With three wins in a row, in three different ways, the Vegas Golden Knights are rounding into the team head coach Pete DeBoer needs them to be for the stretch run.
The Golden Knights have defeated the past two Stanley Cup champions and one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league to start this ultra-critical, five-game homestand. The work is far from over, with the hottest team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, visiting the fortress tonight, followed by the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
Game 1: Here Come the Champs
The homestand began with a wild and loose 6-5 OT win over the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. The game was typical of the season series with the Blues, featuring lots of goals, defensive lapses, and big comebacks. The Golden Knights landed 52 shots on Blues netminder Jordan Binnington while giving up only 24.
The shots on goal statistic will be a recurring theme in this article. The Golden Knights went 4-5 on the power play, the penalty kill was perfect and they came back from a two-goal deficit to start off the homestand on a positive note.
Game 2: Dominant vs. Islanders
The second game saw the fifth-best defensive team in the NHL, the New York Islanders, visit the Fortress. As expected, this game was not easy on the eyes. Instead, it was a gritty battle for every inch of the ice. Reilly Smith’s rebound late in the second period was the only goal of the game as the Golden Knights beat the Isles 1-0. More indicative than the score was the Golden Knights’ controlled play in all three zones.
They limited the high-powered line centered by Mathew Barzal to exactly one shot on goal, while out-shooting the Isles 43-19. Though the power play didn’t score, the penalty kill was again perfect. Are you starting to see the pattern?
Game 3: The Great 8 Visits the Fortress
Game three brought the Metropolitan Division leading Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin to town for a Monday matinee at the Fortress. With The Great 8 riding a four-game, goal-less streak and stuck at 698, there was good reason to believe the game would be a high-scoring affair. Though there were an abundance of Grade A scoring chances for both teams, Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby kept the game from getting out of hand.
The Golden Knights jumped out to a two goal lead in the first period with goals by Nic Holden and Reilly Smith. They extended the lead to 3-0 after two periods with a goal by Max Pacioretty.
All 18,399 in the Fortress knew a third-period push by the Caps was coming. And come it did. The Caps took the play to the Golden Knights for a good portion of the third period and cut the lead to 3-2 on a pair of goals (one on the power play) by T.J. Oshie. The Golden Knights withstood a two minute empty net 6-on-5 advantage for the Caps and held on for a 3-2 victory. DeBoer described it as “we bent but didn’t break.”
Three one-goal wins in three very different ways are an excellent start to this critical and difficult homestand. Just as important as the six points are to the standings, the now very visible and statistically proven changes to the Golden Knights game are, too.
For all of you numbers people out there, here is some detail on the changes and improvements the Golden Knights have made, specifically over the last three games.
- The team is averaging 41.3 shots on goal, tops in the NHL
- The power play is running at 40%, third in the NHL
- The Golden Knights have taken 54 more shots than their opponents
- Marc Andre Fleury has a .957 save percentage in his two wins
- Brayden McNabb has nine blocked shots to lead the team
With 21 games left in the regular season, there is no more time to “turn the corner.” The Golden Knights are one point out of first place in the Pacific Division but three of the four teams in contention have games in hand. Every game is now a playoff game for the Golden Knights. While a 7-3-2 start in coach DeBoer’s first dozen games is acceptable, the team is going to have to be even better down the stretch to win the division. To the good side of the ledger, the results of the first three games of this homestand show emphatically that they are more than capable of doing what it takes. The proof is in the pudding, and the first dose of pudding is from Tampa Bay later tonight.