What to watch for as the Golden Knights host the Oilers

Vegas will take its third crack at defeating Edmonton after losing both previous matchups in this divisional series.

The Golden Knights are coming off a compelling win against the Chicago Blackhawks in which they scored four unanswered goals in the third period to take a 5-2 win. That victory halted the Knights’ first two-game skid at home, though Vegas’ record at T-Mobile Arena still stands at an impressive 20-4-2.

The Edmonton Oilers enter tonight’s contest having gone 1-4-1 in their last six games, including four straight losses. Both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have points in six out of their last seven games, and they lead the team in scoring with 66 and 49 points, respectively.

After taking an 8-2 beating Nov. 14 in Alberta, the Knights came close to evening up the series in the Jan. 13 rematch; however, a Darnell Nurse overtime marker left the Knights with an 0-1-1 record against a team that sits 28 points beneath them in the Pacific Division standings. The Oilers are one of just three teams (along with the Islanders and Wild) that have defeated the Knights twice, so tonight will be a tough test for the home team. Here’s what to watch for.

Can the Knights contain McDavid?

This is the third time this question has been asked leading up to a game against the Oilers, and it’s a question all teams must ask themselves as they prepare to face one of the most explosive players in the National Hockey League.

McDavid is tied for third in NHL scoring with 66 points, and five of those have come against the Knights. He has two goals and three assists in two games against Vegas, and it’s clear he has had very little trouble using his speed and ability to bypass the Knights’ defensive pressure. He is a threat every time he touches the puck and can change the game in an instant. McDavid has carried his team all year, and he is just as effective in away contests as he is on home ice, scoring at a 1.22 points-per-game pace on the road. The Knights will need to limit his space and time if they want to come away with two points.

Who will get on the board first?

Both teams have benefited greatly from lighting the lamp before their opponent, so the team that wins that race tonight will have a strong advantage. The Knights have gone 22-3-0 when they’ve jumped out to a 1-0 lead, and the Oilers are 14-4-2 when they strike first. Vegas has been able to bounce back from an early deficit more frequently than Edmonton, going 15-12-4 when the other team scores first compared to Edmonton’s record of 9-24-2. Capitalizing on that 9-24-2 record, especially after failing to score the first goal in both matchups against the Oilers this season, could be key for Vegas.

Can the Knights tip the special teams balance in their favor?

The Oilers are basement dwellers in power-play percentage and penalty-kill efficiency this season, operating at 15 percent on the man advantage and 70.9 percent when short-handed; those numbers rank 30th and 31st in the league, respectively. Since Jan. 1, Edmonton has converted on just 9.8 percent of its power-play opportunities and has killed penalties at a 68.8 percent rate, good for 31st and 30th, respectively.

By contrast, Vegas ranks 13th on the power play (20.8 percent) and 13th on the penalty kill (81.6 percent) for the season but has managed a 26.9 percent conversion rate on the power play and has killed penalties at an 85.4 percent success rate since Jan. 1. That ranks the Knights sixth and fourth overall, respectively, in 2018.

That being said, the special teams battle has still gone in the Oilers’ favor thus far in this best-of-four season series. The teams combined to go 0-for-9 in the Jan. 13 matchup, but the Oilers cashed in on all three of their power-play opportunities in November. Meanwhile, Vegas has gone 0-for-10 on the man advantage against Edmonton. Not every game is decided by special teams, but they could play a major role in the outcome of tonight’s tilt.

How to Watch

Time: 7 p.m. PT

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

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM