The Vegas Golden Knights entered Thursday night’s contest against the Vancouver Canucks red-hot. In the midst of its longest winning streak of the season, Vegas waltzed into Rogers Arena with one goal in mind — extending that streak to five games.
After trading goals with Vancouver in the first period, the Knights managed to take the lead early in the middle frame before extending their lead to three goals just 1:13 into the third period. The Canucks continued to battle, though, eventually tying the game at three goals apiece, but a clutch goal from William Karlsson late in the game ended up getting Vegas the crucial two points against its division rival.
It certainly wasn’t a perfect performance for Vegas, but there were still several positives to take out of it as the Knights prepare for their game in Alberta against the Edmonton Oilers.
Second line stands out once again
The Golden Knights’ second line of Max Pacioretty, Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch has stood out regularly over the last month or so, and Thursday night’s game in Vancouver was no different. Early in the second period, it was this line that gave Vegas the 3-1 lead as Tuch muscled his way past Canucks defenseman Troy Stecher to feed Eakin in the slot, who then set up Pacioretty for the tally.
“Both of my linemates right now are scoring goals, so it’s a lot of fun for us,” said Tuch. “We’re just trying to make an impact every night.”
And that’s exactly what his line is doing.
Since Nov. 6 (Pacioretty’s first game back after being out for four games), Vegas’ second line has combined for 41 points, including 20 goals, through 13 games. For reference, the Knights’ highly-touted first line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith has combined for just 29 points during that span.
Pacioretty particularly impressive
While the second line has been the driving force behind Vegas’ recent success, one could reasonably consider Pacioretty’s emergence as the turning point for the red-hot Knights. After managing just two points (both goals) in his first 14 games as a Golden Knight, the 30-year-old winger has exploded for 13 points in his last nine games. And two of those 13 points came against the Canucks.
His second goal of the night was impressive, but his first tally highlights exactly what inspired Vegas to acquire him over the summer — the ability to score from anywhere on the ice in the blink of an eye.
For many, Pacioretty’s early struggles were concerning. But patience ended up paying off for the former Canadien as he currently rides a seven-game point streak.
“We weren’t winning as much as we would’ve liked and it was due to lack of offense. And I’m here to create offense,” said Pacioretty. “It was frustrating, but I was patient and they were patient with me knowing that it would come. The chances were there and we have some honest people critiquing our games and relaying the message as to how we’re playing. As a group we were liking our game, but we weren’t getting rewarded. Now we are.”
Penalty kill comes up big
Following Pacioretty’s second tally, the Canucks scored a pair of goals to storm back in the third period to tie the game. The Golden Knights had a hard time putting opponents away at times early on in the season, and following Brock Boeser’s game-tying goal, it was fair to wonder if they’d returned to that bad habit when Alex Tuch was sent to the box for interference.
Thanks to Vegas’ penalty kill, though, that worry was put to bed rather quickly.
With 18 seconds still remaining on Vancouver’s power play, William Karlsson buried a perfect feed from Reilly Smith to give Vegas the lead (and its fifth shorthanded goal of the season). After having a potential breakaway negated by a solid defensive play from Vancouver defenseman Ben Hutton, Smith recovered the loose puck and took advantage of some poor defensive work near the blue line, resulting in the shorthanded 2-on-1 opportunity.
The shorty was a huge goal that ultimately won the game for Vegas, and for Karlsson, it was a long time coming.
“We’ve had a lot of chances,” said Karlsson. “It’s good for me and Reilly to finally score one shorthanded. We’ve had a lot of chances in the past. It feels like every game we’re dangerous when shorthanded.”
Third line builds on strong performance in Chicago
Vegas’ third line of Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter and Daniel Carr performed pretty well Tuesday night’s blowout win over the Blackhawks. After all, it was Carr who opened the scoring in that game just two minutes into the contest.
Despite being held off the scoresheet in Vancouver, though, the third line may have had an even better showing against the Canucks.
The trio of Nosek, Carpenter and Carr averaged a Corsi For percentage of 75.61 at 5-on-5 Thursday night — miles ahead of Vegas’ other lines. While those play-driving numbers are slightly inflated due to the line’s high amount of offensive zone faceoffs, the trio did manage to take advantage of the chances they were given in the offensive zone, producing more high-danger scoring opportunities than any other forward on Vegas’ roster, including this early chance from Carr.
Vegas closing in on Pacific Division’s top spot
Remember a couple weeks ago when the only team worse than the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division was the Los Angeles Kings? Those were some good times, weren’t they?
Since Nov. 18, Vegas has won six of its last seven games, including five victories over division rivals. In a matter of just a couple weeks, the Golden Knights are now only three points shy of tying the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the division. With two more games coming up against division rivals over the next eight days (including tonight’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers), the Knights could very well close that gap even further.