Golden Knights finally remember to win, defeat Blue Jackets 2-1

Vegas’s leading goal scorer provided a nice boost against Columbus to kick off the road trip.

Reilly Smith powered the Vegas Golden Knights to their first victory in three games, their second in five games. Vegas beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus to start a four-game road trip through the Eastern conference. This is Vegas’s first win in Columbus in franchise history.

Smith scored at both even strength and on the penalty kill, with both primary assists going to William Karlsson. He regained the lead in Vegas’s goal scoring race, and his two goals on the night put him at nine on the season. He had just 19 goals last season, so if Smith keeps this up it will be interesting to see at what point he passes that mark this season.

The first goal of the night bounced off Oliver Bjorkstrand in front of Columbus’s net but was set up by excellent passing between the first line, as they continued to drive offense and generate solid offense. The line had a 52.63 percent Corsi and 45.45 percent shot share at 5-on-5 in this game, but had a positive expected goal share relative to the team.

Smith’s second shorthanded goal was the Golden Knights’ fifth as a team, the best mark in the NHL, and again demonstrated the chemistry he and Karlsson have built over the years.

The two assists by Karlsson gave him 200 points in the NHL.

The Golden Knights were able to drive offense in the first two periods, a noticeable trends in the first two games, finishing with a 50 percent shot share, 53.85 percent high-danger share and 54.18 percent expected goal share at even strength through the first 40 minutes. They didn’t surrender enough in the third period to allow the Blue Jackets back in the game, allowing just two high-danger chances and six shots against (zero when Columbus had an empty net).

Critical to this was the Golden Knights’ puck management, as they had just two giveaways in all 60 minutes and four takeaways. One of the two players with a giveaway, Karlsson, doubled up in takeaways to make up for it.

It was mentioned before the game that the first pairing of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb needed to be better than their possession stats so far showed them to be. Unfortunately, their trend of negative possession stats didn’t change, as they were locked in their own zone at even strength. Schmidt finished with a 33.33 percent Corsi and 24.85 percent expected goal share; McNabb with a 32.14 percent Corsi and 25.98 percent expected goal share.

The first line may have done all the scoring, but the second did most of the play driving. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny finished the game with a 68 percent Corsi and 73.33 percent shot share at 5-on-5. They were much better than their -1 plus/minus indicates.

The power play was not nearly as good as it’s looked at previous points in the season nor as good as the even strength and shorthanded units for Vegas. They collected zero high-danger chances and just five shots for in six minutes of man-advantage time.

Marc-Andre Fleury, in his first game since having the flu over the weekend, was very good. He made 29 saves on 30 shots, the only goal allowed coming in the early second period. Fleury lifted the penalty kill to a perfect five for five mark, and the Golden Knights still have yet to allow a power-play goal in a win.

Nicolas Hague and Nicolas Roy also played their first games since coming back up from the Chicago Wolves. Hague played with Shea Theodore and Roy centered the fourth line, and both looked good in the win. Hague finished with the second-best Corsi on the team, a 62.5 percent mark, and had a 67.26 percent expected goal share.

The Golden Knights will continue their road trip Thursday when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs. That should go over well.