Despite Vegas lighting the lamp four times in the first period, this game truly came down to the wire. But the Knights killed off a critical 6-on-3 at the tail end of the third period to hold on for the two points.
The win helps Vegas maintain its lead in the Pacific Division as Arizona and Vancouver were also victorious tonight.
This game had a little bit of everything.
Nine goals, a penalty shot, a 6-on-3 power play, some remarkable saves by both goaltenders and a very special moment that came midway through the first period.
Just 11:27 into his career as an NHL forward, Jon Merrill scored his first goal of the season, and it was a beauty.
With Jonathan Marchessault being a late scratch, Gerard Gallant tinkered with his lineup and put Merrill on the fourth line as Alex Tuch took Marchessault’s spot on the top line and William Carrier filled in for Tuch on the third.
Merrill had gone 36 games without lighting the lamp, but his surprise promotion to fourth-line duties actually paid off handsomely for the Knights.
Not only did Merrill score, but the fourth line had some great shifts, partly thanks to Nicolas Roy, who was recalled ahead of tonight’s game.
But Merrill’s goal was the fourth of the game and just one of six scored in the first period.
The Flyers got on the board first when Claude Giroux scored 7:33 into the opening frame.
Great passing by the Flyers' top line. pic.twitter.com/TDzneb43Sm— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) January 3, 2020
There wasn’t much Marc-Andre Fleury could do on the play, but the Knights responded just over a minute later with a goal from Shea Theodore.
Before long, the Knights had scored three goals in the span of two minutes and 45 seconds. Sandwiched between Theodore’s sixth of the year and Merrill’s first was a power-play goal from none other than Max Pacioretty. It took the Knights just 16 seconds to convert on their only power-play opportunity of the night.
then there was this one pic.twitter.com/D6hVSDAUct— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 3, 2020
Pacioretty scored from an ugly angle as he put home a great feed from Paul Stastny, who also picked up the primary assist on Theodore’s tally.
But the first period was chock-full of drama.
One of the more significant moments was when Fleury stopped Scott Laughton on a penalty shot.
Fleury is now a perfect 4-for-4 on penalty shots as a Knight.
It was a somewhat ludicrous attempt by Laughton, but Fleury stayed with him all the way and made the key stop to preserve Vegas’ two-goal lead.
That lead wouldn’t hold for long, though, as Travis Konecny scored a highlight-reel goal to make it 3-2 just 1:17 later. Konecny blew past Nate Schmidt on his way to the net, protected the puck in his skates as he moved across the crease and then shoved the puck into the yawning cage.
Pacioretty would add his second of the frame and team-leading 18th of the season before intermission, giving Vegas a 4-2 lead through 20 minutes.
Cody Glass was the next Knight to beat Carter Hart, and he did so from one knee as the Knights capitalized on a Philadelphia turnover.
As the see-saw game continued, Sean Couturier cut the deficit to two once again in the second period, and he brought the Flyers within one as he made it a 5-4 game 15 seconds into the third period on a carry-over power play.
There were great chances at both ends in the third period, but Fleury and Hart were sharp.
Apparently Fleury enjoys long walks on the beach and robbing Giroux, and he did so once again tonight with this glove save.
Fleury with the huge glove grab on Giroux. pic.twitter.com/zVuOOyGcbM— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) January 3, 2020
Hart made a few big stops of his own to keep this a one-goal game.
Couple of big stops by Carter Hart to keep it a one-goal game. pic.twitter.com/M1fj8vPbVq— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) January 3, 2020
In the final few minutes of the game, the Knights were called for delay of game and cross-checking, which gave the Flyers a two-man advantage. With Hart on the bench, the Flyers then had an extended 6-on-3 power play.
However, Brayden McNabb made two critical plays. First, he blocked a shot by Shayne Gostisbehere, who seemed to have an open net as he wound up for the one-timer.
McNabb with a huge block on Gostisbehere. pic.twitter.com/1SAvOSSULx— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) January 3, 2020
Shortly thereafter, McNabb broke up a pass as the Knights were able to clear the zone. The Knights were able to hold on for the 5-4 win.
It was another game in which Vegas won the possession battle, holding a 60-45 edge in Corsi and 15-8 edge in high-danger chances.
However, it was a little too close for comfort.
It was Vegas’ sixth home win in their last seven games at T-Mobile Arena and the first of 2020.
Merrill was the unofficial hero of the night, but players throughout the lineup contributed to this win.
Pacioretty scored two more goals, the third line had Corsi For percentages in the 80’s, Stastny made several key plays in the first period, Fleury stopped a penalty shot and made some big saves in the third period and McNabb came up huge in the clutch on the late penalty kill.
It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a hard-fought win and leaves the Knights undefeated in 2020.
The Knights are two points ahead of Arizona and four ahead of Vancouver, though both teams hold games in hand. At this point, though, all the Knights can do is focus on winning games, and that’s what they’ve been doing over the past few weeks.
Next up for Vegas is a tough matchup against the St. Louis Blues Saturday afternoon; the Knights will need to continue to have success at home as Saturday’s tilt is the first of four more at T-Mobile Arena to start the new year.