Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vegas Golden Knights had two choices. One – win and end up with points in six of their last seven games. Or two – lose and be the proud new owners of a three-game losing streak. After being shut out in their own building by the New York Rangers on Sunday, the Golden Knights chose option one.
Five different Golden Knights scored, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves in his first start since his father died on Nov. 27, and the Golden Knights won 5-1 against the Blackhawks.
A majority of the first period was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team seizing the game or momentum out of the gate. Vegas’ new-look third line of Paul Stastny centering Alex Tuch and Valentin Zykov looked surprisingly dangerous. The teams traded chances throughout the opening frame, both opting for perimeter chances while advancing down the wing, as opposed to getting to the particularly high danger areas.
To say the second period was a better, would be a massive understatement to the effort put forth by the home team. In the middle frame, the Golden Knights took control of the game, scoring three goals. Vegas’ first goal came on an excellent individual effort from Assistant Captain Reilly Smith 7:27 into the period. Smith seemed to have no room around Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, but he stuck with it on the side of the goal, finding an opening with some silky-smooth mitt work. His team-leading 13th goal of the season was a beaut and better yet, it was on the man advantage.
A short 3:56 later, another prolific goal-scorer lit the lamp for the Golden Knights. Defenseman Deryk Engelland walked in from the blue line and receiving a perfect pass from Alex Tuch. Crawford, along with everyone watching, took Engelland for granted as he opted to shoot and beat the Hawks goaltender with an impressive wrist shot over the blocker of Crawford. Engelland’s first of the season was as big as it was shocking. With that goal, the Golden Knights seized the momentum and the countdown began.
William Karlsson added a goal with less than a minute left in the second period. Karlsson snapped a 10-game drought with the goal and has his shorthanded partner to thank. Karlsson took a perfect backdoor feed from Smith to extend the Golden Knights’ lead to three. They’d head into the locker room with that score and a ton of confidence. Making the night even crazier, Ryan Reaves followed up Max Pacioretty’s goal – that made the score 4-0 – with a one-timer past Crawford. Both Reaves and Engelland scored in the same game and Crawford was actually playing quite well.
It’s clear, the Golden Knights won’t get this kind of depth performance nightly, but it sure is fun when it happens. Five different players scored goals and two of them are certainly bottom-of-the-lineup players. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made his triumphant return (personal reasons) in typical Flower fashion, nearly posting a shutout. Dominik Kubalik rained on the Welcome Back Parade, with a Power Play goal at 19:33 of the third. Early in the game, Fleury needed to regain his bearings, but the former Stanley Cup Champion quickly settled in and reverted to a level of consistency the Golden Knights have grown accustomed to, sometimes to a fault.
Overall, the Golden Knights didn’t miss a beat playing without Cody Eakin (injury), Cody Glass (injury), and Jon Merrill (coach’s decision). They played hard, fast, and smart which has been publicly demanded by Head Coach Gerard Gallant on numerous occasions. When the Golden Knights play “their game” they are extremely hard to beat. This win is a good start to a tough patch of the schedule as the boys prepare for a game in St. Louis against David Perron and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blues. These next few games will be benchmarks for the Golden Knights. They will be tough, they will be competitive, but for the time being, they’re victorious and have the Flower back in goal.