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Golden Knights at Lightning Preview: Vegas looks to win third straight against red-hot Tampa

Vegas will take on Tampa Bay for the first time this season as the Lightning stay good.

NHL: FEB 05 Golden Knights at Lightning
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore during the NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since a 6-1 drubbing of their interstate rival Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been on a tear. That win sparked a 10-game winning streak that lasted from before the Christmas break (Dec. 23) until Jan. 12, and since that game, Tampa Bay has gone 15-2-1. They’re currently on a three-game winning streak, with all three victories coming over Pacific division opponents.

Needless to say, the Vegas Golden Knights have their work cut out for them. Vegas has had a much different experience over that time period, with a 7-7-1 record, but are on a two-game winning streak under newly hired coach Peter DeBoer since coming back from a 10-day break. They’re coming off perhaps their best game of the year over the Nashville Predators, but may even need to build on that performance against a Lightning squad that’s beginning to look like one of the best (regular season) teams ever, which they were in 2018-19.

The Lightning are being led by a very familiar trio — Nikita Kucherov again leads the team in points, as well as goals, with Steven Stamkos not far behind with 23 tallies and Brayden Point at 46 points. Victor Hedman also paces the Lightning blue line with 42 points and nine goals.

Theodorian heroics

Shea Theodore enters this game on a two-game point streak, with only 44:16 played across those two games (a bit low for somebody who has, undisputedly, been the best Golden Knights defender so far this season). He’ll be perhaps the most important player on the Golden Knights in this game for a few reasons, but the main one: perhaps no Golden Knight, since the founding of the franchise, has been better against the Lightning than Theodore.

He’s got two goals, four assists and six points in four games against Tampa Bay, not scoring a point in just one of those four games. In addition, Theodore has a 55.73 percent Corsi, 57.92 percent expected goal share and 60 percent high-danger share against the Lightning at even strength. He has yet to allow a goal.

If anybody is going to enter hero mode for the Golden Knights against the Lightning, look for the guy who it’s traditionally been, and who seemingly has another gear against Tampa Bay.

Vegas’s goaltenders

The X-factor in this game is likely Vegas’ goaltenders. Since Dec. 23, it’s been a story of two nets between the Golden Knights and Lightning. One, Tampa Bay, has seen some of the best goaltending since that date, with a .937 even strength save percentage and .934 all strengths save percentage. Andrei Vasilevskiy, last year’s Vezina winner, after a rough start to the season has found himself again.

Vegas’ net is a much different story. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban have been one of the worst duos since the 23rd, with just a .900 even strength save percentage and .880 all strengths. That’s one of the worst marks in the NHL in that time, and it’s a reason Gerard Gallant likely found himself out of a job. With the Lightning entering with one of the best PDOs in the league since their turnaround, and with a 13.19 all strength shooting percentage, the Lightning have found their shooting talent again.

The Golden Knights need their netminders to stop them. After a shutout against the Predators, Fleury will likely get the net in this game. He just needs to stop Tampa Bay as much as he can.

Possession battle

These are two of the best possession teams in the league. The Golden Knights have never had a problem out possessing teams, and in fact, if their goaltending and shooting luck were any better, the Golden Knights would be well clear of the Pacific division, because they’ve been so dominant. The Lightning are re-finding their system, and have been great during this last dominant run.

But the Golden Knights have not been the most successful team, even when dominating possession, and that’s something that will need to change against the Lightning. That’s in part due to a low — at least relative to their other stats — goals for percentage at even strength, jut 53.33 percent since Dec. 23 (the Lightning, in contrast, are operating at 68.97 percent).

The Golden Knights are first in Corsi, shot share, and have been excellent in expected goal share in this time span, but the Lightning lead only in expected goal share. If Vegas can get a similar performance to their last game against Nashville, that might be just what they need.

Lineups

Golden Knights

Jonathan MarchessaultPaul StastnyReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyChandler StephensonMark Stone
Alex TuchCody EakinWilliam Carrier
Tomas NosekNicolas RoyRyan Reaves
Nate SchmidtBrayden McNabb
Shea Theodore — Nick Holden
Zach WhitecloudJon Merrill
Marc-Andre Fleury
Malcolm Subban

Lightning

Steven StamkosBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Ondrej PalatAnthony CirelliTyler Johnson
Alex KillornCedric PaquettePat Maroon
Carter VerhaegheMitchell StephensYanni Gourde
Victor HedmanJan Rutta
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Mikhail SergachevKevin Shattenkirk
Andrei Vasilevskiy
Curtis McElhinney

How to watch

Time: 4 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM