Kessel Ties Ironman Streak in Golden Knights Win vs. Maple Leafs

Coming off an underwhelming performance in their 3-2 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, the Vegas Golden Knights bounced back with a dominant showing against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 3-1 win on Monday night (Oct. 24), bringing their record to 5-2-0 to start the 2022-23 season.

All eyes were on Phil Kessel to start this game as he officially tied former NHL defenseman Keith Yandle’s record of 989 consecutive games played, which will make him the NHL’s next ironman when he plays Tuesday night (Oct. 25) against the San Jose Sharks. It also looked like Kessel had recorded his 400th career goal on their first power play opportunity of the game before a coach’s challenge overturned the call due to an offside zone entry.

Related: Phil Kessel is Hall of Fame Worthy

For further context on how incredible this record is, Kessel has now played more games than the active consecutive games played leader in the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. This is the first of many milestones that Kessel should be celebrating this season, as he still waits on that 400th goal and is approaching 1,000 career points as well, while hopefully getting an opportunity to chase his third Stanley Cup.

As for the rest of the team, this was the most complete effort at both ends of the ice that the Golden Knights have put together this season, and there were a lot of positive takeaways that they can build on moving forward.

Golden Knights’ Top Unit Dominates

In the third period of their previous match against the Avalanche, head coach Bruce Cassidy made some adjustments to the offensive lines that carried over into this game, most notably promoting Chandler Stephenson to the first line where he is now playing alongside Mark Stone and Jack Eichel. 

Adding him to this unit made them much more of a threat in transition and on the rush. With Eichel’s elite vision and passing ability, Stephenson was able to use his speed to fly by defenders through the neutral zone without worrying about whether or not the puck would find him. Playing against a team as fast and offensively strong as the Maple Leafs, you have to move the puck faster than they have time to think about how to defend you, and that is ultimately what made this line so dominant all night.

Chandler Stephenson Vegas Golden Knights
Chandler Stephenson, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the opening shift of each period they were able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone and generate high-danger chances with ease, resulting in the game-winning goal just 43 seconds into the third, courtesy of Stephenson himself. He now has three goals in three straight games and will continue to ride the momentum on this top line for the foreseeable future.

Logan Thompson Stands Tall

Logan Thompson is continuing to prove that he is ready to take the next step as a starting goaltender in the NHL. He stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced against Toronto, improving to 3-2-0 on the season with a .931 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.03 goals-against average (GAA). He has exceeded all expectations thus far, and is shifting the narrative around this team when it comes to their goaltending worries.

The Golden Knights’ defensive efforts are also worth mentioning as a factor in Thompson’s success throughout this game. They were able to manage the Maple Leafs’ stretches of sustained offensive pressure by defending the slot extremely well, forcing passes to go through multiple bodies, and managing to block an incredible 29 shots. When all else failed, Thompson stayed composed and continued to show his ability to make desperation saves as the last line of defense.

Power Play Struggles Continue

Even with all of these positives, the Golden Knights’ power play still remains one of the biggest issues with their game so far. Through seven games played they have managed to score just five times on 26 attempts with the man-advantage, which is just 19 percent, ranking them 19th in the NHL.

The issues with the power play have shifted from what they were earlier in the season. Vegas’ puck movement has become a lot smoother through the neutral zone and they look a lot more comfortable on zone entries, but they seem to lack a real strategy when it comes to their shot selection and just hope for chances to present themselves. On multiple occasions in this game, Alex Pietrangelo was forced to throw weak, off-balanced shots on goal because he was backed up to the blue line waiting for a passing option to open up.

There is an overall lack of movement and fluidity from this power play system, which shouldn’t be a problem with the way they are able to find offense by cycling the puck at even strength so effectively. The more movement that players off of the puck have, the more that defenders feel the need to chase and adjust, which is how the best chances are created.

Alex Pietrangelo Vegas Golden Knights
Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While Maple Leafs’ goaltender Ilya Samsonov deserves a lot of credit for keeping the game as close as it was, the Golden Knights need to start converting on their high-danger opportunities if they want to be considered serious contenders this season.

Up Next for the Golden Knights

With a strong first impression from this newly arranged forward group and an even better performance from Thompson, the Golden Knights will look to string together consecutive wins as they head on the road for a game against the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night (Oct. 25), where Kessel will suit up as the NHL’s new ironman.

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