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Golden Knights At Panthers: 3 Keys To The Game

Friday's game starts at 4:30 PM (PT). It can be see on AT&T SportsNet.

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

Coming off Thursday's 4-1 win in Tampa Bay, the Golden Knights arrived in Florida early on Friday morning riding high in preparation of tonight's game against the Florida Panthers.

And with good reason.

At 30-11-3, the Golden Knights have a chance to pull even with the Lightning for the NHL's best record with a win against the Panthers tonight. As well as move to within two wins of the record set by these Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks for most wins in a full season by a first-year expansion team.

Tonight's game against the Panthers starts at 4:30 PM (PT). Here are three keys to the game.

Video: Engelland gets 100th point in 4-1 win vs. Bolts

 

1. Happy Returns

Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant has tried to downplay his return, although it almost goes without saying that his return to Florida tonight will be emotional. Gallant backed the Panthers from 2014-16, leading them to a franchise-record 103 points in 2015-16.

During this time, Gallant was flanked by Mike Kelly on the Panthers' bench. Kelly is now his assistant with the Golden Knights.

Similarly, Vegas' leading scorer, Jonathan Marchessault, established himself as an NHL regular for the first time by scoring 30 goals for the Panthers. Reilly Smith played the past two years for the Panthers, including signing a five-year contract to remain in Florida in 2016. Vegas then acquired Smith and his contract, signed to play for the Panthers, in June 2017.

All of these players and coaches are making their returns to Florida tonight. Each has downplayed the significance of this. Although with so many important parts of the Golden Knights playing in a heightened emotional environment, how they manage these feelings could dictate how this game plays out.

 

Video: Golden Knights score five unanswered goals in 5-2 win

 

2. Who's In Goal?

The Golden Knights' goaltending duo is a two-headed monster.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the consensus No. 1, won again last night and now leads the NHL with a .945 save percentage. Malcolm Subban, the backup - although perhaps only in name - still leads the team with 11 wins.

Fleury has gotten the bulk of starts lately, but on the second half of the back-to-back, could we see the return of Subban tonight? Gerard Gallant has announced a decision yet either way.

Subban was the winning goalie when Vegas defeated Florida 5-2 in the teams' only prior meeting on December 17 at T-Mobile Arena.

 

Video: The Golden Knights' mascot made a special appearance

 

3. Bye Bye Bye

For the third straight game on this road trip, the Golden Knights are facing an opponent that is coming off of its bye week. Vegas' exploited this to a high degree on Thursday, when it jumped all over Tampa Bay early as the Lightning were trying to get back in sync. The Golden Knights led 2-0 through 20 minutes.

Not having played in a week, could the Panthers be battling the same rust that the Lightning dealt with? Certainly possible. Vegas was similarly rusty early in its first game back from its bye week last Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers.

Getting off to strong starts is always important, and a given in this sport. Except tonight, you go into the game where you know there's a very good chance the opponent isn't at 100 percent early on.

Despite winning five games in a row in late December, the Panthers (18-19-6) are still 11 points out of the playoffs. They're still without No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo, with James Reimer having started every game for the past month.

Florida is trying to feel its was back into the playoff race, but you'd have to imagine that a quick start for the Golden Knights could bury them early.

The stage is set for Vegas to do this. The goal is to do it as effectively as they did to the Lightning last night.

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