Golden Knights at Ducks preview: Vegas returns from Christmas with first place in sight

First game of a back-to-back for VGK with the more important game looming Saturday.

We’re back from Christmas break, as are the Vegas Golden Knights.

Hope you enjoyed the time off, and are ready to get back in the groove of hockey.

The next two days are going to be important for the Golden Knights. Saturday’s matchup with the Arizona Coyotes looms largely, but before the Golden Knights get there, they have to take a trip to the land of the Mouse and face the Anaheim Ducks.

This could be a trap game with Vegas looking ahead to Saturday; that could be labeled the biggest game of the season for the Golden Knights to date. Anaheim has lost six of its last 10 and are locked in a three-way tie for last place in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are coming off a 7-3 mollywhopping at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed all seven goals in what was his worst performance of the season.

Vegas is tied with Arizona atop the division with 46 points. The Knights will have two games in hand following tonight, and which will officially be their 41st game of the campaign. We’ve reached the halfway mark. Everybody get weird.

Here’s what to watch for.

Who is in net for the Golden Knights?

Conventional wisdom dictates that Malcolm Subban would get the start tonight. Vegas usually preps Fleury for the higher-profile games, but I would be concerned of putting him out there after what happened Monday against Colorado.

With Subban being the hot hand (6-1-1, 2.33 goals-against average, .927 save percentage in past eight starts), it makes a ton of sense to get Subban ready for a game like that.

Fleury has been on an emotional whirlwind for the past month. His GAA has ballooned to 2.81; he’s 3-2-1 since returning to the lineup Dec. 10, but that one-goal-allowed performance Dec. 10 against Chicago was his best performance. Since then, Fleury has allowed 21 goals in his past five starts.

He needs some, for lack of a better term, lesser competition. The Ducks have allowed 3.05 goals per game, good for 16th in the league, but Anaheim has scored only 2.51. That’s third worst in the league.

This would be a good combination of getting Fleury a quality start and where the offense could carry the load. If I had to guess at time of publish, Fleury gets the call tonight with Subban tomorrow.

Cody Glass’ likely return

Merry Christmas. Your present from the Golden Knights is the likely return of their first draft pick to the lineup.

Glass is expected to return after missing the past eight games due to taking an elbow to the head of Brendan Lemieux against the New York Rangers on Dec. 8. Vegas reassigned Valentin Zykov to AHL Chicago in correspondence with this expected move.

With Glass back, the top six should be reformed with William Karlsson centering with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith; while Paul Stastny returns to the second line with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.

Glass should be centering with Chandler Stephenson and Alex Tuch, which might be the best third line the Golden Knights could concoct this year. His return should also benefit the Stastny line power play, which was very wonky with Zykov.

The prodigal son returns at the right time. Everyone rejoice.

Poor John Gibson

He’s still one of the best goalies in the league, but man does he need help.

Since his shutout of the Islanders on Nov. 25, Gibson has allowed three or more goals in six of his next eight starts. He allowed 21 goals in his previous five starts before Nov. 25.

It truly is insane how far of a dropoff it’s been for the Ducks. They’re officially in rebuild mode. Hopefully Gibson is around long enough, and still really good, to see this thing through.

The Ducks would probably like to accelerate Trevor Zegras’ development, though.

How to watch

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM