Just over one week ago, the Vegas Golden Knights took on the New York Islanders in Barclays Center for their first of two meetings on the season. Despite a severe inability to generate offense (just 17 shots on goal) and a hilarious lighting malfunction, the Knights still managed to top the Isles for a 3-2 victory.
The Knights and Isles met once again Thursday night, but unlike their first meeting with New York, Vegas had no issue getting pucks on net. The Knights finished the contest with a whopping 47 shots on goal — their second-highest shot total this season — while only allowing 21 shots on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 19 saves on the night.
Despite their efficiency in the offensive zone, however, the Knights still found themselves down after allowing a pair of goals late in the first period. But from that point forward, the comeback was on. Vegas wound up scoring four unanswered goals in the game’s remaining 40 minutes, and the Isles simply could not stop the bleeding.
Pirri impresses in season debut
Making his season debut for the Golden Knights against the Islanders was 27-year-old forward Brandon Pirri, who played on the second line in place of the injured Max Pacioretty. Pirri had some big shoes to fill, but in his first game of the season, he certainly did not disappoint.
Not only did Pirri open the scoring for Vegas in the second period with a greasy goal on the power play, but he also drove play at a very high rate (65.63 CF% at 5-on-5) and even came close to scoring another goal not long after the game’s midway point.
Pirri is a scorer by nature. In his two appearances with the Golden Knights last season, he found the back of the net three times. Surprisingly, that still wasn’t enough to keep him in Vegas long-term.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Pirri scored 22 goals in just 49 games with the Florida Panthers. His coach that season? Current Knights head coach Gerard Gallant.
“That’s what Brandon does,” said Gallant. “I think he was the leading scorer in the American League when we called him up. He’s a goal scorer and does real good things out there. I’m familiar with the player. I had him in Florida, I had him a little bit last year for two or three games. He played a real good, hard game tonight and that’s what we like about him. I’m happy for him getting the opportunity and he comes in there and scores a huge goal for us.”
Tuch and Smith switch lines
Around the game’s midway point, Gerard Gallant made a pretty significant lineup change. Reilly Smith, who’s been a key member of Vegas’ first line since last season, was taking shifts with the second line as Alex Tuch joined William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault on the top line. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, things started going in Vegas’ favor from that point forward.
In particular, Smith formed some instant chemistry with second-line center Paul Stastny as the two connected to get Vegas its first lead of the contest in the third period.
“Our top two lines are interchangeable,” said Tuch after Friday’s practice. “We’ve always seen it that way. [Gallant] has kept those three together for a really long time and wanted to mix things up. Maybe that’s the spark we need. I’d say we’re on track to consistently be where we want to be.”
Will we continue to see Tuch on the first line and Smith on the second line? Based on the line rushes seen at Friday’s practice, that wouldn’t be surprising. But, of course, Gallant isn’t simply going to give away his plans for Saturday’s game against Montreal.
“Yeah, I don’t know. It’s possible,” he said. “But I liked it.”
Beauvillier penalty sets Vegas up to tie the game
Early in the third period, Knights forward Oscar Lindberg took down Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk with a hard hit up high. Boychuk stayed down on the ice for a bit, but did eventually return to action. At the time of the hit, though, Isles youngster Anthony Beauvillier took matters into his own hands and stuck up for the 34-year-old blueliner.
Had Beauvillier not engaged with Lindberg, New York likely would have gotten a power play out of the hit to Boychuk. But since Beauvillier chose to confront Lindberg, both players were sent to the box for two minutes. And it wasn’t long before William Karlsson took advantage of the extra ice at 4-on-4.
While Beauvillier’s penalty did end up costing the Islanders, the 21-year-old felt something needed to be done about Lindberg’s hit.
“It wasn’t a great hit,” said Beauvillier. “I mean, I didn’t really like the hit and I don’t think any guys on the bench liked the hit. It’s a good thing he’s okay.”
Penalty kill key late in the game
Late in the final frame, Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was sent to the box for holding Islanders center Valtteri Filppula. Bellemare, arguably Vegas’ best player in shorthanded situations, would have to watch the penalty kill do its thing from afar this time around.
With Vegas leading by just one score at this point of the contest, a kill against New York’s power play was crucial (especially considering the show Mathew Barzal was putting on for the Isles). Luckily, Vegas’ PK stepped up at the perfect time, despite missing Bellemare, to eventually kill off the Islanders’ man advantage.
Of course, having Marc-Andre Fleury playing behind them certainly made the penalty kill’s job a bit easier. The only shot New York managed to put on net during their power play was turned aside by Fleury. From there, the Islanders could barely even get set up in the Knights’ zone.
Fleury makes more history
Marc-Andre Fleury put together a solid performance Thursday night, stopping 19 of New York’s 21 shots on net. But perhaps more important than his in-game performance against the Islanders was the history he made in what wound up being his 424th career victory. With his win over the Isles, Fleury has now passed legendary Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito for sole possession of ninth on the NHL’s all-time wins list.
“It is an honor to be among these guys, guys that I have respect for and have watched play,” said Fleury. “I am very fortunate to have played with good teams in Pittsburgh and now in Vegas.”
Fleury, 34, continues to be a steady presence in net for the Golden Knights. In 32 starts, the former Penguin has accumulated 20 wins to 12 losses (two of which came in overtime) and remains the NHL’s leader in wins and shutouts (5) this season.