The Vegas Golden Knights faced an unfamiliar opponent Tuesday night as they took on the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first time in franchise history. Though the Golden Knights didn’t get off to a promising start, they certainly picked up the slack as the game went on. And they did it in style, too. Vegas dominated in the second period, outshooting the Blue Jackets 20-7 and outscoring them 3-1 before coasting their way to a thrilling 6-3 victory.
So what did we learn? Here are five things:
1. Have the Golden Knights power play woes been situated?
Prior to Sunday’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes, Vegas had failed to convert on its previous 19 power play attempts. In their last two games, though, the Knights have converted on four of their last seven power play attempts. So what gives? Have Gerard Gallant and company finally cracked the code? Not necessarily. While it’s certainly encouraging that the Knights are finally scoring goals on the man advantage as of late, they’ve only been doing it against some of the NHL’s worst penalty-killing teams. The Hurricanes are ranked 27th in the league with a 77.6 PK% and the Blue Jackets are ranked just two spots ahead of them with a 78.1 PK%. If the Vegas power play were scoring at this rate against one of the league’s better penalty kills, it would be a bit more convincing. For now, however, it looks like Vegas’ ineptitude on the man advantage is just being overshadowed by other teams’ ineptitude on the penalty kill. Speaking of which...
2. The penalty kill continues to dominate
As has been the case for most teams as of late, Columbus couldn’t beat Vegas’ penalty kill Tuesday night as the Golden Knights successfully killed off all three of the Blue Jackets’ power play opportunities. Dating back to Vegas’ Dec. 23 game against the Washington Capitals, the Golden Knights have gone 2-for-34 on the penalty kill, which is beyond impressive. Vegas’ 13th-ranked PK% has really turned it on over the last month. But why is this? It may be due to the fact that the Golden Knights are simply staying out of the box. Vegas has only taken 122 penalties this season — the fourth fewest of all 31 teams. With the Knights staying out of the box, that keeps their penalty-killing units fresh when a penalty eventually is called. So long as that trend continues, don’t expect Vegas to give up many goals when shorthanded.
3. Shea Theodore continues his upward trajectory
What a transformation Theodore has made over the last month or so. The 22-year-old defenseman is averaging close to 20 minutes a game and has cemented himself as a dynamic presence in the offensive zone. And while he remains a work in progress in his own end of the rink, his ability to create scoring chances is unparalleled amongst any of Vegas’ other blueliners. This is evidenced by the otherworldly stretch pass he pulled off last night against Columbus. There may not be another player (let alone a defenseman) on the Golden Knights roster capable of making a play like that. Theodore is for real, folks. And his maturation has been a joy to watch this season.
4. William Karlsson continues to prove the doubters wrong
Wild Bill not only potted a pair of goals against his former team Tuesday night, but he also torched Columbus several times on shorthanded breakaway opportunities, one of which shifted the momentum in Vegas’ favor for the rest of the contest. Karlsson probably doesn’t have a ton of doubters left in the world, which isn’t much of a surprise. After all, 27 goals through 47 games pretty much speaks for itself. But the few people out there who still manage to downgrade Karlsson’s epic breakout season are quickly running out of artillery. Karlsson trails only Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals and owns the highest plus-minus rating (plus-26) in the NHL. Yes, Karlsson’s shooting percentage is unsustainably high and it’s bound to even out at some point. But there is no denying the 25-year-old Swede’s uncanny ability to generate quality scoring chances.
5. Brad Hunt had the game of his life
Hunt, the 29-year-old journeyman the Golden Knights acquired in free agency, is quietly riding a three-game point streak. He was particularly sound against the Blue Jackets, though, scoring his first goal of the season and assisting on two others. It was the first three-point game of his NHL career. Hunt has been in and out of the lineup all season, but it’ll be awfully hard to sit him in the press box when he continues to play the best hockey of his career.