After winning two of three contests on their latest road trip, the Vegas Golden Knights returned to T-Mobile Arena Friday afternoon to take on the one team that bested them on their voyage — the Calgary Flames.
Calgary routed Vegas by a score of 7-2 on Monday, and that ugly beatdown is still fresh in the minds of the Golden Knights.
“We need a much better effort. That’s where it starts,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve got to have a much better game as a group.”
And the Knights did just that. Riding on the momentum of Wednesday night’s overtime victory over the Arizona Coyotes, the Knights played a full 60-minute game in their second go against the Flames, and it paid off. Vegas pulled out a valuable pair of points against Calgary, getting consecutive wins for the first time since Oct. 20.
Following his 19-save victory over the Coyotes, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury put together another strong performance Friday evening, turning aside all 29 of Calgary’s shots to earn his league-leading fourth shutout of the season. Impressively, a decent portion of Calgary’s shots were fired from the sweet spot right between the faceoff circles, but Fleury stood tall and managed to stop every quality chance in front of him.
“Sometimes things have to go right to get a shutout,” said Fleury. “Most of the night I could see the puck great and our guys in front played good too. There were not very many second chances for them or backdoor passes. That’s one of the things that makes it so tough with Calgary.”
Fleury now ranks 24th on the NHL’s all-time shutouts list with 52, moving him past former All-Star goalie Curtis Joseph. He also ranks second in the NHL with 11 wins on the season. The only goaltender with more wins is Maple Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen, who has 12 in 19 starts.
Tuch delivers another standout performance
Forward Alex Tuch has been playing some excellent hockey recently, and that continued Friday night. Late in the second period, Tuch opened the scoring with what turned out to be the game-winner when he redirected a Cody Eakin wrister from the point past Flames goaltender David Rittich.
Later on, defenseman Colin Miller scored on the power play to give Vegas a two-goal cushion. And had it not been for Alex Tuch’s screen on Rittich, it’s likely Miller’s shot wouldn’t have gotten past the 26-year-old netminder.
Tuch now ranks third on the Golden Knights with six goals on the season. Only Jonathan Marchessault and Eakin have hit the net more than the 22-year-old power forward. Tuch also sits just four points shy of the team lead in scoring with 16 points on the season, which is especially impressive when you take into account that he missed Vegas’ first eight games of the season with lower-body injury.
Miller finally finds twine
While Tuch played a large role in Miller’s power-play tally hitting the net, it’s got to feel good for Miller to finally net his first goal of the season. He’s come close numerous times throughout the season’s early going, and his efforts finally paid off against Calgary.
“He was real happy and we were real happy to see the goal go in,” said head Gallant Gallant, “especially a big power-play goal and a big shot from the point. He has hit about seven goal posts this year, so definitely good for his confidence and good for our team.”
Miller’s had a hard time getting the puck into the net this season, but that’s not to say he’s been ineffective offensively. So far, Miller ranks tied for second on the Golden Knights with nine assists on the season and ranks third on the team with an Expected Goals For percentage of 16.9 at 5-on-5, behind only fellow defensemen Shea Theodore and (shockingly) Nick Holden.
Carr solid in Golden Knights debut
Despite showing flashes every now and again, forward Tomas Hyka failed to make a consistent impact for the Golden Knights in his 17-game stint with Vegas. It wasn’t all that surprising when it was announced that he was being sent back to the Chicago Wolves, but what was a little surprising was who would be taking his spot.
Daniel Carr, who was signed by the Golden Knights over the summer, was that guy. Many preferred to see Brooks Macek get the call, but Carr, 27, has been superb for the Wolves this season, logging nine goals and 22 points in just 16 games. And while Carr didn’t manage to make an impact on the scoresheet in his Vegas debut, he did show some encouraging signs.
“I thought he did a good job,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “He worked hard, he competed hard and he got pucks out. That line had a couple real good shifts in the offensive zone too, so they did their job real well. I thought he skated good.”
While Vegas’ opportunity to exact revenge on Calgary was the main event of Friday’s contest, the return of James Neal added an additional subplot to what was already an intriguing matchup. Neal, 31, played an integral role for Vegas in its inaugural season, and while his 2018-19 campaign hasn’t quite been much to brag about, all eyes were on him in his return to T-Mobile Arena.
“It’s nice to be back. Great memories here,” said Neal. “One of those things that you will never forget, last year, playing here. Just your teammates and everything that went with our team and the city. It was quite a run we had. I had a special bond with the guys and it was emotional coming back for sure.”
Though Neal now plays for a different team (one of Vegas’ division rivals, no less), T-Mobile Arena was still littered with No. 18 jerseys, and it made the 31-year-old feel right at home.
“It’s really cool. I loved the signs during warmups from the kids and the fans. They were great and I have a lot of friends here. Nothing but great memories.”