The Golden Knights entered Bell Centre looking to earn their second straight victory Saturday evening, but there was more than just a pair of points on forward Max Pacioretty’s mind.
For Pacioretty, Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens marked the first time in his career that he’d be facing off against the team that drafted him back in 2007. And while his departure from Montreal didn’t exactly come under ideal circumstances, he still spent roughly a decade representing the Habs’ red and blue.
It was an important night for the one known as Patches. Unfortunately, though, he was held off the scoresheet and Vegas was defeated in heartbreaking fashion against a Habs squad that, in all likelihood, will be a lottery team come April.
Pacioretty strong in first game against former team
While Pacioretty was unable to log even a single point against Montreal, he certainly made his presence felt throughout the game. The 29-year-old helped generate four high-danger scoring chances, and much of them came in the first period, where Vegas outshot the Habs 15-4.
Powered by Pacioretty, the second line was buzzing for much of the contest. And it’s rather ironic that it was when Pacioretty was off the ice that Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch, the other two thirds of the second line, managed to get something past Antti Niemi.
Nevertheless, the second line’s success is a positive sign moving forward. For a team badly in need of consistent goal production, it’s imperative that Vegas maximizes its chances of scoring on every shift, and the second line did step up in Montreal (despite the stat sheet not necessarily being all that flattering).
Tatar gets his revenge
Pacioretty wasn’t the only player trying to get revenge Saturday night. Tomas Tatar, who the Golden Knights traded in order to acquire Pacioretty over the summer, had himself a whale of a game against his former team.
While Pacioretty failed to get on the scoresheet, Tatar ended up scoring the game-winner for Montreal late in the third period.
Even aside from his game-clinching tally, though, the Habs were constantly wreaking havoc in Vegas’ zone when Tatar was on the ice. The 27-year-old finished the night with an excellent 69.57 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 and made several nice plays that resulted in quality chances for Montreal.
So far, Tatar has registered seven goals and 15 points for the Canadiens through their first 17 games. With Vegas, he managed just six points in 20 games while spending much of the postseason in the press box.
It wouldn’t be fair to deem Vegas’ trade with Montreal a failure. We’re only 17 games into the season and much can change between now and April. But considering Pacioretty’s early struggles and Tatar’s recent success, it’s hard not to wonder.
Led by Hunt, power play remains hot
For the second straight game, and for the second time all season, the Golden Knights scored multiple power-play goals in a single contest. After a perfect 2-for-2 showing against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, the Knights once again scored a pair of goals on the man advantage against Montreal.
Defenseman Brad Hunt got the first power-play goal of the night late in the first period to open the scoring. After being left totally uncovered in the near faceoff circle, Hunt received a cross-ice feed from William Karlsson and patiently waited for the perfect time to fire his shot on net. And he made no mistake, sniping one right past Antti Niemi’s ear to give Vegas the early lead.
Hunt eventually returned the favor to Karlsson a little later on, picking up a secondary assist on Vegas’ second goal on the man advantage.
If one thing has become totally apparent, it’s that Brad Hunt has become an essential piece on Vegas’ back end both at 5-on-5 and on the man advantage. Despite appearing in just eight games this season, Hunt is ranked third on the Golden Knights with four points on the power play. Not bad for a guy who, just a couple weeks ago, was stuck in the press box.
Karlsson ends scoring drought
As previously mentioned, the 25-year-old forward finally found twine Saturday night after being held goalless in each of his last six outings. Wild Bill’s power-play goal marked his third goal on the man advantage this season, though it was aided by Montreal forward Matthew Peca.
Karlsson now has four goals on the season. For a player coming off a 43-goal campaign, that total may seem pretty low 17 games in. But that’s not to say Karlsson hasn’t been effectively generating offense. Wild Bill ranks second on the team (behind only Jonathan Marchessault) with 14 points and ranks first on the team with 10 helpers.
Is it unfortunate that Karlsson (predictably) is seeing a regression in goal-scoring? Yes. But does that mean he’s having a bad season? Definitely not.
Knights blow multi-goal lead for second straight game
This is a habit the Knights will need to break immediately. Against the Senators, Vegas had a commanding three-goal lead, but allowed Ottawa to score three unanswered goals late in the game to make things interesting.
Vegas once again blew a lead in Montreal. After going into the first intermission with a two-goal advantage off a dominant opening period, the Knights again allowed three unanswered goals in just a matter of minutes. This time, though, the Knights were unable to recover from their struggles from the second period, despite William Karlsson briefly reclaiming the lead early in the third period.
In their last two outings, the Knights have taken their foot off the gas and allowed their opponents to will themselves back into contention. For Vegas to return to its 2017-18 form, this issue will need to be solved right away. Blown leads end up becoming the toughest losses to swallow, and that can wear a team down.