No loss is a good loss in hockey. No matter how you lose a game, the sting remains long after the final horn sounds. Of course, there are some losses that sting far more than others. And for the Vegas Golden Knights, their collapse against the New Jersey Devils on Friday was that kind of loss. After taking a 4-1 lead in the second period, the Knights allowed the Devils to score four unanswered goals and pick up a come-from-behind victory in overtime.
Going into Sunday’s tilt against the New York Rangers, the residual stinging sensation certainly remained for the Knights. And the only way to free themselves of that feeling would be to get back in the win column.
Unlike their contest against the Devils, the Knights played a full 60-minute (and then some) game in Madison Square Garden, and not-so-surprisingly, it ended up paying off.
Despite some excellent goaltending from Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Golden Knights managed to stay persistent and score three goals during regulation time. Thanks to the competitive nature of the Blueshirts, though, the Knights needed more than just three goals to pick up a pair of points in the Garden.
The two teams had to settle things in overtime, and it didn’t take long for sensational forward Alex Tuch to save the day. The 22-year-old potted his 12th goal of the season to extend Vegas’ point streak to four games and, at the same time, rid the Golden Knights of the sour taste that had stuck with them since their Friday night debacle in Newark.
All-USA line shines
After over two months away from action, forward Paul Stastny returned to the lineup on Friday and put together a sound performance against the New Jersey Devils. However, linemate Max Pacioretty was unable to suit up for that contest in Newark, pushing the full-time debut of Vegas’ All-USA line to Sunday.
Unspurprisingly, that All-American line of Stastny, Pacioretty and Alex Tuch did not disappoint when it finally divulged itself to the world.
Early in the second frame, the trio connected to score Vegas’ second goal of the contest when Tuch found Pacioretty hovering in the low slot. With both Rangers defenders preoccupied with Pacioretty, Stastny creeped to the back door and slammed Pacioretty’s pass home to give Vegas its first lead of the game.
“I thought we felt good right away,” said Tuch. “We got a good amount of offensive chances there. We’ve got to clean it up a little bit defensively, but I thought overall, our line had a pretty good game.”
Analytically, the line was only slightly above average at 5-on-5, (though the trio did take the majority of its faceoffs in the neutral or defensive zone — more than any other line of forwards). However, that didn’t stop them from generating quality scoring chances on a routine basis. At the end of the day, Pacioretty, Stastny and Tuch combined for two goals and three assists on the contest, including the game-winning tally in overtime.
Not too shabby.
Carrier delivers standout performance
Before the game, it appeared as though William Carrier would be watching the contest from the press box — the lineups provided in the MSG press box suggested as much. However, Carrier did end up playing, and it’s a good thing he did, as he provided one of his better performances of the season.
Not only did Carrier find twine for the seventh time this season, but his stellar defensive play directly led to multiple scoring opportunities for the Golden Knights, including the rush that led to his own goal.
Not long before his second-period tally, though, Carrier made another excellent defensive play that very nearly resulted in a goal for Vegas. After stripping the puck away from Ryan Strome in the defensive zone, Carrier used his underrated speed to find space in the Rangers end and feed the puck to defenseman Jon Merrill, who wasn’t far off from beating Lundqvist with a slick backhander.
Carrier finished the contest with the third-highest 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage on the Knights’ roster (80.00). Despite only receiving a little under 10 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5, Carrier still managed to end the game tied for the most scoring chances generated by any Golden Knights forward (11), while only allowing a pair of scoring chances in favor of New York.
It was an all-around brilliant performance by the 23-year-old bruiser, and it’s clear that his 200-foot game has become a vital component to the fourth line’s success this season.
Lundqvist kept game close
Sunday’s game gave the hockey world a clash between two of the very best goaltenders in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist have faced off against one another quite a few times throughout their careers, and their meeting on Sunday certainly did not disappoint.
While Fleury put together a sound performance of his own (27 saves on 30 shots), it was Lundqvist who really stole the show. Had it not been for the former Vezina winner, the score likely would have been far more lopsided in Vegas’ favor.
“Both goaltenders that played tonight are future Hall of Famers,” said Stastny. “Both goalies made some unbelievable saves, and that’s just today’s game. When you think you have a goal, you don’t have a goal, but you’ve got to keep going at it, and then eventually you get enough scoring chances, especially Grade-A chances, they’re gonna go in.”
Luckily for the Knights, they got enough of those Grade-A chances to find chinks in Lundqvist’s armor. Incredibly, though, the 36-year-old still managed to turn a large portion of those chances aside — especially the ones off the stick of fellow Swede William Karlsson.
“He was outstanding. Made some unbelievable saves, especially in the first half of the game,” said Gallant. “He was sharp, he looked really good, but we hung in there and found a way to get two points.”
Play-driving efficiency returns for Vegas
Just days after registering a season-low 17 shots on goal against the Islanders, followed by a 22-shot effort against the Devils, the Golden Knights were back to generating consistent offense on Sunday.
Vegas wasted no time firing pucks on net early, forcing Lundqvist into making 15 saves in the first period alone. From there, the Knights continued to pepper Lundqvist with shots, ultimately finishing the contest with a whopping 41 shots on net. And aside from a New York push in the third period, Vegas largely dictated the game’s tempo.
What was the difference between Sunday and the Knights’ prior two games against the Islanders and Devils? Part of it was their ability to connect on short passes, which resulted in fewer giveaways. After the game, Gallant commented on the Knights’ efficiency when his team isn’t forced to attempt risky feeds across the ice.
“We talk about a support game all the time, and when you’re close together and don’t have to make that long pass across the ice, it usually works out for you. When we’re doing that, we’re a pretty good team, and you keep those feet going.”
Hard not to be thrilled with Tuch’s potential
We’ve already talked about the solid performance of Vegas’ second line. In particular, though, 22-year-old Alex Tuch continues to stand out on a regular basis, and it’s become routine for the former first-round draft selection to command the attention of everyone in the building whenever he steps onto the ice.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound winger has put his physical capabilities on display countless times throughout the season, and Sunday was no different. One play that stood out in particular came late in the third period when Tuch found some open ice, blazed past a Rangers defender and used his body and long reach to effortlessly shield the puck before unleashing a wrister on net that Henrik Lundqvist managed to deflect into the glass.
Through just 27 games, Tuch has potted 12 goals and assisted on 13 others. Of his 12 goals, five of them were game-winners, tying him with players such as Yanni Gourde, Elias Pettersson, Elias Lindholm and Connor McDavid (ever heard of him?) for second in the NHL in that category.
The more you watch Tuch play, the more satisfying it is to know that he’s locked up for seven more years at just $4,750,000 per season. Knights GM George McPhee made the right decision to sign him when he did, because had he waited any longer, an annual salary of $4,750,000 would be laughable for Tuch and his representatives.