Gameday: Golden Knights look to start winning streak against Canucks

The NHL’s most volatile division will have a fun night in Vegas.

The Vegas Golden Knights are coming off a thrilling 3-2 overtime win against the Stars and will look to start a winning streak tonight against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back from last night’s 4-2 loss to the Sharks in San Jose.

But before diving into this preview, let’s just take a look at the Pacific Division standings.

The Arizona Coyotes sit on top with 42 points. In second and third, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are close behind at 40 points. The Knights have 39 points, good for fourth place, while the Canucks have 36 points and sit in fifth. Those two teams will play tonight, and the outcome may or may not affect the division standings.

Even the teams near the bottom of the division are still within reach. The last-place Los Angeles Kings have 29 points, which is still only 13 points behind Arizona; by no means is the Pacific decided. Compare this division to the Metropolitan, for instance, where the Washington Capitals (first) have 28 more points than the last-place New Jersey Devils.

All of this boils down to the fact that tonight is not insignificant for the Golden Knights. It’s important for the Knights to show that they can beat the Canucks on home ice, and it’s important to climb in the standings or at least not lose ground. If nothing else, a win tonight will show that Vegas can hold a candle to the teams that matter the most and remain in the hunt for the division lead.

An on-and-off defense and an impressive goalie. Sound familiar?

There are two major similarities between the Golden Knights and Canucks.

Both Vegas and Vancouver have inconsistent defenses at the moment. The Golden Knights are 20th in the NHL in goals against with 2.86 per game, while Vancouver has a slightly worse mark in the category with 2.97 per game, good for 18th overall (the Detroit Red Wings are first in the NHL in goals allowed with an average of 3.94. Yikes). But let’s be clear, it is not Vegas’ or Vancouver’s defense that is to thank for that. For both teams, it’s often the goalies that bail them out.

The Canucks are actually missing Alexander Edler, their best defenseman, at the moment. Other players have had to step up in his absence, which has led to mixed results. But one player has really stepped it up in recent games, and that’s Jacob Markstrom.

Look at Vancouver’s recent win against the Carolina Hurricanes, for instance. Markstrom made 43 saves. That is insane. The Canucks went on to win 1-0 in overtime, largely thanks to Markstrom’s ability to rob the Hurricanes. Though Markstrom has had his struggles, he’s given his team a chance to win on most nights. That sounds eerily similar to the Golden Knights’ scenario at the moment. When the Knights’ defense is bad, Marc-Andre Fleury or Malcolm Subban can often bail them out.

It should be interesting to see how it goes with two teams suffering from similar issues, though it’s unclear if Markstrom will start since he manned the crease last night against San Jose.

Patching things up

Max Pacioretty is the most important player on the Golden Knights right now. This isn’t up for debate. He leads the team with 30 points. He also has 13 goals, tying for the lead with Reilly Smith. When Vegas needs him, he is there to make huge plays.

Just look at the overtime winner against the Dallas Stars from two nights ago.

He completely fooled Ben Bishop with a fake, causing him to charge out of the paint. Pacioretty held on, got around Bishop and slid the puck into the net to win the game. The forward made it look so easy, it’s hard to comprehend. No. 67 is on a three-game goal streak at the moment, and each one has been a show-stopper.

But his ability to make plays for his linemates cannot be understated. He contributed to another goal from Chandler Stephenson on Friday night, and every member of the second line had excellent Corsi For percentages. Stephenson had 56 percent. Mark Stone had 61.54. Pacioretty had 64.00. That is... so, so good. Expect more from him tonight.

Root, root root for the home team

Vegas has won as many games as it has lost at home with an 8-5-3 record at T-Mobile Arena this season.

For a team that prides itself on having the best hockey venue in the land, the Knights have got to step it up at home. The advantage was clear in the franchise’s first two seasons. If Vegas gets that back, the Knights will have a much easier time throughout the regular season and especially in the playoffs.

Tonight is another test for Vegas. If the Knights can prove themselves against a division opponent, especially one that played last night, they’ll be in good shape.

How to watch

Time: 5 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV, ESPN+

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM