Gameday: Golden Knights face surging Capitals in D.C.

Vegas heads to Washington to see their Stanley Cup Final opponent from two years ago, who have won their last five games.

The Vegas Golden Knights are 2-0-3 in their last five games. They’ve found a way to blow a lead in three of those games, and it’s resulted in overtime losses. Hey, it could be worse, but the Golden Knights are struggling. Good thing, then, that their next opponent is the Washington Capitals, who ... have won five in a row.

One of the reasons the Capitals are this hot is John Carlson, who has 26 points in 17 games and is coming off a three-point performance in the Capitals’ win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. His defensive numbers don’t look as good, but as it stands, Carlson might be the best offensive defenseman in the league at this very moment.

And Washington is built off much more than Carlson. Alex Ovechkin is still one of the league leaders in goals scored with 13 and has 22 points in 17 games. Jakub Vrana has been very good for the Capitals’ top six and Evgeny Kuznetsov is running at a point-per-game pace since coming back from suspension. The Capitals are tied for the best goals for per game mark in the NHL with the Nashville Predators at four and are tied for the 17th-best goals against mark.

Their defense is exploitable and their goaltending hasn’t been ... well, let’s just say if it’s a goaltending duel Marc-Andre Fleury has the edge. Braden Holtby is operating at a .895 save percentage and Ilya Samsonov behind him has a .915 but is untested in the long run. That could result in a good time for the Golden Knights, who have not found great offense in recent games.

Marc-Andre Fleury rests up well

Fleury has a .948 save percentage in games after a missed start (well, after a supposed missed start. This stat includes the Arizona game). In games where Fleury started the previous contest, he has a .918 save percentage. Having Malcolm Subban back should thus be a good thing for Fleury, but it also means that he should have a better game against the Capitals.

Fleury has 2.05 goals saved above expected in his 11 games played after he started the previous game. He has 1.82 goals saved above expected after games where he rested the previous game. That averages out to 0.19 in games where he’s been playing a while and 0.61 in games where he’s fresh.

There are two different versions of Fleury so far this season, and the Golden Knights are getting the better one against the Capitals.

Max Pacioretty has gotten hot, but he could be hotter

Pacioretty has four points in his last five games and has 14 points through 17 games so far this season. But the thing is, Pacioretty is a goal-scorer. He only has four of those through those 17 games. After 22 last season, Pacioretty was supposed to return to the 30-goal scorer the Golden Knights thought they traded for. The 30-goal scorer he was for four years from 2013 to 2017.

But Pacioretty’s produced more than he’s given credit for. Pacioretty leads the team in shots with 68 and is third with 5.55 individual expected goals for. That means he should have about two more goals than he currently does. That’s in part because of a very low 5.88 shooting percentage, the second-lowest among Vegas forwards with a goal this season (Cody Eakin and Brandon Pirri are stuck at zero).

Pacioretty has been really good, but his shooting percentage should improve, and he should start scoring goals again soon. He’s proved himself to be a passing threat, but adding the other offensive dimension back to his game will make him one of the biggest threats in the Vegas lineup.

The penalty kill is a pattern

The Golden Knights are 4-0-0 in games where they score shorthanded. They’re 0-4-2 in games where they’re scored on by the opposing power play. In games where neither happens? 5-1-1. The penalty kill is the best predictor of how Vegas will do in a certain game, and it’s become one of their most important units.

Having the second-best unit in the league helps (they’ve been passed by the San Jose Sharks? Welp). But the Capitals come in with a top-five power play unit (converting at 25.9 percent) and besides Boston the Golden Knights have not yet faced one of those.

This will be a test for the Golden Knights’ shorthanded players. How they do on that test will likely decide the outcome of this game.

Or Vegas could just not take penalties, but that’s very unlikely considering they haven’t done it yet this season.

How to watch

Time: 4 p.m.

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

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9/1340