Karlsson would see a drop in shooting percentage, no one meant it would drop to zero…

Vegas needs its top offensive threats to get back to their game and start making plays, and their offensive contributions will be key in today’s matchup.

What to say about the third pair?

Uh… It hasn’t been very good.

Now, yes, small samples and all that.. While as a pair Jon Merrill and Nick Holden are at about 51 CF%, in terms of actual shots on goal they are sitting at 37.5% for. That’s rough. They have also been on the ice for four goals against to just one for, and, unsurprisingly, are also sitting at 33.3 percent high-danger scoring chances for.

In short, they are being out-shot, out-chanced and out-scored. You’re not alone if you’re eagerly awaiting the return of Nate Schmidt so that so one (if not both) of these defensemen can add being out of the lineup to that list.

Granted, they are only playing 16 or so minutes per game, so it’s not as problematic as if, say, Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb were struggling. But for Vegas to start winning games and getting back to the team we know they can be, they need all three pairings carrying their weight until Schmidt returns.

Watch the Sabres. Seriously.

As a long-time hockey fan I can tell you that the hardest thing to do is watch the other team. Naturally our eyes and attention gravitate to players we like and have grown attached to. But, doing so is really at your own detriment. Half the fun of today’s NHL isn’t just watching your team and how they perform, but also enjoying the young stars on other teams.

Vegas only gets a few chances per season to see Eastern Conference teams like Buffalo, Toronto, Pittsburgh, etc. So I’d suggest that you take time to really focus on and appreciate players like Dahlin, Eichel, Sheary, Casey Mittelstadt, Sam Reinhart and the rest of the young core Buffalo has in place. Obviously, shutting down these young stars will be a huge part of Vegas’ agenda, but it’s worthwhile to at least witness and appreciate the breadth of talent.

Those are some really exciting players, and until they figure it out and make the playoffs some time down the road, you won’t see much of them save for the couple times a year they play the Golden Knights.

How to Watch

Time: Noon PT

TV: ATT&T SportsNet, NHL Network

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM