The Vegas Golden Knights topped the Anaheim Ducks 5-2 Thursday night in the first installment of the eight-game series between these clubs. Mark Stone looked good in his first game as Golden Knights captain, especially in the third period when he scored two points.
Vegas got an assist from Alex Pietrangelo in his Golden Knights debut, and Jonathan Marchessault scored the fastest season-opening goal in franchise history just 68 seconds into the season. He was one of five Vegas goal-scorers on the night.
Robin Lehner also impressed in just his fourth regular season start for the Golden Knights. He made 20 saves on 22 shots, giving up two high-danger goals.
The Knights will look to replicate their success in tonight’s rematch. Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s tilt.
Even captain Stone had to acknowledge that in the second period, the Golden Knights exhibited some “sloppy play.” The Golden Knights were outshot 8-6 in the period, and Anaheim led in expected goals (0.68 to 0.38). Ironically, Vegas played arguably its best hockey of the period while shorthanded.
But that sloppy play didn’t apply to just the middle frame. The Golden Knights gave up the puck nine times over the course of the game (Anaheim did it just once). Two of those giveaways were from Stone, a rare occurrence, and both of Vegas’ dynamic defensemen, Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore, had one.
The Ducks also scored both of their goals from the high-danger area at 5-on-5 play; both were results of defensive lapses.
The lack of a preseason likely explains a lot of this, but how long that excuse will be valid has yet to be determined. It’s still early, but the sooner the Golden Knights overcome the lackluster play, the better. Tonight would be a great time to start.
It’s unclear how practical it is for Pete DeBoer to continue to roll with just five defensemen. Keegan Kolesar, the 13th forward, played just 4:36, and he was on the ice for both goals against, and every defenseman played more than 22 minutes. Interestingly, the strategy seemed to work, but although the strategy largely seemed to work, it can’t be sustainable long-term.
Another aspect of DeBoer’s early strategy that seems questionable is that of usage.
Why did Brayden McNabb, in the midst of a bad game in which he was on the ice for both of Anaheim’s goals and committed a penalty, play the third-most minutes? McNabb also had a larger offensive role than usual, as he had two offensive zone starts and zero in his own end. That’s not a role for which he is suited.
With five defensemen playing 22-plus minutes, pairings also become muddied. McNabb and Zach Whitecloud together is a bit redundant as both are defensive defensemen who may be liable to occasional mistakes. But giving Whitecloud more time with Pietrangelo (with whom Whitecloud played just 1:09) or Theodore (22 seconds) may be best for the team.
Theodore and Alec Martinez, who played together at the end of last season and throughout the postseason, looked like the best pairing for the Knights, yet they played the second-most time. They had a 72.73 percent shot share and 67.4 expected goal share. They also were on the ice for two goals for and zero against. They may need to play more than just the 11:07 they were given.
The power play lacked spark against the Ducks, with just 0.05 expected goals for (and 0.04 against). It’s only been one game, but this was an issue for Vegas last year as well. While the composition of the units largely makes sense, both units need to do more with what they have. The power play got just two minutes the other night, and after a notably shortened training camp, it may take some time to gel.
This is especially true since the two units likely will need to split ice time somewhat evenly. Both feature a large amount of talent, as Alex Tuch, Theodore and Marchessault are all on the second unit, and all of those players have produced on the man-advantage.
The penalty kill also needs a longer look, as it got just two minutes of action the other night. But it killed off the lone penalty without one of Vegas’ top penalty killers in McNabb, who took said penalty.
Neither special teams unit got a real look at things, but tonight could be a game where that changes. After all, two straight games against the same team can rev up aggression, especially when there are six more games left after this one.
Pacioretty — Stephenson — Stone
Marchessault — Karlsson — Smith
Roy — Glass — Tuch
Carrier — Nosek — Reaves
Pietrangelo — McNabb
Rakell — Henrique — Silfverberg
Heinen — Getzlaf — Lundestrom
Comtois — Steel — Terry
Deslauriers — Grant — Rowney
Shattenkirk — Lindholm
Fowler — Manson
Hakanpaa — Larsson
How to watch
What: Anaheim Ducks at Vegas Golden Knights
When: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM