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Year 2, Game 8: Golden Knights defeat Ducks 3-1, extend winning streak to three games

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The Golden Knights’ blue line put together its first truly great game, and Vegas recorded 45 shots to secure the win.

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Vegas Golden Knights
Ryan Reaves (75) of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates his first goal of the season with his teammates
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

After a rough start to the regular season, the Golden Knights finally looked like themselves again in Tuesday night’s win over the Buffalo Sabres. In the encouraging 4-1 victory, the Knights converted on the power play for the first time all season, and William Karlsson finally netted his first goal.

Saturday, the Knights kept the momentum going against the Anaheim Ducks — the first meeting of the season between the two division rivals. And once again, the Golden Knights were able to take advantage of one of their power play opportunities with a deflection goal from, you guessed it, Karlsson.

That was the first of three goals for the Knights, who looked confident offensively, generating a ton of pressure on Ducks goaltender John Gibson. Unfortunately, Gibson was able to stop most of the pucks that came his way; he finished the game with 43 saves. Fortunately, that wasn’t enough to steal the game.

That’s because Vegas’ defense had its best collective game of the season. The team only allowed nine shots through the first two periods, and Marc-Andre Fleury took that respite and made every save. The team truly was impressive all night long, only allowing 18 shots in the end. That ability to force the Ducks out of the high-danger areas and stop them from making any progress offensively early on allowed the Knights to get their first divisional win, handing Anaheim just its second regulation loss of the year.

It was predicted that this would be a depth battle, and it was. Ryan Reaves scored his first goal of the season to give Vegas a 2-0 lead, and his second-period tally ended up being the game-winner.

The fourth line outplayed whatever competition they faced all night. The second line also got solid chances, alleviating some of the pressure on the first line. Again, though, the real stars of the game were the defensemen. They only made one bad play, which led to Anaheim’s only goal of the night. It was a strange play as Tomas Hyka got burned in the corner and Shea Theodore somehow became stick-less.

Jonathan Marchessault would eventually get the empty-net goal to seal the win, his second point of the night.

With the win, Fleury is now 10th all-time in wins with 408.

The Golden Knights are 4-4-0 after making an impressive comeback following a disappointing start to the season in which Vegas won just one of the first five games. The Knights will look to extend their current three-game winning streak against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday to keep the momentum going.

Analysis

This heat map represents all the shots taken by each team throughout the game. The Ducks got nothing. Even in their highest-traffic areas — the high slot and directly in between the circles — they were barely getting anything on net, as evidenced by the lack of dark blue anywhere in the zone. It’s unclear what inspired this performance from the Knights’ defense, but can it continue, please?

I mean, the only reason Anaheim even scored was because Theodore was without his stick (I still don’t know where it went) and Hyka got caught in the corner. It was a great individual effort by Anaheim’s Ben Street, but it was a fluky play not representative of how the defense played throughout the contest.

But Vegas was also defensively sound on the penalty kill. Even a healthy Ryan Getzlaf (who did leave a mark by hitting the post early in the first, which would have completely changed the game) back in the lineup didn’t make a difference for Anaheim, and defenseman Hampus Lindholm was silenced for what seems like the first time this season.

The Golden Knights did everything they needed to do. The depth drove play, as the fourth line finished with shot shares in the 80-percent range. Every player besides Hyka finished with a high-danger share above 60 percent. Every player besides Reilly Smith finished with a Corsi For percentage above 50. This was a game where the Golden Knights’ forecheck dominated and didn’t allow the Ducks a chance to breathe, at least until the third period.

Defensively, the forwards stepped up, allowing just one point and eight shots to Anaheim’s rearguards, and the defensemen cracked down on the opposing forwards.

This is a game where the Golden Knights faced “one of the best goaltenders in the league” (per Gerard Gallant) and still came away with a 3-1 victory, even with as many miraculous saves as Gibson made. And there were plenty.

This felt like the return of the real Vegas Golden Knights, and what an amazing return it was.