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Gameday: Golden Knights hope to stop Blue Jackets series sweep

The past week on the road looked like it would be a bad one for the Vegas Golden Knights. Starting off with two losses over four games never feels good. But the Golden Knights went on to win their next two, one in a shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and another by one goal against the Detroit Red Wings.

In the end, the Golden Knights should be feeling pretty good going into tonight’s game. The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming to visit tonight, and Vegas wants revenge.

The Golden Knights suffered a brutal 1-0 loss to the Blue Jackets back in December. It was a master class in goaltending, with both teams succeeding in stopping the puck. Still, Malcolm Subban was denied his first win of the season. Marc-Andre Fleury will be starting tonight, but Subban is back on the bench after coming off IR. A win tonight could be symbolic.

How sweep it is

Going into tonight’s game, Columbus has won two games on the road against the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. A win tonight would make their west coast road trip a sweep.

Indeed, the Blue Jackets have a better away record than home record. On home ice, they’re 13-11-2, but away they hold a 17-9-1. These last two wins especially were crucial for them, as they snapped a five-game losing streak. Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella told the media Friday that these wins weren’t pretty, but they found ways to get the W.

This is arguably good for the Golden Knights, who, unlike the Blue Jackets, have a significantly better home record compared to their away record. Columbus will be tired. They’ll be more prone to mistakes. And while other teams weren’t able to capitalize on their opponent’s sloppiness, the Golden Knights have the best chance of any of them to do so.

Also worth noting: In the all-time series between the Golden Knights and Blue Jackets, the home team has always won. Take that as you will.

A new hope for the first line

Boy, did we miss Reilly Smith before last week. He was excellent against the Red Wings, providing an assist in Jonathan Marchessault’s goal as well as bringing up the first line’s shot-share percentage from 33.33 to 60.

In Smith’s absence, William Karlsson only earned one goal and one assist, both against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Marchessault was considerably more productive, with four goals and one assist. That being said, three of those goals came against the Pittsburgh Penguins as well. So maybe that game was just special.

Regardless, it’s clear that Karlsson and Marchessault are only as good as who is surrounding them. That’s no knock to Brandon Pirri or Valentin Zykov, but clearly Smith’s chemistry is in line with his linemates. Perhaps with Smith playing his first home game since returning from injured reserve, the first line will get back to its high-scoring ways.

“Your Golden Knights are on the Ed Bernstein Penalty Kill”

If you’ve ever been to T-Mobile Arena, you’ve heard this announcement before. The penalty kill is a scary place to be for any NHL team.

Unless you’re the Golden Knights, that is. Vegas has become the fifth-best team on the penalty kill in the NHL. Their 83.9% success rate speaks for itself.

Long noted as a highlight of this season, Vegas’ PK unit has found much success this season. Brayden McNabb told reporters back in December that the PK was a a huge factor in the Golden Knights’ wins. “When we can kill the power play for the other team, it’s big momentum for us,” McNabb said. “We’re rolling right now, we’re doing the right things.” And just two days ago, Reilly Smith practically man-handled the puck in the Red Wings’ zone during a penalty kill in the second period. Clearly, consistency in the penalty kill is key.

While the Golden Knights have the fifth-best PK, the Blue Jackets have the fourth-best at 84%. So who comes out on top tonight? It might be the team with the best power play. Right now, Vegas’ PP% is 18.2, and Columbus’ is 16.2. Hopefully that has larger implications tonight.

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM