After a rough outing in their season opener, the Golden Knights responded quite nicely against a team they had yet to beat since entering the league. The Minnesota Wild defeated Vegas in all three of their meetings last season, but Vegas’ persistence paid off this time around as the Knights walked out of Xcel Energy Center with their first win of the season.
Marc-Andre Fleury rebounds after down performance in season opener
In Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Fleury allowed five goals on just 16 shots in the game’s first 30 minutes. Fleury would eventually be discretely pulled during a TV timeout and replaced with Malcolm Subban, who stopped every Philadelphia shot for the remainder of the game.
Against Minnesota, though, Fleury looked much more like the All-Star netminder we saw record 29 wins last season, turning aside 26 of Minnesota’s 27 shots (including three on the power play). His performance in the third period was particularly impressive, as he held off a surging Minnesota offense desperate to extend its one-goal lead.
Had it not been for Fleury, Vegas very likely could have found itself down multiple goals late in regulation. But thanks to his late-game heroics, the Knights’ rally was kept alive.
Vegas overcomes Devan Dubnyk’s otherworldly performance
Devan Dubnyk put on a show Saturday night. Vegas fired 42 pucks on net, but Dubnyk stood tall and turned away all but one of those shots (excluding Erik Haula’s shootout winner). Time and time again the 32-year-old netminder made a highlight-reel save to keep Vegas off the board, and there were times throughout the game that it looked like Dubnyk was destined to record his first shutout of the season.
Max Pacioretty had other ideas, though. With time dying down in regulation, Pacioretty scored his first goal as a Golden Knight to tie the game up at one goal apiece, paving the way for Haula to win it in the shootout. It took a little longer than usual, but Vegas finally did solve the hot Minnesota netminder.
Second line looking dangerous
When discussing the Golden Knights’ most dangerous line, many are quick to point toward Vegas’ top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, which isn’t all that surprising. After all, the trio combined for 92 goals and a whopping 213 points last season, separating itself as arguably the best line in the NHL.
This season, however (though we’re only two games in), it appears Vegas’ second line of Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Erik Haula could end up being the Knights’ most effective line. The second line has been nothing short of downright dominant in Vegas’ first pair of games, and particularly in Saturday night’s contest.
The trio of Pacioretty, Stastny and Haula averaged a 67.36 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 against the Wild and created numerous opportunities that, in most cases, would result in goals. Stastny was particularly impressive, creating a ridiculous nine high-danger scoring chances. Had it not been for Dubnyk, the line very easily could have broken the game open for the Golden Knights, but Minnesota’s hot goaltender was up for the challenge.
It’s no coincidence that it was a member of that second line to finally get Vegas on the board late in the game, either. Pacioretty, Stastny and Haula had been buzzing all night, and their relentlessness finally paid off at just the right time to help Vegas earn the win.
Third defensive pairing still not up to par
The struggles of defensemen Nick Holden and Jon Merrill were well documented following the season opener, but the duo’s play remained discouraging against the Wild. Merrill logged a horrid 42.86 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 (-26.88 CF% Rel) and Holden was directly responsible for Matt Dumba’s goal midway through the first period, allowing Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle to disengage along the half-wall and set up Dumba for the one-timer at the point.
And if that isn’t bad enough, there’s this...
The Holden-Merrill experiment has not been a successful one in the season’s early going. Barring a drastic improvement in play, it may not be long before we see a personnel change.
Power play remains a work in progress
The Golden Knights were subpar on the man advantage in the season opener, and that remained the same in Saint Paul. Like the season opener, Vegas went 0-for-3 on the power play and averaged one shot on each of their attempts.
On paper, Vegas’ power play should be one of the best in the league. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Shea Theodore all returned after finding great success on the man advantage last season. And with Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty now in the fold, one would think the Knights would have the star power to basically score at will on the man advantage.
But “on paper” is much different than what actually takes place on the ice. Perhaps the personnel on Vegas’ power play units are still building the necessary chemistry to make a consistent impact. Or maybe there are some underlying issues that require attention behind closed doors.
Either way, the Vegas power play has been a disappointment to start the season. Luckily, it’s hard to believe a team with so much talent won’t get the issue figured out sooner rather than later.
All statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.