It was just 24 hours prior that a double minor penalty was the downfall of the Vegas Golden Knights.
On Saturday, it would be their biggest source of momentum.
The Golden Knights took care of business in what was, arguably, their biggest game of the season; a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes to take sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
This came off the heels of Vegas losing 4-3 at the Anaheim Ducks on Friday. The Golden Knights allowed three goals in 93 seconds, surrendering all momentum gained the moment Jonathan Marchessault broke the ice.
No such energy would be lost Saturday. It wasn’t because the Golden Knights scored quickly or jumped out to a multi-goal lead. It was because they killed a high-sticking double minor called on forward Ryan Reaves at 3:29 of the first period.
There was an immediate sense of deja vu when the refs called it. It was a high-sticking double minor on Tomas Nosek that doomed Vegas on Friday at the home of the Mouse.
Nosek’s penalty forced the Golden Knights to play 5-on-3 for 45 seconds. Anaheim tied it with one second left on the two-man advantage. Cam Fowler scored on the power play 1:23 later, rounding out Nosek’s trip to the penalty box, and giving Anaheim a lead it would not relinquish.
This time was different. Facing a team that recently added former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, the Golden Knights got an early look at what Arizona’s special teams unit can look like with Hall in it.
“They’re a fast team already, but on the power play, you see it a lot more,” said Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 27 saves and won his 454th game in the NHL.
In that four-minute stretch, the Golden Knights played their best penalty killing game in the past week-and-a-half. The Coyotes had only one shot on goal in four minutes. Two of them were blocked, and two were wide of the net. That’s five total shots that Arizona could only muster against a struggling Vegas PK unit.
Vegas allowed a power play goal in five of its past six games entering Saturday, including three in the previous two games combined.
“Everyone was on the same page,” said forward Max Pacioretty. “That jumpstarted our team and sometimes you’re able to gain some momentum off that.”
Six seconds after killing the Reaves penalty, Hall was called for tripping, sending the Golden Knights to the power play; another unit in which they’ve struggled as of late. The Golden Knights were 3-for-24 on the power play in their past 11 games before Saturday.
Vegas scored twice on the man advantage Saturday. No goal was more important than Mark Stone’s first of two, coming at 9:05 of the first period to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead.
“We took the four-minute penalty, so I think [Nate Schmidt], [William Karlsson], myself, Chandler [Stephenson], [Paul Stastny] and Nosek had to buckle up for four and we did a good job with the kill, and right after that we got a power play,” Stone said. “I think special teams really kind of dictated the ice time.”
Stone is right. Arizona was 0-for-5 on the power play. The Coyotes’ lone goal was Michael Grabner’s game-tying tally at 13:31 of the first period, before Stone’s second goal at 15:06 gave Vegas the lead for good.
“I think it was huge,” said coach Gerard Gallant. “The PK was great tonight. We had some key saves at key times. To not get behind 1-0 was key for us.”
After losing on Friday, this game turned into a must-win for the Golden Knights, given the opponent and how this was the first game of a seven-game homestand that could carry some weight into the All-Star break.
We can debate on if it should have been called or not. Regardless, it was absolutely an important part of the game that went the Golden Knights’ way, and given how the past few games have gone, it was much needed.