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What to watch for as the Golden Knights face off against the Ottawa Senators

The Golden Knights will look to avoid dropping three straight games after walking away from the Los Angeles Kings home-and-home series with an 0-1-1 record. Vegas has lost three of its last five games and will depart on a five-game road trip following tonight’s contest.

For a little context, the last time these teams played was back on Nov. 4, and it was Maxime Lagace’s first career NHL win (my, how time flies). Despite a late push by the Senators to bring the game within one, Vegas held on for a 5-4 victory, with Erik Haula, David Perron and Jonathan Marchessault named as the three stars of the game.

Ottawa has been on a downward spiral for quite some time, though the dust could begin to settle now that the trade deadline has come and gone. Dion Phaneuf, Nate Thompson and Derick Brassard are out, but captain and franchise defenseman Erik Karlsson remains a Senator despite rumors strongly suggesting he was on the move, possibly to Vegas. The Senators have since stated that they will make him a contract offer this summer.

As for the team, the Senators sit second-to-last in the Eastern Conference and are 29th in the NHL with 52 points. They have lost five straight games and went 6-8-0 in February. Mark Stone leads the club in scoring with 19 goals and 57 points in 53 games.

Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s tilt with the Senators.

What could have been

Karlsson will play his first game at T-Mobile Arena just days after a deal that would have made him a Golden Knight supposedly fell through at the last minute.

The 27-year-old Swedish defenseman is one of the most talented players in the world and was the central focus of this year’s trade deadline, which wrapped up Monday afternoon.

While this is merely a subplot in tonight’s game, it’s still going to be a storyline of interest considering rumors suggest the deal came down to the wire.

However, the fact of the matter is that the Knights need to focus not on what could have been but on what shouldn’t be tonight.

Karlsson has 44 points in 57 games this season and is tenth overall among defensemen in points per 60 minutes (1.75). He scored his first goal of the year Nov. 4 with just thirty-three seconds remaining in the game.

He is simply way too talented to be afforded any luxuries on the ice, and containing him will be a key component in Vegas’ game plan for tonight.

Shots shots shots-shots-shots-shots

Getting shots on net will not only be important to test the shaky and inconsistent play of Senators goalie Craig Anderson, but it also could be a key to the outcome of tonight’s game.

The Knights have gone 27-9-3 in games in which they have outshot their opponents. On the flip side, Ottawa has lost 20 games (20-0-5) when being outshot, which is the most of any team in the NHL.

Vegas averages 33 shots per game, which is good for eighth overall in the league standings, while allowing an average of 30.4 shots against per game, which ranks sixth.

Ottawa, on the other hand, has the 24th-highest average of shots per game (30.5) and the sixth-highest average of shots against per game at 33.2.

Shifts in special teams

As always, special teams could play a significant role in the outcome of tonight’s contest, especially considering how both teams have played over the last few weeks.

Vegas’ power play has been red-hot, scoring 11 goals in 38 attempts in February for a 28.9 percent success rate, which ranks second in the league behind only the Florida Panthers.

However, the Knights have struggled mightily on the penalty kill, sitting dead last in the league with a 70.3 percent success rate after killing just 26 of 37 power plays in the month of February.

This could present problems for Vegas considering the Senators scored nine goals in 41 attempts in the last month, good for 13th overall with a 21.9 percent success rate, which is up from the team’s season-long average of 16.6 percent (27th overall).

It’s clear that Vegas will have to remain disciplined and stay out of the box tonight.

Lineup notes

Shea Theodore will return to the lineup tonight after missing six games, though Nate Schmidt will miss his first action of the season. Tomas Tatar is set to take James Neal’s spot on the second line in his second game as a Golden Knight. Neal and Oscar Lindberg, who both suffered injuries against Los Angeles Monday night, will be inactive once again tonight.

For the Senators, Alexandre Burrows will return to Ottawa’s lineup in place of the injured Marian Gaborik. See below for Ottawa’s projected lineup.

How to Watch

Time: 7 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM