What to watch for as the Golden Knights face the Blue Jackets
Vegas finally has a win after the trade deadline. Now it’s a trip to Columbus against a Jackets team fighting for a playoff spot.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, like most NHL teams, have bounced around from victory to loss this season. The Blue Jackets have hit a downswing, going 4-5-1 over their last 10 games, which has put them one point up on the Florida Panthers for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
With talents like Artemi Panarin (20 goals, 35 assists, 55 points), Seth Jones (10-31—41), and Pierre-Luc Dubois (14-18—32), the Vegas Golden Knights will have to play well on the defensive end if they’d like to begin a new winning streak.
The Golden Knights are entering off a win to end a three-game losing skid. Part of that losing streak was taking bad penalties. The Golden Knights as a team need to remain out of the box against the Blue Jackets, even though the Blue Jackets are second to last in the NHL in terms of power-play conversion rate. It's better to practice good habits with less at risk.
Clear the crease
Through the most recent five games the Golden Knights have played, all but one of the 16 goals came from either the faceoff circles or the crease. That’s too many goals in a five-game span, and there's a way to change at least part of that.
Focus on clearing the crease. The defense needs to step up their efforts in preventing high-danger opportunities. This has been a problem at times for the Golden Knights this season, and it makes sense why it would be again with one of the best Knights' defensemen missing in Nate Schmidt.
Still, those who are still playing have to crack down on getting the bodies in front of the net out of that area. They have to make sure that if Marc-Andre Fleury gives up a rebound, they're the ones grabbing it. That they're giving Fleury the best chance to succeed.
To highlight a few troublemakers — Shea Theodore has allowed eight chances in two games at 5-on-5. Deryk Engelland leads the defense with 18 high-danger chances against through five games. Brayden McNabb has 16 against. The line of Alex Tuch, Erik Haula, and David Perron also hasn't been good for Fleury, allowing 20, 20, and 24 respectively.
On the flip side, James Neal only allowed two in his two games. Tomas Hyka has allowed four in four games, and, perhaps oddly, Ryan Reaves has allowed just three in his four games. In the last two games, Reaves has not been on the ice for a high-danger chance against Vegas.
Ryan Reaves should stay out of the box
Which brings up the fact that Reaves is a decent player... when not taking poorly-timed mistakes. It's not a coincidence that Reaves hasn't allowed a high-danger chance in the last two games - he's also stayed out of the box. That's resulted in him getting more minutes, and in the case of the game against the New Jersey Devils, him having earned those minutes.
Reaves has had a shot share percentile above 60 in each of the last three games, and while his Corsi has fallen, he continues to stay above 50 percent. Reaves can drive possession, even when starting in the defensive zone.
If he plays a clean game, there are worse players for the Vegas system than Reaves. It's just a matter of him changing his play style instead of the team.
The penalty kill needs to be better
Since Pierre-Edouard Bellemare got hurt, when the Knights have taken a penalty in a game, they've allowed a goal on the penalty kill. That's not good. It's been six straight games, and the Knights' only reprieve came against the Anaheim Ducks when the Knights didn't go to the box.
The last time the Golden Knights killed every penalty in a game was Feb. 15 against the Edmonton Oilers. That was with one penalty to kill. The last time the Knights killed multiple penalties without allowing a power-play goal was Feb. 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The penalty kill needs to be better for the Golden Knights to be successful. While taking fewer penalties would help as well, the penalty kill needs to step up and not allow as many chances or goals as well.
How to watch
Time: 4 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM