For the first time in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights swept a trip through Alberta, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In the midst of the most important road trip of the season, the Golden Knights beat division rivals, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, on back-to-back nights to solidify themselves as the team to beat in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division.
Here are four takeaways from two dominating road wins.
Flower Returns to Form
When the Golden Knights shocked the NHL by acquiring Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline, the whispers about a goalie controversy started from uninformed, uneducated, wanna-be hockey pundits. Instead of seeing it the way it was intended — to give the Golden Knights two world-class goalies and the best chance for a Stanley Cup parade down the world-famous Las Vegas Strip — they tried to sell a different story. Marc-Andre Fleury was slipping and Lehner was brought in to be the starting goaltender.
While Lehner started off red hot, going 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average (GAA) and a .947 save percentage (SV%), Fleury struggled in his previous two starts, giving up four goals in each game while posting a sub .900 SV% and two losses. The chorus of whispers grew louder among Vegas, though I highly doubt any of it was heard in the dressing room.
Tuesday night in Edmonton, he allowed two goals on 24 shots in a return to form. While 24 shots is not a lot of work and Fleury went over 20 minutes without seeing a shot, the Oilers pressed and forced him into facing five Grade-A scoring chances, including one in the overtime period that absolutely saved the game.
He had two game-winning goals in two nights (one in overtime), adding to his total of four for the season. With career highs in goals, time on ice, and a host of other statistical categories, Shea Theodore has become the best defenseman on the Golden Knights. He has blossomed even more since Pete Deboer took over as head coach on Jan 15.
Theodore is the perfect fit for DeBoer’s five-man unit offensive system. In these two games, Theodore has been paired with trade deadline acquisition Alec Martinez. With a decade worth of experience and a couple of Stanley Cup rings, Martinez’s outstanding defensive zone responsibility and positioning allow Theodore to make use of his outstanding skating skills. On the newly designed breakout system of DeBoer, Theodore has numerous opportunities after the initial pass to skate the puck out of the zone and join the rush. Activating the defensemen was one of the first orders of business when Deboer implemented system-wide changes during the All-Star break and mandatory bye week.
Though not likely to be a candidate for the Norris Trophy this season, at 24 years old, expect him to be one for many years to come. And with an incredibly team-friendly contract that runs through the 2024-25 season, those Norris years will be right here in Las Vegas with the Golden Knights.
The Injury Bug Bites Again
With Mark Stone out week-to-week with a lower-body injury (LBI) and Alex Tuch suffering a minor setback in returning to the lineup, the last thing the Golden Knights needed was another bite from the injury bug.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened as the team reported that leading scorer Max Pacioretty will also be week-to-week with an LBI. With 67 points in 71 games, the losses of Pacioretty, Stone, and Tuch are likely to have a significantly negative impact on the Golden Knights’ offense heading into the playoffs.
“You Get What You Deserve and We Deserved to Win.”
DeBoer said this after Sunday night’s dominating win over the Calgary Flames. After Monday’s game, he said they deserved it even more.
Outshooting the Oilers 15-3 in the first period and holding them without a shot for the last 11 minutes of the period, the Golden Knights were unlucky to end the period 1-1. They continued to dominate the game with final shots on goal 48-24 in favor of the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights were 1-for-2 on the power play against the NHL’s second-best penalty kill and didn’t take a single penalty. With the Oilers having the No. 1 rated power play, a penalty-free sheet by the Golden Knights prevented any major momentum swings.
Though the official stat sheet will show the Oilers out-hit the Golden Knights 47-36, Ryan Reaves was the dominant force on the ice with nine hits himself.
With three games in four nights including this crucial back-to-back against division rivals, the Golden Knights got exactly what they deserved, four all-important points.