After tonight these teams won’t see each other until April, so may we all thank the hockey gods.
It’s not that the games weren’t entertaining; Sunday’s thriller made that so, with the Golden Knights winning 1-0 on a William Karlsson goal with less than a minute to go. But this is why teams don’t play each other four consecutive times during a normal regular season.
Alas, the Golden Knights are 5-1-0 after completing their four-game series with the Coyotes. Vegas is atop the league with 10 points through six games and is one of only two teams (Toronto Maple Leafs) to have the ‘5’ on the left side of the ledger.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 16 saves for his third win of the season and second in as many nights. It wasn’t a busy night for Fleury en route to his 62nd shutout of his NHL career and 469th victory, at least for the first two periods. The biggest save of the night for the fifth-winningest goalie in NHL history came way of his former Pittsburgh teammate, Phil Kessel, coming down the right side on a breakaway and trying to go five-hole on Fleury, but to no avail.
After scoring 11 goals in the first three games — nine in the first two — Vegas ran into a settled Darcy Kuemper back at his home barn in Gila River Arena. Kuemper made 26 saves and stood tall when the Golden Knights began to pepper him up close in the final 20 minutes.
Yet it was Karlsson breaking the goal-less tie at 19:17 of the third period that was the deciding moment. Alex Tuch dumped the puck from the center line, where it was Jonathan Marchessault winning the sprint down the ice. He retrieved the puck, dished it to Karlsson cutting to the crease and beat Kuemper up top for his second goal of the season.
This goal doesn’t come without controversy, or so at least through the lens of the Coyotes. Tuch appeared to cross the center line as he dumped the puck, which could’ve been an icing. Arizona defenseman Jakob Chychrun certainly thought so, but the hustle from Marchessault was enough to waive it off.
That’s the beauty of 1-0 games: What else is there to say? This afternoon matinee surely looked like two teams who were tired of playing each other and would rather do something else on a Sunday than play hockey. That’s absolutely fair given the framework of this season. There’s going to be times, especially on back-to-backs, where teams will just take a day off; maybe that was the Golden Knights on Friday. But quality defense (14 blocked shots and 41 total shots allowed) and a solid night from the future Hall-of-Fame netminder proved to be enough.
Now the Golden Knights return home for a two-game set against the St. Louis Blues, where Alex Pietrangelo will play his first game against his former team. It will also be the first true contender Vegas has played to this point.
Either this 5-1-0 start is legit or fool’s gold. We’ll find out.