The Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks have been fierce rivals over the last few years due to intense playoffs series. Recently, this rivalry has seemed to be fizzling out, but after the last contest, it appears it is still strong.
So far this season, the Golden Knights have won all five games against their Northern California rivals. This most recent game, however, posed a new challenge for Vegas. They had to battle from behind. The Golden Knights were able to complete the comeback with help from their depth, top six grit, and a returning player.
The Golden Knights entered the game with some significant absences. Alex Pietrangelo, Alex Tuch, and Chandler Stephenson were all ruled out with injury. While Tuch and Stephenson were game-time-decision, Pietrangelo was placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve. With these players out of the lineup, there was going to be more pressure on the Vegas depth players.
One of the standout players in this game against the Sharks was Ryan Reaves. Although his play has not been on par with that during the 2020 playoffs, he has steadily improved his performance over the last few games. After getting a goal called back early in the game for goaltender interference, Reaves was able to find the back of the net after a very skillful high-slot tip to put the Golden Knights up 4-3.
It was not just the depth forwards that produced offensively in this comeback win. Both Nicolas Hague and Alex Martinez were able to find the back of the net. Martinez’s goal came on the power play where he was filling the hole left by the injured Pietrangelo. It eventually became the game-winning goal.
Vegas will need their depth to continue its level of play as the season goes along. The fourth-line has seemed to struggle this year, but this game could act as a turning point for the group. In order for the Golden Knights to finally capture the Stanley Cup, they will need these players to continue to perform at their highest levels.
Top Six Grit
Normally, when people think of grit and toughness on the Golden Knights, they are drawn to the fourth-line or Brayden McNabb, but that was not the case for this game. Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault both dropped the gloves in an attempt to light a spark for their team.
These fights appeared to motivate the team as both fights led to goals while the “skill guys” were in the box. For Marchessault, it was only the second fight of his NHL career. His previous fight was in the 2015-16 season as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. As for Stone, it was the fourth fight in the NHL and his second this year.
With both of these top six forwards getting into scraps, it gave the game another layer of intensity. It felt like a playoff game where all players are willing to take on any role. Going forward, it would not be surprising to see similar fights occurring when the Golden Knights need a spark.
A Familiar Face Returns
There was a notable return for the Golden Knights as Robin Lehner returned from injury to back-up Vegas. He had not dressed since his last game on Feb. 9. The reason for his absence from the team was due to a concussion. He confirmed that his injury was a concussion during his media availability prior to the game.
Lehner’s return is great news for the Golden Knights. This allows Marc-Andre Fleury to get some much-needed rest after starting the last seven games in a row and 17 of the last 18. Despite the heavy workload, Fleury’s play has been outstanding. During the course of the 2020-21 season, he has produced a 1.87 GAA, .933 SV%, and four shutouts.
With Lehner coming back into the lineup, it is unclear how head coach Pete DeBoer will rotate his two goalies. There is no doubt that Fleury could use some rest, but he is the hot hand right now and has stolen some games for the Golden Knights in the last few weeks. Lehner has also had a slow start to the season, and his injury seemed to be the icing on the cake.
It will be interesting to see how DeBoer will choose to play his cards. If he goes back to the goalie rotation, it could help ease in Lehner but stop the momentum for Fleury. On the other hand, riding Fleury could make Lehner’s return to form take a bit longer.
The Golden Knights earned their comeback victory against the Sharks due to their never surrender attitude. This attitude mixed with a whole team committed to a common goal has made Vegas a dangerous team even without some of their top players.