Despite the score, the Golden Knights didn’t play a great game until the third period. The Knights looked downright bad for the first 40 minutes. But in the final frame, for the third game in a row, they dominated.
After a late second-period goal from Max Pacioretty pulled the Knights within one, Reilly Smith scored just over four minutes into the third to even the score at 2-2. Chandler Stephenson scored the game-winner four minutes after that. Smith later added an empty-net goal to seal the win.
One of these days, Vegas is going to have to play a complete game to win. It was not this one.
Arizona was able to score on both the power play and the penalty kill while Vegas scored all three of its goals at 5-on-5 play.
The game started out rough for the Golden Knights. The Knights were outworked by the Coyotes throughout the first period and were outshot at 5-on-5 play, nine to three.
When Arizona took a 1-0 lead 8:24 into the game, the Knights were actually on the power play.
In 1:29 of 5-on-4 play in the period, Vegas had the same number of shots for as it did against (2-2) and also gave up a goal. A bad pass by Mark Stone in the offensive zone led to a partial odd-man rush the other way; Alex Pietrangelo couldn’t get back, and Tyler Pitlick beat Robin Lehner with his first of the season.
Vegas would almost immediately get a 5-on-3 as the power play continued, but the Knights once again failed to capitalize as Darcy Kuemper made several big stops, even if other chances hit the post:
The failed 5-on-3 means the Golden Knights are now 2-for-15 in franchise history and 29th in goals on the two-man advantage since 2017. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
The Golden Knights would take a penalty near the end of the period, as the fourth line got trapped in their own end. Vegas would respond with its own aggressive penalty kill and end that power play for the Coyotes as Stephenson got a great chance on Kuemper and drew a penalty for his effort.
Both teams took four penalties in this game. The Coyotes capitalized once in the second period, and that made it a 2-0 game courtesy of a goal by Nick Schmaltz:
Vegas was unable to adjust to the Coyotes through the first 40 minutes of this game, as Arizona played a very aggressive version of man defense, especially in the neutral zone, and that shut the Golden Knights down. The Coyotes cut off any long passes, and whenever Vegas left its zone, the Knights were immediately swarmed.
This wasn’t really a problem for the Pacioretty, Stephenson and Stone line, however, as they had a 85.71 percent shot share and 94.4 percent expected goal share in 8:51 of ice time.
The Coyotes’ stifling defense led to the possession imbalance, which, as it rarely happens, went against Vegas throughout much of the game.
The Coyotes ended with 19 shots at 5-on-5 to Vegas’ 14, although the Golden Knights controlled quality with nine high-danger chances to four. That led the Golden Knights to their first goal of the game, which came with just under three minutes left in the second period. Pacioretty followed up his own rebound and banked a shot off Kuemper to pull Vegas within one:
First attempt from Pacioretty goes wide, but cleans up the rebound and banks it off Kuemper.— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) January 19, 2021
Assists from Stephenson and Theodore for Pacioretty's third goal coming at 17:02.#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/kVyXLVxX8b
In the third frame, the Golden Knights swarmed the puck themselves and limited the Coyotes to just five shots on goal, the first of which came more than halfway through the period. Meanwhile, Vegas shot the puck 13 times in the final frame and collected six high-danger chances to just one for Arizona.
That domination of the puck meant that Vegas had plenty of chances to score, and in the third period, that’s exactly what they did. A three-goal frame started off as Smith drove to the net and put the puck through the legs of Kuemper after a beauty of a pass from William Karlsson:
And then the flukiest of goals set up the Golden Knights’ win:
This might be the first goal in NHL history to be credited to a player who didn't have his stick when he scored.— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) January 19, 2021
Assists to Whitecloud and Stone on Stephenson's first goal of the season.
Fourth assist in three games for the captain.#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/OhKtztzxSf
Zach Whitecloud hit Stephenson, who had his stick slashed out of his hands, in the body. In other words: Vegas did the Goon goal.
Whitecloud was dangerous all game and helped lead to offense throughout. He and partner Nic Hague, drawing into his first game of the season, were on the ice for five high-danger chances for (at 5-on-5), pacing the blue line. Whitecloud and Hague were also the only two with positive shot shares at 5-on-5 among Golden Knights defenders.
Smith would cement the win with a full-court shot into the empty net for his second goal of the game and the 4-2 final score.
Lehner held the game within reach for much of the contest and stopped all five of the high-danger chances he faced, including a huge save at the end of the period right before Smith hit the empty net. Lehner ended the game with 31 saves on 33 shots and saved .12 goals above expected for the win.
The Golden Knights got this win but not cleanly. Vegas needs to have better full-game efforts moving forward, especially on the power play. They dominated 5-on-5, especially in the third period, but there is room to improve.
The Knights will have a chance to do so when these teams meet again Wednesday night.