What to watch for as the Golden Knights host the Canucks

Vegas will look to improve its dominant 17-3-2 record against Pacific Division teams as the Knights and Canucks clash at T-Mobile Arena.

This is the third of four meetings with the Canucks this season, with the Vegas Golden Knights taking each of the first two matchups, most recently coming away with a 6-3 victory Feb. 23.

Since that game, Vancouver has traded Thomas Vanek and lost star rookie Brock Boeser to a season-ending injury, going 0-5-0 since Boeser’s last game. He still leads the team in goals (29) and points (55) despite playing just 62 games this season. He was in the running for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, but considering he and Bo Horvat are the future of this franchise, Vancouver will not take any chances with his injury, especially with the playoffs well out of reach.

Daniel Sedin and Sam Gagner lead the Canucks with two points apiece in the season series, though William Karlsson leads all players with three goals and five points. If he finds twine tonight, he will reach the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career and will be the first player in Knights history to score 40 goals.

Heading into tonight’s tilt, Vegas (46-21-5, 97 points) finds itself eight points ahead of San Jose in the Pacific Division and nine points behind the Western Conference-leading Nashville Predators, who have gone 14-0-1 in their last 15 games and have already clinched a playoff berth.

Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s division matchup.

Back so soon

After getting shipped to the Canucks in a trade-deadline deal for defenseman Philip Holm, Brendan Leipsic will make his return to T-Mobile Arena tonight, though he will find himself in the visitor’s locker room this time around.

Leipsic achieved instant success with the Canucks and immediately found himself skating on the top line with Horvat and Boeser. He scored six points in his first four games but has gone pointless in his last five, though the Canucks were shut out in three of those contests.

Leipsic, who now wears No. 9, is sure to be motivated to find the scoresheet tonight after scoring two goals and 13 points in 44 games with the Knights.

Interestingly, the Knights were 33-8-3 when Leipsic was in the lineup and 8-8-1 when he was not in the lineup prior to the trade; in 11 games since the trade, the Knights have gone 5-5-1. Essentially, Vegas is 13-13-2 without Leipsic in the lineup this season, so it will be interesting to see how the Knights fare tonight with him on the other side of the puck.

A better start

Though Vegas pulled off an impressive 4-0 victory Sunday against Calgary on the shoulders of Karlsson’s second-period natural hat trick and Marc-Andre Fleury’s 42-save shutout, the Knights were completely outplayed in the first frame, getting outshot 20-6. Additionally, Vegas gave up the first goal in each of its last three losses, two of which came on home ice.

However, the Knights have an impressive 30-5-1 record when scoring first this season, and the Knights’ win percentage when scoring the first goal is tops in the league at .833. The Canucks, meanwhile, are 10-28-3 when they give up the first goal, which makes Vegas’ start tonight that much more significant.

Special teams

Both the Knights and Canucks have a 21.9 percent efficiency rate on the power play for the season. However, the Knights’ power play has been better on home ice and the Canucks’ has been better on the road. In fact, Vancouver has the fifth-best road power play in the league (21.9 percent).

Since Jan. 1, Vegas has the fifth-best power play percentage on home ice at 28.3 percent while Vancouver has the seventh-worst penalty kill on the road  (76.6 percent).

After getting shut out in three consecutive games last week, the Canucks managed three goals in a 5-3 loss to San Jose over the weekend. However, all three of their goals came on the man advantage. While it was a home contest for Vancouver, it serves to demonstrate that the Canucks were held without an even-strength goal in all four of their games last week. Further, the Canucks have not scored an even-strength goal since their Mar. 7 matchup against Arizona.

Part of that is because Vancouver just hasn’t been scoring in general. The Canucks have been outscored 21-13 in March while posting a 1-6-1 record. But if the Knights can stay out of the box, that could go a long way towards a Vegas win tonight.

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV (Free Game)

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM