Two goals in the span of 63 seconds in the third period saw the Knights erase a one-goal deficit and take a 3-2 lead, which proved to be the difference in this game.
Brandon Pirri was the center of attention headed into tonight’s game after getting called up from Chicago on Wednesday to fill in for the injured Max Pacioretty. Pirri skated on the second line with Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny, though Reilly Smith and Tuch eventually switched places.
The new-look second line of Pirri, Stastny and Smith made up the three best forwards on the team in terms of Corsi, and Stastny was one of just three Golden Knights to not give up a high-danger chance in the game (the others being Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb).
Pirri got the Knights on the board in the middle frame after Vegas gave up two quick goals in the final 90 seconds of the first period. His first of the season started a momentum swing for Vegas, which included what appeared to be a game-tying goal by Tuch. However, it was ruled that the Knights were offside, so the goal was overturned.
Apart from the 68 seconds in which Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson lit the lamp for the Isles at the end of the first, however, Vegas was the better team all night, dominating high-danger chances 14-6 at even strength and eventually taking over the possession game.
Vegas’ two third-period strikes involved two particularly strong plays. William Karlsson raced up the ice and took a spectacular shot, going between the legs of the Islanders defender as he sniped it past Thomas Greiss. Greiss was difficult to beat, stopping 43 shots on the night, but Karlsson was able to find twine at a critical point in the game. It was his fifth goal in the last six games.
The second goal of the period came off an excellent feed by Smith, setting up a wide-open net for Stastny, who scored his second goal in the last three games and his first at home in a Golden Knights sweater.
Schmidt eventually sealed the win with the empty-net goal, capping off a three-point night (his second in the last nine games).
Vegas played well at all strengths in this one. Pirri’s goal came on the power play, the Knights took advantage of a 4-on-4 situation when Karlsson scored the equalizer and Vegas came up big on the penalty kill throughout the game. It was a great night for the special teams units, even without Colin Miller.
With the win, his 20th of the season, Marc-Andre Fleury now has sole possession of ninth place in wins in NHL history (424). Fleury may not have been as busy as Greiss, but he came up huge for the Knights; ultimately, Flower stopped 19 of 21 shots in the victory, including this key stop on the penalty kill late in the third period.
Fleury with a massive shorthanded save on Brock Nelson. pic.twitter.com/8FlcBvGDbj— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) December 21, 2018
See what a little bit of rest can do?
With two wins against the Islanders in just over a week, the Knights were able to complete the sweep of the season series after losing both contests to the Isles last year.
The win improves Vegas’ overall record to 20-15-2, leaving the Knights in the first wildcard slot and just one point behind the Ducks for third place in the Pacific Division. The Knights are now 11-3-1 on home ice thanks to six straight wins at T-Mobile Arena.
Gerard Gallant’s in-game adjustment — switching Tuch and Smith on the top two lines — proved to be an effective move when Smith and Stastny combined for the game-tying goal in the third period. It is rare to see the top-line trio of Karlsson, Smith and Jonathan Marchessault split up, but it paid off in a big way. It’s unclear if Gallant will keep these lines in place for Vegas’ next contest, but it’s certainly something he can consider moving forward.
He has that option because of the strong play of Pirri, who was one of Vegas’ best players throughout the game. Pirri seems to have picked up right where he left off last year and now has four goals in three games with Vegas.