All eyes were on newly-appointed head coach Peter DeBoer, who made his Golden Knights debut behind the bench tonight after taking over for Gerard Gallant yesterday.
The announcement of the dismissal of Gallant and assistant coach Mike Kelly was a shock to everyone, including the players.
However, the Knights came out and played a pretty solid game all things considered, coming away with an important two points.
They had to do so without William Karlsson, who was ruled out prior to puck drop and is now considered week-to-week.
But Vegas got a huge spark from Mark Stone, who was arguably the best player on the ice in his long-awaited return to Ottawa. Stone spent parts of eight seasons with the Senators before getting dealt to Vegas at last year’s trade deadline. He received a standing ovation from the crowd after a tribute video was shown in the arena.
It was an emotional night for Stone, and he made the most of it, scoring a goal and an assist against his former team.
For a change, it was the Knights who held a three-goal lead in this one.
Paul Stastny scored just 34 seconds into the game as he and Stone completed a give-and-go to get Vegas on the board.
After the early strike, it took nearly two full periods for either team to light the lamp, but it was none other than Stone who did the deed.
Stone beat Craig Anderson on a wraparound late in the second period, giving Vegas a 2-0 lead with just over a minute to go in the middle frame.
Chandler Stephenson then gave Vegas a 3-0 lead on a shorthanded breakaway nearly six minutes into the third period.
Stephenson broke up a cross-ice feed at center ice and used his speed to pull ahead on a breakaway. He cashed in for his ninth of the season and sixth as a Golden Knight.
Stephenson had five goals and 11 points in 64 games with Washington last season; he has six goals and 12 points in 21 games with Vegas.
The Senators ended Marc-Andre Fleury’s shutout bid exactly 60 seconds after Stephenson’s goal as Vladislav Namestnikov scored on a one-timer off a quick pass from the slot.
However, Ryan Reaves re-established Vegas’ three-goal lead less than three minutes later as the fourth line capitalized on a turnover by Anderson.
The Senators made things interesting when Connor Brown converted on Ottawa’s third power play of the period, but the Knights were able to shut things down and secure the win.
Fleury made 33 saves for win No. 458 of his career. It was Fleury’s best performance in 2020 by a mile as he finished the night with a .943 save percentage, his first game above .900 in January. He also made some huge saves for the Knights to keep them in the game, including a vintage Fleury poke-check save in the first period.
The Knights are now 1-0-0 under DeBoer, though one game against a team in the midst of what is now a nine-game losing streak doesn’t necessarily say much either way about the coach or about the team. It will take some time for both the players and coach to adjust. Plus, this was a very close game for much of the night, and the Knights still exhibited some of the same mistakes they’ve made in recent losses.
That being said, the two points pushed Vegas into the first wildcard seed in the Western Conference with 56 points, one point more than the Oilers, who have two games in hand.
Next up for Vegas is a meeting with Montreal on Saturday as the Knights continue this eight-game road trip.