Chandler Stephenson cut down the middle of the ice, bearing down on Pekka Rinne after a shorthanded effort, a little over five minutes into the second period. He scored on the breakaway, and that stood as the game-winning goal, as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Nashville Predators 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday.
Vegas played a brilliant effort throughout the game, including a 13-0 shot effort in the first period, although they were unable to get more than one goal past Pekka Rinne until the third period (he finished with 36 saves on 38 shots). Rinne was the reason the Predators stayed as close in this game as they did, as he saved .76 goals above expected and made 10 saves on 12 high-danger shots.
The Golden Knights truly dominated the Predators, and as Jon Merrill said at the first intermission, “it all starts with our work ethic.” Name a possession stat and the Golden Knights controlled it in this game. Shots? 39-19. Corsi? 77-42. High-danger opportunities? 19-4. That pretty much says it all.
Stephenson said on his goal he just “picked his spot”, but he made a truly impressive effort to get ahead of defenders as he received the puck from Mark Stone and scored this beauty of a tally:
That’s Stephenson’s 10th goal of the season (seventh with Vegas) and Stone picked up his 30th helper on the primary assist. Stephenson also had three takeaways in the game, leading the team.
The Golden Knights also got goals from Nicolas Roy (the third of his season) and Reilly Smith scored the empty netter (his 21st on the season, re-tying him with Max Pacioretty for the team lead) to make it a 3-0 lead.
Roy’s goal came out front, as the fourth line continued their excellence in terms of high-danger production this season (the line generated two chances from the high-danger area in six minutes of 5-on-5 time).
The Golden Knights played a complete team effort when it comes down to it, however. Besides the two minutes of Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Stone, no line dipped below 50 percent shot share or 60 percent expected goal share.
This was also the second career NHL game for Zach Whitecloud, who had a 60 percent shot share and 79 percent expected goal share at even strength, as well as a takeaway and a blocked shot in an impressive appearance after almost two years in the AHL.
Marc-Andre Fleury could have been asleep through the first two periods and likely no one would have noticed, he only had to make eight stops, or one every five minutes of playing time. He stepped up when called upon in a much closer third period, however, and finished the game with 19 saves on 19 shots for his third shutout of the season.
After the game, Fleury said “the guys did such an excellent job blocking shots,” adding, “they were awesome.”
Neither team played disciplined hockey, however, as the Golden Knights took five penalties to the Predators’ four. Both killed off every penalty, however, although the Golden Knights’ was the more impressive penalty kill. Stephenson said at the second intermission that “four is enough”, but they needed just one more in the final frame to win the game.
The Golden Knights’ shorthanded units allowed just four shots and one high-danger opportunity in 10-and-a-half minutes. The Golden Knights had more than double that (11 shots, four high-danger opportunities) in just eight minutes of power-play time.
The Golden Knights next face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.