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What to watch for as the Golden Knights take on the Maple Leafs

The Vegas Golden Knights (6-7-1) will continue to try to put it all together as they travel to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs tonight at Scotiabank Arena.

The first step to achieving that goal is to once again get themselves back to .500, and that will be no easy task going up against the Maple Leafs and all of their firepower, even with Auston Matthews and William Nylander out of the lineup.

The Maple Leafs (9-5-0) sit in second place in the Atlantic Division and rank seventh in the NHL in goals per game (3.43), which is more than a full goal more per game than the Golden Knights (2.29, good for 30th overall). In spite of what you may have heard about the Leafs’ porous defense, Toronto is 11th in goals against per game (2.79), just .08 GA/GP behind the Knights (2.71, 10th overall).

Leading the charge for the Leafs’ offensive attack is Morgan Rielly, who has six goals and 12 assists for 18 points through 14 games, good for first in the NHL among defensemen. He is tied with Mitch Marner (4-14—18) for the team lead in scoring. Toronto’s big offseason acquisition, some guy you’ve never heard of from the New York Islanders named *checks notes* John Tavares, has eight goals and 16 points in 14 games with the Leafs.

Goaltender Frederik Andersen has been stellar, posting a 2.28 goals-against average with a .924 save percentage, good for fourth among goalies with a minimum of 10 games played.

Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s matchup against the Leafs:

Stay out of the box! For the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, STAY OUT OF THE BOX!

Toronto is one of just four teams with a power play operating above 30 percent (30.8 percent, good for fourth overall), and the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill, which sits at 82.5 percent and recently stymied the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ vaunted power play, is eighth-best in the NHL.

While Vegas’ penalty kill ranks 10th overall at 82 percent, why tempt fate?

The Leafs’ top power play unit features Marner, Tavares, Rielly, Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau. We’re talking about three players who have scored 30 goals multiple times, the league’s top-scoring defenseman so far this season and Marner.

Toronto’s man advantage is not something any team wants to face once, never mind multiple times in a game. Staying out of the box will be critical to Vegas’ success tonight.

The battle for the title of “third line”

Usually it’s a given that a team’s third line will get more ice time per game than its fourth, but that hasn’t always been the case for the Golden Knights this season, especially in recent games. Part of that is because of the way the so-called fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, William Carrier and Ryan Reaves has played, as there have been games in which the fourth line has been the most productive and the most effective line for Vegas.

While the “third line” of Cody Eakin, Ryan Carpenter and either Tomas Nosek or Oscar Lindberg has had its merits, the fourth line has out-produced it, collecting a combined nine points this season compared to the third line’s seven.

That’s a bit problematic considering the fourth line literally has Ryan Reaves on it. Hilariously, Reaves leads all but Eakin in points among those seven players — perhaps you can see this as a microcosm of the bigger problem for the Golden Knights so far this year — and is shooting a William Karlsson-like 21 percent for the year.

Depth scoring has been an issue for the Golden Knights, but all things considered, the fourth line has more than done its part. It is time for the real third line (that is to say the intentional third line) to do the same.

Home-ice disadvantage

The Maple Leafs may be 9-5-0 this season, but they are 3-5-0 on home ice. Perhaps the recent arena name change has them confused? Whatever the case may be, they have failed to score a goal in the first two periods in each of their last five contests in Toronto.

That’s something the Knights will look to capitalize on tonight.

Vegas has scored just 10 goals in the first period this season, but Toronto is 5-5-0 when giving up the first goal compared to 4-0-0 when scoring first. However, all five of their losses this season have come on home ice, and the Leafs surrendered the first goal in all five of those games. Even if tonight’s game ends up being a barn burner, getting on the board first could be key.

The return of Patches?

That status of Max Pacioretty may not be decided until closer to puck drop, but Pacioretty did practice Monday. It might not be enough to persuade head coach Gerard Gallant to play the 30-year-old winger, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibilities.

Pacioretty has missed the last four games, and the Knights could really use him in time for a game that is, by all appearances, set to be a shootout.

However, Pacioretty hasn’t been particularly good in the games in which he has played.

So far, he has just two goals and zero assists as a member of the Golden Knights. Not exactly what you hope for when you sign someone to a four-year, $28 million contract after giving up a top prospect, multiple draft picks and a useful forward in Tomas Tatar (who, by the way, has 11 points in 13 games for the Montreal Canadiens) to acquire him.

Whenever he does return to the lineup, which should be at some point during this four-game road trip, Pacioretty will need to pick up the pace.

How to watch

Time: 4 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM