Blue Jackets at Golden Knights Preview: Vegas aims to snap two-game losing skid

Keegan Kolesar will make his NHL debut. Jonathan Marchessault is a GTD.

The Vegas Golden Knights finish up their seven-game homestand tonight as they welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to T-Mobile Arena.

Vegas has lost two in a row after winning four straight and will look to right the ship tonight against a tough defensive club.

The Knights are coming off a 5-2 loss to Los Angeles that saw the Kings score four goals in the span of just over six minutes in the first period, so getting off to a better start tonight will be key.

Ironically, Columbus also has had an issue with falling behind in games of late, which is something the Knights have learned a lot about over the last week.

In fact, the Knights have found themselves trailing by three or four goals in three straight games. The first time it happened, the Knights were able to mount a comeback and ultimately defeat St. Louis in overtime, but the last two games have not ended well for Vegas.

Similarly, the Blue Jackets have gotten off to rough starts in recent games, giving up the first goal in all five games in 2020. That being said, their 3-1 loss to San Jose the other night was the team’s first regulation loss on the road since Dec. 7.

Even so, Columbus is 6-12-5 when giving up the first goal. The Knights will look to exploit that trend tonight, but fittingly they’ll have to take on Elvis in Vegas to do so.

Elvis Merzlikins has taken over as Columbus’ starting netminder with the injury to Joonas Korpisalo, who had just been named to his first All-Star game and was at the top of his game, recording a 2.11 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 22 games since early November.

Merzlikins has played well in his stead, however, going 4-2-0 in six starts with a 2.20 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. In that stretch he has given up just 13 goals for an average of 2.2 goals against per game.

The next-man-up mentality is not new for the Blue Jackets, though, as Columbus has been dealing with injuries all year. The Blue Jackets are one of the top teams in man-games lost at roughly 170; Korpisalo was just the latest blow to a team that is vying for playoff contention following the franchise’s first-ever playoff series win last year.

Columbus (21-16-8) is just two points out of the second wildcard slot in the Eastern Conference, and the Blue Jackets have proven to be a formidable opponent for the Knights.

This is the second meeting between these teams this season. Vegas picked up a 2-1 win in Columbus in early November thanks to two goals from Reilly Smith, who, coincidentally, enters tonight’s game with goals in three straight. However, the Knights are 2-3-0 all-time against Columbus.

Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski has been on a tear in recent games. He has seven goals and eight points in his last six games, and he scored multiple goals in three of those contests. He now leads the league in goals by a defenseman (15) despite missing two weeks of action.

For the Knights, All-Star Max Pacioretty has two goals on 17 shots in his last two games and four goals on 26 shots in his last four.

But if Vegas can’t keep the puck out of its own net, especially early on, it might not matter how hot Pacioretty has been.

Marc-Andre Fleury is 2-1-0 in his last three starts but has given up 12 goals for a 3.99 goals-against average and .859 save percentage. Vegas’ goaltending has given up a combined nine goals on 39 shots over the last two games, good for a .770 save percentage. It’s hard to win games in today’s NHL with numbers like that, though the team as a whole needs to put forth a more balanced and complete 60-minute effort for a better result.

Vegas (24-17-6) remains first in the Pacific Division but is starting to lose its footing. Another loss tonight could drop them to third or even a wildcard slot.

The Knights will look to get back on track tonight before embarking on a seven-game road trip, which will go through the bye week and All-Star break.

Keegan Kolesar, a former draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is expected to make his NHL debut tonight, while Jonathan Marchessault is a game-time decision but is considered doubtful to play; below are the projected lines for both teams.

Blue Jackets projected lineup

Gustav Nyquist (#14) — Pierre-Luc DuBois (#18) — Nathan Gerbe (#24)
Sonny Milano (#22) — Boone Jenner (#38) — Nick Foligno (#71)
Emil Bemstrom (#52) — Alexander Wennberg (#10) — Kevin Stenlund (#11)
Eric Robinson (#50) — Riley Nash (#20) — Jakob Lilja (#15)

Zach Werenski (#8) — Seth Jones (#3)
Vladislav Gavrikov (#44) — David Savard (#58)
Scott Harrington (#4) — Markus Nutivaara (#65)

Elvis Merzlikins (#90)
Matiss Kivlenieks (#80)

Golden Knights projected lineup

Alex Tuch — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
William Carrier — Paul Stastny — Keegan Kolesar
Tomas Nosek —  Cody Eakin — Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt
Nick Holden — Shea Theodore
Jon Merrill — Deryk Engelland

Marc-Andre Fleury
Malcolm Subban

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM, 1340 AM