The Vegas Golden Knights hosted the slumping Philadelphia Flyers Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The Knights had won three games in a row; the Flyers had lost 10 straight.
Philadelphia put an end to both.
Thanks to two third-period power-play goals and a stellar performance by goaltender Carter Hart, the Flyers prevailed with a 4-3 victory.
It was a close game all night, but special teams decided the game in the third period.
The Flyers have one of the worst power plays in the league but went 2-for-2 in the third, getting goals from Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk.
The Flyers took a two-goal lead when van Riemsdyk scored just under 10 minutes into the third. The Knights pulled within one with a power-play goal of their own late in the game but failed to capitalize on two previous opportunities, ultimately falling short as Hart and the Flyers secured the club’s first win since Nov. 16 and first under interim head coach Mike Yeo.
There was end-to-end action for much of the game, particularly in the first period.
The Golden Knights had two early prime scoring opportunities but were shut down by Hart, who had an excellent game.
As is often the case, a big save at one end led to a goal at the other.
Kevin Hayes gave Philadelphia a rare 1-0 lead 4:20 into the first period when his backhand shot trickled under a diving Laurent Brossoit.
Hayes pots his second of the season pic.twitter.com/KaZQPD3WCX— Flyers Nation (@FlyersNation) December 11, 2021
Vegas had plenty of scoring chances throughout the frame but didn’t break through until the final minute.
William Karlsson tapped the puck into an empty net on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault.
THE FLOW DOWN LOW!!! pic.twitter.com/qZVqNaxl6J— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 11, 2021
The backdoor tally was Karlsson’s second goal the year and first since Oct. 20, and it was a big goal for Vegas at the tail end of a relatively sloppy frame.
The Flyers took a one-goal lead once again in the second, as Max Willman recorded his first career NHL goal on a rebound. Former Golden Knights forward Patrick Brown picked up the primary assist on the play.
Where there's a way, there's a Will, man.— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) December 11, 2021
Congrats to Max Willman on his first NHL goal! pic.twitter.com/t8EPx5DWg8
But once again, the Knights responded with a late-period goal, this one coming from Max Pacioretty, who remains red-hot with goals in five straight games and points in seven straight.
just tap it in pic.twitter.com/5ogMoTbcG0— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 11, 2021
It was the Knights’ second goal scored from the side of the net, but neither was on Hart.
In fact, half of the entire zone was left completely wide open both times, and a Knights forward had an uncontested path to the crease for the backdoor goal.
First, it was Karlsson, who saw an open lane and went straight to the net.
Not sure what Braun and Konecny were doing here; Laughton a bit as well. pic.twitter.com/H8S8UEz1cg— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) December 11, 2021
Then, at least three Flyers get caught watching the play, skate out of position and leave one of the hottest players in the league all alone for an easy tap-in.
Right defenseman Justin Braun gets caught on the left side of the ice again and Max Pacioretty deposits the rebound. pic.twitter.com/DaZIWPZNWW— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) December 11, 2021
It was Pacioretty’s eighth of the season in just his ninth game and came with 90 seconds remaining in the frame, making it a 2-2 game going into the third.
The Flyers yet again took an early lead, this time with the first of back-to-back power-play goals.
A Mark Stone hooking call put Philadelphia on the power play, and one of the least efficient units in the NHL capitalized just 17 seconds later.
Sean Couturier scored on a one-timer that beat Brossoit, who was unable to get over in time.
Claude Giroux takes the Flyers franchise lead in power-play points (334) with his assist on Sean Couturier's goal! pic.twitter.com/iNmPPtfwG6— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) December 11, 2021
The Knights’ response kept the Flyers on their heels, and Hart was forced to make several key stops. He made 15 saves on 16 shots in each of the second and third periods, and many of them were game-savers.
But nearly six minutes after Couturier’s goal, Pacioretty took a very undisciplined penalty, tackling Hayes along the boards.
The ensuing power-play goal proved to be the game-winner.
Philadelphia took a 4-2 lead on an improbable second power-play goal, as van Riemsdyk scored from just outside the paint off a cross-crease pass from Travis Konecny. Brossoit was deep in his net and unable to stop van Riemsdyk from in tight.
It was just the second time all year that Philadelphia scored two power-play goals in the same game.
But the Flyers returned the favor by taking a penalty just over a minute later. Ultimately, the Flyers took three straight penalties in the span of 7:31, giving Vegas ample opportunity to cut the deficit.
In the first power play, Vegas set up well and had several good looks, including one at the side of the net by Mattias Janmark. However, Hart dove across the crease and kept the puck out of the net, wrapping his skates around the post to preserve the two-goal lead.
Carter. Hart. #PHIvsVGK | #BringItToBroad pic.twitter.com/4oXy16YxCE— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) December 11, 2021
Vegas’ second power play was out of sorts, as the team spent most of it passing the puck around the perimeter.
The Flyers took yet another penalty with just 2:01 remaining in the game. This time, the Knights cashed in at 6-on-4, pulling within one as Pacioretty snagged his second of the game at 18:15 of the third.
Max Pacioretty with his 9th goal, 2nd of the game on a rocket from his office on the PP. One of the best pure goal scorers in the NHL. #PatchOn pic.twitter.com/kx2uXFNTBk— Allan Walsh (@walsha) December 11, 2021
Two teams that have struggled on the power play all year combined for three power-play goals in one period. Ironically, two of the three goals were scored by players who took penalties that led to a power-play goal for the other team (Couturier, Pacioretty).
The Knights had some chances late, but Hart was stellar until the end, helping the Flyers hold on for the 4-3 win.
Carter –– and I cannot emphasize this enough –– Hart pic.twitter.com/8a6A6fFUIa— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) December 11, 2021
He made 41 saves on 44 shots for a .932 save percentage.
For the Knights, it was the second straight game in which special teams played a critical role. Surprisingly, it’s the penalty kill that has been the problem.
The Knights went 0-for-3 against Dallas, giving up three power-play goals on three shots. While Vegas’ penalty kill officially went 1-for-3 on the night, that’s more of a technicality. In reality, the Flyers’ first power play of the game came to an abrupt end just five seconds in when the Flyers took a penalty, resulting in 4-on-4 hockey for nearly two minutes.
This also means that one of Vegas’ six recorded power-play opportunities in the game lasted just five seconds.
If both are removed from consideration, that means the Knights went 0-for-2 on the penalty kill and 1-for-5 on the power play. That also means that the penalty kill is 0-for-5 in its last two games, which is certainly not going to cut it.
Dallas has the fourth-best power play in the league, and all three of their goals were either screened or deflected. The Flyers, on the other hand, entered tonight’s game with the fourth-worst power play in the NHL but still managed to go 2-for-2 in a critical third period.
Brossoit made just 21 saves on 25 shots for an .840 save percentage. While two of those goals came on the power play, he wasn’t in great position for either. However, Hart was the goalie who truly affected the outcome of the game.
With Chandler Stephenson out of the lineup, Pete DeBoer elected to put Keegan Kolesar on the top line instead of Nicolas Roy, who played most of the game on the third line with Evgenii Dadonov.
That was the most obvious matchup discrepancy all night, however, as the new-look third line for the Flyers — featuring van Riemsdyk, Hayes and Willman, all of whom recorded a goal — severely outplayed the Knights’ third unit.
In 3:48 of ice time at 5-on-5, Pacioretty, Stone and Roy had a 92.31 percent Corsi share, and Pacioretty scored shortly after Roy was bumped up to that line, but that didn’t happen until late in the second period. That’s not a slight on Kolesar, but it’s also not a coincidence that every member of the Flyers’ third line scored (even though Willman’s goal came with two members of the Flyers’ fourth line, including Patrick Brown, on the ice).
The Flyers did not play like a team with 10 straight losses. They weren’t great, but they scored first in all three periods, never trailed, made big plays at key moments and got excellent goaltending.
The Knights were in the game until the very end against a desperate team, outshot that team 44-25 and took over 5-on-5 play in the second and third periods going up against a hot goaltender.
But it wasn’t a convincing 60-minute, 200-foot effort, nor a roadmap for how this team wants to compete moving forward. Also, Pacioretty is playing on a level that is not sustainable, so the Knights will have to find other sources of offense.
That being said, the primary takeaway (and concern) from tonight’s loss is the penalty kill. It’s something that needs to be addressed quickly before it becomes a true trend.
It will face a big test this weekend as the Knights close out their homestand on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild.
For the third game in a row, the visiting team could come into T-Mobile Arena in the midst of an extended streak (assuming Minnesota beats Los Angeles on Saturday). But the Wild are one of the hottest teams in the league and winners of eight straight; the Knights will need to clean up their game to keep up.