3 things to watch as the Golden Knights host the Predators
Vegas is on a seven-game winning streak and will take on a Nashville team that’s near the top of its division.
The last time the Vegas Golden Knights took on the Nashville Predators, they won in an extended shootout on Dec. 8 in Nashville. Despite six goals in regulation, it was a clash of goaltenders, as Malcolm Subban and Pekka Rinne dueled to the end. Malcolm bested his brother P.K. in the first battle of the Subban brothers.
That Nashville win was one of the many season-defining wins for the Golden Knights. It was one win of their current 12-game point streak that has pushed Vegas to the top of the Western Conference with 26 wins and 54 points. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to be the Vegas netminder of this matchup, as the Golden Knights look to extend their historic winning streak to eight games.
Since Fleury has returned from his concussion, he hasn't posted a save percentage below .920.
The Predators have lost four of their last six games. They enter off of a win over the Minnesota Wild, where Nashville netminder Juuse Saros got a shutout with 29 saves. P.K. scored two points (one goal, one assist) and Viktor Arvidsson and Scott Hartnell also scored. Nashville could be getting a major boost in the lineup with the potential return of defenseman and alternate captain Ryan Ellis, who has missed every game this season while recovering from knee surgery. Here’s what else to look for in this game.
Fix the power play
The power play went 6-for-44 in the month of December. That's, uh, not good. The Golden Knights’ inability to score with the man advantage is nothing new, and this stretch is no exception, striking out on their past 12 opportunities.
Take away the Golden Knights' game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Knights went 2-for-39 in December. That's awful. While the 5-on-5 play has been the reason why Vegas has continued to win, at some point, the Golden Knights have to capitalize on the power play and put teams away.
A lot of the problems on the power play were evidenced in the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs — bad zone entries, too much perimeter passing, a lack of net-front presence. The Golden Knights have to get on the inside of the penalty kill unit to generate high-percentage chances. They haven't been doing that. Against a contender that is the reigning Western Conference champions, that’ll need to be a must for the Golden Knights.
Defend the point
Nashville is tied for the most points from defensemen with 96. That's what happens when you have Subban, Mattias Ekholm, and Roman Josi on your blueline. Add the possible returning of Ellis to the mix, and this could be a problem for the Golden Knights. Nashville's fourth and fifth defensemen, Alexei Emelin and Matt Irwin, have combined for 14 points this season.
Slowing down the Nashville defense will be crucial. This is important not only at even strength, but on the power play. Thirty-eight of the 96 points by Nashville defensemen have come on the man advantage. That's been a crucial part of the Predators' power play.
Slow down the defensemen, you slow down the Predators lethal offense. It seems pretty simple.
Stay out of the penalty box
The Predators’ power play ranks third in the league. Vegas killed all four man-advantage chances in the December meeting. This time around, the Knights need to do better than eight penalty minutes.
The fewer penalty minutes the Knights have taken in a game, the better they've done over the course of this season. While the Knights’ penalty kill has improved, especially over December (when they allowed only six goals over 41 chances), limiting Nashville’s chances is a must. Nashville is 12th-best in the league in terms of Corsi on the power play.
The Predators are tied for third-most in the league in terms of road power-play opportunities. Staying out of the box against the Predators has been hard for teams. If the Knights are going to be successful, it can't be hard for them.
How to watch
Time: 7 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM