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Coyotes at Golden Knights preview: First place in the Pacific Division on the line

With 46 points each, Vegas and Arizona will meet with likely playoff implications.

Arizona Coyotes v Vegas Golden Knights
Conor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes skates with the puck ahead of Jonathan Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

An unexpected loss to the Anaheim Ducks took some of the tension out of this game, but when the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes meet on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, it will still be as the two best teams in the Pacific division.

Malcolm Subban got the start coming out of the holiday break against Anaheim after a rough game from Marc-Andre Fleury against Colorado and failed to live up to his previous eight games. It wasn’t him, however, for the most part, as the Golden Knights let themselves down ahead of Subban with a sloppy exhibition against the Ducks. They’ll need to be much better, much tighter against the Coyotes.

This will be the first game for the Coyotes since the holiday break started on Tuesday, and they enter after a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. They have lost five of their last nine games, and the loss of Darcy Keumper, who was having a potential Vezina season before getting injured, is still looming over the team.

Here’s what to watch for.

Vegas still seeking possession edge

In the two games the Coyotes and Golden Knights have already played so far this season, both sides have already taken a win, and limited the opponent to just one goal while doing so. However, there is one common thread running through both games: Arizona took advantage at even strength and had better possession numbers.

The Golden Knights are a top-10 team in the NHL in Corsi, shot share and high-danger share, and are 11th in expected goal share at even strength this season. The Coyotes are 23rd in both Corsi and high-danger share, 19th in shot share and 18th in expected goal share this season, significantly less impressive. Yet, when these two teams meet, Vegas has so far been on the losing side.

Taking advantage of the Coyotes in terms of possession is the one thing the Golden Knights have not yet done in the season series, and doing so might give them an edge. A significant possession win over the Ducks might give the Golden Knights a morale boost, or, with a loss despite those stats, it might weigh on Vegas. But getting the puck out of their zone and into Arizona’s will be crucial in this game, and it has yet to be seen from the Golden Knights.

Can Fleury bounce back

Marc-Andre Fleury, after games where he posted a .800 save percentage this season, has posted another .800 save percentage six times. He has posted a save percentage above .900 five more times, and has gotten a shutout as well. The Golden Knights’ record when Fleury has posted a .800 save percentage is 2-9-2.

Surely you see where I’m going with this: Fleury is riding a back-to-back streak of two games in the .800’s, both against the Vancouver Canucks and the Colorado Avalanche. Fleury has five previous examples this season where he had back-to-back starts below expectations, and four of those five times, it resulted in a great game the next time out (the other was a .828 save percentage against Montreal on Halloween).

If Fleury can bounce back with a good start against the Coyotes, that would give the Golden Knights a significant edge against arguably their most important divisional rival this season.

Taylor Hall’s hot start

Taylor Hall, since being traded to the Coyotes, has scored a point in three of his four games, with the only missing contest being the Coyotes’ pre-break game against the Predators. He has one goal and two assists in those four games, and has three goals and four assists in his last 10 games between both Arizona and the New Jersey Devils.

Slowing down Hall will be a crucial aspect of the game for Vegas’s defense, but the Coyotes keep their talent largely separate. Yes, Hall and Phil Kessel are playing together with Christian Dvorak, but Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz are being kept separate along with Carl Soderberg and Vinnie Hinostroza plays with Derek Stepan and Lawson Crouse.

The Coyotes, who have scored just the 21st most goals and 23rd most goals per game coming into this contest, are much scarier with a top-end scoring threat like Hall. Slowing him down in the midst of a hot start to his Arizona tenure will be challenging but critical.

Expected Lineups

GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith

Max PaciorettyChandler StephensonMark Stone

Alex TuchPaul StastnyCody Glass

William CarrierTomas NosekRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt

Nic HagueShea Theodore

Deryk EngellandNick Holden

Marc-Andre Fleury

Malcolm Subban

COYOTES

Taylor Hall — Christian DvorakPhil Kessel

Clayton KellerNick Schmaltz — Carl Soderberg

Lawson CrouseDerek StepanVinnie Hinostroza

Michael GrabnerBrad RichardsonConor Garland

Jakob ChychrunAlex Goligoski

Oliver Ekman-LarssonJason Demers

Jordan GrossJordan Oesterle

Antti Raanta

Adin Hill

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM