Preview: Golden Knights look to right the ship against visiting Blue Jackets

The Golden Knights are 4-5-0 all-time and 1-0-0 this season against Columbus.

The Vegas Golden Knights snapped a four-game winning streak Thursday against the Calgary Flames but will look to get back in the win column when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets this afternoon.

After erasing a two-goal deficit in the second period, Vegas proceeded to yield five unanswered goals in a lopsided 7-2 loss marred by an “awful” power play, as Bruce Cassidy labeled it.

RECAP: Golden Knights suffer ugly 7-2 loss to Flames

The Blue Jackets are 1-5-1 in March and are coming off a 7-4 loss to Anaheim. Columbus is the worst team in the NHL with just 49 points through 68 games but will have a good chance to land Connor Bedard in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.

Vegas is in a very different position.

The Golden Knights remain in first place in the Pacific Division, but the Kings are tied with Vegas with 90 points after losing 3-2 in a shootout last night to Vancouver. However, Vegas has a slightly better points percentage (.652 to .643) with a game in hand, making today’s matchup quite significant with the season winding down. While there are still 12 games remaining, every point has added meaning at this time of year.

The Golden Knights are 4-5-0 in the all-time matchup against Columbus after winning the previous meeting this season, a 3-2 shootout decision back in late November.

Vegas scored two goals in the span of 56 seconds late in the first period, but the Blue Jackets scored in the second and third periods to force extra time. Paul Cotter scored the game-winner in the seventh round of the shootout.

The Blue Jackets made a major splash in the offseason, stunning the hockey world by landing Johnny Gaudreau, who is no stranger to the Golden Knights. The former Flames winger has five goals and 12 points in 15 career games against Vegas, including a goal in the Nov. 28 meeting.

However, things haven’t gone according to plan for Gaudreau, who signed a seven-year, $68.25 million ($9.75 million AAV) contract last summer.

Despite playing on an ailing Columbus squad, though, Gaudreau is still producing at nearly a point-per-game pace and leads the team with 63 points in 66 games. Sniper Patrik Laine (48), captain Boone Jenner (40), center Jack Roslovic (36) and rookie Kent Johnson (34) round out the top-5 for the Blue Jackets.

The Golden Knights have gotten contributions from throughout the lineup in recent games, and many players who were in the midst of extended goal droughts have broken free (i.e., Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, etc.).

That being said, the Golden Knights need to do something about their power play. If anything, Thursday’s blowout loss was a clear sign that Vegas still has plenty of work to do on the man-advantage.

Today’s matchup will pit Vegas against the 20th-ranked penalty kill, as Columbus is operating at 77 percent. After going 0-for-4 the other night, Vegas’ power play ranks 20th overall (20.8 percent).

On the flip side, the Blue Jackets’ power play is clicking at 18.8 percent (25th), while the Vegas penalty kill is shutting down 79.3 percent of opposing power plays (17th).

Columbus ranks 29th in goals per game (2.63) and 31st in goals against (3.81), while the Golden Knights are ranked 16th with an average of 3.19 goals per game and 10th in goals against, yielding an average of 2.78 per contest.

If Jonathan Quick gets the nod today, he’ll have a chance to bounce back from a rough outing against Calgary in which he was caught out of position multiple times. The loss was not on his shoulders alone, but Thursday’s showing was a far cry from his first four games with Vegas. He is now 4-1-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and one shutout in five starts.

Notably, he’ll have a chance to go up against his “former” team, as Quick made a brief stop in Columbus after being traded from Los Angeles; he was relocated to Vegas the following day.

While both Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit are making promising progress, Quick and Jiri Patera will be the two netminders dressed for this afternoon’s game.

Should Patera get the start, he will have a chance to begin his NHL career with a 2-0-0 record after picking up a 5-3 win against the Blues last week; Patera stopped 30 of 33 shots for a .909 save percentage in his NHL debut.

As part of the trade that landed Quick, the Golden Knights shipped Michael Hutchinson to Columbus. Hutchinson, who never actually played a game for the Golden Knights, could start against his former club today; he is 0-2-1 with a 4.06 goals-against average and .879 save percentage in five games (two starts) with the Blue Jackets.

Otherwise, Vegas likely will face Daniil Tarasov, who is 3-10-1 with a 3.56 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 14 starts.

The two points up for grabs in today’s game are critical for the Golden Knights; coming away with anything less will be a failure.

Keys to the game

  1. Fire up the power play: The Golden Knights went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to Calgary after going 2-for-4 against Philadelphia in the previous game. Clearly, there’s a big difference between the Flyers and the Flames. But regardless of opponent, the Golden Knights’ power play has been inconsistent and unreliable since Mark Stone got hurt back on Jan. 12. Since then, the Golden Knights have had the worst power play in the NHL, scoring just six goals on 56 opportunities (10.7 percent). While the league-best Boston Bruins have had similar issues on the power play in that time, a lackluster man-advantage is not something the Golden Knights can afford to ignore for much longer.
  2. Light the lamp first: The Golden Knights have not won a game this month without scoring the first goal. In fact, the Golden Knights are 7-0-0 when taking a 1-0 lead but 0-2-0 when giving up the first goal, which they did in a 2-1 loss to Florida and in Thursday’s loss to Calgary. It definitely doesn’t guarantee a favorable outcome, but it’s something Vegas has been able to capitalize on over the past few weeks.

Projected lineups

Golden Knights
Ivan Barbashev — Jack Eichel — Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Pavel Dorofeyev
Brett Howden — Chandler Stephenson — Michael Amadio
Paul Cotter — Teddy Blueger — Phil Kessel

Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud

Jonathan Quick
Jiri Patera

Blue Jackets
Johnny Gaudreau — Boone Jenner — Patrik Laine
Kent Johnson — Jack Roslovic — Kirill Marchenko
Eric Robinson — Cole Sillinger — Emil Bemstrom
Liam Foudy — Lane Pederson — Mathieu Olivier

Nick Blankenburg — Erik Gudbranson
Tim Berni — Andrew Peeke
Gavin Bayreuther — Adam Boqvist

Michael Hutchinson
Daniil Tarasov