In a battle of two Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending legends, it was Marc-Andre Fleury who prevailed — stopping 30 of 33 shots — over Antti Niemi, who lasted just 9:51 before his shoddy showing paved the way for Carey Price to enter in relief.
The Montreal Canadiens entered the contest struggling massively, losers of four straight and 6-13-3 dating back to Dec. 23. They also held the ignominious honor of being the lone team without even one 35-point player on the roster (a fact which would change a few minutes into the contest).
Reilly Smith netted a pair of goals, chipping in a helper as well, which brought his season point total up to 51, which ties a career high (Boston Bruins, 2013-14). Of course, such an achievement came in 24 more games. Tonight’s performance gave Vegas four players with at least 50 points, joining the Dallas Stars as the only teams to accomplish such a feat so far this year.
Smith’s opening tally, a power-play marker off a Nate Schmidt assist, was quite a rocket:
The goal came just 2:16 into the opening frame, which would set the tone for this high-scoring affair, one that saw seven goals come in the first 23:46.
Schmidt would add a goal of his own, as would Brad Hunt. The latter’s play in his own end continues to be suspect at best, but his offensive prowess may keep him in the lineup over the likes of Jon Merrill.
Ryan Carpenter had yet another strong showing, scoring his fifth goal in seven games, as well as adding a helper. Fellow fourth-liner Tomas Nosek also joined the goal parade, as he snapped in a gorgeous feed from Erik Haula:
Not all was well for the Knights’ grit patrol, as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare left after an apparent rib injury after going hard into the boards in the first period. He returned to the bench a couple times, but ultimately finished his night with just over two minutes of ice time. Such a loss could sting the Golden Knights moving forward, as Bellemare has been a pleasant surprise on the relative Corsi side of things, ranking fourth among qualifying Knights forwards.
Jonathan Marchessault had three secondary assists, bringing his overall point total to 58 — a top-20 mark in the league — and his 5-on-5 total to 39, which puts him fifth(!) in the NHL.
Fleury put forth a so-so performance on paper, but notched a highlight reel save or two, including this one in the early moments of the third period:
For the Canadiens, Charles Hudon — who you may recall as the player the Golden Knights passed over in favor of what turned out to be the projected 90th overall pick and over $1MM in dead cap space — scored an early goal and the Joe Morrow and Jordie Benn pairing had a strong showing throughout the contest.
Despite this being a seemingly powerhouse outing for the Golden Knights, they actually had one of their weaker games in recent memory on the possession front, mustering just a 40.7 Corsi-For Percentage at even strength. Deryk Engelland and Luca Sbisa were the prime culprits, accounting for 13 CF and 27 CA.
Vegas now stands at 39-15-4, good for 82 points, which puts them a dozen points clear of second-place San Jose in the Pacific, by far the largest gap across the four divisions. This was also their 22nd home win, which ties the NHL record for expansion teams.