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Golden Knights tackle Sabres 5-2, collect 200th franchise win in final game before All-Star break

Alex Tuch scored as he, Cody Eakin and Peyton Krebs returned to T-Mobile Arena.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights kicked off the new month with a bang, defeating the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena in the final game before the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.

The win was the Golden Knights’ 200th franchise win, making the Knights the fastest team to 200 wins in NHL history. Vegas accomplished the feat in 337 contests; the previous record was 349 by the Ottawa Senators.

The game marked the return of three former Golden Knights, two of whom were part of the original roster in the unprecedented inaugural campaign.

Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and Peyton Krebs normally play on three separate lines but all got the start against their former team. The three were recognized in a joint tribute video that was followed by a very enthusiastic ovation from the Vegas faithful.

But not before the Misfit Line opened the scoring just 33 seconds into the game.

It was a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play that resulted in Reilly Smith’s first goal of the new year and 12th of the season.

It was the start of an impressive night by that line, which combined for five points.

But the Knights once again benefited from depth scoring.

Brett Howden’s hot streak continued as he scored for the third straight game, doubling Vegas’ lead in the final two minutes of the period with his seventh of the year.

It’s unclear exactly what Sabres netminder Craig Anderson was doing on the play, but he wasn’t set when Howden collected the loose puck and fired it from the slot. Howden is two goals shy of matching his career high in half as many games.

The Knights added two more in the first five minutes of the middle frame to take a commanding 4-0 lead thanks to stellar special-teams play.

First, Jonathan Marchessault netted a power-play goal after another sleek passing play by the Knights.

It was the kind of crisp passing the Knights often lack on the power play, but Nicolas Roy completed the sequence by sending a perfect feed to Marchessault for the one-timer. It was Marchessault’s team-leading 20th of the year, marking the fifth time he has topped 20 goals in his career.

The Knights followed up the power-play strike with a shorthanded tally, making it 4-0 at 4:27 of the second.

Howden collected his second point of the game, setting up Keegan Kolesar after the two seemingly botched the initial odd-man rush.

It was another questionable moment for Anderson, who gave Kolesar more than enough time to slip the puck inside the post for his fourth goal of the season.

It was Howden’s second straight multi-point performance as he extended his point streak to four games, collecting three goals and six points in that stretch.

Anderson made some key saves on a later power play as the Knights continued to push, and Robin Lehner followed suit with some big stops on a delayed penalty.

However, it didn’t end up being the team’s first shutout on home ice this season, as the Sabres finally broke through with four minutes left in the middle frame.

Naturally, it was Tuch who lit the lamp.

The power forward recorded his fifth goal of the season, beating Lehner cleanly on a 2-on-1. He didn’t celebrate his first goal against his former team much, but the crowd cheered for him when the goal was announced.

He had several strong scoring chances throughout the game, including a glorious opportunity early in the first that was nullified when his stick snapped on the shot, and he also had a breakaway in the third but was shut down by Lehner.

The start of the third was much like the first and second, as the Knights struck early for the third straight period, all three goals coming in the first 91 seconds.

Mark Stone scored his first goal since Jan. 6 just 1:14 into the final frame on a full-line goal by the top trio.

Max Pacioretty found Stone in front, picking up his second assist of the game; he now has 23 points in 19 games this season. Nolan Patrick recorded his fourth assist of the year, giving him three points in his last four contests.

The Sabres made it a three-goal game once again at 12:23 of the third as John Hayden tipped a Tage Thompson shot, but it was a relatively uneventful moment near the end of a game in which the Knights led for 59:27, ultimately taking it by a final score of 5-2.

It wasn’t a flawless game, but it was a solid team-wide effort that featured a lot of pretty passing plays, goals at all strengths and points from nine different forwards from up and down the lineup.

Howden, Stone and Marchessault all finished the game with a goal and an assist, while Pacioretty and Karlsson recorded two assists; Patrick, Roy and Kolesar all found the scoresheet as well.

Interestingly, Vegas didn’t control play despite controlling the game.

The Sabres held an edge in Corsi share in all three periods at 5-on-5, though the Knights led in expected goal share (58.35 percent at 5-on-5 on the night) and got two goals on special teams.

It was another encouraging performance by Lehner, who made 30 saves on 32 shots for a .938 save percentage. It was his second win in a row and fourth in his last five starts.

Golden Knights defenseman Kaedan Korczak made his NHL debut, finishing the contest with one block and a plus-one rating in 16:37.

Tuch, who now has 13 points in 13 games this season, finished the night with a goal, four shots and four blocks in 21:02, which included 2:35 on the power play and 2:58 on the penalty kill.

Eakin managed four shots, one hit and a minus-one rating in 15:02, while Krebs delivered two hits, one takeaway and a minus-two rating in 16:29.

The win helps the Knights move to 27-16-3 on the year and maintain its spot atop the Pacific Division standings; Vegas has a two-point lead and two games in hand over Anaheim heading into the All-Star break after going 4-1-1 in its last six games.

The Knights will look to build on that when they return for a back-to-back Alberta road set against Edmonton and Calgary next week.

In the meantime, Stone and Alex Pietrangelo will represent the Golden Knights at the All-Star Game, set for Feb. 4-5 at T-Mobile Arena.