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Golden Knights 5, Coyotes 1: 5 things we learned from Vegas’ year-ending victory in Arizona

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Not a bad way to finish off 2018.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Arizona Coyotes Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If the Vegas Golden Knights have a New Year’s resolution, it seems pretty clear what it would be — get back to consistently playing the hockey that earned them the Western Conference title last season. And based on their recent play, they may have gotten an early jump on that goal.

After winning two straight after the holiday break, the Golden Knights travelled to Glendale and put together a largely dominant win over a division rival, beating the Arizona Coyotes 5-1 in their own arena.

Paul Stastny got the party started by potting his third goal in as many games to open the scoring. Later in the second period, Reilly Smith got his ninth of the season to double the Vegas lead. Coyotes forward Alex Galchenyuk managed to cut that lead in half with a snipe on the power play, but it wouldn’t be long before the floodgates opened in the final frame.

Just 4:21 into the third, Cody Eakin scored to reclaim the two-goal lead. From there, Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter padded the Vegas lead even further, eventually leading to Vegas picking up its third straight win for the first time since early December.

Oh, look! Pirri scores again!

Forward Brandon Pirri had a bit of a cult following before being called up to the Golden Knights on Dec. 19. Since then, he’s proved himself as a legitimate candidate to stick with the Golden Knights long-term. Sunday night, he made his case even more compelling.

After being held pointless for the first time this season, Pirri rebounded in a big way against the Coyotes, assisting on Paul Stastny’s score-opening goal and potting his fifth tally of the season.

One of Knights head coach Gerard Gallant’s big criticisms of Pirri when he was first called up was the 27-year-old’s faulty defensive play. However, based on his comments after Sunday night’s game, it appears Pirri may be winning the coach over in that regard.

“He’s playing real good hockey,” said Gallant. “He’s working hard, he’s competing hard, he’s playing a good defensive game, and I think that’s what our team’s done the last three or four games is play real good, solid defense, and that’s leading to good offense.”

Eakin ends goal drought

It feels like just yesterday forward Cody Eakin was seemingly scoring at will. After posting seven goals and 13 points in the month of November alone, Eakin has only managed one tally in the month of December.

Well, at least until he took on the Coyotes.

Eakin finally found twine for the first time since Dec. 4 Sunday night. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but it wound up setting the tempo early in the third period, and his team responded accordingly, scoring two more before the sounding of the final horn.

Eakin has now registered 12 goals and 22 points in 39 games this season. The 27-year-old currently needs just eight more goals to set a new career-high (his previous is 19, coming during the 2014-15 season).

Arizona’s defense abused

The Golden Knights had no shortage of chances against the Coyotes. Vegas fired 37 shots on goal Sunday night, and while it is technically the goalie’s job to stop those shots, you can only put so much blame on Arizona goaltender Darcy Kuemper — especially considering the leaky defense he was playing behind.

The Golden Knights had their way with Arizona’s blueliners for much of the night. Defenseman Alex Goligoski had a particularly poor game, as he was directly responsible for Brandon Pirri’s breakaway goal, as well as Ryan Carpenter’s shorthanded tally.

Not all of his mistake wound up in the back of the net, though. An early turnover from the 33-year-old ended up turning into a quality chance for Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt, but Kuemper managed to stop Schmidt’s shot with ease.

Goligoski certainly wasn’t the only Arizona defender responsible for the many defensive lapses we saw out of the Coyotes last night. And Arizona head coach Rick Tocchet made it clear that his entire team needs to play better if they want any chance of competing in the best hockey league on the planet.

“You want to be a good NHL hockey team or player, you’ve got to be consistent,” said Tocchet. “It’s hard to be a consistent player. It’s hard to go middle drive, it’s hard to be hard on the puck, it’s hard to be a double-up guy, it’s hard to go to the net, to do it all the time. That’s what good teams do. So, maybe we have some players here that just can’t do it regularly, and we’re going to have to find some players that will. And that’s just the bottom line.”

Fleury solid after resting on Saturday

Backup netminder Malcolm Subban has seen an alarmingly small amount of starts this season. Saturday, though, his name was finally called. And he made the most of the opportunity, making 30 saves in Vegas’ 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

By starting Subban on Saturday, starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury had an extra day to rest. And wouldn’t you know it, he looked excellent against the Coyotes, stopping 29 of Arizona’s 30 shots and earning his league-leading 22nd win of the season.

Granted, many of Arizona’s chances were of the low-danger variety, you probably won’t see the 34-year-old complaining about it.

Maybe the Golden Knights should consider resting Fleury more often? It seems to work out pretty well when they do.

Knights fans invade Gila River Arena

We all know about the advantage the Golden Knights have when they play in their own barn. T-Mobile Arena is one of the craziest buildings in the NHL (if not the craziest), and Vegas’ record on home ice (12-3-3) reflects that.

Though the Golden Knights’ game against the Coyotes was played in Arizona, it certainly felt a lot more like a game on Las Vegas Boulevard than it did a game in Gila River Arena. Knights fans travelled very well to the game in Glendale, and it ended up making a pretty huge difference.

You could tell it was going to be a long night for the Coyotes before the puck was even dropped.

“Definitely tonight it felt like it was a home game,” Jonathan Marchessault said to our friends over at SinBin.vegas after the game. “Our fans were loud, they were there and it was great.”